Blog: ‘Dishonesty’ over Brexit fuelled loyalist anger, says Stormont minister – The Guardian

Northern Ireland’s justice minister has said the government’s “dishonesty” over the consequences of hard Brexit has contributed to the anger felt by loyalists, as police counted the cost of 41 officers injured during violence on the streets over four nights.

Naomi Long’s remarks came as tensions escalated in Northern Ireland, with the first minister and Democratic Unionist party leader, Arlene Foster, hitting out at the “arrogance of Sinn Féin” and telling the BBC the IRA army council still existed.

Long attributed the violence to a combination of loyalist protests over police success in cracking down on paramilitary gangs and disquiet she says has been stoked by Westminster leaders’ false rhetoric over Brexit.

In a swipe at both Boris Johnson, who claimed there would be no checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, and the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, who said no border would be erected following Brexit, she said the government knew Brexit would be “felt most acutely in Northern Ireland, where identity issues are tied up with border issues”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Instead of trying to work through the issues legally, it opted to promote lawlessness by suspending the Northern Ireland protocol.

“They promised people unfettered access, which is not the case. And they denied the existence of borders, even as those borders were being erected. I think that that dishonesty, and the lack of clarity around these issues has contributed to a sense of anger in parts of our community.”

“We have to recognise, and this is fundamental, that when we decided that Brexit was the way forward, and when we choose a particularly hard Brexit, that there would be consequences. And those consequences would be felt most acutely in Northern Ireland, where there is some land border,” she added.

She said it was “horrifying to see children” involved in the violence that spilled out into the streets over four nights in Derry and Carrickfergus near Belfast but that anger against Brexit was not the only contributing factor.

Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Colum Eastwood MP has said that Boris Johnson silence on the violence was “galling”.

“Loyalist communities, in particular, clearly feel an immense sense of betrayal. The least Johnson can do is address those concerns,” the Foyle MP said adding it was a “defining characteristic” of the prime minister to have caused “maximum chaos and then steps away from the consequences” of the hard Brexit he negotiated.

The issues of Brexit and violence in recent days has heightened tensions with the Stormont assembly, which is to be recalled from recess on Thursday to discuss the disturbances.

On Wednesday morning, Foster criticised the “arrogance” and “hypocrisy” of Sinn Féin condemning the violence when the IRA had subjected to “a campaign of violence for 40 years”.

She also repeated her call for the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable, Simon Byrne, to resign in the wake of the decision by prosecution authorities not to pursue Sinn Féin leaders who attended a mass funeral during lockdown.

“He has completely lost the confidence not just of the unionist community but all the community,” she said, arguing that the police had “facilitated” the funeral of the IRA volunteer Bobby Storey last June, which the PSNI has denied.

“There is a feeling within loyalism that there is a political elite and Sinn Féin, they are untouchable, and that is something that is very concerning if you believe in the rule of law,” Foster said, adding that she had been told by “security sources” that the IRA army council still existed.

She said 17,000 people had died in Northern Ireland in the last year and all their families had to abide by strict coronavirus lockdown guidelines, unable to hold large funerals typical in Ireland.

Also on Wednesday, the Conservative MP Simon Hoare, the chair of the Northern Ireland affairs committee, said police had faced many challenges in the pandemic on the rights and wrongs of large gatherings, including the recent Sarah Everard vigil in London.

But he told BBC’s World at One “in hindsight” the Storey funeral and rally “was an error of judgment both on behalf of those who organised and attended”.

He said the focus should be on taking “trying to take heat and steam” out of the situation in NI “as fast as possible”.

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