Old wounds, new violence in Belfast

Republican splinter groups still want to stoke the sectarian fires

Old wounds, new violence in BelfastOnce again violence has flared across Northern Ireland. In Ardoyne, a Catholic district in north Belfast, republicans threw petrol bombs, stones and bottles, injuring 23 police officers. The friction between nationalists and loyalists arose following the Twelfth, an annual—and contentious—celebration of Protestant King William III’s victory over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The riots seem to have been orchestrated by a small number of dissident republicans from outside Ardoyne with the hope of stoking sectarian tensions. “When conflicts end,” says Dawn Brancati, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis, “there are frequently splinter groups that do not support the larger peace process and may remain active for many years after a peace agreement has been signed.”

Disturbingly, children as young as 10 or 11 took part. According to Neil Ferguson, an associate professor of political psychology at Liverpool Hope University, prejudice is inherited, passed down from generation to generation: “People perceive an almost seamless link between their actions on the streets of Belfast in 2009 and those of their forebears who engaged in civil protest in the late ’60s.” The results have been frightening. “I saw young people last night ringing each other on mobile phones saying come on up, it’s mighty, it’s the place to be,” said Father Gary Donegan, a priest in Ardoyne, to the Independent. “You would think they were at Euro Disney rather than a riot.”

“Splinter groups can overturn peace processes if they are well armed and/or widely supported by the populace,” says Brancati. Northern Ireland may have come a long way, but the dark past still casts a shadow over the present.

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