Beyond the Spark: Young people's perspectives on the 2021 Northern Ireland Riots

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

279 Downloads (Pure)


Violence is complex both in its origins and in its solutions (Gilligan, 1999). It takes manyf orms (Lee, 2019) and can be directed towards oneself, towards others, or perpetrated collectively by a group of individuals towards others (Dahlberg and Krug, 2002). As Spring2021 came to Northern Ireland, the streets of some communities were marred by collective violence. Unusually for riots, these appeared to be structured and coherently organised (Dela Roche, 1996). Scenes of young people throwing bricks and petrol bombs at police were circulated online, as well as through international media. The story of escalating community tensions was reported in the Guardian, Euronews and Al Jazeera. Time Magazine posed the question, ‘Is Northern Ireland experiencing the worst violence in years?’ In terms of mobilisation, it certainly was the most destructive in recent times. After seven nights of rioting, eighty-eight police officers were injured and several communities were left with significant damage to property (Cross and Rutherford, 2021).

As tends to be the case in any conflict, youth are often at disproportional risk of being the perpetrators of violence in addition to being more likely to be the victim of violence (Walsh and Schubotz, 2020). During these Spring riots, it was reported that children as young aseight were actively involved in some of the most violent disturbances. In response, the Commissioner for Children and Young People for Northern Ireland publicly claimed that organised criminals, operating through paramilitary structures were coercing and criminally exploiting young people to engage in the violence (McLafferty, 2021). A few months later, the office of the Commissioner published a government advice paper on the issue of criminal exploitation calling for a whole government approach (NICCY, 2021).

The riots took place in largely “loyalist areas” and where communities interfaced. In one of the most well documented interfaces known as the ‘brick fields’, the predominantly loyalist Shankill Road erupted and the concrete ‘peace wall’ that separates it from the nationalist Springfield Road was shut. The aesthetics were powerful. Images of the interface showed groups of what appeared to be mostly young people masked and armed with projectiles. Maybe the most striking as well as memorable image, was the public bus that was hijacked and set alight. Against the darkness of the night, the fire illuminated the concrete barrier separating the two communities.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyDepartment of Justice
Publication statusPublished - 06 Oct 2021


  • Violence
  • youth
  • conflict
  • paramilitaries
  • prevention


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond the Spark: Young people's perspectives on the 2021 Northern Ireland Riots'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this