Six days of riots erupt in the 'New Northern Ireland'
A motion in Belfast to stop flying the British Union flag year-round touched off the riots, but the issues run deeper.
(Page 2 of 2)
John Kyle of the Progressive Unionist Party, a small political party linked to the loyalist UVF, says working-class unionists are alienated from both wider society and wealthier unionists, and feel their right to express their British identity is under assault from all sides.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"If you take away the opportunity for social development, all that's left is your culture – and whether middle-class people like it or not, [the] working class [loyalists] like parading," he says. "I have never known there to be such emotion and anger."
Mr. Kyle questioned claims the violence was organized by the UVF.
As reported in the Monitor in September, despite a power-sharing government, a 16-plus-year peace process, and the political isolation of armed dissident groups, Northern Ireland remains unsettled with frequent outbursts of street violence, particularly during the summer months when Protestant fraternal organizations take to the streets to parade, often to the chagrin of Irish nationalists.
It's all a far cry from the euphoria of the late 1990s when the guns finally fell silent. Since then, talk of a return to "normality" has never been far from the lips of politicians and commentators – it just never seems to quite happen.
Northern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), told his party conference in November many Catholics were disenfranchised because they were represented by "left and far-left policies," taking aim at the SDLP and Sinn Féin.
Mr. Robinson went on to say he was "the leader of a party that seeks to represent the whole community [and was] not prepared to write off over 40 percent of our population as being out of reach", implying conservative Catholics could and should vote for his party. This is highly aspirational, given his party has historically been the voice of unionist resistance to accommodation with nationalists.
Economics over national allegiances?
But with two largely conservative unionist parties – the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) — the same could be said about Protestant voters. All Northern Irish parties are alliances of left and right, though nationalist parties do tend to tilt leftward and unionists rightward. It remains an open question whether economic policy can or will overtake national allegiance in the privacy of the voting booth. This week's violence suggests not.
Both the DUP and UUP distributed leaflets condemning the proposal to quit flying the flag in the run-up to the vote.
Back on the ground, the recent conflagration was avoidable, many say.
Mick Fealty, who runs the Slugger O'Toole political discussion website, says the flag motion should never have brought to the table.
"What we've got here is a situation where two cultures carry two different sets of values. British culture, which is actually the sovereign culture, is seen as provocative," he says.