Once again violence has flared across Belfast and other parts of the north as protests continue around the flags issue. The latest disturbances come as Stormont Assembly leaders, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness meet to discuss another wave of street protests, and their concerns about the damaging effect it is having on the economy leading up to the busiest shopping period of the calendar. But as each issued a separate statement calling for protests to come to an end, loyalist gangs flexed their muscles, blocking off streets and hijacking cars.
This recent wave of trouble kicked off several weeks ago following a
vote taken by Belfast City Council to fly the union flag outside city
hall on designated days only, instead of 365 days of the year. This was
supposedly as a result of an earlier 'equality impact assessment'
carried out on Belfast City Council. Minutes after the motion was
passed, loyalist reaction to the decision was one of anger. As tension
spilled out on to the streets several hundred union flag waving
protesters laid siege to the building in scenes not witnessed here since
the 1980's. As crowds were later dispersed, nearby nationalist homes
and a catholic church bore the brunt of the mob's anger.
In the days that followed it's believed that loyalist paramilitaries
from both the UVF and UDA influenced events on the ground further by
hijacking and burning cars, hospitalising 30 PSNI members, issuing death
threats to politicians, and attacking and burning a number of their
homes and offices. All this happened as international 'guardian of
peace' Hillary Clinton dropped into Stormont for tea with Peter and
Martin - presumably for her final update on how the 'peace process' was
coming along as part of a host of 'final engagements'.
Ever happy to beat the sectarian war drums, unionist politicians
claimed that the flags motion at City Hall represented the tip of the
iceberg of yet another attack on their Britishness and cultural identity
by republicans. Surprisingly enough, in successive interviews not one
unionist politician could remember who agreed to issue such a leaflet
that ratcheted up sectarian tensions even further. Amongst all the usual
tit-for-tat allegations that took place, former first minister David
Trimble accused the DUP of “cynically” stoking up tensions. However
that in itself speaks more of the crisis within Ulster unionism at
So is this simply down to the issue of flags and identity or is it something happening much deeper than that?
When examining the issues from within working class loyalist
communities many will reveal that they have for years 'been sold a pup'.
Used as foot soldiers, canon-fodder, pulled on to the streets at the
beat of a drum every time their politicians claim that the sky was
falling. Loyalists and the organisations they represent will imply that
their communities feel abandoned by the politicians they voted for,
effectively isolated and left to the ravages of capitalism as can
clearly be seen. But the answers to the problems they continue to face -
from high levels of social deprivation, lack of job and educational
opportunities to housing - won't be found within loyalism whose only
answer is drawing up even more sectarian battle lines.
For anarchists, it's our belief that the events played out in Belfast
City Hall back on December 3rd and on the streets ever since, is yet
another sectarian diversionary tactic by the politicians. Beating
of the war drums over flags in the middle of an ever deepening economic
crisis, just as working class communities across the north are being
crushed under the weight of it, shows us just where their true interests
lie. In the continuation and protection of their own sectarian
positions and privileges up in Stormont. It is therefore vital that we
continue to demand working class unity in the streets and in the
workplace. Our class must not allow those in Stormont to deflect us from
the struggle at hand. Creating a unified fight across the sectarian
divide against the cuts in jobs and welfare, in health and education as
the crisis of capitalism continues is the task that faces us.