In a sharp escalation of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol, Loyalists have thrown bombs at the constituency offices of the SDLP and Sinn Féin on the Falls Road in Catholic-majority West Belfast. The offices of Paul Maskey, a Sinn Féin MP, and Nichola Mallon, Deputy Leader of the SDLP, were targeted in bomb attacks on Tuesday evening. Thankfully no one was injured in the attacks. No one has, as yet, taken responsibility for the attacks, though it is reasonable to assume that Loyalists carried out the attacks, considering the targets were the offices of Irish Nationalist political parties.
As reported previously, there is considerable ire within the British Loyalist and Unionist community in Northern Ireland over the Northern Ireland protocol, which has created a trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains within the EU single market, meaning there is no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Unionists see this as creating an “Economic United Ireland”, a first step towards a completely United Ireland. In recent months, threatening graffiti has been found across Northern Ireland, though former Loyalist paramilitaries reassured the public that they were committed to a peaceful and democratic process to find a resolution for their grievances. However, it would appear that former Loyalist paramilitaries are not the only Loyalists capable of violence. There are many young Loyalists, not associated with former paramilitaries, who are willing to fight for what they see as their “birthright”, the Union between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
These bombings come despite the Democratic Unionist Party committing in recent days to a strident challenge of the Northern Ireland Protocol, using both legal and democratic means. They plan to challenge the Protocol in court, asserting that it breaches the Good Friday Agreement. Section 2 of the agreement states: “it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”. Northern Ireland voted against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, and the Northern Ireland Protocol was not put to a referendum in the North, as such the DUP may argue that the Protocol is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP have also secured a debate of the Protocol in the UK Parliament. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has previously stated that he would be willing to invoke Article 16 of the Brexit Agreement to suspend customs checks, effectively removing the Irish Sea Border. Such an action would result in recriminations from the European Union. Practical arrangements, such as “pre-approved” exporters whose goods would not have to be checked at the ports, may not be sufficient to appease militant Loyalists. It is not the practical interference with trade that they are unsatisfied with, but rather the ideological significance of being economically divided from the United Kingdom by remaining in the EU single-market. The DUP will have a difficult job on their hands to find a resolution that will prevent further violence.