Ongoing #Flegs disturbances point to a chronic rather than acute failure in NI Politics…

Richard Irvine writing in the Irish Times today makes a point worth considering…

In fact the magnitude of the unionist victory is not only unchallenged by these Sinn Féin tactics, rather it is underscored. Unionists should be delighted that republicans have so little ambition that they can achieve only small and compromised symbolic victories like the flag-lowering.

The real danger then to unionism’s triumph comes not from republicanism, not even dissident republicanism, but from themselves. In this crisis, with loyalist protesters and rioters holding much of the province to ransom, unionists are again metaphorically and literally rallying around the flag. This is not just mistaken, it is silly and dangerous too.

Yet perhaps, just perhaps, the newly established Unionist Forum will find the courage to admit that unionism has won.

Perhaps then it can articulate a new confident vision of unionism, one which dispenses with the ideology of not an inch and makes room for the hybrid Irish and British and unionist citizen. If it can do this then the victory really will be complete.

But victory to do what exactly? For all the natural shock and outrage things have been worse than this in the past. Alliance councillors have even had their homes as well as offices attacked by loyalist mobs before. Back in the turbulence of the 2001 election, or the tumult that came in the wake of the Anglo Irish Agreement, it wasn’t news.

The current unease probably has something to do with the late arrival of that not wildly impressive CSI document from Stormont. The gestures of 2009 from Martin McGuinness when he came out and excoriated the killers at Masserene and more lately when Peter Robinson attended the funeral Mass of Ronan Kerr seem strangely dated now.

In this era when with a big fat parliament and no opposition neither party seems to have an appetite or even the politics for the business of power sharing beyond pushing around a few budgets. Even without a change at Stormont, there seems little appetite for large scale violence.

So in light of Mr Irvine’s advice, Unionists might reconsider whether the tactical detour to ‘rescue’ East Belfast from its Alliance ‘folly’ was worth the effort. In the meanwhile as one seasoned observer told Slugger this evening, Sinn Fein have more than a few bubbling pots all primed to come to the boil at different stages. Let’s hope no one gets scalded in the process.

As long as dissident Republicans are the only ones actively pursuing a lethal campaign, it remains unlikely that the patient’s condition will turn acute (that is, present or experienced to a severe or intense degree). But it does have some of the aspects of a long and chronic (persisting for a long time or constantly recurring) dis-ease.

Physician heal thyself, how are ya?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • redstar2011

    In the meanwhile as one seasoned observer told Slugger this evening, Sinn Fein have more than a few bubbling pots all primed to come to the boil at different stages. Let’s hope no one gets scalded in the process.

    Mick could you save me a whole lot of searching and point me to this on Slugger as iit sounds interesting stuff


  • dnotice

    An internalised solution, is not of course a solution at all; it is a botched impasse. The problem, from a sociological perspective is simple; there are too few people who understand the dynamics that underpin the heavily entrenched positions on both sides. People think they know, they hope that they know, but they don’t.

  • Richard who?

    “Sinn Fein have more than a few bubbling pots all primed to come to the boil at different stages.”

    You spinning for someone again Mick? If not you need to show us the money otherwise this means no more than the UVF and PUP Tweets this evening seeking to shift blame for the petrol bombing of a special needs group in St Matthew’s in Short Strand.

  • Or they point to the chronic failure of the “Northern Ireland” state? Perhaps the real truth is that we are living through the long, slow drawn out death spasms of the last remnant of the British colony on the island of Ireland? Political leaders from the British Unionist minority in Ireland (and their journalistic sympathisers or apologists) are whistling past the graveyard while others are preparing for a funeral.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks for your posting, Mick. How ‘chronic’ the disease really is, even if it appears to go away tomorrow, may become clear in July. Mind you, the OO has kept well out of the #flegs business, so we may be talking about parallel rather than identical universes.

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite ASF…

    But it does take an extraordinary amount of political inertia for the two main parties not to agree an anti poverty strategy in six whole years, as Voltaire once wrote:

    “Dans ses écrits, un sàge Italien
    Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

    You really have to work at disagreement not to come up with something in all that time… 🙂

  • Mick Fealty


    Are you certain about that? I’d heard they had to be evacuated, but was the hall attacked?

  • Cric

    Browsing the various Facebook groups in search of a low brow snigger the consensus among low brow Unionism appears to be that the DUP/UUP are almost as culpable as Sinn Fein for this ‘erosion’ of everything British. It will be interesting to see if this actually translates into a reduced vote for the DUP come election time – at which point the ‘rescue’ of east Belfast becomes an almighty cock up.

