Sunday, September 24, 2023

Northern Ireland: Tensions Rise Between Catholics and Protestants

PSNI rolls out branding change a year after previous proposals ditched due  to backlash - Belfast Live

After the difficulties caused by Brexit, the strong tensions currently shaking the Northern Irish police are exacerbating the divisions between Catholics and Protestants, filling the future of Northern Ireland with uncertainty.

Clouds gather above Belfast, carried by the winds of discord. 

The Northern Irish police – Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – have been in crisis for several weeks. 

An essential cog in the peace process launched in 1998 by the Good Friday Accords, its leader was forced to resign on September 4, 2023.

Simon Byrne's position was no longer tenable. 

On August 8, there was a series of data breaches, in which the personal and employment data of every police officer and civilian member of staff was published online, endangering their security in a context where police officers are regularly the target of attacks attributed to dissident republicans.

A leak which weakens the PSNI which in 2001 took the place of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, mainly Protestant, to fight against the discrimination against Catholics. 

It is a force which has failed to reflect the image of Northern Irish society: the proportion of Catholic agents continues to decline (30%) while there are fewer and fewer Protestants in the province.

However, “Catholic police officers – around 2,000 – joined (the PSNI) in full knowledge of the risks this posed to their personal safety. They demonstrate commitment and dedication to protecting their communities, which I believe is not fully understood or recognized elsewhere in Ireland and the United Kingdom,” laments Gerry Murray, head of the Catholic police union of Northern Ireland.

A failure in recruitment which can also be explained by the fact that Catholic police officers are often in the crosshairs of radical republicans who see their co-religionists as traitors to the cause of the independence of Northern Ireland. 

One thing is certain, last August’s data breach is not likely to improve the attractiveness of the profession.

But that's not all: in 2021, two PSNI police officers were disciplined by their chief for detaining an attendee at a republican commemoration in honor of the five Catholic victims of a shooting in south Belfast attributed to the Protestant loyalists in 1992.

A sanction that Simon Byrne saw fit to make in order to placate Sinn Fein – former armed wing of the IRA, now the main republican political party supporting the reunification of Ireland and a stakeholder in the peace process, – several elected officials of which are members of the PSNI board.

A dramatic turn of events at the end of last August, when the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland delivered its verdict: the police chief had unfairly sanctioned his civil servants for political reasons and must reinstate them. 

The cup is full for Simon Byrne who was quick to tender his resignation earlier this month.

Gerry Murray sees in this crisis offered “an opportunity to forge a path of real change.” 

Faced with the seriousness of the situation, Eamon Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh, met Simon Byrne to assure him of his “unequivocal support for those who serve as police members of civilian support workers for the PSNI,” calling on Catholics to “reject entirely those who would intimidate or threaten the courageous women and men.”

What is certain is that the turmoil in the Northern Irish police will not contribute to strengthening relations between Catholics and Protestants already damaged by the consequences of Brexit and the introduction of a customs border between the Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.