So another night of sectarian and thuggish violence has been visited upon unsuspecting communities across the Six Counties, with Newtownabbey and various parts of Belfast affected by street blockades, assaults and intimidatory antics by those content to pick up and hurl the snowballs carefully rolled for them by the combined leaders of political unionism. Rioting occurred in central Belfast at Shaftesbury Square tonight as well as in Newtownabbey, whilst in Dungannon loyalist protesters followed the long established sectarian tradition of targeting the catholic church by tying Union Flags to the church railings (I note that Carrick’s loyalists, in addition to trashing the offices of local Alliance MLA, have erected the town’s largest Union Flag directly at the entrance to St Nicholas’ catholic church and primary school, and- of course- loyalists have ensured that the continuously under siege St Matthew’s Church in the heart of Peter Robinson’s constituency has received a similar fate.)
And, to the lengthening list of ‘Others’ targeted through death threats by loyalist paramilitaries can now be added Alliance MP Naomi Long, whilst loyalists continued their protests outside Alliance Party offices.
Once again, the political leadership of unionism has been found wanting, with the UUP’s three Belfast councillors at odds with party MLA Basil McCrea’s decision to support the designated days policy which the Ulster Unionist Party had -once upon a time- pushed through on Lisburn City Council. Meanwhile, the planned loyalist mobilisation in Belfast City Centre tomorrow afternoon has pretty much ensured that one of the busiest shopping days during the year for city centre retailers will instead be the biggest disappointment as shoppers will likely seek to avoid the anticipated trouble as loyalists converge on the city centre in the early afternoon.
Meanwhile, the unionist-minded Belfast Telegraph has sharply criticised the political leadership of unionism, noting that
“In many ways what has been even more desperate [than the violence] is the succession of senior unionist politicians who condemn the violence on one hand but still try to apportion blame with the other.”
A week is indeed a long time in politics, but an authentic sense of self-confidence would have survived a simple vote over the flying of a Union Flag from a council merely following the policy of the very Stormont administration served by the author of the confident unionism narrative, Peter Robinson……