The two nights of rioting in north Belfast during which 56 police officers were injured have further increased community tensions, and also besmirched the face of the “new” Northern Ireland.
Following other disgraceful incidents recently, now is the time for political leadership to halt this dangerous behaviour.
This will require brave voices all round. Unionist politicians should rein in the increasing influence of the UVF. Republicans also need to lower the temperature and to stop pretending that their own marches are something which they are not.
There is pressure for a solution, because the celebrations of the 1912 Ulster Covenant are only weeks away. These are a legitimate recognition of a pivotal moment in Ulster’s history, but they could be easily tarnished by mob rule. Neither side needs any further excuse to rack up the tension, or to justify its lust for violence. Unfortunately, the constant sniping at the Parades Commission by leading unionist politicians is self-serving, illogical, and an excuse for people to play to their own galleries.
There was no police or other intelligence in advance to suggest that Sunday’s march would have turned out so badly. The speakers from the Republican Network for Unity, whose ideology is rejected by the vast majority of people, would have normally attracted little attention outside their disgruntled circles. However, the baggage left by previous riots has led to inflammatory statements which maintained community tensions.
The letter from senior unionists to the Secretary of State which severely criticised the Parades Commission was spectacularly ill-judged. Remarks from republican sources were no less helpful, so that people on both sides felt they had justification for the violence which they sought anyway. It’s not too late to put the UVF and dissident republicans back into the shadows from whence they have emerged, but it will require swift and firm leadership. Sadly, such leadership has been seriously wanting in the whole dispiriting episode so far. Last night’s announcement from the First and Deputy First Ministers for a joint initiative to help resolve the impasse is therefore welcome and urgently needed.