Irish Republican News · December 10, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Unionism in ‘identity crisis’ as violence expands


The leaders of the two main unionist parties held urgent meetings on the unionist identity tonight following a week of violence and disorder in the North of Ireland.

Loyalists blocked off most of south Belfast’s main arterial routes tonight, and there was rioting in the Broadway/Village Area of south Belfast, as well as in east Belfast near the Short Strand.

The PSNI said there had been an “attempted murder” against its members on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast. In the incident, the window of a PSNI vehicle was smashed and a petrol bomb thrown inside. It took place near the Alliance Party offices of local constituency MP Naomi Long and, according to the PSNI, involved 19 masked loyalists.

Violence was ongoing tonight in Armagh, where, in the absence of police, loyalists attacked the Cuchulainn bar in the city smashing windows and throwing fireworks.

Stones, rocks, fireworks and some petrol bombs were thrown at the PSNI in south Belfast earlier, near the M1 motorway, and there were disturbances at the Ormeau Road. Road blocks were also erected by loyalists in other locations, including Dundonald, Lisburn, Ballyclare, Kilkeel, Ballycastle, Larne, and as far west as Cookstown, Moneymore and Limavady.

The violence began on Monday with the decision of Belfast city council to substantially reduce the flying of the British ‘Union Jack’ flag above City Hall.

An anonymous leafleting campaign which blamed the moderate unionist Alliance Party and initially whipped up anger on the issue has been linked to the larger unionist parties, chiefly the DUP. Alliance says it was targeted because it holds the balance of power between the main nationalist and unionist blocks on Belfast city council, and its votes were key to bringing about the change in flag policy.

While the main loyalist paramilitary organisations, the UDA and UVF, have been blamed for organising most of the disturbances this week, mainstream unionists have also been accused of involvement, and the position of the DUP and the Ulster Unionists remains unclear.

Opening a debate at Stormont this morning, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said the involvement of the UDA and UVF in the violence “raises many serious questions about the future intentions of those who once professed to support the peace process”.

The hardline unionist TUV leader Jim Allister blamed Sinn Fein for attacking ‘unonist culture’.

“Culture is Sinn Fein’s new theatre of war”, he declared, adding that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement had been “designed to trundle [unionists] out of the United Kingdom and to ease and infuse us into a united Ireland”.

David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party, said last week had been “a horrific and frightening experience”. He said the belief that many unionist politicians had “more understanding for those targeting the houses and premises” of his colleagues, than for those who were attacked, had been “palpable”.

Under pressure to clarify their position, further meetings are to take place between the leaders of the DUP and the UUP tomorrow. The upcoming Westminster by-elections in the North are also expected to be under discussion.

According to a joint statement tonight, Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt said they had discussed “a wide range of issues relating to Unionist culture and identity”.

They said they would “work on a joint basis” with a view to bringing forward political proposals to address “widespread concerns” across their community.

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© 2012 Irish Republican News