(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)
The seeds of a violent dissident loyalist movement are now blooming.
Sinn Féin must be careful it does not taunt these loyalists into a campaign of terror which will make the Troubles look like a Sunday School picnic.
The recent Woodvale incident involving Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Mairtin O’Muilleoir is only a taste of what is to come if the loyalist dragon is not calmed.
The Shinners need to understand that a huge gulf exists between the middle class dominated Unionist parties and the loyalist working class – and it is getting wider.
The problem is that the solid bond between Sinn Féin and the Provos does not exist between the Unionist parties and the loyalist terror gangs.
The republican movement always had the discipline to be able to turn on and off the taps of street violence, bombings and shootings. Loyalists have no such discipline.
Okay, so nationalists can point to the DUP’s links in the past to paramilitary groups such as the Third Force and Ulster Resistance. But that Paisley-era DUP has long since vanished.
The modern Robinson-led DUP which shares power at Stormont with Sinn Féin seems to have largely burned those bonds with the loyalist working class.
Sinn Féin worked the peace process very effectively to gain a massive raft of benefits for Catholic working class communities, especially in the republican heartlands.
While Unionists fought over who should be the main Unionist party, republicans instead majored on how to get millions of pounds into nationalist areas.
The loyalist working class looked on green with envy as previously wee Catholic enclaves became flourishing republican heartlands, while traditional Protestant districts became economic wastelands.
This regeneration of nationalist areas was misinterpreted by loyalists as a cultural war against their British heritage and identity.
What republicans saw as creating a shared future built on equality, loyalists viewed as a form of ethnic cleansing. For a generation, loyalists watched as the IRA and INLA murdered Protestants by the hundreds.
Now many loyalists view the parades and Union flag disputes as evidence of killing off their culture by republicans.
The Shinners need to be careful about rubbing loyalist noses in republican culture; that’s has been the effect of the Tyrone Volunteers event at Castlederg.
All this does is plant the seeds in a section of loyalist opinion that violence pays. Loyalist violence could not guarantee a parade past the Ardoyne Shops, but it did prevent First Citizen O’Muilleoir from carrying out his duties.
Unlike Sinn Féin, the Unionist parties and the Orange Order do not have the same control over the tap of street violence.
Many loyalists remember that the Stormont government of the early 1970s was powerless to prevent the civil rights movement deteriorating into a republican terrorist campaign.
A generation on, loyalists are voicing the same concerns about their civil rights; that the current Stormont parliament seems unable or unwilling to help their plight.
Just as Sinn Féin has held onto its working class Catholic bastions, so too, republicans must educate their Unionist counterparts how to engage with the loyalist working class.
Sinn Féin must share the skills it has learned to help working class Protestants. Republicans, too, must learn the secret of calming the loyalist dragon – not egging it on to pour out its flame.
August 14, 2013________________
This article appeared in the August 12, 2013 edition of the Irish Daily Star.