The rationale behind the loyalist attacks in East Belfast- now into their second night– would appear rather perplexing at surface level, but as Moochin and others have been pointing out (often in the face of unwarranted jibes on Slugger), there’s been rumblings regarding loyalist activity in the East for quite some time now.
The proliferation of loyalist flags across East Belfast and the painting of aggressive murals amidst sabre-rattling articulating loyalist anger at the rerouting of parades have all indicated loyalism cranking up for a return to more active paramilitarism.
There are also reports of anger in loyalist circles at HET enquiries into loyalist attacks and the seizure of a bar by the Serious Organised Crime Agency in April has, apparently, also contributed to loyalist ‘alienation.’
It is also being suggested that there is a leadership contest of sorts between loyalists in the East Belfast area, and therefore organising an assault on the nearest available catholics is likely to be considered a popular coup by those responsible, with many young turks blooded into the ranks of paramilitary loyalism in the process.
In a revealing media interview, the PUP’s Jim Wilson, an East Belfast loyalist, played the alienated loyalist card on a UTV Live interview earlier tonight:
Jim Wilson: “Loyalism at the minute feel unrepresented, they need representation. They need people to listen to them and if they don’t listen and I’m not saying that I know everything and that I’m Mister Smart but if they don’t listen to the concern from within those communities things like what happened there last night are going to continue to happen. Loyalism feels outside the process and do you know why? Because we’ve been pushed outside the process. Nobody is trying to bring us in out of the cold. We were part and parcel of what’s happening up at Stormont. But you know something? It’s like still a cold house for loyalism. No one seems to want to help the communities that I come from and this to me is a result of it.”
This is weak stuff by any measure and, to be fair, the inarticulacy of Wilson did not help his cause. Yet the excuse that loyalism was basically reacting to the perceived marginalisation of the loyalist working classes is worth examining if only to highlight the glaring contradiction in the activities of the UVF last night.
For, what has been transparently obvious in the post-ceasefire era is that nationalists- not least Sinn Fein and former republican prisoners- have done more than anybody else to try to establish contacts and forge relationships with working class loyalists, often to the disgust of unionist politicians and their supporters (not least on Slugger.)
After all, who more than the Irish President and her husband has done more to legitimise loyalist paramilitary voices in recent years, as so clearly evidenced by the guest list in Dublin during Queen Elizabeth II’s recent visit?
Ironically, the one political party consistently batting on behalf of schools based in working-class loyalist areas has been Sinn Fein, who share an anti-academic selection position with the educationalists running many of these schools. Alex Maskey and other Sinn Fein representatives have established a reputation for working on behalf of loyalist constituents, many of whom complain about the failure of their ‘own’ politicians to take up their cause (just look at the source on that last link.)
Yet, even if we were to take Jim Wilson’s words at face value, what was missing in the loyalist’s analysis is the whataboutery mantra being employed by other unionist representatives in an increasingly vain effort to contextualise the loyalist attacks and help them evade having to make a stand against what the PSNI have indicated were clearly orchestrated and unprovoked sectarian attacks.
Finally, and most ominously, the clear inference from Jim Wilson’s reasoning is that loyalists being marginalised by mainstream unionist politicians will precipitate more unprovoked and orchestrated attacks on vulnerable catholic communities.
What a depressing thought.