Boris Johnson told: Act now to stop more NI violence

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fresh pressure to take action over the recent violence in Northern Ireland.

Monday, 26th April 2021, 12:01 am
A vehicle burns during disturbances in the Tiger’s Bay area of north Belfast earlier this month

A cross-party group of influential figures in policing, religion and politics have written to the prime minister (pictured) to urge him to “take an interest”.

Amongst the group are the former PSNI chief Sir Hugh Orde, the former leader of the Church of Ireland Lord Eames, the former chair of the independent policing commission Lord Patten, and former Northern Ireland secretaries including Lord Hain, Lord Mandelson, Lord Murphy of Torfaen and Shaun Woodward.

“With our long collective experience we are extremely worried that violent unrest on the streets of loyalist areas and at interfaces is a consequence of politics, both in Stormont and in Whitehall, failing the people of Northern Ireland,” the cross-party group of senior figures writes.

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Police came under sustained and violent attack on both sides of a Belfast peace wall earlier this month following successive nights of violence.

Loyalists staged protests over the so-called border in the Irish Sea following Brexit, claiming the Northern Ireland Protocol has undermined the Province’s place within the Union. There is also anger at a decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein members following the Bobby Storey funeral.

Protests – many of which passed off peacefully – were paused following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, but resumed last week.

Police came under attack in the Sandy Row area of south Belfast on Friday; however, the disorder was described by officers as “minor”.

The letter to Mr Johnson, which has also been issued to the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, states: “We stress that the peace process did not end with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

“Indeed, after decades of horror and centuries of division and bitterness, it was only a beginning and, to take Northern Ireland forward, requires positive political momentum to be maintained.

“Tony Blair and Gordon Brown recognised that, as did John Major before them. They each took personal charge of the peace process, convening regular summits and being in constant touch with all the parties.”

It continues: “The recent unrest – whether orchestrated by shadowy figures on social media or, in some instances, by loyalist paramilitaries – will not literally burn itself out over time. While the violence is unacceptable, the fact is that there are grievances, real and perceived, within the broader unionist community and that cannot be ignored by the UK government.

“Politics must be made to work again and crucially politics must be seen to work again.”

The prime minister is warned that he must be “seen to take an interest”.

“As a matter of urgency, the government must address the outworking of the protocol with Brussels,” the letter adds.

“But this will not be achieved by Lord Frost flying in for a dinner with EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic and flying out again.

“Nor the secretary of state engaging in periodic Zoom sessions, whether in Belfast or from London.

“Serious engagement must be continuous, inclusive and be seen to be happening. And if, as is likely, there is no alternative to maintaining the protocol which it has legally agreed, then the government must be honest and say so while securing whatever mitigations it can negotiate with Brussels.”

The letter continues: “The people of Northern Ireland were promised the ‘best of both worlds’ by the secretary of state and First Minister Arlene Foster who spoke about the opportunities and possibilities the post Brexit arrangements would open up.

“Yet these have not transpired and, in respect of continuing trade with the rest of the United Kingdom, opportunities and possibilities have been reduced not increased. The prime minister and the secretary of state must urgently create the space for local politics to regain the initiative.”