t is something of a tribute to the Irish peace process that people can look at the television pictures of unrest in Northern Ireland and ask “why are they rioting?” Well within living memory, a few petrol bombs and bricks being lobbed around the streets of the province wouldn’t have even made the news: people would have wondered why things were so quiet.
The short answer to why they’re playing up in Ulster is “Brexit”. Brexit, as done, means a regulatory, economic border down the Irish Sea, with controls on imports on goods into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, ie from one part of the UK to another. This was in preference to putting the UK-EU border in the obvious place, along the border with Ireland, because it would have violated the letter of an international treaty, the Good Friday Belfast Agreement, and also the spirit of the peace process, which was to pretend the political border didn’t exist. The new UK-EU western border had to go somewhere, and the most convenient spot was Northern Ireland.
In practical terms, it has greatly inconvenienced businesses and consumers. All sorts of additional costs are involved in moving anything that’s been connected to a dead animal, or indeed a live one. Innocuous items such as a rose bush cultivated in Yorkshire and headed to a garden centre in Armagh are virtually banned because they contain potentially hazardous “third country” soil, as if it was straight from Chernobyl. No one minds, in political terms, if there are inconvenient and costly checks on British shellfish or rose bushes or chicken sandwiches moving from the UK to France or the Netherlands, because the borders at the ports don’t have 800 years of sectarian strife behind them.