We cannot let the extremists hijack our future
The Twelfth of July has shown yet again the two distinct sides of Northern Ireland. On the one hand there are the colourful Orange demonstrations and on the other there are the counter-protests by local residents, and always the threat of greater confrontations.
There is no doubt that the Orange demonstrations provide a remarkable spectacle of colour and music, and all the trappings of a family day out, as they have done again this year.
Even for tourists, the Orange marches are a unique experience, and there is a genuine pride among the marchers in carrying on a long historical tradition.
Sadly, however, there are also the simmering tensions that can surge into full-scale violence later on, and which create untold damage to the image of Northern Ireland.
The unpalatable answer for both sides is that somehow they need to reach a lasting compromise. This applies as much to the resident protesters in Ardoyne and elsewhere, as it does to the marchers who want to parade in areas where they are not welcome.
The harsh reality is that the people in the middle – including the peaceful residents and the proud marchers – need to turn their backs on the extremists from both sides.
As always, there are people who seem to long for confrontation and to cause the utmost damage, but they are not representative of the vast majority of people of Northern Ireland who are not interested in the grim battles of the past or present.
Sadly the hopes of a peaceful conclusion to another Twelfth have not materialised, and the serious confrontations in Belfast last night were further proof of the need for our society to grow up politically and to work together to address the real challenges of jobs and employment which face all our people.
Until that happens the colourful side of the Twelfth will continue to be overshadowed by the actions of those to whom confrontation is a way of life.
They must not be allowed to hijack the agenda for a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.