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G8 summit world away from reality of Belfast

When David Cameron announced, towards the end of last year, that the forthcoming G8 summit was to be held in Northern Ireland, he understandably said that the surprise choice of venue would be a chance to promote Northern Ireland globally.

Indeed he could hardly contain his enthusiasm. The summit, this summer, would be "a brilliant advertisement" for the province, "an opportunity to let the world see what a fantastic place Northern Ireland is".

Well, I don't want to be the party pooper, but these remarks are already looking seriously misjudged. Indeed the Prime Minister must be relieved the summit is not be held in Belfast; the venue, the Lough Erne Resort near Enniskillen, is about 90 minutes from Belfast by road.

The continuing troubles in East Central Belfast are a reminder that in the province nothing can ever be taken for granted. The peace process is one of the few really genuine political success stories in the UK over the past 30 years or so, but we must remember that it is just that, a process. It is by no means complete.

At the core of the current discontent is a militant and very angry group of working-class Protestants – or Loyalists , as some of them still prefer, mistakenly, to be called. Many, probably most, of them are young people who feel the peace process has simply passed them by. They think their "loyalty" to the British flag is being "rewarded" by a state which will give them no jobs and no prosperity and indeed no future. They have no meaningful political leadership, nobody in the mainstream who can speak for them and articulate their sense of grievance, their sense that their homeland of Northern Ireland is slipping away from them demographically, economically, and socially. They feel discarded. They see themselves as an unwanted group of people, marginalised and betrayed.

To say the serious violence of recent weeks has been caused by the decision to fly the Union flag less often over Belfast City Hall is a bit like saying the four years of carnage and horror and waste that was the First World War were caused by an archduke being shot in Sarajevo. The fact is that there is, and has been for some time, a sizeable element in the Protestant community always likely to erupt in frustration and fury.

Many of the more shrewd commentators in the province have been saying this, or something similar, for a long time. But few if any of the succession of mainland politicians sent over to be Northern Ireland secretaries were able to do anything to address the sense of alienation growing among working- class Protestants, particularly in areas with a paramilitary tradition.

Such local leadership as there was in these areas often tended to be very hard line, predicated on a sectarian fight to the finish. Despite the very long, and largely wasted, political hegemony of the Ulster Unionists, there was always deep within the Loyalist mindset a pessimism, a suspicion of their leaders and a sense that they had sold them short and would continue to do so.

And it was not just the politicians who were perceived as culpable. Many of the leading Protestant clergy were not genuine leaders.

One of the most respected of them, Robin Eames, understood that in a context of violent paramilitary activity bound up with a criminal culture involving drugs, prostitution and much else, a kind of grisly vacuum would be created. Mr Eames felt that for such people the peace process was "away above their heads". They felt they were "irrelevant, and that all the attention was being given to Republicans".

Of course none of that can excuse the deplorable violence that has erupted so often in the past few weeks. But that violence is a very pertinent reminder that while the lush fairways and plush cocktail lounges of the Lough Erne Resort may showcase the idea of Northern Ireland that David Cameron wants to promote, the reality on the urban streets, as often, is starkly different.

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