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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 08:22 GMT 09:22 UK
Protestant fears and loyalist anger
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News in Belfast

Wreckage: Rioters damaged their own areas
What's behind the surge in loyalist violence in Northern Ireland - and what does it say for the peace process?

If you want to know what's going on in Belfast, start with the murals.

Amid the blast bombs, petrol bombs and barricades of this sudden surge of loyalist violence, fresh graffiti appeared near the Albert Bridge Road.

A mural claiming double standards - namely that the Orange Order is banned from marching, while the IRA can - had been defaced. A local hand accused the Orangemen of cowardice, duplicity and of failing the community.

Across the road, more graffiti revealed divisions among loyalist paramilitary groups, street corners marking invisible boundaries of influence.

There's a growing confidence in the Catholic communities - they are streets ahead of a Protestant community that sees its identity being eroded
Sammy Douglas, East Belfast Partnership
The world has largely focused on the future of the IRA. But there are real fears of fragmentation in the poorest Protestant communities - a fear that support for the peace process will ebb away in areas where it is most needed.

Protestant Belfast's problems appear a simple story: High unemployment and communities talking openly of a lack of confidence amid the rise of nationalist self esteem.

The community's decline is there for all to see - poor neighbourhoods in the shadow of Harland and Wolff's historic shipyard cranes, the heavy industries that once employed entire generations.

Into this mix goes the strength of paramilitaries, sectarianism, political divisions within unionism and, crucially, a belief among many that London capitulated to the IRA.

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Teenagers near the smouldering remains of barricades smirked that the riots had been "great" - but the police had prevented them taking on a nearby Catholic area. They didn't use the word Catholic to describe their neighbours.

One woman in her 50s said she had walked through the riot's embers with holiday suitcases after her taxi driver refused to drive to her front door, fearing losing his car to teenage hoods.

"What could I do? I had to get home," she said. "But this is just wicked and I cannot understand where this came from and what they are trying to achieve."

'Cauldron overflows'

But David Ervine of the Progessive Unionist Party, aligned to the Ulster Volunteer Force, said the warning signs had been there - Protestant discontent was a "cauldron that overflowed".

COMMUNITY AT THE BOTTOM?
It's almost as if we've gone full circle since 1969
Raymond Laverty, youth worker
Raymond Laverty was counting the cost of that over-flowing cauldron.

His youth organisation, "The Base", targets teenagers likely to fall into paramilitarism. This week it's playing host to a group of teenagers from Burnley, scene of race-related riots in 2001.

They have come to learn about where sectarianism leads - but the first major event was cancelled because of safety fears.

"We're trying to educate the young that there's more to life than paramilitaries. But it's very difficult when these kids look around and see that the only successful people are those who follow that route.

"We're having a tug of war every day.

"There is only so much you can do when parents bring their small children out at night to see this violence. There's no logic to it."

Raymond says that the chronic lack of opportunities is the breeding ground for resentment which feeds the paramilitaries with willing helpers.

The difference now, he believes, is that the Catholic areas are going places in the peace process. They've grasped the benefits of the IRA ceasefire to rebuild and invest in their own areas. The opposite is true in many poor Protestant areas, he argues, partly because of a lack of local leadership.

"Things have been building up since 1998 [the Good Friday Agreement]," he says. "I think the biggest is this sense that people think the government has let them down while the middle class of unionism has effectively pulled up the ladder behind them and ignored what is happening here.

"It's almost as if we've gone full circle since 1969."

Who's doing best?

What he means by this is that some poor Protestants are comparing their situation today with that of Catholics at the start of The Troubles: that they are at the bottom - and some appear to believe the government wants it that way.

History: Industry once employed entire communities
Ask many Protestants in poor areas whether they or their Catholic neighbours are getting regeneration funding and the answer is "them".

Money is however going into east Belfast. The so-called Peace II initiative has put 14m into 72 projects in east Belfast, projects like a major community centre, job development schemes and subtle programmes to break down barriers.

Today, a mammoth regeneration of what's now dubbed the "Titanic Quarter" is underway - a scheme to rebuild opportunities in predominantly Protestant areas now that much of the heavy industry has gone.

But Sammy Douglas of the East Belfast Partnership says there is a long way to go - not least when the violence damages opportunities aimed directly at Protestant communities.

Murals and graffiti: Divisions within poor Protestant areas
His organisation is currently overseeing a major commercial development - a digger was stolen from the site during the riots to smash into a bank cash machine.

"The tradition in Protestant areas has tended to be of self-reliance, individualism and jobs in heavy industry - jobs that are now gone," he says.

"In contrast, there has been a stronger tradition among Catholic or nationalist families to send their children to university and they are benefiting because of it.

"All of these things have a role to play in the disenfranchisement that many Protestant people feel."

Sammy says that Protestant people see Sinn Fein doing an "excellent job" at pushing their community's agenda - but amid a fragmented unionist response, this only adds to a sense that the peace process has become a "one-way street of concessions".

"There's a growing confidence in the Catholic communities. They are streets ahead of a Protestant community that sees its identity being eroded. When people think they are on the losing side, then the community fragments.

"These people [behind the violence] have no vision and people without vision perish as they're only wrecking their own communities.

"We have to pick ourselves up and start all over again."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Police video of the riots over the weekend



SEE ALSO:
Third night of loyalist violence
13 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
NI sees 'worst rioting in years'
11 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland clashes continue
11 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
Q and A: Orange marches
13 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland


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