LEICESTER, United Kingdom – British Home Secretary Suella Braverman is under fire for comparing the pro-Palestinian protests taking place in the country to “the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.”
Northern Ireland was established in 1921 by the British government as part of plans to establish home rule on the island of Ireland. At the time, it had a Protestant majority, that wished to keep close ties to the United Kingdom.
Although this separation was meant to be temporary, the Irish civil war and establishment of the Irish Free State in the south in 1922 made it permanent.
The division – and discrimination against the significant Catholic minority in the North – was the source of decades of conflict on the island of Ireland.
This flared up as “The Troubles” in the late 1960’s, which pitted the Irish Republican Army and its various offshoots against the British army and Unionist paramilitary groups. The conflict mostly ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the establishment of the Northern Irish Assembly in Belfast.
“I do not believe that these marches [in support of Palestine] are merely a cry for help for Gaza. They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland,” Braverman told The Times.
“Also, disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organizers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas,” she added.
Professor Marianne Elliott, director of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, said he was afraid the Home Minister’s remarks appear to be based on ignorance.
“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must have his head in his hands, because the political situation is still extraordinarily fragile. There are dissidents on both sides in Northern Ireland, but the links the Home Secretary is making are needlessly provocative and based on stereotypes,” she said, according to INews.
“The sectarian divide runs very, very deep in Northern Ireland, but can you actually call that ‘hate’? I would not put that word on it,” Eliott said.
“At the kindest, what she says is unhelpful to the peace process. To put it more bluntly, it is extremely worrying that a senior member of the current government uses this sort of language,” she added.
Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain said he had presumed the remarks were an attack on Orange Order marches.
“Why on earth is this gratuitously offensive Home Secretary meddling in Northern Ireland affairs with her ignorant attack on Orange Order marches by traditional unionists?” Hain told the local press.
Colum Eastwood, the MP for Foyle and leader of the SDLP, the nationalist party that worked on the peace deal in Northern Ireland, called Braverman a “pound-shop Enoch Powell,” a reference to a conservative British politician in the 1950s, 60s and 70s best known for his controversial “rivers of blood” anti-immigration speech in 1968.
“The comments comparing the proposed Armistice Day protests against the appalling bombardment of civilians in Gaza with the marching tradition in Northern Ireland are an exercise in what can only be described as aggressive ignorance,” he said.
“Ignorance of the conditions faced by the civilian population in Gaza, ignorance of the role of the Met police, ignorance of the complex history and traditions of marching and protest in Northern Ireland. She has managed to offend just about everyone – no mean feat in a divided society,” he continued.
“The comments are far below the standard that should be expected from a senior government minister. The only appropriate action now is her removal from office, but given the systemic weakness of this government, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she remained,” Eastwood said.
Meanwhile, one unnamed former Tory cabinet minister told Sky News political editor Beth Rigby that Braverman’s comments were “wholly offensive and ignorant of where people in Northern Ireland stand on the issues of Israel and Gaza.”
“It would be good to know what she knows about what Northern Ireland people think about the current Israel-Palestine situation before she casts aspersions,” the former minister said.
Both the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrats are calling on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to remove Braverman from her post.
Sunak’s office said it did not approve the article, and that suggested changes to the text were not followed.
One senior Conservative Member of Parliament told the BBC that the “home secretary’s awfulness is now a reflection on the prime minister. Keeping her in post is damaging him.”