As so often has been the case in the past, when unionism in the Six Counties finds itself facing any form of internal turmoil, it inevitably strikes out at what can be perceived, in unionist eyes at least, as a common enemy.

Those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such reactionary violence are, more often than not, nationalists living in isolated and vulnerable communities.

Saturday (January 12) was the latest manifestation of this unpalatable reality when up to 1,000 unionists, allegedly engaged in a 'peaceful' protest connected with the ongoing controversy over the flying of the British flag, launched yet another orchestrated physical assault against residents and homes in the Short Strand area of Belfast.

Those who live in more sophisticated societies will not readily appreciate the fear and the terror which these organised sectarian forays engender in such a vulnerable, minority community.

The Short Strand is a small working class, nationalist/republican enclave. Situated on the east bank of the River Lagan, this small area, consisting of around 900 homes and a population of less than 3,000 men, women and young people, is completely dwarfed by its unionist neighbours in East Belfast, with a population of 60,000, which surround it on the other three sides. Despite this very obvious imbalance, unionist politicians have repeatedly attempted to falsely portray the minority community as the aggressors.


If Irish nationalists were doing this, they'd quickly be beaten down by the British government's client regime in northern Ireland. But because people fervently loyal Britain are doing it, the British government sits on its hands and let's the mob rage build to a fever pitch.
In 1970, violent large-scale unionist attacks on the Short Strand led to one of the first major gun battles in modern times between republicans and the forces both of unionism and the Six-County state as republican volunteers were left with no alternative but to use arms in defence of the families living within the streets of this little community. Led by Billy McKee, a small group of very lightly armed republicans repelled wave after wave of unionist assaults on the area.

That iconic armed defence of the Short Strand was to propel the Provisionals, who had separated from the Official IRA several months earlier in December '69, onto the world stage and kick-started what would become a prolonged and intense armed revolt that lasted for over a quarter of a century.

During that conflict, almost fifty residents of the Short Strand met with violent deaths, many of them at the hands of British controlled unionist death squads.

On Saturday, Short Strand residents and their homes were again attacked by crowds of hostile unionists. It was but the latest in a whole series of assaults on that community in recent weeks.

In scenes reminiscent of 1970, the Six County police force permitted unionist mobs to march along the Albertbridge Road, literally within just a few feet of nationalist homes.

Long before those mobs had crossed over the Albert Bridge (adjacent to the main Belfast Central railway station) on their way towards the Short Strand on Saturday afternoon, it was apparent to many news reporters and observers that the unionist crowd was intent on causing mayhem.

But, just like the RUC in 1970, today's modernised and 'reformed' police force, the PSNI, effectively channelled the unionist mob directly towards, rather than away from, the Short Strand.

At approximately 2.30pm, a crowd of around 1,000 militant unionists were escorted by the PSNI from the city centre and down the Albertbridge Road, which is 100% nationalist. The unionist mob then proceeded to launch sustained attacks on residents and their homes. At the same time, the PSNI pushed back and attacked other Short Strand residents who had rushed to aid their neighbours in defending their families and homes.

Well-known unionist paramilitary figures, often euphemistically described by the two main unionist parties, the news media and the PSNI as 'loyalist community workers', were openly seen to proactively encourage the attacks on nationalist people and homes.

Saturday's attack on the Short Strand raises many questions - questions which will be uncomfortable for members and supporters of constitutional nationalist parties who support and endorse policing in the Six Counties.


How any normal human being can be proud of a country whose ruling elite is responsible for the deaths of between 7.5 and 11.5 million people around the world from WWII to 2004 [Source: Unpeople: Britain's Secret Human Rights Abuses, by Mark Curtis].
Constitutional nationalist parties need to come clean and either admit or refute the PSNI's public position that, during the days leading up to Saturday, elected and un-elected representatives from those parties had been involved with the PSNI in a "significant engagement with representatives from all communities, in anticipation of a movement of protestors into and out of the city centre from east Belfast".

Any nationalist representative who may have been involved in such engagement with the PSNI would certainly appear to have failed to embody or characterize the very real fears, concerns and apprehensions existing within the Short Strand community about the potential for violence towards members of that same community.

It is, of course, possible that the PSNI simply refused to accept that such fears and concerns were real.

Equally, it is also possible that any such nationalist representatives engaging with the PSNI just felt, for no reason other than their own political credibility and publicity purposes, that they just had to be seen to be at least giving the appearance of doing something while, at the same time, those representatives already knew that absolutely no recognition would be given to any views they expressed.

For over six weeks in various parts of the Six Counties, unionists have now been able to blockade town centres, main routes and thoroughfares with often little or no intervention by the PSNI.

In scenes reminiscent of the blockades mounted by unionists and ignored by the RUC in relation to the Garvaghy Road during the latter half of the 1990s, today just a handful of unionist protestors can halt traffic and disrupt life while members of the PSNI, like their RUC predecessors, stand idly by.

Indeed, in quite a number of areas in recent weeks, there is a growing perception that it is members of the PSNI, rather than unionist protestors, that are responsible for the blockades that are affecting traffic, business and normal life.

That growing perception alone poses a major question for the political credibility of constitutional nationalism.

What is particularly striking is the inescapable fact that concerns being raised about the Six County police force's inability and unwillingness to deal with unionist aggression today are strikingly similar to those same concerns which were expressed in previous decades.