Loyalists need strong Unionist leadership

As a much younger man, Maurice Hayes was in the thick of the early conflagration in Northern Ireland. Although, as he points out, things at the moment could have been much worse if Republicans at the interface areas had chosen to react to some of the rioters, there is little comfort to be taken from the fact that some sections of the Protestant working class feels as alienated as Catholics once did.

The fact is that it is now working class Protestants who are more likely to be alienated. It is unionists who, although numerically the larger community, now feel and act like a minority under threat. It is they who feel the stress of changes which they fear will further undermine their position over which they have less and less control.

At one level it is a remarkable example of role reversal. At another, the events in Belfast and surrounding towns on Saturday and Sunday nights bring a sickening sense of deja vu. Not since the 1970s has such savage and sustained violence been seen on the streets. There can only be a relative sense of relief that nationalists in interface areas left them to it and refused to get drawn into a three-sided fracas.

The answer, he argues, is strong and visionary leadership:

These are difficult times for the Protestant working class. The industries they worked in have collapsed and deficiencies in the school system make them less able to take the new jobs that are available.

The Shankill Road was wrecked by the planners before the Provos left their bombs in it and it is no accident that the main trouble spots of the weekend were the soulless estates housing those relocated from unionist heartlands.

These are frightened insecure people who are striking out blindly in the only language they know. They need political leadership and they are not getting it.