Despair of the silent loyalist majority as peace crumbles

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The Independent Online
In the hours before the rioting erupted last night, staunch but law- abiding loyalists in Sandy Row, Belfast, fumed at what they called extremists in their own camp whom they believed were causing 18 months of peace to crumble away.

One shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, discovered a burning car near his store when he opened up yesterday, the result of a petrol-bombing by loyalist groups in the early hours.

Surveying the remains of the vehicle he said: "It's an understatement to say we are upset that the violence has come back, from whatever side.

"The silent majority - that 96 per cent of us - don't want to know about it. But no one seems to hear us. We want peace. All this is going to do is drive away business from Belfast. And no one will win from that."

Another shop owner, an 81-year-old woman, said themonths of peace had been good but it seemed to be disappearing. "The real issue is that while I've had to work all my life there are people from both communities who live just on hand-outs and do this kind of thing. That's the real problem."

Barbara Coulson, 38, a Protestant who works in a bank, said the root of the problem, the catalyst, was the "siege" of Drumcree. "Why go out and seek confrontation by going through a nationalist area? It was bound to lead to violence."

Not everyone agreed. Some elderly loyalists said the nationalists were getting a taste of their own medicine. "They've had it coming for a long time," one elderly woman said. "We've put up with too much for 25 years."

Jim Ewart, 29, was more sanguine: "It's always more tense in the build- up to the 12 July [the anniversary of Battle of the Boyne]."

Across the divide, in the Catholic Falls Road, there was blame for the politicians and scorn for the Unionists.

Sean Smith, 44, said: "The Unionists have got used to having everything their own way. Why don't they march in their own areas as we do?"

John Major should deliver a stiff message to the Unionist leaders, he said. "He should tell them he will send in the Paras to show they are not going to get away with it as they tried to do with us."

Mr Smith said ordinary people like himself were not Sinn Fein or IRA supporters and just wanted a peaceful life. But he added: "I don't believe now that co-existence can work. Things are going too far. There's only one way this will be resolved and that's by civil war. It's not what I want, but I think that will happen."

Tony Lavery, a caretaker, saw the Unionist blockade of airports and roads as a direct threat to the nationalists and as an omen. "It is as if they are hemming us in and I think this will be their plan for the future."

Like many Catholics he was furious with the RUC for their "soft" treatment of the Orange demonstrators. "If that had been nationalists blocking the Queen's highway, the M1, you would have seen a lot of Catholics shot dead."