Long ignored by politicians in London, violence in one of Britain's most combustible regions rears its head and endangers a fragile peace.

Rioting in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast continues between gangs mainly from the Protestant pro-British unionists and predominantly Catholic Irish republicans.

Gas bombs, fireworks, and cars being set on fire have marked almost two weeks of ongoing violence, pitting the police force between the two groups.

Saturday, April 10, marked the 23rd anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended 30 years of conflict in one of the United Kingdom's most troubled regions.

Known euphemistically as "the Troubles", the conflict was a deadly sectarian civil war that engulfed not only Northern Ireland but at its height reached the mainland United Kingdom, too.

The latest bout of violence has not resulted in any deaths, but more than 74 police officers have been injured in the clashes.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, there has been sporadic violence, but the current clashes, that started on March 30, mark a uniquely dangerous and sustained escalation.

How did it start this time?

The origins of the current crisis stem in part from Brexit and resentment from British nationalists loyal to the Queen at the Northern Ireland Protocol - which formed part of the treaty that resulted in the UK leaving the European Union.

Some British nationalists fear that Northern Ireland could de-facto separate from the UK or end up being treated separately from the rest of the UK under the Brexit agreement.

Tensions also boiled over after a recent decision by Northern Ireland's Department of Justice not to prosecute senior leaders from the Irish republican party Sinn Fein who did not follow Covid-19 restrictions last year, after attending the funeral of a high-profile former Irish Republican Army commander.

The IRA was the paramilitary wing of Sinn Fein and wanted to rejoin the rest of the majority Catholic Ireland at the height of the civil war.

British paramilitary groups have seized on recent events arguing that they are being marginalised in Northern Ireland and the justice system is treating the country's Catholics differently.

During Brexit negotiations, the northern Ireland question caused the greatest difficulties between London and Brussels.

Irish republicans felt that the Good Friday agreement was premised on the UK being part of the EU, which would change if there was a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland.

Faced with growing Scottish calls to hold a second independence referendum and dealing with the fallout of Covid-19, the political establishment in London has primarily ignored growing resentment in Northern Ireland.

The British government also underplayed the impact Brexit could have on the region, particularly amongst British nationalists who now feel they can no longer be ignored.

Why is Northern Ireland contested?

Almost 100 years ago, Northern Ireland was created to appease Protestant British nationalists who increasingly felt that they might end up in an independent Ireland, then a British colony, which would be majority Catholic.

Geographically, Northern Ireland is part of Ireland. Politically, it's part of the United Kingdom.

When Ireland became independent of the UK in 1922, a majority protestant Northern Ireland was left behind.

It would take another 50 years for anti-Catholic discrimination to boil over in Northern Ireland, creating the basis of a civil war in the UK that would claim more than 3,500 lives.

The conflict saw the British army deployed in Northern Ireland, with Irish republicans fighting to unite with the south and British nationalists wanting to remain part of the UK.

Source: TRT World