Peter Robinson, the DUP leader and regional Joint First Minister of the North of Ireland, recently claimed that Irish Nationalism was in “crisis” and that his party could reach out to “Catholics” in the north-east of the country, a statement that was greeted with loud acclaim from the British Unionist minority in Ireland and their fellow travellers in the British and Irish media.
Unfortunately for Peter hard on the heels of his grandstanding speech comes the news that Belfast City Council has voted to remove the British flag from its permanent position atop City Hall, a once unassailable bastion of British (mis-)rule in Ireland. Now Unionists are turning on each other in a vicious round of the blame-game with the “liberal” Unionists of the Alliance Party feeling the pressure from both the mainstream and extreme of their community.
“A young councillor in Northern Ireland has been forced to flee her home because of Ulster loyalist threats against her for voting to reverse the policy of flying the union flag at Belfast city hall 365 days a year.
After a night of violence in the city, Alliance councillor Laura McNamee, 27, said she believed hardline loyalists who abused her on Facebook are linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force in east Belfast and were picketing her party’s constituency headquarters in the east of the city.
McNamee and several party colleagues have been warned of threats against them by a new extremist loyalist faction enraged over Belfast city council’s decision on Monday night to only allow the union flag to be flown for up to 20 designated days.
The 29-21 vote in favour of changing the flag-flying policy provoked a riot in the grounds of city hall that left 15 police officers injured, at least one council security guard hurt, and an Associated Press photographer beaten over the head by a police baton.
The loyalists opposed to any change in the flag policy are targeting prominent Alliance members because the party holds the balance of power on the council. It was their compromise motion – that the union flag would be still be flown on top of city hall on days such as the Queen’s birthday – that led to the union flag no longer being a permanent fixture on the council building.
The Alliance representative, who was elected to council two years ago, said she has been told members of the militant East Belfast Battalion of the UVF were orchestrating the violence and the intimidation.
She confirmed that it was “highly unlikey” she could return to her home for the foreseeable future and would spend Christmas elsewhere.
While condemning the violence outside city hall on Monday evening, mainstream unionist politicians have continued their verbal onslaught on the Alliance party.”
Crisis, Peter? What crisis?