The disturbance is centred on the working class district of New Lodge, situated just north of Belfast city centre. Historically the district is staunchly nationalist and republican, Presstv Reported.
Today the area is dominated by the mainstream republican group Sinn Fein. Veteran Sinn Fein politician and member of the Northern Ireland legislative assembly (which has been defunct since 2017) waded into the row by telling a local vigilante group to “get off the back of the community”.
The vigilante group in question is the self-styled “Action Against Drugs” (AAD), which has established a stronghold in New Lodge by appearing to confront criminal gangs.
But Kelly told the Belfast Telegraph that “there is absolutely no place for this group who have already been responsible for a number of deaths and beatings”.
Sinn Fein maintains that groups like AAD merely pretend to fight crime as a means of gaining power and influence in traditional republican strongholds such as New Lodge.
This position is forcefully articulated by Kelly who claims that “this group [AAD], contrary to its graffiti claiming to reclaim the community, has gained wealth by taxing drugs dealers”.
But there is evidence that the so-called vigilante groups also have a political agenda and an attendant social constituency.
The AAD, for example, is linked to the dissident nationalist group, the Irish Republican Movement (IRM).
According to the Irish Times on 12 April, 2018, the AAD and the IRM maintain a forceful presence in Belfast and West Tyrone.
The dissident republican factions, and the vigilante groups aligned to them, are expected to step up their activities as the political crisis in Northern Ireland deepens.
The Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in January 2017 following an alternative energy scandal, the so-called Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, a payment system in England, Scotland and Wales, for the generation of heat from renewable energy sources. Introduced on 28 November 2011.
More recently, the power vacuum has been exacerbated by Brexit-related uncertainty, and specifically fears of a return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the event of the UK’s disorderly exit from the European Union.