Violent disorder has resurfaced in Northern Ireland following a decision to limit the flying of the Union flag at an official building in Belfast. A storm in a teacup it may initially have seemed but it is proving to be much more sinister. With both sides digging in their heels the stalemate has led to ongoing nightly protests. Perhaps protests is the wrong word as they have been more like riots.
As the level of violence continues to escalate one police officer had a lucky escape last night. The officer was in a patrol car when a 15 strong Loyalist gang smashed the rear window of the car and threw in a petrol bomb. It must only be a matter of time before a person or persons dies unless the situation is got under control.
Officials in Belfast have said that last night's car bomb incident is being treat as attempted murder. With an officer in the car the intention of the gang must have been murder. If not they would have stopped short of the petrol bomb.
The Northern Ireland Assembly as one condemned the violent action but their words have to date fell on deaf ears. The violence has spread away from the initial area in Belfast around City Hall. In one loyalist village on the outskirts of the city police were attacked last night. The rioters used petrol bombs, bricks, bottles and fireworks.
Perhaps one problem has been the words of those Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly. When they passed the motion condemning the violence they used carefully worded sentences. The truth of the matter is that in order to present a united front against the violence they needed the motion to be carried unanimously. Whilst some in office may condemn the violence they have sympathy with the point of the initial protests.
The motion appealed for those wishing to object to the decision to only fly the Union Flag for 15 days a year to do so respectfully and within the letter of the law.
In the UK and beyond the increasing level of violence over what most of us would deem a trivial and inconsequential matter will be baffling. It perfectly illustrates that the so called Troubles have not been put to rest yet. It could be a rent a mob minority of people or a more wide ranging issue amongst Loyalists. One thing seems clear and that is unless Loyalists and Republicans in Ireland can let go of the past there is no way forward. The importance of the loyalist flag is steeped in old wounds, conflicts and history.
Read more on the importance of the Union Flag to Northern Ireland Loyalists here