1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages

Europe

Militant pro-British groups exploit Belfast flag protests

Flag protests in Belfast - which turned into clashes over the weekend in the Northern Irish capital - are being exploited by pro-British militant groups for their own purposes, according to police.

Belfast Demonstration Unruhen

The clashes are the most violent since the 1998 peace deal

Fifty policemen were injured, some 70 suspected rioters were arrested; Monday (07.01.2013) was the fifth night in a row that saw peaceful protests in Belfast turn into violent clashes. They are the most violent clashes in the province since a peace agreement ended three decades of conflict in 1998.

The riots came after largely peaceful demonstrations against a decision by Belfast City Council to reduce the number of days when the Union flag is flown on its building from every day to only a few days a year.

Bricks, bottles, bullets

Throughout the weekend, Belfast was the scene of violent clashes. On Saturday, shots were fired at police, and a 38-year-old man was arrested for attempted murder. Rioters also hurled bricks and bottles.

Königin Elizabeth Besuch in Nordirland 2012

The Queen visiting Northern Ireland in 2012

The unrest first began one month ago, after Belfast City Council decided to reduce the number of days when the British flag - the Union Jack - would be flown on its building roughly 17 days a year, for instance on the Queen's birthday. The decision was made after Unionist parties, who support Northern Ireland's union with Great Britain, lost their majority in the Belfast City Council at the elections in June 2012. "The balance of the population in Belfast has shifted, you now have Unionists and Nationalists more evenly matched," said Liam Clarke, political editor with Northern Irish daily Belfast Telegraph, in an interview with DW.

While nationalists had lobbied to take the Union Jack down altogether, they eventually accepted the compromise of flying the flag less frequently, said Clarke. But Unionists distributed leaflets asking people to protest. "That was really what kicked the whole thing off, but it very quickly got out of control. The Unionist parties didn't have a handle on it before very long."

Police: "Militants orchestrate the violence"

Militant pro-British groups seized the opportunity and are now exploiting the protests for their own purposes, Northern Irish police said on Sunday (06.01.2013). Back in December, police accused militant groups of helping to orchestrate and taking part in the first wave of violence. The recent attacks showed this was now clearly the case. "What it demonstrates is that paramilitaries have hijacked this issue, and they have now turned their guns on the police," Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PNFI), told BBC radio on Sunday.

"Members of the UVF, the Ulster Volunteer Force, have been seen at the protests," journalist Liam Clarke confirmed in an interview with DW, adding that petrol bombs were used on the scene. They are a signature sign of the organization. Both the UVF and Northern Ireland's other main loyalist militant group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, stopped hostilities back in 2007. After they signed their peace deal, their weapons stocks were decommissioned. But some weapons remain in dissidents' hands, political analyst Clarke told DW.

Urgent meeting of political parties

Political leaders have condemned the latest wave of violence. On Sunday, Alliance Party leader David Ford said: "The serious violence witnessed on the streets of East Belfast over the past three nights must be condemned in the strongest possible terms." Ford's party was one of those supporting the decision to reduce the number of days when the Union Jack is flown on the Council building in December. "Not only was there serious destruction of property, but local residents were put in a state of fear and police officers were injured, and it seems certain that there is now a significant paramilitary involvement." Ford called for an urgent meeting of party leaders this week to "show a true commitment to building a shared future."

Frieden Nordirland Kinder Ballon Symbolbild

The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want peace

This does not mean renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement, however, which ended the decades of violent conflicts in Northern Ireland, says political analyst Liam Clarke. "We are a little worried that the Catholic-Protestant issue has been drawn into it. But I don't think we're in a position where we'd say that the peace process is in danger."

Clarke stressed that the latest rallies have attracted small crowds only. "It's not a mass uprising. If you asked most Unionists and Protestants they'd most likely say, 'yes, I think the flag should be on City Hall.' They would say that there was no reason to take it down, but at the same time, most would also say, ‘well I'm fed up with these demonstrations, I can't get home at night'. They wouldn't feel that strongly that they want a riot, but there's a minority who do."

Perceived inequalities

Nevertheless, experts agree that perceived inequalities in terms of investment and infrastructure between the two sides are the basis of the discontent. Many people in working class protestant areas, in particular, feel disadvantaged, Clarke told DW. "The organizers of the protests have said it themselves: It's not just about the flag, there's a feeling that nationalists have done better, that they are better at working the power sharing agreement than the unionist leaders."

Job opportunities are scarce in Northern Ireland because of the economic crisis. Clarke believes the latest conflicts are worrying in as much as they could disrupt trade even further. "It's been reported in places like Germany, the US and across the world, and it's possibly going to put off tourists. And people who are thinking about investing - will they still think it is a stable region? That's the real damage that it's doing."

DW recommends