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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Parade riots point to deeper unrest
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

It's hard to make much sense of the mayhem unleashed on Belfast's streets by loyalists after Saturday's Whiterock parade.

The Orange Order may have been angry about being re-routed near the west Belfast peaceline.

But the intense and widespread nature of the violence which ensued was breathtaking - a throwback to the early days of the Troubles or, more recently, the worst days of the Drumcree crises in the mid nineties.

In short these were scenes which it had been hoped would be confined to history.

Burning car, Belfast
Cars were set alight by rioters

Unionists say the trouble is a response to more than the relatively limited re-routing of a single parade.

They cite the perceived bias of the Parades Commission, the quango charged with deciding which contentious marches can or cannot proceed.

On top of this, they believe the political process is slanted towards republicans, as the British and Irish governments push ahead with their quid pro quo for the IRA's announcement that it will destroy its guns and end its armed campaign.

'Malaise'

Beyond the high politics, many loyalist areas are clearly suffering an economic and social malaise, with Protestants in inner city working class enclaves feeling increasingly alienated from wider society.

Nationalists acknowledge that areas like the Shankill have particular difficulties, reflected in their inadequate community infrastructure and other indicators such as poor educational attainment.

However they argue that unionist politicians, far from helping resolve these differences, have stirred the pot unnecessarily with their talk of potential trouble in the run up to the Whiterock parade.

Man by burning barricade on Belfast's Shankill Road
The riots were some of the worst seen in years
It's also reasonable to question how much the recent violence is really a community blowing its gasket, and to what extent it had been orchestrated in advance by paramilitary organisations with agendas of their own.

Remember that just days before, most working class Protestants were far more interested in Northern Ireland's victory against England than the impending Orange Order parade.

But the paramilitaries had a bone to pick with the police who moved against a UVF show of strength the week before.

The UVF - for years the most stable loyalist group - now appears obsessed by its bloody feud with the LVF.

Loyalist problem

Whilst it sees republicans reaping benefits on the back of the IRA initiative, its political experiment with the Progressive Unionists is now in the doldrums.

All of this means that addressing the loyalist problem through political means is far from easy.

It now appears inevitable that the government will specify the UVF - that means officially recognising the organisation's ceasefire has broken down.

That has symbolic importance but changes little in practice.

Unionists say the Parades Commission - which is currently recruiting a new chairman and new members - should be subjected to a root and branch review.

But any major shift which pleases the loyal orders is more or less guaranteed to annoy nationalists.

Critics of the Orange Order will say it should reconsider its own leadership and strategy before blaming the Commission.

Alienation

There's clearly a need to address the poverty and alienation evident in loyalist areas.

But if, as has been tried in the past, you throw money at these problems it may well end up in the hands of paramilitary bosses who are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Mainstream unionists have abandoned some of their supposed principles by sitting down with those who are clearly active paramilitaries, in the North and West Belfast Parades Forum, the umbrella group behind the Whiterock parade.

Could they play a less communal role by using their contacts to emulate John Hume in trying to wean the loyalist terror groups away from violence?

The Loyalist Commission, which includes Ulster Unionist and church representatives alongside the UDA and UVF, was meant to be doing that job.

But on the evidence of last weekend it has singularly failed to deliver the goods.


SEE ALSO:
Loyalist violence 'is appalling'
11 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
More riots break out in Belfast
11 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
Rioters 'intended to kill police'
11 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland



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