Northern Ireland news

Brexit protocol row a predictable political crisis, not a security one

Police at the Port of Larne yesterday.

While loyalist anger at the Northern Ireland protocol was entirely predictable, loyalist violence at the implementation of the sea border is not inevitable.

In fact there is currently no appetite for a return to violence among those with positions of leadership in the loyalist paramilitary groups.

The political agreement between Boris Johnson and the EU, which in the eyes of many unionists makes the north a 'place apart' may very well unite factions of loyalism who have been fractured for many years by historical feuds and infighting.

This unity is being used to place pressure on political unionism - specifically the DUP which has been spooked by recent opinion polls - to make the protocol unworkable, so as to force Westminster to find alternative arrangements.

This is a strategic response, not often associated with loyalism who in the past have tended to be reactionary, in taking to the streets, sporadic acts of violence or threats of disorder, to try and force the government to bend to their will.

Police of course need to remain cognisant of the fact that there has been words used in recent weeks that have wound up a community already rattled by pressure for a border poll and threats to their sovereignty.

Lone wolf attacks are always a possibility, but in this case the enemy is not so clear cut, attacks on workers at Larne would be considered attacks on members of their own community, making direct action much less likely.

There could be a replication of tactics of the Ulster Workers strike of 1974, using those sympathetic to the cause to make the system unworkable from within, but again that rules out the possibility of direct violence.

Graffiti has been used as a form of protest in the north since the start of the Troubles and there has been a coordinated effort to use walls as loud hailer for loyalism in the last week.

But with the PSNI saying there was no orchestrated threat and no proof that targetting information was being collected on harbour staff it raises the question, why were workers, both council and those working for the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs removed from their posts?

Why were they pulled out of the port of Larne on Monday evening before the PSNI had given a security assessment?

Why did Minister Edwin Poots not consult the executive before making a decision to remove staff, a decision that has attracted negative, global media attention to Northern Ireland?

Political crisis are a common occurrence in this part of the world, security crisis are thankfully much less common.

Despite the saber-rattling of recent days this is still a political crisis and not one that requires tanks at the ports.

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