Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Brian Rowan: Marching season starts on wrong foot

The Tour of the North Parade passes St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast on Friday night  Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The Tour of the North Parade passes St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast

On Friday night Gerry Kelly had left the scene. The marching men and women and bands had passed through Donegall Street in Belfast having completed that part of the Tour of the North parading route.

And everything seemed OK, as OK as these things can be.

The Sinn Fein MLA and Policing Board member had a function to attend and a dinner to eat, a meal he didn't get to finish.

And, just when we all thought it was time to leave, police sirens started to sound, the blue lights on their vehicles flashed and at the other end of Carrick Hill there was a bit of a commotion and a couple of arrests.

It was over as quickly as it began. And, in terms of a difficult start to the marching season, had this been all that happened, then there wouldn't have been much by way of news and headlines.

So, I left for home, and then came a text message.

“Chaos in Carrick Hill after u left. Gerry Kelly carried on PSNI land rover… after trying to intervene in arrest of a minor.”

The former Stormont junior minister had been called back to the scene, and we have now watched the video of him clinging to the police vehicle and being carried a short distance, and we've listened to the angry words directed at a police officer.

In the developing story the Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin needed hospital treatment, and it all happened after the march had gone.

This postscript became the news and headlines, and the matter is now with the Police Ombudsman.

No one event will determine an entire summer.

But Friday night was being viewed in a wider frame as a scene-setter and as an indication of mood as this place walks towards another Twelfth.

Often, common sense is the missing ingredient.

And the aftermath on Friday is another example of this. The ‘not too bad' start to the summer marching test was spoiled.

Too many people are still being walked down dangerous roads into volatile circumstances and situations.

Something has to change — needs to change.

Too much of this looks like the old days and the old ways.

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