Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Twelfth riots: Well past time that we moved forward

Riots kick off at Woodvale as the parades are not allowed to pass Ardoyne. A man on top of a police landrover gets blown off by the water cannon. DAVID FITZGERALD/PACEMAKER PRESS
Riots kick off at Woodvale as the parades are not allowed to pass Ardoyne. A man on top of a police landrover gets blown off by the water cannon. DAVID FITZGERALD/PACEMAKER PRESS

After another bad weekend for Northern Ireland, and for its image across the world, it is time to take stock and to try to rebuild something from the debris of yet another spectacular failure to keep the Twelfth peaceful.

It is important to underline, however, that the vast majority of Orangemen and women and their supporters enjoyed a family day out this year in glorious sunshine, and without any hint of trouble.

The majority of the parades were also disciplined, well-marshalled and orderly, and they posed no threats to community tensions. It should also be stressed that nationalists in many areas, including Londonderry, played their part by showing tolerance and helping to maintain the peace.

The main troubles were in Belfast, and laying aside the rights or wrongs of the decision by the Parades Commission concerning the Ardoyne situation, the reaction of the Orange Order and of some politicians has been wholly inadequate.

The Order's decision to encourage "peaceful" protests was totally misguided, because it was obvious that such a call would lead to trouble, and to major trouble at that. The Orange Order has belatedly "suspended" the protest, but this is simply not good enough. It needs to be cancelled, not just "suspended", and a loud and clear message needs to be relayed to everyone concerned.

It was unfortunate that the MP Nigel Dodds was injured during the Ardoyne protests. He is a hard-working and respected politician, and people will be relieved that his injuries were not more severe, and will hope that he makes a good recovery.

Mr Dodds was injured by a missile intended for the police, yet again forced to hold the line.

The courage and determination of police officers in doing so must be applauded by everyone.

Members of the Orange Order must know some of the perpetrators of violence, and it is their duty – no "ifs" or "buts" – to assist the police in bringing these people to justice, where they must face the full rigours of the law. However, we must all try to learn from the past, and to applaud the appointment of distinguished American Richard Haass to find a way forward in our disputes about marches, flags and the other Troubles legacies.

Mr Haass knows well the tensions that destablise Northern Ireland and he has earned the respect of both communities through his previous work.

He is a no-nonsense, incisive and talented diplomat, and we must hope that he has been assured by the First and Deputy First Ministers that he will not be wasting his time and talent here on a fruitless exercise. It is also to be hoped that our political leaders have assured him that they will approach these issues as well with an open mind and a determination to implement decisions within a specific time frame. Failure to do so would be most damaging. We wish Mr Haass well in facing these toxic issues which have been allowed to fester. We must move forward, particularly after such another terrible weekend.

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