The anniversary of a massacre and the effects of Brexit in Ireland

Bandeiras celebram a memória do Domingo Sangrento, na Irlanda do Norte, em 2020

Flags commemorate Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland in

| Photo: EFE


The next day January marks the fiftieth anniversary of Sunday Bloody from Derry, Northern Ireland. A momentous event both for recent Irish identity and for the dispute between republicans and unionists, its golden jubilee in 2022 happened to be just months before the Northern Irish regional election. And, so far, it seems that the election will have an unprecedented result.

Derry Bloody Sunday is perhaps best known for being honored in the song Sunday Bloody Sunday by Irish band U2. On the occasion, in 1972, a march of about ten thousand demonstrators, mostly Irish Catholics, walked from a Derry borough to the town hall. The protest was against British laws imposed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles period, “Troubles”, the euphemistic name for nearly forty years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in the 1990s 1960 up until 1998.

Mainly, the fact that accused persons of “terrorist activities” could be detained without formal charges and without the possibility of habeas corpus. For every member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), an Irish group considered a terrorist by the British government, arrested with this measure, a dozen innocent people were also unfairly detained.

Deaths and violence

The demonstration was considered illegal by the British authorities and the British army claims that a group of teenagers had abandoned the main group to throw stones at an army barricade . This was the trigger for the generalized repression of the protest by the 1st battalion of the Parachute Regiment, a military unit, not police and not even capable of dealing with the civilian population.

Twenty-five minutes later, fourteen protesters died and others were injured. All the dead were Catholics. Of the fatal victims, six were teenagers and five were shot in the back. None were armed and no explosives were found with the protesters or along the route of the demonstration. These were some of the conclusions of the Saville Inquiry, by 1970, which classified the deaths as “unjustifiable” and that British soldiers “actively lied” to cover up the facts.

The The inquiry prompted an official apology from the British government in 2010, from then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. The massacre was the episode with the highest number of civilian victims of the Troubles and, in the period, in addition to negative press, it also caused an increase in support for the IRA by the Northern Irish. The annual march to honor the dead is also often the focus of tensions and disputes, and the coat of arms of the Parachute Regiment is used as a symbol by extremist unionists.

The city of Derry itself is considered the “birthplace” of the Troubles. Located in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, the city is very close to the border with the independent Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland’s second largest city, the majority of its population is Catholic, although the city has been an important British military base since the times of the Tudor invasion. The division and tension are such that the city’s football team, Derry City FC, play in the neighboring Irish league, for security reasons.

Just in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Derry we will have elections for the regional parliament of Northern Ireland, created in 1998 precisely as part of the peace process on the island. The previous election, held in 2017, was held after the referendum that authorized the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. , but before Brexit be eventually implemented.

Elections and Brexit

The election next May will be the first disputed amid the effects of the Brexit As already explained here in our space, more than once, the Brexit is particularly sensitive on the island of Ireland. By the peace of 1970, the internal border was, in practice, abolished, with free transit between the Republic Ireland, an EU member country, and Northern Ireland. Several studies and samples have shown that the transit of people and goods has reduced episodes of violence and contributed to better relationships.

The Brexit

, however, would restore the border, creating an impasse. The solution was to “displace” the border to the sea. Goods from the EU entering UK territory via Ireland would need to pass customs controls at ports in the Irish Sea. This solution, in turn, displeased the unionists, both in Northern Ireland and in some English sectors, who see an internal cleavage that is still “the fault” of the EU. Last year, we commented on how episodes of violence have increased on the island since then.

As a result of this change, Republicans have the greatest support in Northern Ireland in their history. In this case, “Republican” is the term for Northern Irish nationalists who desire Irish unity, independent of the United Kingdom and becoming part of the Republic of Ireland. Unionists are those who defend ties with the United Kingdom, mostly Protestants. There are also Ulster nationalists, who defend an independent Northern Ireland, but without being part of the Republic of Ireland.

Election polls show Sinn Féin in the lead in preference, with 25% of voting intentions. Founded in 1280, Sinn Féin played an important role in Ireland’s war of independence. Its current version was founded in 1970, as a left-wing and republican party. Currently has 37 of the 37 seats in the parliament of Republic of Ireland, 26 of 26 Northern Ireland Assembly seats, plus seven seats in the House of Commons in London, where it adopts a policy of abstention.

Mainly, Sinn Féin is seen as “the IRA party”, as many members of the group joined the party after the peace process, although there were no official ties. It may be the first time in history that a party openly opposed to union with London has won the election in Northern Ireland. All were won by unionists, and the Democratic Unionist Party was once part of British government coalitions, in alliance with the Conservatives.

Of course 25% of the electorate can secure first place, but not a coalition government. A victory for Sinn Féin, however, in addition to being unprecedented, would also generate perhaps the greatest pressure for an Irish republican union ever seen in political circles. Added to the growing disrepute of the Boris Johnson government and the fact that Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish government, has promised a new referendum for Scottish independence, next year could be decisive for the United Kingdom as we know it today.