Posts Tagged ‘loyalists’

Villiers should learn from her ancestor in approaching Northern Ireland job

05/09/2012, 04:03:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

While the British political class pores over the cabinet reshuffle, Belfast underwent yet another night of rioting, the third in a row. Sixty police officers have been injured so far this week. Here politics is visceral. The ups and downs of Westminster village life are quite superfluous.

Territory remains at the heart of every problem in Northern Ireland. While the meta-issue of sovereignty remains an irreconcilable difference, it’s that recurrent micro-issue of parading which is fuelling this latest crisis.

The “right” of protestant loyal orders to march through predominantly Catholic communities is a long-running sore, partly relieved by the creation of the Parades Commission (one of our more idiosyncratic quangos) to adjudicate on whether the most contentions marches can go ahead.

The commission is now reviled by unionists. So much so, that a banned parade in north Belfast still went ahead last weekend, causing much of the subsequent trouble we have seen. Loyalists (less respectable unionists), without the leadership to exert influence in mainstream politics, assert their territorial claim the old fashioned way, by taking to the streets. This in turn creates a fertile climate for dissident republicans to burrow into Sinn Fein’s urban powerbase, as an emboldened Catholic population refuses to have sand kicked in its face any longer.

A little local difficulty? Hardly. There is a real risk that the rioting in north Belfast, will escalate into a wider conflict. Later this month loyalists will be back in force to the same spot, expecting to march past Catholics in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant (where half a million Ulstermen signalled their opposition to Home Rule). Dissident republicans will be looking to stop them, undermining Sinn Fein for good measure.

Enter Theresa Villiers as the new secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Hers is a unique in-tray. There’s not really any policy in the Northern Ireland Office, it’s all raw politics; navigating a pathway through brittle egos, vested interests and implacable enmities. It’s a role where you are always going to upset someone. Northern Ireland is, after all, a small place with too many politicians.

Unlike Tony Blair, David Cameron lets his secretary of state do the talking. All parties complain that they no longer get face time with the British prime minister, which makes Villiers’ appointment all the more important. The buck really does stop with her.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon