Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Loyalist grievances can't be ignored

Politicians, of necessity, have to keep their ear to the ground and when a senior unionist figure expresses concern about ominous mutterings within the loyalist paramilitary underworld, then it is sensible to pay heed.

The UVF and elements of the UDA are said to be worried about ongoing inquiries by the Historical Enquiries Team into past loyalist terrorism, about an impending supergrass trial involving a senior UVF figure and the ongoing dissident republican threat.

It is important, of course, not to overstate the depth of feeling within loyalism or to suggest that the paramilitaries are likely to go on the offensive. But it would be unwise to dismiss concerns completely out of hand. The loyalist paramilitaries, without any real political voice or influence, can only look on enviously at how Sinn Fein has carved out its prominent position in government and how the party has brought former terrorists in from the cold. They also fear that dissident republicans may also gain concessions because of the threat of violence.

The loyalist heartlands of the Shankill and east Belfast contain some of the most deprived areas of Belfast and the level of under-achievement in academic terms of young boys in those areas has been well signposted.

Loyalists feel they are a forgotten section of society - although their ongoing widescale criminality wins them few friends. Little wonder that some elements within the paramilitaries feel they will continue to be ignored unless they resort to some direct action. The recent re-emergence of paramilitary murals in east Belfast could literally be the writing on the wall.

While criminality or even violence is a matter for the police to deal with, politicians should ensure the level of disenchantment within loyalist working class areas is addressed. They have to take on board the legitimate grievances of those who feel that the peace process has not delivered any dividend to them or to their communities. As the rumblings of discontent demonstrate, the loyalist hardmen haven't gone away you know.

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