    I also half wonder if this upheaval among Unionism could actually dull down dissident Republicanism – while one side publicly decries it is ‘losing’ maybe the extremes of the other ‘winning’ side lose impetus.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I think the DUP are heading towards a massive own goal. They are making efforts to consolidate (Fred Cobain’s “timely” switch to the party today will have been part of that choreography) but I’d say the DUP phone lines are jammed with ordinary constituents who aren’t happy about the roadblocks or the damage to trade/tourism.

    Today in the Assembly Peter Robinson stood up once again and tried to contextualize the rioting in the flags decision. Sammy Wilson repeated his shameful perspective that the councillors in Belfast should have expected this problem and, by implication, that he expects councillors to bow to violence over every consideration that comes before them.

    You can be sure that dissident republicans have no intention of interrupting unionism while it is in the course of making a mistake. On the other hand, dissident republicans may invite themselves to the Short Strand in order to carry out “defense” and that’s where I get really worried. Further on down the line, the dissidents will no doubt be touring the New Lodge and Unity Flats in the week leading up to 12th July urging young nationalists to stage a retaliatory sit-down protest on Clifton Street, thereby forcing the cancellation of the 12th July in Belfast. That’s going to go down a treat, you can just tell.

  • Comrade Stalin

    BTW I hope Sinn Féin have some ideas about how they’re going to recover from Alex Maskey saying he’d be joining the stone throwers in Short Strand if he was under attack.



    Well the clue is in how you phrased your comment.

    Alex i assume was trying to articulate a number of issues of the sectarian intimidation of the short strand and their right to defend themselves should they come under attack. I’m sure most of Short Strand are very fearful of attacks on their area and the past and present experiences show their fears to be well founded.

    I would condemn attacks from short strand on loyalist homes however if those within short strand are attacked and they have to defend themselves with stones then i would support them in that and most if not all republicans and nationalist would support their right to defend their area which bears the brunt of supremacist sectarian unionism every time they have internal ‘issues’.

  • I see from UTV that they’ve stopped saying ‘We invited the DUPUUP to send a minister/mla but they declined, Under orders from Peter/Mike? The silence from those quarters on the air, is deafening. Wilson is shameless in suggesting democracy shouldn’t be applied under implied threat, obviously depending on where the threat comes from. Any pretence at responsible comment from them has gone out the window since the riots began.

  • mycousinvinny

    The pious claptrap emanating from Mike Nesbitt and Tom Elliott are an obvious diversion tactic from the real issues and, of course, the embarrassment of the UUP performance recently.

    Jim Wilson, Jackie McDonald or any other Loyalist community representative will undoubtedly confirm that Alex Maskey’s comments cause no offence whatsoever to East Belfast Loyalists. Maskey is pointing out the bleeding obvious and is speaking in realistic terms. Any area under attack, whether the Short Strand, Cluan Place or the Fountain Estate will inevitably see residents there reacting to attack by various means.

    Tom Elliott is no stranger to genuinely controversial comment and Mike Nesbitt presumably has more pressing issues to deal with right now.

  • BarneyT

    Is that a typo “Yet perhaps, just perhaps, the newly established Unionist Forum will find the courage to admit that unionism has won”. What has unionism won? Missed that one to be honest.

    Its not at all clear how unionism could extract any kind of victory here.

    The suggestion that “Unionists should be delighted that republicans have so little ambition that they can achieve only small and compromised symbolic victories like the flag-lowering” is missing the point.

    I would suggest that republicanism can continue to bottle their ambition and instead slowly loosen the cap now and again to produce a mild whiff, which is all it seems to take to bring about the self destruction of unionism on this particular matter.

  • tacapall

    “Unionists should be delighted that republicans have so little ambition that they can achieve only small and compromised symbolic victories like the flag-lowering.”

    That is the problem today, Unionism knows that is BS. We all know you have to crawl before you walk and the flag policy change in the Capital City was the first baby steps for real change, wee seeds make big acorns and all that, to Unionism this is their Phnom Penh moment. Money or financial security is and will in the future be the deciding factor in any border poll whether we choose to be governed by Britain or unite with the rest of Ireland. At the moment the majority although probably wishing to keep the financial security of the status quo, do not regard themselves as British in the PUL definition of what being British means and how the society we live in should recognise that Britishness. The paradox for Unionism is demanding that definition of Britishness be forcibly recocognised results in the majority rejecting that definition of Britishnes versus the republican strategy of showing that Britishness for what it really is, resulting in a similar rejection of it. I have no doubt in my mind Ireland is just as strategically important to Britain as is the Malvinas, but in todays world it all comes down to pounds shillings and pence and is that strategic importance financially viable, the benefits must outweigh the costs. The ever growing behind closed doors relationship between the island of Ireland and Britain will in the end be the deciding factor as to what happens in the future, constitutionally wise, and that will be decided over the heads of Unionism if need be, the damage loyalists are doing to the local economy is an error of judgement in that pennies make pounds, it all adds up to importance outweighing the costs.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, tacapall. You say of the future that it will be decided over the heads of Unionists if need be.

