David McKittrick: How a banned march revived the Troubles

Share

An appalling sense of déjà-vu is sweeping Belfast, causing its people to contemplate not just the awful mess caused by rioting but an even more awful thought: Is this city fated never to know real peace?

The Troubles were supposed to be on their last legs, drawing slowly but surely to a close. Life has improved hugely in a decade, and violent death is far less common than it was. The volcano was supposed to be dormant. Things were supposed to be settling down, not erupting with such suddenness and such force. Belfast was supposed to be a modern city, not one so volatile that a single banned Orange Order parade could create mayhem.

When the Orange march was banned from a nationalist district, the boys were called out. That meant the youths from loyalist areas, but in Belfast the word "boys" still retains the Shakespearean sense of armed men. They came out as well.

Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force are free-standing entities within Protestant communities. But they do have political radar: the head of the UVF, for example, has been shrewd enough to hold that post for 25 years.

As well as hearing what the Orange Order said, he heard what Unionist politicians did not say: there was little in the way of heartfelt, unequivocal appeals for calm.

The US administration and others have criticised Unionist and Orange figures for their performance, and indeed, it was not long before incendiary statements and gestures were followed by actual incendiaries.

A click of the paramilitary fingers was all it took to bring tattooed loyalist ex-prisoners scrambling out of the paramilitary pubs and on to the streets, pausing only to manufacture a few crates of petrol bombs.

Being told to get stuck in is not an imposition for these tough guys - instead, they tend to view it as a pleasurable duty. Getting stuck in involved injuring 50 police officers and causing millions of pounds of damage.

The orgy of careless destruction has been mostly within loyalist areas, making already rundown districts even more wretched, but the rioters do not fret about the damage.

They do not care. In the mornings in east Belfast, men - including some rioters - are to be seen standing cheerfully in the sunshine, watching council workmen clear up the mess from the night before. The fact that they have defaced their own district simply does not register with them.

The decline of the Troubles has reduced the size of their organisations but they are still in being and are still up for occasional bouts of bother. This is partly because that is the kind of people they are, and partly because of general underlying loyalist alienation.

The peace process has brought huge benefits to Belfast, but ask anybody in a loyalist area and they will say: the other side gets everything, we get nothing, nobody listens to us, they only thing they pay attention to is violence.

They say the government is putting terrorists in government, appeasing the IRA, weakening the union, running down security. The irony is that the rioting is coming from within a community which cries out for law and order, which opposes a military rundown, whose catchwords are stability and security.

Yet many of its teenagers are out on the streets at nights throwing petrol-bombs and blast-bombs at police Land Rovers, jeering and whooping with delight when a vehicle bursts into flame.

Loyalist dads sit in their homes saying the government should not reduce the military presence in Northern Ireland any further. Loyalist kids are meanwhile outside flinging petrol bombs at troops.

It matters not that the police - who are mainly Protestant - are taking a battering, as indeed is Northern Ireland's economy, its slowly improving image, its overall sense of morale and its hope for a better future.

Loyalists used to call Catholics and nationalists whingers, saying they were always complaining and never satisfied. Now it is loyalists who feel they are the new second-class citizens, who are full of angst and bitterness.

The role reversal is almost complete: now Catholics have confidence, high expectations, and well-developed political skills. Now loyalists are disgruntled, disheartened underdogs with no faith in their politicians and no confidence in their government.

The sight of hardline Protestants expressing their insecurities by attacking the security forces is nothing new. It has been happening for so long, a couple of hundred years, that any sense of paradox or incongruity has long since gone. It is, rather, the resort of the chronically inarticulate. The issue of the Orange march was simply the last straw for many parts of loyalism, a brutal, ugly cri de coeur from people who feel friendless, leaderless and out of sorts with the world.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron:  

David Cameron: Britain is now the success story of Europe

David Cameron
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk