Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Unionist leadership needs to get grip of situation

Loyalists  at a caravan in Twaddell Avenue
Loyalists at a caravan in Twaddell Avenue

The recent history of flags and parades protests by unionists, loyalists and the Orange Order in Belfast suggests that the likelihood of violence, rioting and stand-off is quite high.

The likelihood is high because there is a lot of anger in the self-styled 'PUL community'.

Many of them believe that their identity is being chipped away, their culture undermined, their values sidelined and their beliefs ignored. Ironically, they are often more angry with mainstream unionism (namely the UUP and DUP) than they are with Sinn Fein: because Sinn Fein is their traditional enemy.

They are angry with the media, believing that almost every journalist and outlet is biased against them. They are angry with the Assembly because 'it does nothing for the loyalist people'. They are angry with Peter Robinson because 'he has rolled-over to Sinn Fein and cosies up with McGuinness'. And, of course, they are furious with the Parades Commission because it was 'set up to wage war against Orange beliefs and traditional culture'.

The problem is that they seem incapable of responding to the anger with a coherent, thought-through series of options. They still seem to think that a confrontation with a residents' group, or the PSNI, or nationalism in general is preferable to a gameplan for tackling the very specific complaints they have.

Oddly enough – and I say oddly because it is, in fact, odd – mainstream unionism seems unwilling to tell them that their present tactics are wrong.

Not one single UUP or DUP figure (who between them represent the bulk of the pro-Union vote) warned them that stepping up the protests 'right up to civil disobedience' was the wrong thing to do.

Instead, just as they have been doing at the Twaddell Avenue 'peace camp,' as the Orange Order announced its 'new' tactics, key UUP/DUP figures nestled in behind them.

The UUP/DUP and Orange have made a huge mess of handling 'loyalist' anger and protest in Belfast. They need to provide leadership very soon or a bad situation is going to become very much worse.

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