Thousands of Protestant unionists are expected Tuesday at the traditional Orange marches in Northern Ireland to mark their attachment to the United Kingdom, at a time when the British province is in the midst of a political stalemate.
These Orange Order parades, celebrated every July 12, commemorate the victory of Protestant King William III of Orange-Nassau over his Catholic rival James II in 1690.
After the pandemic which had led to their cancellation in 2020 and to a reduced format edition last year, the parades take place this time while Northern Ireland has lived for three months without a government.
And the resignation of Boris Johnson in London has added to the instability, with candidates to succeed the British prime minister taking a stand on the post-Brexit trade rules to be applied for the territory.
Across the province on Monday evening, more than 250 bonfires were lit in Unionist communities to kick off the festivities.
A total of 573 Orange Order parades are scheduled for Tuesday, 33 of which are expected to pass through Catholic areas, a possible source of tension.
Before the peace agreement concluded in 1998, the conflict between Unionists, mainly Protestants and supporters of maintaining the province under the British crown, and Republicans, mainly Catholics and militant for the reunification of the island, left 3.500 dead. .
In fact, Orange Order celebrations always take place under close surveillance. According to the police, 2.500 officers will be mobilized to avoid any overflow on Tuesday.
Authorities are currently treating as a hate crime an incident on Thursday, where molotov cocktails and bricks were thrown at the site of a bonfire. The organization of such a fire had angered Republican residents living nearby.
The parades also take place this year when Northern Ireland is at the heart of tensions between the United Kingdom and the European Union over the post-Brexit agreement supposed to govern their relations.
The Northern Irish protocol plans to protect the single European market without causing the return of a physical demarcation between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU, to avoid weakening the peace signed in 1998.
But the unionists, denouncing the creation of a border in the Irish Sea within the United Kingdom, are firmly opposed to it.
Since May, they have blocked the institutions of the province by refusing to join the local executive with the Republicans of Sinn Fein - big winners of the local elections in May - under power sharing, as long as the controls are not abandoned.
The British government has thus presented a bill currently before Parliament to override some of its obligations under the agreement, a move deemed illegal by the EU which raises the threat of trade retaliation.
The British government justifies its project by the need to try to resolve the political impasse in the British province and convince the Unionists to participate in local government.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)