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There are worrying scenes of violence once again in Northern Ireland. Loyalist Paramilitaries are poised to exploit a dispute over flag flying.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was hoping to make a “lap of honour” visit to Northern Ireland, Ulster, as she nears the end of her term in office.

But there was a risk her visit could cause fresh problems in the province as Loyalist paramilitaries aim to exploit the situation.

The historic peace deal she was there to celebrate is under threat once again. The deal ended over 40 years of riots and murder in Northern Ireland.

Hilary’s husband President Clinton, together with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, had helped to broker the peace process. Now there are riots in the streets and bomb threats once again – in a dispute about the flying of flags.

The huge divide in Northern Ireland is between the Nationalists who want to incorporate Ulster into a united Republic of Ireland – and the Loyalists who want Ulster to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

The Union Jack, flag of Great Britain, had been flying over the Parliamentary Building every day. Now the Nationalist camp want to restrict that to a limited number of days.

This symbolic flag flying is enough to undo the good work of the past decade. Senior politicians from both sides have appealed for calm before the problems escalate and foreign investors take fright.

Mrs Clinton said, “There will always be disagreement in democratic societies but violence is never an acceptable response. All parties need to confront the remaining challenge of sectarian divisions, peacefully together.” There have been tensions on the street and an explosive device similar to ones used in Afghanistan has been discovered.

The Loyalist paramilitaries are traditionally suspicious of US intervention because the nationalist side has always attempted to enlist senior Democratic politicians like the Kennedy brothers to their cause. The Republican movement has raised funds for many years in places like New York and Boston, home to many citiizens with Irish ethnic roots. JFK’s father was a long time supporter of Irish nationalism, critical of British rule in Ireland. 

This is a legacy from the days of the Irish Famine when hundreds of families, mostly from Southern Ireland, emigrated to the US taking with them bitter memories of their treatment at the hands of English landoowners.

Mrs Clinton praised leaders from both sides, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. In talks they were hoping to make progress on the economy but the violence on the streets has overshadowed them.

It was hoped that Mrs Clinton’s visit did not inflame the situation