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Worst Belfast violence in a decade following 15th anniversary of Manchester bomb

By Alex Johnston

Fears are rising after the worst violence to hit Belfast in a decade took place this week.

Politicians held public discussions about violence in the east of the city on Monday and Tuesday night, but these were met with protests, which police have attributed to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The violence comes as a disappointment to many, who believed Northern Ireland to have moved on from the crippling violence which it suffered in the latter stages of the 20th century.

As Manchester continues to rebuild, 15 years on from the IRA bomb which ravaged Market Street as part of those troubles, the city shares the national feeling of unease surrounding events in Belfast.

Dr Scott Brewster, Reader in Irish Literature at the University of Salford, believes the current difficulties facing Northern Ireland correlate directly with decisions made during the peace process.

He said: “Physical growth has not correlated with political growth.

“Geographical boundaries have not been addressed, and this had led to the ghettocisation of some middle-class areas.”

The attention given to the peace process appears to have masked the city’s failure to address major social issues in many deprived areas.

As members of the Orange Order gear up for their annual parades across Northern Ireland and Scotland on July 12, Dr Brewster notes that this time of the year is historically volatile.

“The Orange Marches always build up to a crescendo,” he said.

The Parades are controversial, but remain an important aspect of unionism.

People in Belfast are now finding that one part of the country that has changed as a result of the troubles is the police force.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary, which had a heavy imbalance of protestant members, was succeeded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2001.

Dr Brewster said: “The police force sent into these areas will be made up of many more Catholic members than they would have been in the troubles.”

To add further disquiet to the police force, it is currently suffering from the same cutbacks as forces throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, meaning the constabulary has fewer resources with which to tackle the violence.

The view from the streets of Manchester is one of anxiety, but there is an overwhelming sense that people do not know much about the situation.

Andrew, who did not wish to have his full identity revealed, said: “I have seen Northern Ireland creeping into the news again recently. It worries me, because I was here when the Troubles were happening. I don’t think it’ll ever be as bad as that again, though.”

Similarly, Donald Watkin, 34, a joiner from Altrincham, said: “When it was bad, it was bad! People will naturally worry, but I hope there’s no panic. I have faith that a more sophisticated peace process could help everyone move forward these days.”

The period known as the Troubles was triggered after 20 years of Unionist authority in the country, which used its majority to marginalize the Catholic areas.

The Unionist Protestant community of Northern Ireland clashed with the nationalist Catholics, which, when coupled with the historical dispute between the Republic and UK over the status of Northern Ireland, brought widespread unrest and violence.

A series of horrific incidents during this period included ‘Bloody Sunday’, on 30 January 1972, where the British army shot 26 and killed 14 unarmed protesters in Derry.

The single worst loss of civilian life during the Troubles was in Omagh, on 15 August 1998, where 29 people died in a bomb blast.

Last week saw the 15th anniversary of the Manchester Bomb, which was attributed to the IRA. The bomb didn’t kill anyone but decimated a large part of Manchester city centre, leading to large-scale re-development.

However the situation in Northern Ireland pans out between now and the parades, and beyond, it is clear that some areas of Belfast are having to deal with economic and social issues far beyond that of the rest of the UK, problems which, worryingly, have not been tackled since the Troubles began.

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