Peace in Northern Ireland shattered by frustrated, under-educated Loyalists whose union flag protests have no clear endgame
Protesters must come up with a coherence and sense of purpose, recognise what they want and use the political process to achieve it
It was all going so well wasn’t it? The power-sharing executive had not only succeeded in running the full term but also being re-elected with a strengthened mandate. So encouraging was the environment that it left room for old enemies to embrace as Martin McGuinness met Queen Elizabeth in June 2012 and Peter Robinson made major speeches arguing for a closer relationship with the Irish government along with seeking to encourage Catholics to vote for his Democratic Unionist Party. The Northern Ireland problem it appeared had been solved for good.
That illusion was abruptly shattered in the aftermath of the decision by Belfast City Council to stop flying the Union flag 365 days a year, opting instead for designated days such as birthdays of members of the royal family. That was five weeks ago and numerous riots, £22 million of damage/lost revenue later the protests still seem to have no end in sight. But how can people be so worked up over a flag, I hear you say. Like all symbols it’s not the flag itself but what it represents that loyalists are protesting about.
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the feeling has developed among many in working class Protestant communities that the peace dividend that was supposed to come from the agreement has passed over their communities. Take a look at education, currently only 1 in 10 Protestant teenagers from working class communities go on to university. In fact in nearly all educational attainment figures, Catholic children from similar backgrounds outperform their Protestant counterparts. So why does this matter? If you look at any footage of rioters one of the immediate components that will catch your eye is that many of those committing violence are young. We have seen countless examples around the world were educational underachievement simply breeds situations such as the one that Belfast is experiencing at the moment. The fact that after five years Northern Ireland politicians cannot find agreement over how to reform the education system merely compounds this problem.
The failure to tackle educational underachievement is only one part of this story. For years loyalism has been in the grips of an identity crisis as it has struggled to define itself within a rapidly changing Northern Ireland. The city of Belfast, once a bastion of Unionist support, is now at council level without a Unionist majority. The Progressive Unionist Party, which was seen as the main representatives for the Loyalist community, lost their only seat in the Northern assembly in the 2011 election. All these changes happen while they see Sinn Fein increasing their support across Ireland and gaining in confidence as they drive their agenda forward while Loyalists feel left on the side of the road.
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Hi alisaann, in truth, the ones who lose the most are the children. Marriage affords most people a means to bequeath possessions to the family withoutGay teacher fired from Catholic school after applying for same-sex marriage license
Hi alisaann, in truth, the ones who lose the most are the children. Marriage affords most people a means to bequeath possessions to the family withoutAn open letter in strong defence of capitalism to Pope Francis
Seanmor, there is definitely a connection between the elimination of the Irish Parliament and the famine. The shortage was exacerbated by the corn lawFamilies as well as Catholic Church and government to blame for illegal adoptions
Of course it was terrible what happened to these girls.. so sad. We all rant & rave about it now but that was the norm in those far off days. It's