Belfast Telegraph

Is this how we want world to view Northern Ireland?

By Ed Curran

Take one blazing car. Add so-called "recreational rioters" pushing the vehicle down a street in north Belfast until it careers out of control. Then film the entire proceedings from a police helicopter and release the footage to the media.

What do you get? A recipe of eye-grabbing pictures which television news editors cannot ignore. Untimely and more damaging publicity for Northern Ireland given attention and focus on the 24-hour national and international news channels.

In releasing the film, the PSNI aimed to show the irresponsibility of the rioters and to encourage local people to shop the culprits. Sadly, the PSNI's aerial images had a different damaging impact beyond these shores.

Did anyone stop to think that the violent scenes might only serve to remind the outside world yet again that Northern Ireland might still be a dangerous place in which to invest?

That was certainly the more likely reaction from where I viewed the news in France last week. Not only had the original Belfast disturbances in earlier July made the international headlines but the footage offered a second bite of a bitter cherry.

We now live in a global village. People abroad still question Northern Ireland's stability especially when the images from Portadown and Ardoyne are as accessible to them as the massacre in Oslo last week.

The media prominence given to Northern Ireland may be out of all proportion to the scale of trouble here but so long as our streets provide dramatic scenes for the cameras, we will hit the headlines.

Worrying little tensions over the marching season and policing in Northern Ireland have surfaced in the past month. No less than the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has questioned the police operation in relation to the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr.

Unionists criticised the PSNI over the removal of Union flags which led to wanton disorder in east Antrim. Yet another attempt by a small band of Orangemen to walk down Garvaghy Road last week has stirred the ire of Sinn Fein minister, John O'Dowd.

Everyone has a part to play to ensure a better future. Policing needs to be extra-sensitive in nationalist and unionist areas alike. Sinn Fein has to deliver its promise of peace in republican areas but the battle with dissidents seems far from over. Unionists and, in particular, the Orange Order under new leadership, must sort out the contentious parades issue.

The reputation of the Orange Order and Northern Ireland is being beaten up because of the failure to address and resolve community differences over a relatively small number of parades.

The leaders of the Orange Order cannot be absolved of responsibility no more than politicians on all sides. The colourful and peaceful processions of the Orangemen are not shown on the global networks.

No matter the argument that the Twelfth is a great tourist attraction, it is lost in the images of street rioting during the marching season.

Questions remain. Can't the Orange Order do more to reach an amicable accommodation over where a tiny percentage of its members wish to parade? Why did it reject the well-meaning efforts of the power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland in the past year to find a new formula for these parades? Why won't it speak to the second largest party at Stormont or the deputy First Minister about these issues?

The new head of the Orange Order, Edward Stevenson, needs to do more than smile for the cameras. The buck stops with him.

He needs to engage with the Stormont Executive. He must engage with people within his own organisation and recognise that an albeit small number are marching in the wrong direction.

Northern Ireland cannot ignore the view from afar. We depend on the outside world today for tourists, investment, and goodwill but we still continue to damage all these interests every July.

This year was no exception and it must be the last. Everybody may blame everyone else but we are all the losers.


From Belfast Telegraph