Northern Ireland, December 2012 – January 2013: The Low Down.

Recently my home country has gone a bit mad.

If you don’t know already I’m from Northern Ireland, and things aren’t too peachy here at the minute.

I wrote about the problems going on here last month in a post entitled ‘All This Over a Flag?’ which explains the foundations of all the riots currently happening, so check that one out if you’re unsure.

I’ll give a quick breakdown of the issues before I continue:

  • Northern Ireland is part of the UK (whose official name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; it wouldn’t be the UK without Northern Ireland) and has been since 1922. If you want to know why Northern Ireland was divided from the rest of Ireland then you can read more about that here
  • During the 1970s/1980s The Troubles were caused by political unrest between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Don’t get me wrong, these people are not divided over their relationships with God but because of the political beliefs that their families have held for generations BECAUSE of their Protestant or Catholic status.
  • On 3rd December 2012 Belfast City Council voted to have the Union Flag (the Union Jack, the British flag, etc.) flying from City Hall on only 17 days of the year, not 365, just like every city in the UK. Loyalists (the ones who feel really strongly about the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland) viewed this as an attack on their national identity and, since then, protests have been taking place in towns and cities across the country. Many have been peaceful, but the ones most documented have been the violent ones that have involved Loyalist protestors (many of whom are actually children as young as eight and no older than fifteen; a lot of these kids have been arrested) aiming petrol bombs, bricks, fireworks, rocks and various other missiles at police and Republican (the guys who would prefer for the North to be part of Ireland and not Great Britain) protesters  as well as burning out cars and buses.
  • The PSNI have responded with water cannons and, more recently, plastic bullets, but they’re really struggling as dozens have been injured. There was also a bomb scare in one of Belfast’s busiest shopping centre’s on a Saturday only a few weeks, shutting down the whole main street of the city for most of the day, before Christmas and a pipe bomb was found yesterday on one of the city’s busiest roads.
  • MPs and other important public figures have called for the violence to end but they are being completely ignored. It was recently reported in the Belfast Telegraph that a UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) leader, entitled ‘The Beast in the East’, as he has been wreaking havoc in East Belfast, has been encouraging his Loyalist cronies to go out on the streets every night to continue the riots. However, he has been described as a “loose cannon”, out of sync with the rest
    f the UVF, and possibly beyond the control of UVF leadership.

So, night after night, Belfast, and many other towns and cities across Northern Ireland, have been plagued by protests between Loyalists and Republicans rioting and ruining business for cafes, restaurants, and bars, as well as scaring the people fromtheir communities who don’t want to be a part of it. Protesters completely cover their faces so they can’t be identified, creating a mob mentality and making themselves look even more terrifying.

Before anyone makes any assumptions I should explain here that the protests haven’t been too widespread and have been situated in specific areas but Belfast, for example, isn’t a massive city and a lot of those areas are places which people who have no interest in the protests need to drive through to get to main roads or other main areas of the city. The town I’m from has only had a few peaceful protests but is otherwise safe as houses. Northern Ireland isn’t a war zone, protests only happen at night time, but everyone here is just becoming sick and tired of it. Last night an old man was stopped from getting into the hospital to see his wife who was dying of cancer because Loyalist protesters were blocking his way and wouldn’t let him past; it’s inhumane, it’s sickening, it’s depressing. The people protesting have no understanding of the fact that, while they protest about a flag, there are so many other things going on in the world that are far worse than the fact that they seem to find their national identity in the flying of a flag. They are stuck in their own little bubble and have no real grasp on reality; they’re like children who don’t understand yet that there is more to the world than the things they want.

What really stresses me out is when I hear about children being involved in the protests. It’s easy when you’re young not to realise the consequences that your actions can have but that’s why it’s so important to have adults in your life to guide you; these kids either don’t have that or their families aren’t being provided with the resources to keep their children under control and bring them up in a way that children deserve to be brought up. It won’t hit them yet, but one day they’ll realise that the criminal record they got when they were eleven years old is going to have a very negative affect on their lives.

I wanted to write about this because I know so many of you who read this blog aren’t from Northern Ireland, or even the UK, and I think if Northern Ireland was more important to the British government a bigger deal would have been made out of how bad things are here at the minute. However, I also want to stop the media making Northern Ireland look like the war zone that it was previously depicted as, and that a lot of people thought it always was until recently; I had friends in university who thought there were still bombs going off here on a regular basis. The current riots are not normal and, up until December, I think we all thought Northern Ireland was moving in a really positive direction.

I also wanted to write to ask those of you who pray to please keep Northern Ireland in your prayers. I don’t think anything other than God has the power to stop any of this any more; politics is flawed because humans are in charge of it, but God has perfect powers and can do anything. I trust in Him to bring peace back to Northern Ireland and, if we can get enough people praying for Northern Ireland all across the world, then I think He’ll move mountains because there is something so beautiful and important about persistent prayer.

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