What You Need To Know About The Riots In Northern Ireland

The decision to stop permanently flying the British flag outside Belfast City Hall has sparked the worst violence since the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. Only Kate Middleton's birthday was a brief respite from the violence. Here's a breakdown of the riots and the growing unrest in the country.

Posted on

The country's population and political parties can be divided into two groups: those who wish to split from Great Britain (Nationalists and Republicans) and those who want to remain in the United Kingdom (Unionists and Loyalists).

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

"Hands Across the Divide" monument. Derry, Ireland.

Northern Ireland's political divisions have deep cultural and religious roots. Unionists consider themselves to be British and most are Protestants. Nationalists identify as Irish and tend to be Catholic.

Violence between Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups plagued the country for years, killing thousands of people. These conflicts ended for the most part with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Belfast is the capitol of Northern Ireland and is its largest city. In the 2011 elections, Nationalist parties for the first time secured more seats on the Belfast City Council than Unionist parties.

On December 3, 2012, the Belfast City Council voted to end the practice of flying the union (British) flag 365 days a year from the dome of the city hall and fly it only on designated days.

Police rushed to defend the building from the angry crowd. Two officers, a security guard, and various civilians were wounded in the fighting.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Northern Ireland on December 7 and condemned the escalating attacks, which by then included more riots, death threats and a car bomb that was discovered before it went off.

Many of these protests descended into violence. By December 21st, approximately 60 Belfast police officers had been injured by flying masonry, bricks, bottles, and petrol bombs.

Belfast police used water cannons against more than 100 protesters hurling fireworks, smoke bombs and bricks. Shots were fired and a 38 year-old man was arrested for attempted murder.

The Belfast City Council met for the first time since the controversial flag vote on Monday evening and the violence erupted for the fifth night in a row.

The Union Flag was flown above Belfast City Hall Wednesday for the first time since December 3 in honor of Kate Middleton aka Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge'sbirthday.

The flag's presence had a noticeable effect on the protestors. For the first time in a week, the peaceful daytime demonstrations ended quietly instead of escalating into violence. Wednesday marked the first of the sixteen days the union flag will fly

UPDATE:

An earlier version of this article included a reference to "the Irish fashion," as a joke about the University of Notre Dame mascot, the "fighting Irish." The joke was obscure and gave offense, and has been removed.