Saturday, January 18, 2020

In Northern Ireland, unionists, "betrayed" by Boris Johnson, fear that power will escape them

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Loyalist graffiti representing the Queen of England on the Shankill Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 19 October. PAUL FAITH / AFP

On the gates of the small municipal basketball court, a large flag of the Union Jack was hung. At its center, in large capital letters, is a word: "Brexit. " Above, another has been prominently highlighted: "Loyalist. "

In Tigers Bay, the two concepts mix, to be one: "loyal" to the British Crown, and anti-European, until the end in both cases. This poor district of Belfast was a Mecca of the "Troubles" of Northern Ireland. Here, everyone is Protestant, Unionist (will to stay in the United Kingdom) and marked in his flesh by the thirty years of civil war that have made 3,500 dead.

In the nearby pub, proudly decorated with patriotic signs, the IRA, the former paramilitary group, one day shot dead a man. Even today, large barriers separate Tigers Bay from the neighboring neighborhood, which is 100% Catholic and anti-Brexit. In the evening, the doors are closed to ensure safety.

These sad rows of small brick houses are at the heart of a very important political test. For the December 12 legislative elections, Nigel Dodds, the outgoing MP, number two of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), may lose his seat.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Brexit: How the Northern Irish Unionists have hijacked the agreement with the EU

Its district of Belfast North, which also includes Catholic neighborhoods, could switch to Sinn Fein, the main nationalist formation (favorable to the unification of Ireland). In the legislative elections of 2017, Mr. Dodds, with 46% of the vote, had already only five points ahead. This time, the polls are in the margin of error. If the Unionists lose here, it would be a first since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921.

A peace "built on sand"

"This is an exceptionally important constituency, represented by the most symbolic brexiter of all, the voice of the DUP at Westminster," summed up John Finucane, Sinn Fein's candidate, who hopes to take his seat. The symbol would be all the stronger as he saw his father, a lawyer for IRA members, shot in front of his eyes in 1989 by a paramilitary loyalist group.

The potential defeat of Mr Dodds is part of a larger shift across Northern Ireland. "There are currently eleven Unionist deputies (ten DUPs and one independent) and seven nationalists (Sinn Fein), says Muiris MacCarthaigh of Queen's University Belfast. After these elections, there is a good chance of finding nine seats for nationalists and unionists. " For the latter, who have long dominated the province, it would be a very heavy symbol of power that escapes them.

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