Just last week Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein and David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party were giving advise to Palestinians and Isr’lis involved in the Middle East conflict on how to resolve it. This week, as widespread and extremely violent riots broke out around the Catholic enclave of Short Strand in East Belfast, with as many as 1,000 people taking part, the Palestinians and Isr’lis might be forgiven for concluding that the Irish conflict has certain limits as a model for conflict resolution. They would be right.
The last 12 months or so have seen the alarming spread of violence from a pipe-bombing campaign against vulnerable Catholic homes mainly in east Antrim, so serious sectarian clashes in North Belfast, and now, even worse confrontations in the eastern half of the city with its overwhelming Protestant majority. There, the guns have come out, and republicans have gone back to their original role as Catholic defenders. Five Protestants were shot over the course of a few days of clashes, involving fire-bombings, stoning, and blast bomb attacks.
This is a replay of recent history, but one both communities could do without. 32 years ago to the month similar clashes saw the gunmen of the newly formed Provisional IRA emerge on to the streets of the Short Strand to fend off Protestant gangs intent on burning down the local Catholic church. On that occasion, the clichT about Northern Ireland on the brink of the abyss was all too accurate. It was on the brink and it fell in. 24 years of bloodshed followed.