Last week clashes across Northern Ireland stirred memories of the bad old days. In Belfast, protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and set a car aflame, injuring more than 80 officers; police returned fire with rubber bullets and a water cannon. TV news images have people asking: are the old Catholic-versus-Protestant conflicts going to derail Northern Ireland’s peace process?
The violence is actually a response to economic hardship as much as to sectarian tensions. While the rest of the United Kingdom has emerged from recession, Northern Ireland’s economy remains stalled. In parts of Belfast, more than 20 percent of males are jobless, compared with an overall figure of 7.8 percent across the U.K. Those numbers could get worse as the British government, which heavily subsidizes Northern Ireland, prepares big cuts in public spending. What’s needed is outside investment—and the scenes on TV will scarcely encourage that.