Ebbing Protestant power upsets fragile balance with Catholics in Northern Ireland

December 12, 2012

(Demonstrators block the Donegal Road in the village area of south Belfast December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

Petrol bombs on the streets of Belfast this month reveal anger and frustration among pro-British Protestants at a loss of dominance in Northern Ireland but do not – yet – pose a serious threat to a 15-year-old peace.

Launched after local councilors voted to end a century-old tradition of daily flying Britain’s union flag from City Hall, 10 days of brick-throwing battles with police provided an outlet for a build-up of grievances among a community that new figures this week showed no longer forms a majority of the population.

But for all that the unrest stirred black-and-white memories of the early days of the “Troubles” in the 1960s or that it may have been organized by long dormant “loyalist” militant groups, a new armed conflict against the state, or with violent splinter units of anti-British Catholic republicans, seems still remote.

It was, however, a measure of lingering division that makes governing its 1.8 million people a complex affair as Northern Ireland, severed from the rest of the island 90 years ago as a Protestant-majority province, sees its demographic balance tip toward Catholics, who tend to favor joining the Irish Republic.

“Anything to do with the queen, the crown and our flag, there is no tolerance for it,” said Jim Wilson, who was jailed for his politics in the 1970s and is now a community worker in a rundown Protestant area of Belfast that was at the heart of the protests by Union Jack-waving youths over the past week or so.

Read the full story by Ian Graham here.
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