Leading article: Violence unleashed by irresponsible politicians


In east Belfast, one of the most prominent businesses on the Albertbridge Road, a focal point of the weekend's loyalist rioting, is a large pawn shop offering "pay day loans". Its existence is testimony to the fact that this is run-down inner-city east Belfast, where many live on or near the breadline. Most of the recent violence has been in such districts. The connection between poverty and violence is unmistakeable, and so too is the link between both and paramilitary groups. These three scourges pose a composite threat to peace, stability and progress.

The paramilitary presence is always visible on walls which are adorned with graffiti such as "UVF". Yesterday it could be seen even more graphically in the debris from the riots strewn around the little streets. The authorities have made commendable efforts in the district. Most of the bad housing has been replaced with high-quality modern stock, and there are numerous agencies offering advice on jobs and learning new skills.

But rioting is a very old skill here: major sectarian clashes in the city are recorded as far back as 1813 and since then there have been many unfortunate historical precedents for last weekend's violence. It was sparked by an Orange march, just as the 1813 disturbances were. The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has managed to lay to rest marching issues in many other areas, so that previous trouble-spots such as Drumcree and Lower Ormeau have settled down. But Springfield Road, where this disturbance flared, remains an unresolved problem which annually gives concern. When the Orangemen were refused permission to walk the route they wanted, through a nationalist area, they called supporters on to the streets in Belfast and elsewhere.

Loyalist paramilitary groups had been active and busy over the summer months, waging a feud that has claimed four lives and organising systematic intimidation of Catholic families. The Orange call was therefore the equivalent of crying fire in a crowded theatre. Some of those who responded to the call did so not by staging peaceful protests but by attacking the police with gunfire, blast bombs and petrol bombs. More than 30 officers have been hurt, with civilians also suffering.

The Orange Order has responded essentially with a shrug: responsibility lies with the authorities, it asserts. The march should not have been re-routed; the policing was heavy-handed; Protestant rights have been denied, and those that deny them must shoulder any blame going. This is the politics of irresponsibility, displaying a breathtaking lack of civic sense. It unleashed the paramilitary dogs of war.

Various Unionist politicians have also come in for criticism after some made curiously muffled condemnations of the violence. The comments of Mitchell Reiss, George Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland, were particularly pointed in speaking of "the abdication of responsibility by many Unionist political leaders". The marching controversy triggered the violence but underlying it is a deep loyalist and Unionist dissatisfaction with the way the world is going. This is a familiar phenomenon, for Ulster Protestants always tend towards conservatism and the past decade has been one of unprecedented change.

Protestants want peace as much as anyone else, yet much unease is generated by the deep-seated feeling that the other side - Irish nationalism and republicanism - is doing well. The irony is that the IRA promised, earlier in the summer, to decommission all its weapons and open a new era of unarmed, purely political republicanism. It is due to deliver on this promise within the next month or so: it would be a scandal if loyalist violence should worsen and put decommissioning in doubt.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'