VIOLENCE IN NORTHERN IRELAND CONTINUES DESPITE EFFORTS TO END THE RIOTS
Violent riots in towns and cities across Northern Ireland – including Belfast, Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Newtownabbey – have been ongoing since 30 March. The unrest erupted mainly in loyalist, protestant areas where the ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’, included in the Brexit deal, is highly contested because it impedes their relationship with Great Britain. As part of the deal, a new regulatory sea border between Northern Ireland and the UK was established. This compromise was made to allow the UK to comply with EU trade rules, as well as keep the land border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) open. Many youths have been involved in the riots, throwing bricks, fireworks, and gasoline bombs at police and each other, and setting hijacked cars and buses aflame. Nearly 90 officers have been injured in the riots and security forces have responded by firing rubber bullets and water cannons into the crowds. On 7 April, mayhem escalated at the ‘peace wall’ that separates an Irish nationalist area from a British loyalist neighbourhood in West Belfast. Rioters from both sides of the divide attacked each other and police forces set up road blockades as a gate along the wall was smashed open. Saturday 11 April was the first night without major trouble as a sign of respect for Prince Philip’s passing. The rioting has been at a scale not experienced in Belfast and Northern Ireland for many years and is expected to continue. The violence on the streets is evocative of the decades-long Protestant-Catholic clashes in the region. The ‘Good Friday Agreement’, signed on 10 April 1998, has maintained strained order, but tensions between the two parties remain. Some fear gangs with ties to loyalist paramilitaries are exploiting the opportunity to retaliate against a clampdown on criminality by the police force.
From a Christian perspective, the larger Body of Christ in Ireland, previously affected by sectarianism, is displaying a united front towards peace within Northern Ireland. Church leaders from the Irish Council of Churches have recently composed a joint open letter challenging politicians in their response to the riots that have swept across the country. The letter includes: “As Christian Church leaders from across the island of Ireland, we appeal to our political leaders to come together in a unified response to the heart-breaking scenes witnessed on our streets last week and renew their commitment to peace, reconciliation and the protection of the most vulnerable. Such a joint approach would be difficult to turn down, but to develop it will require a renewed generosity of spirit from political leaders on all sides of our community.” Such generosity that will allow for reconciliation and peace can only come from the Holy Spirit. This is why, as Christians, we are urged to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The body of Christ across the globe can stand united with their brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland, and the island of Ireland as a whole, as they intercede for their leaders.
Please pray with us for the following:
- For much wisdom as various leaders seek solutions to the main areas of concern
- For the Lord’s hand of protection over Northern Ireland and its people, that the enemy will not gain a foothold through old hurts and disagreements, that peace will prevail
- For those impacted by the violence to experience the Lord’s presence and comfort
Image: REUTERS/Brian Lawless