Unionists hardliners opposed to the peace process were accused tonight of stirring sectarianism among young loyalists after a new outbreak of attacks on Catholic homes in Northern Ireland.
With the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) pledging to try and ease tensions in flashpoint north Belfast, it was claimed that a mindset of hate was being fostered among young people in Protestant working class areas.
David McClarty, an Ulster Unionist member at the Stormont Assembly, said at a time of a very volatile climate, some politicians needed to reflect on the impact of their words among young loyalists desperately seeking a sense of confidence in their beliefs.
Mr McClarty from Coleraine, Co Derry, where several Catholic families have been hit with gunfire, petrol and pipe bombs, said: ‘‘They need to be encouraged to use the power of argument, not force.
‘‘By stirring up notions of destability, anti-Agreement unionists are just perpetuating irrational hate amongst our young people.
‘‘We need mature leadership at this time, and the anti-Agreement unionists are incapable of giving it.’’
East Belfast MP Peter Robinson rejected Mr McClarty’s criticism and claimed Ulster Unionists had been heavily involved with loyalist paramilitary representatives in the run-up to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
He said: ‘‘It is a deliberate attempt by the Ulster Unionist Party to airbrush out their own history and involvement with these parties.’’