(Workers Solidarity Movement)
This summer’s Belfast riots must have been the most anticipated for some time, being widely predicted throughout politics and the media. The August rioting in Ardoyne (and Short Strand, the Markets, Lower Ormeau, New Lodge, Broadway; and Lurgan, Derry & Armagh) saw three days of trouble, shots fired at police and a landmine attack in South Armagh.
What has been lost in the smoke, plastic bullets and water cannon however is the truth and the bigger picture. Most residents of ‘catholic/nationalist’ Ardoyne did not want this sectarian parade to pass through their neighbourhood, the Orange Order and loyalists most certainly did. The right of people to live free of sectarian harassment and bullying was denied. And it’s worth remembering that the UVF sectarian killer Brian Robinson is always commemorated on this parade.
Of course there was a good number of people ready to riot, this is inevitable as they know year by year the residents’ arguments will be ignored, peaceful protest, talks and lobbying will fail and the parade will be forced through, then the stage will be set. In previous years Sinn Fein and the IRA policed the protests and calmed or even aborted the rioting, but their writ no longer runs here, not in the sense that they can force people to obey.
The opposition to the parade is genuine and as long as the marchers insist on the route and are pushed through by state forces there will be a reaction. The crazy statements by Sinn Fein reps around the riots calling for children to be put in care or families removed from the area are a sign of their decreasing power within that community, and amongst a layer of former supporters and members. The Provos have been integrated into a political system they once opposed, not just politically but also with methods identical to Ardoyne’s rioters.
The gap that has opened up in working class communities previously monopolised by SF and the IRA is being contested by a variety of republican organisations, some purely military, some purely political and some with a hand in both. Much of the trouble was organised and encouraged by various militarist groups (CIRA, RIRA, ONH, etc.). It is beyond doubt that these want to increase tension and conflict around contentious Orange parades. It’s all part of their wish to “destabilise” the North and drag us back to war. It also works for them to get young people battered by the PSNI, so they can then present their ‘armies’ as the way to hit back.
It is also true that there is an element of “recreational” rioting. Young people with little to look forward to, other than low paid jobs or the dole, are often found in the front line of street trouble. There is a whole new generation of young people who feel disenfranchised and angry.
Since the end of the IRA campaign and the co-option of Sinn Fein into the political system, the economic situation for both working class Catholics and Protestants has not improved. The question is can any of the organisations seeking to replace SF offer people a vision and a strategy to defeat sectarianism and build a society where working class people actually see improvements in our lives.
The elements who are arguing for a return to war are no threat to SF as the vast majority are plainly opposed to this, only a route that offers a redistribution of wealth will answer the needs of ordinary people. Only such an approach has any prospect of gaining a hearing in the Protestant working class, who are now by and large in the exact same situation as their Catholic fellows.