Northern Ireland. More than a week of conflict has occurred on the streets of Belfast. Headlines have described it as ‘loyalist violence’. But anarchists in the north of Ireland told Phoenix Media Co-op that the violence isn’t really about the ‘loyalist’ and ‘republican’ narrative peddled by the British media.
Originally published by Phoenix Media-Coop.
People inside and outside of the north of Ireland have cited three key reasons for the recent acceleration in conflict. A popular one amongst many Britons is the impact of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, people have also pointed fingers at the failure to prosecute senior members of Sinn Féin for attending a major funeral during a Covid-19 lockdown. Meanwhile, some within Ireland have suggested police crackdowns on alleged drug dealing by loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) as a major factor.
Phoenix Media Co-Op spoke to Derry Anarchists, one of the most active anarchist groups in the north of Ireland, to get an independent perspective. Responding to a question about what factors gave rise to the current violence, Derry Anarchists said that “without doubt, there is an accumulation of factors” including those previously mentioned.
However, the group said these were really ‘deflections’ from prolonged economic realities for many in the north of Ireland:
It’s a convenient deflection away from the reality of what has been happening in the lives of ordinary working class communities, in their homes and in their workplaces. Over the last number of decades the political parties have always used the ‘sectarian card’ to divide us, as it keeps them in power while our class eats itself as can be seen on the streets.
Derry Anarchists also highlighted the role that they believe loyalist paramilitaries play in maintaining these divisions:
loyalist military gangs, who have been under pressure due to their own financial empires and drug fiefdoms, have also used the current crisis to stoke up tensions and reignite sectarian division. Particularly within loyalist working class areas where they have control, as they too need to point the finger of blame as to why loyalist communities are equally suffering at this time in an attempt to justify their own existence.
As a result, these paramilitaries have “directed violence towards flashpoint locations such as the ‘peace lines’ or interface areas”. Videos show these symbols of division, which are intended to provide security across Belfast, are focal points for aggression:
Power of the state
Derry Anarchists said the loyalist gangs are “themselves controlled and directed by the state”. This suggests community divisions are preyed on by the State to continue exploiting poor and working-class people in the north of Ireland. And the current escalation in violence is a spectacle of that.
The group went on to elaborate on the mechanics of this predatorial relationship. When Phoenix Media Co-op asked about the power of political parties such as Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party to resolve tensions, Derry Anarchists said:
They have the power to divide and they do that well as their vote has increased considerably since the Good Friday Agreement which itself was built on division. They will only succeed if working class communities remain divided and play one off against the other.
We have for the first time witnessed the recalling of Stormont as part of an emergency response to violence on the streets BUT… We have never had an ‘emergency recall’ of Stormont to deal with the impact of Universal Credit or an increase in food banks on working class communities which tells us clearly just where their interests actually lay.
They need sectarian division in order to justify their existence. They can turn it off and on like a tap, and this always comes to the fore when elections are just over the skyline.
Westminster created a horrifying symmetry of this on 9 April. Despite conflicts in Belfast having started on 2 April, thanks in part to its own actions, it took the Duke of Edinburgh’s death for the government to recall parliament.
Britain’s role in the north of Ireland is complex, though it remains ultimately a colonising presence. Derry Anarchists told Phoenix Media Co-op that Westminster’s sidelining of the current violence highlights the “lack of interest the British establishment actually has in the population of the north of Ireland”. Moreover, the group says years of rhetoric around an ‘Irish sea border’ and the Northern Ireland Protocol has increased a sense of alienation and abandonment for many”. Although it also says “this is nothing new” for people in the country.
Derry Anarchists highlighted Britain’s use of the north of Ireland as “a testing ground for tactics to be used elsewhere in the empire”. Britain’s mainstream media discourse on the current violence is one more example of that. A focus on ‘rioters’ attacking police is reminiscent of headlines attacking #KillTheBill protesters. The function of this rhetoric is to divide working-class communities against themselves. And, as Derry Anarchists explained, that only serves the interests of the State.