Maybe that’s too big a question. What about, who started it? Or even, who continued it when they could have stopped? Although it seems from Alan McQuillan’s recent statement that the current trouble is being driven by dissident loyalists, the truth is this trouble exists in a very nasty continuum.
The defence you’ll hear from some Loyalists is that there is nothing in the GFA for them. They then go on to invoke the logic of the IRA’s ‘armed struggle’, as the best and most effective means to get their own agenda to the top of the list.
There are many complexities involved in trying to understand the position of such dissidents. To some they are merely criminals taking advantage of the hiatus in normal policing, and and who believe the police should act thoroughly and finally against them.
To others like David Ervine, they have been abandoned by their own people. Historically they became accustomed to taking employment for granted when the traditional heavy industries in the town routinely employed them, and not Catholics. Unlike Catholics, they put less store in striving for a good education. The pass rates for the standard age 11 tests stands at over 30% in NI as a whole, but that falls to 11% amongst working class Catholics, and dropping to a shocking 3% amongst working class protestants.
The educational reforms currently being proposed (though not perfect) would have the likely effect of increasing working access to higher education – and it is the working class protestants who would benefit most from such changes. However, virtually ALL Unionist MLAs (bar Ervine and Billy Hutchinson), when polled, have come out against these reforms.
This may reflect a crucial difference between the class structure in the ‘two communities’. Again Ervine, ‘the Catholic middle class put back into the communities they came from, whilst the protestant middle classes have concentrated on draining the bucket dry’. This may also be because the Catholic middle class is a much more recent phenomenon than the Protestant equivalent and tends to identify more directly with their roots.
Related to this is the lack of a tradition of collective action amongst working class protestants. Many Loyalists today complain that by the time they get organised to apply for the right grant for their community group, they find that particular pot of government money has already been oversubscribed several times. They beleive (rightly or wrongly) that most of these resources are being funnelled into Nationalist areas.
Lastly, the problem in North Belfast in particular is related to a clash of two factors. On one hand, there is the long established peace walls and on the other, a huge differential in the population growth rate of the two communities. The walls in Ardoyne enclose a young and growing population of Catholics, but they also protect a dwindling number of aging protestants in Glenbryn.