With Christmas at the door, Ireland is grappling with religious strife again.  A piece treaty signed 15 years ago, seems to be fraying at the edges.  

Many on the ground in Belfast could tell you that the peace treaty, though it stopped the bloodshed, has done nothing to mend strife and narrow sectarian divisions.

Belfast in fact, is as religiously segregated as it was before the peace treaty, and now, signs of unrest point to a difficult year ahead.

A bomb went off in Belfast on Friday last.   A Republican group claimed responsibility for the detonation.  Three more events, which resulted in bomb scares, but no blasts, have been recorded in the past week.

The problem is not skin deep.  Almost every action must be made to account for local and religious sensibility. Just last week, Unionists in City Hall banned official Christmas Cards that bore a picture of Belfast City Hall despoiled of the British flag.  In fact this flag flying agenda has been one of the reasons strife is heating up in Belfast.  Loyalists have protested the fact that the Union Jack would not be flown over City Hall year round, but only on certain calendar days. 

Current negotiations, which sees people from across the Atlantic  like prof. Meghan O' Sullivan from Harvard, coming to the table to resolve the recent issues ahead of the Christmas holidays.  

Recent revelations that the army had colluded with the IRA in the past in the murder two senior Northern Ireland police has also been referred to as one of the catalyst for the current unrest.  On the other hand, a book on the alliance between British security forces and the Loyalists that resulted in more than 120 people dead in Tyrone and Armagh has not helped any.  

At the basis of continued unrest and the probability of a return to open conflict, is the fact that the peace treaty did nothing to bring the two factions together in a pluralistic way.  Without a future plan for coexistance in Northern Ireland, it is only a matter of time before the possibility of violence becomes real again. 

Sinn Fein is looking to a truth commission to solve some of the problems with Northern Ireland's bloody past.  However, the Unionists' opposition to any amnesty could be a considerable roadblock to the plan.  They are however, considering a limited immunity deal for both sides, one that would not let all crimes go unpunished.

Northern Ireland's politicians are also looking at the possibility of compensating the victim's families, instead of spending millions on search-for-the-truth tribunals.  

In the midst of all this, Loyalists keep parading.  That alone, is a strong source of bad feelings.  One of the things that many in Northern Ireland want to see gone are exactly these parades.  Loyalists for their part refuse to concede on both the parades issue and that of flying the Union Jack. 

Source : Al Jazeera/  12.16.13


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