Some of the worst sectarian rioting for over a decade between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland has resulted in two people being seriously injured with gunshot wounds, Monday night.
Reports have described around 500 people being involved in the riots in Belfast that saw fireworks and petrol bombs used as weapons by the two groups.
The riots hit the Short Strand area, which is a section of Catholic housing within the predominantly Protestant east region of Belfast.
Reuters reported that police attended the scene and attempted to split the warring groups by using stun grenades. However, the numbers on both sides were overwhelming and the riots escalated to the extent that gunshots were fired from both sides, resulting in two being hospitalized.
The rivalry between the two groups does not stem from religious rivalry, but rather political disagreements. The loyalist group that consists mostly of Protestants want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. However, the Republicans, a majority of whom are Irish Catholics, want Northern Ireland to break away from the United Kingdom and become part of a united Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.
Police have said, according to Reuters, that they believe the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) instigated the violence. Reuters describe the UVF as “one of the deadliest pro-British paramilitary groups of Northern Ireland's bloody past.”
According to Irish broadcaster RTE, Colm McKevitt, a member of the regional parliament said, “I cannot remember in the last decade a situation like this in the Short Strand.”
He added: “It does not augur well for the city at the outset of the marching season after a few relatively good few years.”
The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland made in 1998, came into force on December 2, 1999. This Agreement, as well as the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, form the basis of the present constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, as well as Northern Ireland's devolved system of government.