The National:

IN recent days, more than 40 police officers have been injured in violent scenes across Northern Ireland. Dozens of individuals, including children as young as 12, have been arrested in riots that have seen cars hijacked and firebombs thrown with reckless abandon.

These scary scenes have provided a chilling reminder of the fragility of peace in Northern Ireland; a peace that has richly benefited everyone across the UK and Ireland for more than 20 years. The reasons cited for this recent upsurge in violence are manifold and underline the many societal problems that exist in Northern Ireland.

Loyalist unease with the Northern Irish protocol is given as the main reason but before focusing on that it is also important to note that some of the violence is similar to anti-lockdown protests seen across Europe. Some of it has been orchestrated by criminal elements seeking to display influence, some of it is a frustration with the lack of any prosecutions following a Republican funeral attended by more than 2000 people in the summer that breached Covid restrictions, while some of it can be attributed to general socioeconomic deprivation in certain parts of Northern Ireland.

Since Brexit has come into force, the issues around the Northern Irish protocol have been well aired. The majority in Northern Ireland are unhappy with the protocol but then again, the majority in Northern Ireland, like Scotland, didn’t vote for Brexit.

The difficulty is that in order to have the sort of hard Brexit pursued by this British government there need to be checks somewhere, the fact that the only land frontier between the UK and the EU is the border in Ireland provides the greatest difficulty.

This issue was flagged, loudly, by the Irish Government and others during the Brexit referendum. This was ignored by the Brexiteers in England, primarily, and the politicians that led the Leave campaign. Those who highlighted the very clear damage Brexit could pose to the Good Friday Agreement were simply labelled as fearmongers. Well, like in so many cases, project fear has become project reality.

The National: Vote Leave ignored concerns about the Irish borderVote Leave ignored concerns about the Irish border

READ MORE: Stormont recalled for emergency debate as as violence in NI escalates

Northern Irish politicians that pushed Brexit bear sole responsibility for the disturbances that we see on the nightly news now. After playing their part in the referendum, they had the opportunity to shape a solution as they uniquely held the balance of power in Westminster. No proposals were forthcoming and eventually the protocol was devised as a compromise between the EU and the British government.

There must be checks somewhere and the checks required at two or three ports of entry by the protocol are manageable, particularly when the alternative is checks along a 500km frontier with more than 200 crossings; a frontier that was central to decades of political violence. The protocol isn’t the problem, Brexit is.

Certain politicians have ratcheted up the rhetoric in recent months, demanding the protocol be abandoned, blaming every problem on Dublin and the EU while still offering no alternatives. The rhetoric has provided the cover for dissidents to send impressionable young people onto the streets.

What is unfolding is truly worrying and feeding into an already tense political situation in Northern Ireland. Just two months ago the House of Commons Intelligence Committee declared the dissident paramilitary threat in Northern Ireland to be severe.

If the recent violence is to continue, is to escalate then it poses very serious problems for everyone; those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Troubles have no desire to see them return but there are those who have no problem risking a return and sadly others who simply deny anything untoward is happening.

What is needed now is cool heads and genuine efforts to engage in dialogue. The protocol is here to stay but the concerns and problems that it presents can be worked on. The folly of Brexit is unfolding all around us, its time for those who pushed it to take responsibility for their actions and work towards normalising matters. It is in everybody’s interest.