Northern Ireland unionists march amid political deadlock

Belfast (AFP) –

Thousands of Protestant unionists are scheduled to take part in traditional Orange marches in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, to show their attachment to the UK at a time when the British province is in political deadlock.

Held every July 12, these Orange Order parades commemorate Protestant King William III of Orange Nassau’s victory over his Catholic rival James II in 1690.

After the coronavirus pandemic, which caused its cancellation in 2020 and a reduced edition last year, the parades are taking place this time at a particular time for Northern Ireland, which has been living without a government for 3 months.

And the resignation of Boris Johnson in London adds pressure to the instability, as the candidates to succeed the British prime minister take a position on the post-Brexit trade rules that will apply to the territory.

On Monday night, more than 250 bonfires were lit in unionist communities across the province to mark the start of the festivities.

In total, 573 Orange Order parades are planned for Tuesday, of which 33 should pass through Catholic areas, a possible source of tensions.

Before the 1998 peace agreement, the conflict between unionists -mainly Protestants and supporters of keeping the province under the British crown- and republicans -essentially Catholics and militants for a reunification of the island- caused 3,500 deaths.

– Tensions –

In fact, Orange Order celebrations always take place under high surveillance. According to the police, 2,500 officers will be mobilized to prevent any overflow on Tuesday.

Authorities are currently treating an incident on Thursday, when Molotov cocktails and bricks were thrown at the site of a bonfire, as a hate crime.

The organization of such a fire had aroused the anger of the republican inhabitants who lived in the vicinity.

Furthermore, the parades take place this year when Northern Ireland is at the center of tensions between the United Kingdom and the European Union over the post-Brexit deal that is supposed to govern their relations.

The Northern Ireland protocol plans to protect the single European market without causing the return of a physical demarcation between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU, to avoid weakening the peace signed in 1998.

But unionists, denouncing the creation of an Irish Sea border within the UK, strongly oppose it.

Since May, they have blocked the province’s institutions by refusing to join the local executive with the Sinn Fein Republicans -big winners in the local elections in May- by virtue of the distribution of power, as long as the controls are not abandoned.

The UK government has submitted a bill to parliament that is currently under review to go beyond some of its obligations under the deal, a move the EU considers illegal and which allows for the threat of trade retaliation.

The British power justifies its project by the need to try to resolve the political stalemate in the British province and convince the unionists to participate in the local government.