During some of the toughest days of the looming Irish-British peace process, the late bomb-maker became peacemaker David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party and political representative of the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force Constitutional or municipal crisis – real or imagined – union leaders quickly marched with them their most militant followers to the top of the hill and left them there just as quickly as times changed again.
A large element of this familiar refrain plays a role in the declarations of the Democratic Unionist Party, calling for calm after consecutive nights of loyalist unrest in Derry and parts of the greater Belfast area. Although she is nominally the common First Minister for all people in “Northern Ireland”, the reaction to the violence by DUP leader Arlene Foster made her identification with one side of the community very clear. From the Irish time:
The First Minister told Downtown Radio on Sunday that she strongly supported all ordinary PSNI officials. “I know a lot of our young people are very frustrated with what happened last week, but injuring police officers is not going to make things better,” she said.
“I appeal to our young people not to become disordered, which will result in them facing criminal convictions and ills in their own lives. I also urge parents to play their roles and proactively protect their young adults. “
While the Fermanagh MLA expressed concern about the frustrations of the “young people” in their electoral base, DUP officials fueled those frustrations, claiming the riots were a response to union concerns about the impact of Brexit and new customs the Irish Sea border, the potential for Scottish independence, the perception that Sinn Féin has the political and legal upper hand in the north (following the Bobby Storey controversy) and the feeling widespread in Ireland and the UK that a referendum on the Irish reunification is just over the horizon.
While these allegations may be true, a more important factor in the initial riots was the need for the Ulster Defense Association, the formerly legal British terrorist organization, to express its anger over attempts by the UK authorities to crack down on their criminal funding, with the Northern Ireland Police Service aims to control the UDA over drug trafficking, extortion, sex trafficking and extortion in a number of loyalist areas. Hence the carefully staged violence in UDA strongholds such as the Clooney Estate in Derry and Newtownabbey on the outskirts of Belfast. The latter shows the activities of the rebellious UDA of South East Antrim, the explicitly narcoterrorist faction of the union-friendly gangs.
Instead of seeing a major outbreak of union frustration with the Ireland-Northern Ireland Protocol or the European Union or even the underhanded machinations of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, what we saw over the weekend was initially loyalist gangsters hitting back on attempts by the north police to curb their activities, the subsequent road disruption becomes a convenient tool for loyalist politicians to use in their own self-inflicted Brexit contest with Dublin, London and Brussels.
Not that the Democratic Unionists would hesitate to use their rhetoric to turn criminal violence into political violence if the former phenomenon does not produce the results the DUP and others are now hoping for in broader political unionism.