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Monday, September 12, 2005 

Unionism's shameful days.

I still can't quite believe that Unionist politicians are blaming the government for the completely unnecessary and pathetic riots which have consumed Baghdad, sorry, Belfast for the last two nights:

Fifty police officers were injured during the weekend's riots across Belfast, Northern Ireland police said today.

A police spokesman said 18 officers were injured in riots last night and this morning, bringing the total number of officers injured since Saturday night to 50. The officers were largely injured by shrapnel from homemade grenades.

The violence began on Saturday night when loyalist supporters became angry at the re-routing of an Orange Order parade.

Last night, armed protestors set up roadblocks as police and the army battled with violent mobs up to 700-strong in the east of Belfast. In other areas, men with revolvers halted cars in the north of the city and in Rathcoole, although there were no reports of anyone being shot.

Riot police held back crowds with water cannons and fired several hundred plastic bullets in an effort to disperse the protestors. One Protestant man, who had been shot in the arm by British troops, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain challenged loyalists this morning to decide if they wanted to become known as police killers. He told BBC Breakfast he was "horrified" by the violence that had ravaged the streets.

"This is taking Northern Ireland, or attempting to take it, back to a hideous dark past," he said. "These were serious attempts to kill police in some instances.

"This is really not loyalism but 'gangsterism' masquerading in this community. They are turning on themselves. These communities are being torn apart by their own paramilitary groups."

The Northern Irish chief constable, Sir Hugh Orde, said he was holding the Orange Order "substantially responsible" for the rioting, which was "some of the worst" in the province for many years.

He said his officers had come under attack from petrol, blast and pipe bombs as well as live rounds.

"We are very clear, our intelligence picture is very clear, this was loyalist paramilitary groups firing from the cover of the riot, aiming at my officers," he told the Today programme.

"There was a call by the Orange Order for their supporters to come out and support the march which had been banned from a certain route and had been given a determined route to go down.

"That's why we are holding them, or I am holding them, substantially responsible for the disorder that followed. It was inevitable and it was predictable."

Sinn Fein general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said there had been disturbances across Belfast and North Antrim since the IRA announced the end of its armed struggle.

Mr McLaughlin argued that unionist politicians had left "a vacuum of leadership" which was being filled by loyalist paramilitaries.

Also speaking on the Today programme, he said: "It would appear that there is a deep sense of foreboding and concern about the future and there is an absolute vacuum of leadership within unionism at the present time, and unfortunately that manifested itself at the weekend."

Mr McLaughlin said many Protestants believed they had been short-changed in the peace process.

"I'm afraid that is the reality for unionists. It is not the reality for people who have been seeking for many years equality and indeed there is a puzzlement as to why equality and parity of esteem would threaten anyone's interest.

"But the fact of the matter is that many unionists feel that and clearly that is an issue which has to be addressed in the discussions if we could get the unionist party leadership to sit round the table and discuss these matters."

Peter Hain is utterly wrong. This is not gangsterism. This is loyalism's seeming revenge for what they see as a peace process that favours the republicans. That this is not only nonsense, but ignores the realities of the situation since the signing of the Good Friday agreement is even worse. These riots are the equivalent of a child who feels neglected when a new baby is born, and attention is diverted from them. Unlike the jealousy of a child who may do something silly and is too immature to realise the consequences, the loyalists know full well what they are doing. This was not a banning of their parade. It was a simple 100 metre diversion so that the parade did not pass through a Catholic-majority street and cause unnecessary trouble. The police were entirely right in their actions.

Unfortunately, unionism is now, as has been shown in the last few months, at war with itself. The IRA is to disband. Within weeks it will most likely have completely disarmed. Such a gesture is one that completely destroys the current unionist position of not talking or going into government with Sinn Fein while it has links with the IRA, or lies in the same bed as it. Ian Paisley's humiliating requests for photographs of weapons being destroyed were rightly denied. His only intention is to belittle the republican community, and portray them as weak at a time when they have just decided to perform such a historic move.

Most of all however, you can imagine the fury and denounciations which would be filling the airwaves if it had been the republican community rioting. Instead, Sinn Fein and others have mostly kept quiet, a credit to their judgment. Loyalist politicians themselves have shown themselves to either be incompetent, unable to control their own followers, or complicit in the violence itself. They have chosen to act like someone found guilty who then blames everyone except themselves and wallows in self-pity:

Belfast's most senior Orangeman, County Grand Master Dawson Bailie, told the BBC on Monday that the Orange Order was not responsible for the weekend disorder.

When asked if the Order condemned the violence, he said: "As far as I'm concerned the people to blame for that are the secretary of state, the chief constable and the Parades Commission, fairly and squarely."

DUP leader Ian Paisley denied prompting riots by saying the parade re-routing "could be the spark which kindles a fire there would be no putting out".

Mr Paisley condemned the violence but said his prediction had come true.

"I was telling the truth, I said I was very very worried," he said on Monday.

"At that time I was in the midst of trying to get a way whereby this would not happen. And it has happened - my words have been proved to be right."

The parade was re-routed by 100 metres. That such an act would spark violence is an outrage. The second Palestinian intifada was prompted by Ariel Sharon visiting the Al-Haram As-Sharif mosque, surrounded by 1000 bodyguards. This was not even close to such a provocative and stupid decision. This was an excuse for the loyalist thugs to show that they are still in action and are not going to go away any time soon, unlike the IRA. That Ian Paisley is either aware of this or actively encouraging it while denying it in public, is a disgrace. Sadly, he'll get away with it, just like loyalism will. Within two months this will have been forgotten, and once again, the republican community will be being attacked, with no news coverage of it whatsoever.

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