    It certainly was in 1985, so history is on your side..

  • carl marks

    Ah winners and losers. Here is another idea,
    Nationalists showed maturity agreed to a compromise, they recognised that the true use of power is knowing when to use it and when not to.
    Perhaps the old political theorem of; when in a position of strength compromise, then you get the compromise you want; came into play.
    Unionists on the other hand seem to be sticking to the; not a inch, no surrender, policy.
    This is what defines unionist political thinking, every piece of progress that has been obtained in this place has faced the not a inch tactic with riots and civil disorder being the result,
    So instead of all this Nationalists lost crap you could try another line.
    Nationalists acted like grownups and unionism throws its toys out of the pram.
    The future will bring more shocks for unionists as their political power wanes further and no doubt they will bring mobs onto the streets, if necessary we will move on without them a pity but only a fool would let their future be decided by criminal bigots engaging in political rioting, unionists may be content playing that game but Nationalists have a greater political maturity.
    So to sum up you can define it as losing and we will continue to be mature (by the way sometimes maturity can mean, fuck them we tried but if they are going to behave like children we will treat them like children) so if unionism wants a future it’s going to have to go through the whole growing up thing.

  • An American professor of Irish ancestry, Michael MacDonald, wrote a book called Children of Wrath in the mid-1980s. He claimed that the defining characteristic of loyalists/unionists over generations was stirring up trouble with the natives so that they could prove their “loyalty” to the motherland. It looks like this is just another round. They did this in 1886 with Randolph Churchill playing the Orange card in Tory politics. Then the threat was Gladstone and Rome Rule. They did it again in 1912 with the Covenant and the original UVF. The threat was Asquith and Rome Rule. They did it again in 1969 with the ethnic cleansing of sections of Belfast. The threat then was NICRA and an end to discrimination. And then in 1974 with the general strike and the UUUC. The threat then was the Council of Ireland and mandatory power sharing. And they did it once more in 1985-86 with the Ulster Clubs and the mass resignations of councilors and MLAs. The threat then was the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Irish consultation. Now the threat is not being allowed to continuously display the Union Flag over City Hall and other grievances (not being allowed to violate the decisions of the Parades quango with impunity). Or was the real threat that a non-unionist but pro-union party had taken control of the parliamentary seat in East Belfast?

  • Greenflag

    tacapall ,

    ‘in todays world it all comes down to pounds shillings and pence and is that strategic importance financially viable, the benefits must outweigh the costs.’

    Euros, Yuan , Dollars, and Yen more so than pounds , shillings and pence .Note the rather quick stepback of Mr Camron’s ‘referendum ‘ talk when the American administration disapproved of the exiting EU talk. And today the Germans go one better by announcing they are bringing their gold home . The Anglo American world is in need of major financial reform and restructuring . The banks that were too big to fail are now the banks that are too big to jail .Not that the German banks haven’t been profiting from loose legislation. I read that in the Libor ‘fixing ‘ everytime the rate moved .01 % -one one hundreth of a percent the Deutsche Bank made $68 million . Nice return for a phone call and a word in your ear to the boys in Barclays 🙁 Not that Deutsche Bank did anything ‘illegal ‘ you see . No No not all the banksters have been way ahead of our dummkopf (USA /Brit/Irish/German politicians for about 20 years now and the latter are still trying to play catch up and failing 🙁

    For now they (Germans ) will continue to hold 13% of their gold reserves in London but of course that could eh change if it were deemed politic .

  • tacapall

    Greenflag in this part of Ireland its pound shillings and pence, haven’t you realised yet, we are 100 years behind everyone else and as for the Germans bringing home their gold from Corporate America, is the the Central Bank of America not owned by the same people who own the German central bank and could you not also say the Bank of England too. Every country in the world seems to be running around like chickens with no heads either buying up gold or bringing whatever gold they have in other countries banks home. It looks like all those IOU’s called paper currency are going to be worthless in the near future.

  • Greenflag

    Dnotice @ 14 January 2013 at 11:05 pm

    ‘People think they know, they hope that they know, but they don’t.’

    What is there to know that is already yet not known ?

    Loyalists riot at the drop of a flag ? Some of themuns retaliate ?.Everybody else condemns the violence to greater or lesser degrees .Police get injured -civilians threatened etc -politicians sent mail ‘bullets ‘

    Nothing new here .The news could be just as surprising if it was reported that the world has again turned on it’s axis giving us another day .

