AN East Belfast councillor says a “preoccupation” with paramilitary involvement in recent rioting is distracting people from the real causes of widespread flags-related anger.
Those are the views of Dr John Kyle, a councillor with the UVF-linked PUP, who is also a GP.
“I got involved with the PUP through [then leader] David Irvine in the late 1990s,” he said.
“When many unionists at that time were saying ‘no’ I thought it was a very constructive and progressive voice which was offering hope for a positive future for Northern Ireland. The second reason I joined the PUP was because its leaders were concerned about the same social health issues that were affecting many of my patients.”
He was interim PUP leader for four months after Dawn Purvis resigned over the UVF murder of Bobby Moffett in 2010.
Viewing the murder as “a setback in a conflict transformation process”, he stayed on to keep the party “moving in a positive direction”.
“Having said that, there are still outstanding questions to be asked of the paramilitary organisations,” he adds.
The current protests and violence, he believes, have four main causes:
:: “The sense of alienation people feel. Their politicians up in Stormont are enjoying the good life and they are not interested in what is happening on the ground and not taking them seriously. People have lost their voice.
:: “People also feel their traditions are being disrespected. The freedom to express their culture has been undermined, they believe, and inequalities had developed. Loyalists continually had to concede ground and accept restrictions on expressions of their culture, parading, wearing poppies. There has also been the demonisation of flute bands and Army homecoming parades. Their Britishness was being diluted, adding to their sense of grievance, they believe.
:: “People feel the Historical Enquiries Team and other inquiries are all imbalanced and disproportionately focused on loyalist crimes and state collusion, while turning a blind eye to republican crimes.
:: “There is significant deprivation, both social and economic. People’s daily life is fairly grim and educational attainment is poor, while opportunities for employment are very limited.”
The issues are complex with no easy solutions, he says. However, he makes a few broad suggestions.
He said: “We have to start with dialogue. People weren’t being heard. We need politicians to say they are ready to listen and ready to engage. The new Unionist Forum, he believes, “creates an opportunity for much-needed discussions”.
“We need to hear the community’s views on solutions and we need active grassroots participation in any processes which aim to deal with issues like educational unattainment and unemployment,” he said.
“We also need to look again at perceptions of cultural equality. The Good Friday Agreement promised that ‘the sovereign government... shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities’.”
He says the implementation of this needs to be reviewed, the Parades Commission needs to be “re-examined” and the findings “appropriately implemented”.
The new Unionist Forum has agreed to set up eight working groups which will cover many of the issues, including the flags crisis, voter registration, educational unattainment and unemployment.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott has gone on record to say that “senior members of the UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] in east Belfast – as individuals – have been increasingly orchestrating some of this violence... for their own selfish motives”.
Dr Kyle does not directly deny what Mr Baggott says, but replies that he has “not seen any evidence of widespread significant paramilitary orchestration of violence”.
“What I am struck by is the numbers of teens and 20s that have been involved,” he adds.
“It would be reprehensible for paramilitaries to be organising violence. However, a preoccupation with paramilitary involvement would distract us from the most important point – our people are so angry and what can be done to address the causes of that anger?”