Tara Gandhi discusses the British media’s response – or lack thereof – to the current violence in Northern Ireland.
On the night of 3 April, violence burst onto the streets of Belfast, after a number of incidents in Derry days earlier. The next day, despite a number of police officers being injured, over 30 petrol bombs being thrown and five carjackings, it came fourth or fifth in the running order of the BBC’s 10 o’clock news, following stories on the prince of Jordan, and some dogs that had been put down. Northern Ireland is, legally, part of the UK. In many areas, we share the same laws, the same government. So why do we seem to care so little for what happens there?
A full week after the initial violence erupted, suddenly all the commentators got involved. It seemed, overnight, someone had suggested it could be to do with Brexit, and suddenly the James O’Briens and Caitlin Morans of the British journalistic world began to pay attention. Seemingly prompted by the hijacking of a bus, Boris made his first public statement on the issue, and Twitter was full of hot takes that it all could’ve been avoided if he had been more careful with negotiations, or without Brexit. People tweeted images of the Brexit bus next to that of the burnt-out shell of a hijacked bus, in one of the most overwhelmingly reductive takes in a long time.
Brexit has played a part, namely in terms of the Irish Sea border. The loyalists never want to be treated differently from mainland Britain, yet they have been. But there are other factors in this too, like a complete lack of social care, high rates of poverty, and the culture of paramilitary violence. Did you know that Northern Ireland spent a year and a half recently with no formal government? Their issues are simply ignored by anyone not related to the country by blood, and it’s unacceptable.
Of course, the Gen Z online activists love nothing more than a “why aren’t people talking about this?” Twitter thread or “educational” TikTok, so on top of the lack of real publicity and reductive takes by English commentators, the week of rioting tweens writing Twitter threads titled “what’s happening in Belfast rn for people who don’t know,” which manage to condense over 100 years of oppression and conflict into three or four 280-character tweets. Not only does this often lead to the spread of misinformation, but it can also leave the people genuinely affected by the issues feeling like little more than a new trend.And when it comes to genuine online activism, we treat the US like the close neighbours Northern Ireland are. While you signed petitions to protect women in Georgia’s right to choose, Northern Irish women were travelling to London for abortions they couldn’t legally access in their own country, or worse, administering them themselves with drugs bought off the internet (and still are, despite legislation passing in 2019 which should have made it legal). While all eyes are on the trial of Derek Chauvin and the state of police violence in the US, rubber bullets are being fired at the people of Belfast and Derry. I don’t want to engage in whataboutism, or trauma Olympics, but it seems brazenly wrong that we ignore the plight of people in our own country while we amplify the stories of people suffering from the same thing hundreds of miles away. America has plenty of advocates. Northern Ireland has very few.