Anger and frustration after a spate of thuggery in Ardoyne
Picking his way through the debris of the Twelfth rioting in Ardoyne, local priest Fr Gary Donegan spied a soiled and sodden tricolour flag lying on the ground.
He captured this image on his mobile phone as it summed up for him the shocking events of the night.
“The tricolour left like a rag on the ground, soaked from the police water cannon, is symbolic of the people involved in the rioting,” Fr Donegan said.
“That’s how much those heroes fighting for Ireland think of their flag. Where are those heroes today? Lying in their beds till three this afternoon, probably.”
The priest, like many people waking up in Ardoyne yesterday morning, was angry and half-resigned to the ritual of violence that accompanies the annual Orange parade and protests.
The priest's anger was mainly directed at the recreational rioters that he said had “been spoiling for a fight”.
“There was about a dozen men I've never even seen before — they didn't even have Belfast accents. Some of them were shouting ‘Up the Hoods',” he said.
That seemed to sum up the thuggery of the night but it is a more complex scenario of years of ill-feeling between Ardoyne residents and the Orange marchers which shows no sign of being resolved.
The Crumlin Road outside Holy Cross Catholic Church, where Fr Donegan has worked for the past decade, bore the scars of the night's violence with scorch marks and blackened debris.
Attached to a number of nearby lampposts were signs stating ‘We are residents, not dissidents’ and ‘No parade violence’ from a new community organisation called the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).
Members of this organisation, including spokesman Martin Og Meehan, were among the sit-down protesters on the road who were arrested by riot police on Monday night.
Some have accused dissident republicans of infiltrating the group who have taken a hardline approach to the parades issue in the area. In a statement yesterday, Mr Meehan said that GARC had appealed to young people to refrain from violence but that “anger and frustration against an unwelcome parade again spilled over”.
The actions of GARC were criticised by another residents’ group, the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA), which said it had warned that a sit-down protest would result in a riot.
Sinn Fein Assembly Member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, agreed that the violence was orchestrated by outsiders.
“Let me condemn the people who were involved in the rioting,” Mr Kelly said. “The residents’ group had a peaceful protest but unfortunately this anti-social group came in and took over the area.”
One young mother hurrying along the road stopped to discuss the night's violence with the priest.
“I had to bring my kids in to the house at 5pm on a lovely day,” she said. “So much for our cross-community work. Every single road was blocked by the police last night and that makes people angry.”
Her comments were made all the more poignant by the large mural adorning a nearby gable wall which declares: ‘We believe the children are the future.’