    Sorry to be blunt -But some gobshites from both ‘communities ‘ are destined never to learn the easy way . It’s not in their genes . They were born complaining -spend most of their time whining and are destined to die disappointed but no wiser 🙁
    It’s the human condition -pavlovian responses to stimuli -telegraph pole territoriality and all disguised as ‘patriotism ‘ of the lowest common denominator .
    I wish I could say other .

  • Greenflag

    tacapall ,

    ‘ in this part of Ireland its pound shillings and pence, haven’t you realised yet.

    Would’nt matter if it were coconuts and bottle tops as the means of exchange for all the influence that local NI politicians or their economy have on their currency .The current sterling strategy is designed for the comfort and ease of the City i.e the financial services sector.

    ‘Every country in the world seems to be running around like chickens with no heads ‘

    One could get that impression form some -but some have stopped running and with others there appears to be little sign of economic life or to be precise any resumption of the ‘growth ‘ fairy .

    ‘It looks like all those IOU’s called paper currency are going to be worthless in the near future.’

    This is the Gold Bug ‘wet dream ‘ a follow on from the international hedge fund ‘magic pile of paper ‘ to be made from the Grexit .

    The international financial /currency situation is in global (understated ) conflict between the major power interests both established and emergent . It’s a bit like the first world globalisation epoch 1900-1914 when the Bank of England fought to maintain sterling’s ‘free trade ‘ ‘advantage’ over the upstart Dollar and the Goldmark .

    Today’s upstarts are the Euro and the Yuan with the Yen a fading over indebted currency and Sterling a long way behind .


  • DC

    Limavady Council failed in its vote to opt for designated days.

    Nationalists on Limavady Borough Council have defeated a unionist motion to fly the union flag at council offices on designated days.

    The nationalist-controlled council has already banned flying the flag on council buildings at any time.

    Equality – how are ya?

  • Comrade Stalin

    To those defending Maskey’s comments, can you please explain to be how throwing stones at the nearest group of prods amounts to “defence” ?

    I mean if he stood at his front door with a shotgun, yeah I could get that. But chucking stones ?

  • DC

    Maskey wasn’t talking about defending he was talking about retaliating.

    Well Comrade, just look at the nationalists on Limavady Council, wouldn’t put the flag up for designated days, that’s the way it will go in Belfast.





  • Comrade Stalin

    DC, I think whatever credibility you may have had (and that’s stretching it) is now gone with your DUP-esque outbursts over the past few weeks.

  • DC

    Alliance stands accused of botching the centre-ground position because it actually enabled ethnic exclusivist politics to succeed at Belfast City Hall, a politics whose main aim is to use majority vote to exclude things as far as is practicable.

    Equality – where?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jesus I wish Slugger had a killfile so that I wouldn’t have to read this ridiculous rubbish over and over again.

  • DC

    Get Gerry Lynch, i want to hear his exhortations to Limavady to think again and become warm-hearted to its unionists neighbours in the name of progress and making Brits feel all warm and gooey in this new, ever-imminent, united Ireland.

  • DC

    Alex Maskey was really saying people of the Short Strand have the right to retaliate when attacked, which is probably the real reason why the flag had to come down, retaliatory than conciliatory politics.

  • ConsUnionist

    Firstly let me say it is right and proper that the Union flag is flown from our public buildings to mark occasions such as on designated days. I know full well how powerful a symbol the Union flag is to the people of Northern Ireland having served under it in the military for many years.

    However I cannot help but feel that an opportunity has been missed as Northern Irelands political leaders rushed to jump on their respective sectarian bandwagons and busied themselves pouring fuel on the fires of hatred in East Belfast.

    Had the leaders of Unionism not surrendered the moral high ground quite so quickly, perhaps a deal could have been worked out so the many councils in Northern Ireland which do not fly the Union Flag at all would have made a reciprocal gesture in Belfast and agreed to also fly the flag on designated days. The actions of these so called leaders during this sorry saga is a damning indictment on our society and explodes the myth of a truly shared future.

    The damage these protests and associated violence is doing to business and investment in Northern Ireland cannot be allowed to continue. Our economy which already was on life support is now at breaking point. According to recent research up to 300 jobs have been lost in Belfast alone this week, how many more must be lost before our leaders wake up to this reality?

    The vast majority of law abiding non flag waving Unionists do not support these protests and find the associated violence abhorrent, so why then do our political leaders pander to the whims of this noisy minority?

    The net result of these protests will be for middle class Unionists to further disengage from politics and our politicians Some will switch to Alliance while more will not vote at all.