Riots obscure economic successes in N Ireland

Three days of riots in Northern Ireland, threaten to overshadow the economic success that peace has brought to the province, local business executives and economists say.

Described by Northern Ireland police chief Hugh Orde as “one of the most dangerous riot situations” ever, the violence began Sept. 10 when authorities diverted a Protestant march from its traditional path through a Catholic nationalist area.

The 1998 Good Friday peace accord between the nationalist and unionist communities helped prompt companies including Citigroup Inc., the world's largest financial services company, and insurer Allstate Corp. to invest 149 million pounds ($272 million) in Northern Ireland last year. Since then, average growth in the province's economy has accelerated and house prices are rising seven times faster than Britain.

“In the short term these difficulties won't have too much impact because of the broader trends that are under way,” said Tom Vosa, an economist in London at National Australia Bank who formerly worked at the Bank of England. “But if this continues it may start to have an impact on the strength of house prices and inward investment,” reports Bloomberg.

According to Herald Tribune, more than 80 police officers have been hurt in the riots, which saw security forces and paramilitaries exchange volleys of gunfire. The clashes often began with handfuls of teenagers gathered on street corners, calling friends on cellphones to gather a crowd.

On Wednesday afternoon, police officers wearing body armor and carrying plastic shields dispersed a roadblock in a gritty residential area, and locals were in fighting form.

Davy Reid, 28, said the violence was started by the police ban on a parade by a Protestant men's organization, the Orange Order, through a Catholic neighborhood last weekend. He listed a string of grievances ranging from the closing of a hospital's maternity unit to the lack of a shopping center nearby - both of which he said were available in Catholic areas.

“The government hasn't been listening,” he said. “We're having our civil and religious liberties taken away.”

Photo: the AP

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