BORIS JOHNSON and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis have been accused of “dishonesty” in attempted to downplay the consequences of a hard Brexit in Northern Ireland.
Naomi Long, Northern Ireland’s justice minister, hit out at the UK amid escalating tensions in Northern Ireland. The past five nights have been marred by unrest in several loyalist areas near Belfast.
As many as 41 police officers have been injured by while several vehicles, including a bus, have been set alight with petrol bombs, with politicians from across the political divide calling for calm.
Much of the anger stems from the fallout from Brexit and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Protocol and with it the Irish Sea border.
Matters were also made worse by the public prosecutors’ decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein party members who attended the funeral in June of Irish Republican Army figure Bobby Storey in blatant violation of Covid-19 guidelines.
Speaking to the BBC, Northern Ireland's justice minister blamed the unrest on a combination of loyalist protests over police engagement with paramilitary gangs and the false rhetoric of the UK government.
She recalled how the UK Prime Minister had claimed there would be no checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea and how the Northern Ireland secretary said no border would be erected following Brexit.
Alliance party leader @naomi_long says there can be no excuses or justifications for the violence in Northern Ireland. She calls on everyone to support the PSNI as they do their jobs. | https://t.co/HQ5MXahJkX pic.twitter.com/wJ9YPUggYD
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 8, 2021
Long accused the government of knowing Brexit “felt most acutely in Northern Ireland, where identity issues are tied up with border issues” but proceeding nonetheless.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Instead of trying to work through the issues legally, it opted to promote lawlessness by suspending the Northern Ireland protocol.
“They promised people unfettered access, which is not the case. And they denied the existence of borders, even as those borders were being erected. I think that that dishonesty, and the lack of clarity around these issues has contributed to a sense of anger in parts of our community.”
“We have to recognise, and this is fundamental, that when we decided that Brexit was the way forward, and when we choose a particularly hard Brexit, that there would be consequences. And those consequences would be felt most acutely in Northern Ireland, where there is some land border,” Long added.
The justice minister said it was “horrifying to see children” involved in the violent scenes but acknowledged Brexit was not the only factor behind the unrest.
I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist. The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 7, 2021
Johnson has since taken to Twitter to comment on the unfolding scenes.
“I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist.,” he wrote.
“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”
Responding to the violence, DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Sinn Féin of “arrogance” and “hypocrisy” in condemning the scenes despite being part of “a campaign of violence for 40 years”.
She also reiterated her call for the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable, Simon Byrne, to resign after be opted not to prosecute anyone of the Sinn Féin leaders who attended Bobby Storey’s funeral during lockdown,
“He has completely lost the confidence not just of the unionist community but all the community,” she said, going as far as to claim the police had “facilitated” the funeral last June.
“There is a feeling within loyalism that there is a political elite and Sinn Féin, they are untouchable, and that is something that is very concerning if you believe in the rule of law,” Foster said.