Loyalists want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom while nationalists want Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland.
The first nights of violence began after teenagers fired a gasoline bomb in a loyalist Derry / Londonderry bag at police officers trying to break up their gathering.
The riots spread to four other cities in Northern Ireland and reached a fever in west Belfast last Wednesday when about 600 people from neighboring loyalist and nationalist communities clashed along a so-called peace wall that separated the two areas.
Loyalists believe the Protocol poses an existential threat to the future of the Union and could ruin the Good Friday Agreement – the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement that marked the end of what was known as a period of violent conflict.
At the center of the unrest are young people – some of them are only 12 years old – who, despite their birth after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, are held hostage by the identity politics that defined that era and that continue to shape the age .
Young people have always been used as farmers for some of the darkest forces in our society, “Pastor Stephen Reynolds, chairman of the Conway Youth Center, told CNN.
“We’d like to say that they are used to doing the dirty work of boys who don’t want to be caught doing it.”
This was demonstrated in videos posted on social media last week where adults could cheer on young people who bombed and kidnapped a double decker bus with gasoline on Shankill Road in Belfast.
“They will be told that there is a cause … a loss of their identity through the Irish maritime border, through the two-tier police system that many people in the community use in relation to the [IRA’s] Bobby Storey’s funeral and that kind of tension, “Reynolds said.
“But I don’t know for sure whether the young people on the streets in these unrest understand the advantages and disadvantages of these problems.”
The pastor said older generations still passed stories about the problems on to their children. This is one reason why “we still have the problems we face today”. But he stressed that the “majority … don’t want us to go back to a time when things were really bad.”
More than 3,500 people died in the sectarian violence of the problems between 1968 and 1998.
Rebecca Dickson, a 22-year-old budding youth worker at the Conway Youth Center, said the rioters don’t define the entire community and that she and her contemporaries are interested in going beyond the labels of the past.
“We’re in the phase where we don’t care who you are, we don’t care what you represent. If you’re nice to us, we’ll be nice to you,” she said. “It was simply blown up disproportionately.”
“It’s kids who don’t really know what’s going on,” added Dickson. “The protesters don’t sit around at night reading the Brexit rules.”
“They only do it out of anger and other people’s anger, I guess too … they heard or seen things on the news and took and used them to fuel their violence,” she said.
Executives have exploited these fears and in doing so established a legacy of violence, experts say.
A project ‘built on sand’
Politicians are telling communities that their identities are being threatened and that their sense of “Britishness” is being undermined, said Jonny Byrne, a senior lecturer in criminology at Ulster University.
That, along with the stress of the pandemic, has culminated in the disruption observed in recent weeks, said Byrne, whose research focuses on paramilitary violence, young people’s involvement in political violence and community experience of public order surveillance in Northern Ireland concentrated.
He said that while the Good Friday Agreement ended the armed conflict, it did not change the coexistence of the people there.
“We have never dealt with the building blocks of creating a new society where people – Catholics and Protestants – can live together, or how to create a society where we can talk about what happened from 1969 to 1998.” Byrne told CNN.
The peace project is “so fragile it is built on sand,” he added, explaining that it was neither mature enough nor embedded enough in society to face the pressures of Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol or any bring about a global pandemic.
“So whenever [pressures] manifest themselves … it comes back to the traditional format of orange versus green, catholic versus protestant, republican versus loyalist and inevitably ends up in violence on the streets and with injured police officers, “he said.
Byrne noted that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas where the recent violence has broken out are disproportionately affected by the conflict.
Green Councilor Brian Smyth, who represents the Belfast area in Lisnasharragh, told CNN that the trauma of the past has been passed down through generations. Without conflict transformation or a reconciliation commission, the same problems will persist.
“So many people on both sides of the community feel abandoned, ignored,” he said, noting that since the Good Friday Agreement, more people in Northern Ireland have lost their lives than were killed in violence during the troubles.
Education and social housing are still a problematic issue for disadvantaged communities, as youth services bear the brunt of the cuts due to austerity measures.
“Where is our obligation to give it [the youth] Hope? “, he said.
In the 2015 study, Inequality and Segregation in Schools in Northern Ireland, researchers Vani Borooah and Colin Knox found that 21% of 30-34 year olds had not completed post-primary education – the highest rate in the UK.
Overall, the government funded secondary schools in Northern Ireland do not meet the minimum acceptable standard for post-primary schools in England. “Only 33% of Protestant high schools achieve this standard compared with 41% of Catholic high schools,” the report said. Protestant students do worst overall.
In this environment, young people are “exploited by others,” said Smyth.
“There has been a lot of rhetoric … in the last six months, especially around Brexit, and everyone has kicked it up – comfortable old men who stir the pots and sit in their beautiful houses, who live in their gardens. But those Children on the floor are angry, disaffected, disenfranchised … [they are the ones] which will also deal with the effects. ”
“Division, division, division, keeps some people wealthy and comfortable,” he added.
This silence took place on Saturday – the anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
But political leaders fear the violence could return next weekend after Philip’s funeral.
“We have a history in Northern Ireland where people can turn violence on and off like a tap,” Byrne said.
Smyth wonders what it will take to stop the violence.
“When a child dies? When a policeman dies or a bus driver is attacked? Maybe it’s uncomfortable for people. I think we need to have this conversation,” he said.
“If we’re not careful in our language, we end up in corpses.”
CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz and Florence Davey-Attlee contributed to this report.