Current Affairs Politics

Northern Conflict Requires Thoughtful Analysis Not Lazy Clichés


Journalist Fionola Meredith in the Guardian on some of the background to the UVF-led Unionist attacks on the Nationalist Short Strand enclave in East Belfast over the last two nights. In her opinion (echoed by others) the recent appearances of new Unionist paramiltary wall murals, banners and flags in parts of the city show that:

‘the skirmishes just down the road are not random or arbitrary outbreaks of inexplicable violence, as they may appear to outside observers, but the product of an increasingly visible loyalist rage. The appearance of tame-looking loyalist elder statesmen during Queen Elizabeth’s recent visit to the Republic gives no sense of the reality on the streets of inner east Belfast, where attacking their Catholic neighbours is a way for blood-hungry young loyalists to gain status and rank in the notoriously volatile command structure of paramilitary organisations.’


‘It’s true that there is a palpable sense of discontent in loyalist communities, a kind of resentful longing for the old days of pride and primacy.

Yet that’s rather too glib. It implies that mounting orchestrated and unprovoked attacks on Catholic neighbourhoods is in some way an inevitable outworking of loyalist victimhood – an argument that conveniently allows the perpetrators off the hook.’

As I pointed out here, there is far more to this story than the lazy, glib soundbites that some in the mainstream media in Ireland or beyond are trotting out. Reaching for the well-worn clichés of ‘sectarianism’ and ‘tribalism’ is to fundamentally misrepresent what has happened in Belfast and to obscure the underlying causes of the conflict in the first place. We are watching the final death spasms of Britain’s colonial adventures in Ireland and it is only by viewing the conflict in that light that one can begin to understand where we are now – and where we may be going.


2 comments on “Northern Conflict Requires Thoughtful Analysis Not Lazy Clichés

  1. These attacks show that the GFA has failed, anything but the last death spasms of British colonialism. British is rule is firmly entrenched, with the provos now enforcing it. As was shown by them siding with the RUC over those defending the Short Strand. It will be a long time before colonialism is finally ended in Ireland, and perhaps another generation of struggle will have to happen first.


  2. Thanks for the Comment, Colm.

    The Belfast Agreement was the great panacea that was designed to bring the conflict in the North of Ireland to an end, one of the last gasp attempts to ‘normalise’ and ‘secure’ the remnants of the British colony in Ireland – a final settlement in fact, agreeable to all parties, who could find their different aspirations broadly accommodated within it. The Agreement was designed by and signed up to by all the main players, political and military, including two sovereign governments with the backing of the international community, led by the United States and the EU institutions.

    Yet it has manifestly failed.

    Far from the final settlement it was designed to be it has proved to be merely another ‘transitional arrangement’ on the road to the end of British rule in Ireland. The unfixable cannot be fixed but merely patched up – and temporarily so. Far from securing British rule in the North it has undermined it yet again by giving Nationalists real political power and influence that cannot be undone.

    In the coming years we are going to see slow but steady change in the North that will transcend the border and present constitutional arrangements. And which will undoubtedly spark renewed violent, anti-democratic opposition from the British separatist minority on the island.

    In that sense, the failure of the GFA is very much one of the final death spasms of Britain’s colonial adventures in Ireland.


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