The news in Northern Ireland this week has been understandably dominated by the riots in East Belfast. The fallout of which has led to countless discussions about the reasons for the violence and what can be done to prevent it in the future. As usual, after initial condemnation, it has started to settle into the timeless 'they started it' school of debating that Northern Ireland is expert in.
There are clearly underlying factors that facilitate riotous behaviour and there is nearly always a spark that sets the whole thing off but there can be no doubt that the riots themselves were started by Loyalists. Let's not beat around the bush on that matter. When a few hundred individuals don masks and decide to attack a whole community then that is the matter most pressing and you have to deal with that effectively first.
I am a big fan of talking problems through - it's always preferable to sit down with those who are aggrieved rather than cause them further aggravation by ignoring their protests. So I can understand the First Minister wanting to meet with loyalist community leaders in the wake of the trouble. However, I would hope the First Minister would deliver a very clear message to those leaders that they may not be expecting - something along the lines of 'grow up' and remember we live in a democracy where the will of the minority must not be inflicted on the majority.
That's exactly what Loyalism now is - a minority. It has little support outside of it's own enclaves and even the support within is not strong enough or dedicated enough to provide even one representative at Stormont. This is the trick that loyalism misses - that they are welcome to engage in the political process to further their agenda but that increasingly, their people do not.
I'm sure loyalists would argue against being a minority but those same loyalists constantly moan that they have been left behind after the peace process and that they have no representation. How would that be possible unless they were a minority? The truth is that many loyalists voted for the DUP, some voted for Alliance but nowhere near enough of them thought that loyalism was important enough to vote for the PUP. Yes, it's an imperfect conclusion but then democracy is imperfect.
Loyalists who vote for those parties should remember that loyalism and unionism are not the same thing and when voting for unionist parties should not be surprised when their agenda is not addressed.
So, there is no place for loyalism in NI politics but that is the fault of loyalism and it's leaders and it does not give them the right to violent assembly in order to achieve their goals.