Street riots may fan sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland: PM Martin

Belfast, April 11 2021:  After a week-long series of riots between police and the public, the streets of Belfast on Saturday appeared peaceful. The unrest raises fears for the future of fragile peace in the province. Irish prime minister Micheal Martin warned against a regression into sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Irish PM said, “We owe it to the agreement generation and indeed future generations not to spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord, there is now a particular onus on those of us who currently hold the responsibility of political leadership to step forward and play our part and ensure that this cannot happen.”

After what he called a “worrying week”,the foreign minister, Simon Coveney issued a similar statement, saying, “This anniversary comes as a reminder of the responsibilities we all have, as well as what politics, determination and dialogue can achieve,” he said. “That is the spirit we need now.”

On Friday night 14 officers were injured as petrol bombs and masonry were thrown in a unionist enclave, according to the police. A car was also “hijacked and set on fire and pushed towards police lines”, as the total number of officers injured in the clash reaches 88.

This Saturday marked the 23rd anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended the three-decades-long sectarian conflict over British rule in Northern Ireland and which claimed 3,500 lives.

Resentment is simmering in some quarters, particularly the pro-UK unionist community over apparent economic dislocation due to Brexit. But the violence has since spread into the nationalist community as the rioters hurled petrol bombs, fireworks, bricks and bottles at ranks of armoured police vehicles preventing their advance to a unionist area.

Police deployed a water cannon for the first time in years and drove back the surging crowds late into the night. The previous evening, the gates in a “peace wall” separating unionist and nationalist neighbour-hoods were set alight. On Friday numerous marches had been planned in unionist communities in Belfast but they were cancelled following the news that Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, had died.

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