Violence by loyalist youths over the Easter weekend is evidence of an increasingly febrile atmosphere
The rioting that took place over the long Easter weekend in Northern Ireland was relatively small-scale. But its significance should not be downplayed. On successive evenings, groups of loyalist youths threw petrol bombs, set cars alight and fought the police, injuring dozens of officers. The violence testifies to a dangerous sense of grievance in unionist communities, as the politics of Brexit play out. Though the main paramilitary groups did not, it seems, participate, neither did they use their influence to stop the riots, and in some cases allegedly encouraged them.
According to security analysts and police, criminal gangs orchestrated some of the disturbances in response to a crackdown on their activities. News that there will be no prosecutions over breaches of Covid regulations during the funeral of a leading IRA figure further fuelled resentment. But the overarching context of unionist discontent is Brexit and its consequences. A febrile atmosphere is developing on the ground, which requires the urgent attention of both Westminster and Stormont.