Leading article: Violence unleashed by irresponsible politicians

Share

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

Recruitment Genius: Admin / Studio Manager

£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability Adviser - Welwyn Garden City / Hendon

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Employability within this compa...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer - UI / UX Design

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Designer is required to j...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£30000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation based in Pea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: We Are Not Syriza; and the riddle of an imitation Sphinx in China

John Rentoul
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable