Loyalists 'left behind' in peace process led to flag protests - Powell

Reconciliation forum hears communities need support to regain political voice

Jonathan Powell: A feeling among working class loyalists that they were left behind in the peace process resulted in the recent flag protests. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Jonathan Powell: A feeling among working class loyalists that they were left behind in the peace process resulted in the recent flag protests. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 08:35

A feeling among working class loyalists that they were left behind in the peace process resulted in the recent flag protests in Belfast, a former chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland has said.

Speaking at the National Reconciliation Networking Forum at Dublin Castle, Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair and chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland between 1997 and 2007, said groups could get left behind by peace agreements.

“In the case of the North, it’s very clear that the loyalist community, the working class communities in certain parts of Belfast and elsewhere who feel that they have no representation, who feel that they lack a political leadership, who feel that their economic and social conditions are worse than others . . . that in my view is what has led to the problem with flags and parades; they feel they have not gotten anything out of this agreement.

“If you have a community that feels like that anywhere in the world it would lead to great difficulties. Someone needs to try and help to rebuild those communities, to give them the support they need and to allow them to have a political voice,” he said.

Liz O’Donnell, who was minister of state at the time of the signing of the Belfast Agreement, said the protests and violence seen in Northern Ireland in the past 15 months had been “quite depressing” but added that it was important to remember that “we have come very far”.