Even in times of ‘Peace’, riots, shootings and civil unrest are not uncommon sights around Northern Ireland. The words dominate the headlines, especially during the infamous marching season, and no one bats an eye-lid – just another day in paradise. However, is there an underlying reason for the recent spate of violence and discontent?
Several weeks ago it emerged that the loyalist paramilitary organisation, the UVF, had effectively orchestrated a prolonged series of riots in an interface area in the predominantly unionist East Belfast. Shots were fired and various missiles were hurled. Members of the nationalist enclave in the Short Strand area of East Belfast claimed that their community was effectively under siege and enraged youths responded in kind. There were even murmurs that republican paramilitaries had also fired shots and a daring (or stupid, depending on how you see it) photographer fell victim to the cross-fire.
The UVF had allegedly decommissioned and were said to be giving peace a go. Why, then, did this happen? Progressive Unionist* [sic] member Jim Wilson asserted that it is largely because Loyalism has been “pushed outside” the peace process. Pushed outside by whom, one asks? Of course, Wilson is probably alluding to the increasing pressure on loyalist paramilitaries from the Historical Enquiries Team, the growing intensity of investigations into organised crime linked to loyalists and of course, how could we forget the ever-contentious issue of parades? It is no longer a case of one rule for one and one rule for the other.
If Loyalism is being pushed outside the peace process, it is by a thing called common sense and the will of the people, not that common sense and the will of the people usually go hand in hand. This time, it appears that they do. What is happening, as the chariots of time drag us all into the future, is a blatant shift in the dynamic of the north. Guns have been generally laid down and people are beginning to see the merits of compromise, genuinely seeking to build a better future.
One of the biggest barriers to this evolving dynamic is the attitude of Loyalism and it is probably the reason why we are seeing an increase in violence from that element of society. Compromise is seen to be a concession to the lesser people and concession is seen to be a symptom of weakness. Weakness in character, principle and values. Weakness in the union with Britain? Who knows?
What is certain, however, is that this changing dynamic has ensured that the days of one party rule are gone. We’ll never have a sectarian, archaic old boys’ club running things again, if we’re lucky. Just another day in paradise.
*A misnomer if ever there was one.