Is there a connection between violence and poverty? We know there’s a connection between educational attainment and poverty. Those who pass the Eleven Plus – or the new do-it-yourself tests set up by the grammar schools in recent times – are overwhelmingly middle-class, and despite much mouthing from politicians, young people from poor backgrounds still have the odds stacked against their finding a place in third-level education. But what about violence?
I came back to Ireland from Canada in the summer of 1979. That was just weeks after Mountbatten was killed in Donegal and eighteen British soldiers killed at Warrenpoint. Canadian friends used to contact me, fearful for my safety. I tried to explain to them that I lived in a middle-class suburb of Belfast but they didn’t seem to understand.
They should have. When people say ‘West and North Belfast bore the brunt of the violence during the Troubles’, they mean that working-class areas bore the brunt. The IRA – and the loyalist paramilitaries – found their base in parts of cities - and in rural areas - where there was little affluence. Today, the same rule applies: you get rioting in the Ardoyne area, not the Malone Road area.
So are those rioting doing so in protest at the poverty in which they live? Or is it a response to the indignity of having a triumphalist, anti-Catholic organistion coat-trail past them year after year? Maybe it’s a mixture of both. The middle-class are largely non-violent, tolerant, willing to sit down and discuss issues in a detached way. That’s because they’re comfortable, don’t want too much change which might jeopardise that comfort, can’t in the end see what all the anger is about. Those living in more materially-deprived areas see privilege entrenched, see authority as ranged against them, are prepared to confront issues with every weapon at their command. In a phrase, they've nothing to lose.
George Bernard Shaw believed that the way to counteract a revolutionary was to give him £50,000. That was nearly a hundred years ago. It’d cost a lot more than that today to convert the anger of the Ardoyne into sweet reasonableness.