Like a movie that has seen way too many sequels, we yet again see the same old, tired, recycled scene in Northern Ireland. An angry crowd waving flags and fists, bottles being flung, people bleeding profusely, and riot police emerging from vans with shields and batons to quell the growing violence.
Belfast yet again became the setting for sectarian violence as 1,000 angry protesters showed up to the city hall with Union Jack flags to object to the Alliance Party’s Compromise motion to remove the Union Jack flag from the building for all but 15 designated days of the year.
Five members of the police force were injured and a photographer acquired a head injury during the violence, which saw golf balls and bottles being hurled and an attempt by demonstrators to storm the building. Staff were put on lockdown to ensure they were not harmed.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had to call in their riot squad and deploy dogs in a successful attempt to break the violence at the building. The fighting did not end there however as Loyalist protesters then vandalized a Catholic Church as well as homes in a Catholic area of Short Strand.
The injury count and damage to the city may have been low but the venom and hatred spewed over the removal of the flag shows that the threat of further sectarian violence is most definitely high in Northern Ireland.
The Queen’s landmark visit to the Republic last year painted a fairy tale picture of a new, peaceful Ireland. There was applause and smiles all round and the handshakes and camaraderie between the two heads of states gave everybody in Ireland and Great Britain the feel-good factor that one would get at the end of an epic movie.
Scotland were granted a referendum where in 2014 their independence is effectively in their own hands and Irish nationalist leaders hoped that they could finally secure a similar deal themselves with the Catholic contingent slowly becoming a majority in the north.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Or not. Rome wasn’t built in a day and this new wave of violence in Northern Ireland suggests that an unwanted sequel may be on the horizon.
While Scotland are divided over the issue of breaking away from the United Kingdom, they will deal with it in debates and peaceful campaigns. This riot over the removal of a flag proves that Northern Ireland will not be the same.
The century long quandary of the north will more than likely not be settled as peacefully as a simple vote. Northern Ireland has a far more violent history. They have had wars over religion as well as territory. Enemies are living side by side. All it will take is a powder keg issue like a United Ireland to start it all off again.
Another factor that will go against Irish nationalists hoping to make Northern Ireland their free home again is the shambles that is the Irish government.
The British economy is more stable than the Republic's and this obviously directly affects Northern Ireland. The giant roar of the Celtic Tiger ten years ago may well have persuaded some dissenters in the north that a United Ireland could be a good thing but today even the most tolerant and easily swayed Unionist will not want to lose the benefits of being joined with a superpower like Great Britain. Reuters.com even reported this week that many Catholics will not want to lose their grasp on the British economy during this recession either as they are benefitting from a 16 billion dollar block grant from the UK every year.
It may well just be a case of wrong place, wrong time once again for a United Ireland. Nobody wants a repeat of the Troubles that such a referendum may introduce. Irish nationalists may just have to wait a while longer. It’s imperative that there is no more violence and the latest bout of fighting over a flag just shows that a peaceful referendum would just not happen in Northern Ireland in the current climate.
If Rome wasn’t built in a day, home won’t be rebuilt in a day either.
Here’s Ulster TV’s report on the protest and riot: