A dispute between Britain and the European Union over the implementation of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol – designed to prevent a “hard” Irish border – has raised fears that the outrage it has caused among some caught in the middle could spill over into violent protest in the coming months. “The only thing that gets any results in this country is violence or the threat of violence,” said Alex, a 72-year-old Larne resident who described himself as a “proper unionist”. He declined to give his surname.
“We are part of the United Kingdom, we were born British, we live British and we will die British.” The British-run region remains deeply split along sectarian lines, 23 years after a peace deal largely ended three decades of bloodshed. Many Catholic nationalists aspire to unification with Ireland while Protestant unionists want to stay in the UK. Preserving that delicate peace without allowing the United Kingdom a back door into the EU’s single market via the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland was one of the most difficult issues of nearly four years of tortuous talks on the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc. A repeat of the 2013 protests, when petrol bombs and guns returned to the streets of Belfast after a vote by local councillors to end a century-old tradition of flying Britain’s flag from City Hall, is seen as a distinct possibility.