Even-handed policing paramount
It is unfortunate that a very minor incident at a junior Orange Order parade in Belfast escalated to the stage where CS spray was used, affecting some of the children involved. This has created controversy where none was needed and at a time when policing tactics are under some scrutiny.
The PSNI says it deeply regrets that any young people were affected by the CS gas, and that apology has come swiftly and should be accepted at face value.
Of course, police officers have every right to defend themselves if they feel their personal safety is endangered, and the fact that two officers were slightly injured indicates that some sort of fracas did take place.
The question is, did there need to be any direct intervention by the officer who had asked adult members of the parade to move away from parked vehicles? It does not appear that they were causing any actual damage.
It has also to be determined if the use of CS spray was the appropriate response by the two police officers who felt themselves under some threat. That seems in some dispute at this point in time.
This was a legal march and the low-key police presence at it shows that the PSNI had every faith in the organisers ensuring that it passed by quietly. There was a time when Orange Order marches on the Ormeau Road were very controversial, but Ballynafeigh District has made strenuous efforts to create a better atmosphere and enhance relationships between police, the Order and local residents.
It would be sad if what happened on Tuesday night was to undo any of the good work that has gone before.
Unionist politicians, from First Minister Arlene Foster down, are demanding a full explanation of why the police reacted in the way it did. And they have not been slow in pointing out that police decided not to intervene directly at illegal republican marches in Coalisland, Lurgan and Londonderry over the Easter period, and earlier took little action when gangs of young people ran amok in the Holylands area - not far from the scene of Tuesday night's incident - on the eve of St Patrick's Day.
While there are valid arguments for and against the use of softly-softly policing tactics, the public expects the PSNI to be even-handed. It is imperative this incident is investigated as swiftly as possible. Police officers have an unenviable job, but they also have to maintain the confidence of both communities.