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Protestant Anger Runs Deep in Belfast
Protestant leaders affiliated with those groups said many Protestants felt ignored and disrespected by the government.
"We are losing; they are feeling the gain and we are feeling the pain -- that's the perception," said David Ervine, head of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the UVF.
Many commentators here have accused those extremist groups of orchestrating the recent riots to pressure the government. Mitchell Reiss, the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, and others have criticized loyalist leaders for failing to control the rioting and for not channeling the frustration better in their communities.
Ervine and Tommy Kirkham of the Ulster Political Research Group, which is linked to the UDA, said the paramilitary organizations played little or no role in directing the riots, although they said individual members were involved. They said the riots resulted from spontaneous popular anger, touched off on Saturday when police prohibited the Orange Order, the province's largest and vociferously anti-Catholic group, from parading in a Catholic area.
[On Wednesday, the British secretary for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, declared that the UVF had abandoned its 11-year-old cease-fire and was again officially an enemy of the peace, the Associated Press reported.]
For decades, Belfast's mighty shipyards, mills and other heavy industries discriminated against Catholics, who are still the minority in Northern Ireland. Young Protestant men, however, had easy access to jobs and apprenticeships in trades such as plumbing and electrical work. But as the global economy sent heavy industry to countries with lower wages, steady sources of employment dried up. Protestants in the riot-struck areas complain that the government has not stepped in with training programs or other help.
Hamilton, who has a crew cut and a linebacker's build, worked as a painter for several years at Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard. But when it stopped building ships in 2003, Hamilton was left to support his family on his wages as a nightclub bouncer.
"I want to do something else, but there's nothing else to do," he said, standing amid the shattered glass on his road. "There's nothing for our kids to do. All we want is a fair deal."