Editor's Viewpoint: Blight of gangsters in city cannot go on
The truth behind the flag protests is now emerging. This is not a mass movement within the unionist community, but a cycle of violence orchestrated chiefly in east Belfast by a handful of loyalist paramilitaries.
Two senior UVF men in the area are believed to be the people pulling the strings of the gullible young people who are carrying out the disgraceful nightly attacks on police officers. As this newspaper reports today, they could turn off the tap of violence in an instant, but they won't.
Part of the reason may be personal grudges, but an undoubted motivation is also a show of muscle. They want to demonstrate their influence in the area, to show that they have a relevance beyond their normal gangsterism. But like all paramilitary driven violence over the years, the main sufferers are the local residents, in this case chiefly along the Newtownards Road. It is their lives which are being disrupted and their area which is being seen as a cockpit of violence.
Of course there is also a wider cost. The policing operation to contain the violence has cost an estimated £7m to date, more than 60 officers have been injured and 104 arrests have been made. Many of those may well end up with a criminal record and find their lives blighted as a result long after this issue has been forgotten. There is no doubt the violence has also made some businesses reconsider their investment plans for Northern Ireland at a time when the economy is in a parlous state.
The one ray of hope is that efforts are being made behind the scenes to find some resolution to the problem.
Politicians are trying to regain some credibility, although their influence on the trouble-makers has been minimal to date.
However, they may be able to mobilise enough support within this troubled community to persuade the paramilitaries to call a halt to the violence. It is a protest going nowhere fast and all logic demands that it is ended.