Order must come out of utter chaos
The PSNI – along with police from other parts of the UK – is a force under fire, literally and metaphorically. It has been lambasted by the Orange Order over its handling of the rioting which followed the decision of the Parades Commission to ban a Twelfth demonstration returning home past Ardoyne in north Belfast.
But it has also found itself caught in the middle of potentially deadly violence from both loyalists and dissident republicans who tried to murder officers in Ardoyne with a blast bomb. It is little wonder that senior police officers have hit out so strongly at those who have attacked the police and also those who called for protests in the first place.
It is simply not good enough for the Orange Order to wash its hands of any responsibility for the violence of the past few nights. True, leaders did appeal for a peaceful protest, but, as the Chief Constable pointed out, if you bring thousands of people on to the streets you then need to be able to control them. Condemnation of violence runs hollow, especially to the brave police officers who have held the line during the protests.
There is no doubt those officers were subjected, in the words of a senior PSNI officer, to attacks which were animalistic in nature and visceral in their intensity. Will the Order, given its opposition to violence, be willing to give police the names of those members involved in assaults on the police described in some instances as amounting to attempted murder?
Today the Assembly will reconvene to discuss the violence and there is little doubt that accusations as to who was to blame will be tossed to and fro across the floor of the debating chamber. But that will serve no purpose. There already exists a template to take the heat out of contentious parades.
In Londonderry the flagship Twelfth parade passed off peacefully – as did many many more parades on the day – and that was entirely due to locally brokered agreements.
US diplomat Richard Haass is shortly to convene talks on parading and the success of Derry and other demonstrations will be seen as a foundation for progress. The situation is complicated where dissident republicans have influence as in Ardoyne.
The nihilistic groups don't want to find a solution to parading tensions, as their main ambition is to cause mayhem, as shown by last night's blast bomb attack. So not only does the Order have to rethink its strategy, so also must nationalist residents' groups who don't want to see trouble erupt on an annual basis in their areas. Both sides must begin building sufficient trust to allow talks on possible compromises. That is not a hope but an imperative.
As it is, Northern Ireland's image, so greatly enhanced during the G8 conference, has suffered a blow. Some officers brought in to provide support to the PSNI during G8 were so taken with the place they said they would return on holiday. Given the experiences of those drafted in this Twelfth, this is one holiday they will not want to encounter again.