After peaceful Twelfth, trouble at Windsor Park a stark reminder of sectarianism still in our midst
The clashes at the Linfield v Celtic game spoilt the positive atmosphere built up by peaceful parades, says Alban Maginness
It was a remarkably peaceful Twelfth of July, despite all the background noise of heated political arguments over who was to blame for the failure of talks to form an Executive and the bad-tempered disputes over bonfires.
The PSNI acknowledged the day as the most peaceful Twelfth for some years and a model for years to come.
The normal flashpoints in Belfast, in particular Ardoyne, were notable by their absence from the media headlines. Dramatic TV pictures of crowds rioting or attacking the PSNI were thankfully absent.
Maybe next year we can put all of the contentious disputes over Orange parades peacefully to bed and take another step along the road to community harmony.
Father Gary Donegan, a dedicated Passionist priest who was for many years deeply involved in tireless efforts to resolve the long-standing, contentious and at times violent dispute over the Orange parade at Ardoyne, noted there was a different atmosphere in the area as the Orangemen paraded past the Ardoyne shops on the Twelfth morning. The parade passed by peacefully and quietly, without heavy policing.
This experienced peace-builder commented to the media: "Yesterday was a step - it was massive in many ways and we have to say, how can we actually build on this?"
He rightly identified that the Ardoyne Forum set up to facilitate negotiations on future parades would be able to build on this year's progress, but had to increasingly bring in the wider community.
He felt there are people who feel that they are ostracised, or outside of those talks. Those people, he believed, needed to be heard.
Fr Donegan believes that our society should build on the progress it has made after the most peaceful Twelfth in many years. This peaceful Twelfth has provided all of us with an opportunity to build a sustainable peace between communities on the ground.
Perhaps local inter-community initiatives, such as in the long-suffering Ardoyne area, can, if properly supported, prove to be more effective in bringing about greater cross-community partnership on the ground than the attempt at political partnership at the very top in Stormont.
By contrast, the Linfield versus Celtic match, peppered as it was with missile-throwing and vicious sectarian chanting and singing, spoilt the atmosphere of peace that had marked the holiday period.
Credit goes to Celtic, who wisely declined their official allocation of tickets for their own football fans, despite the advice of the PNSI to the contrary.
If they had taken up their ticket allocation, a bad situation could have been made much worse. The alternative venue, at the "Devenish FanZone", was an imaginative way of channelling some Celtic fans away from a potentially more confrontational situation at the match itself and minimised the chance of sectarian clashes occurring.
Regrettably, the majority of Linfield football fans were let down by a disgraceful rump of sectarian-fuelled fellow fans who displayed a vicious hatred for the Celtic players and their few supporters at Windsor Park.
Linfield football fans who just wanted to see an interesting football experience - a sort of David and Goliath struggle in Windsor Park - were rightly disappointed by fellow Blues supporters.
As it turned out, a vociferous minority of football fans were not mature enough to peacefully enjoy what should have been an intriguing rivalry between two legendary and fanatically supported football clubs competing in the Champions League qualifier.
Instead, they chose to embarrass their own club and create a poisonous atmosphere in the stadium between themselves and Celtic fans, some of whom sadly responded with similar sectarian abuse. Again, those Celtic fans have let down the club they purport to support.
Given the strict application of the rule by UEFA, that a club is vicariously liable for the misconduct of its supporters, it is unfortunately very likely that Linfield will suffer for some of their supporters' misbehaviour.
Never mind their bad behaviour during the match, the fact the police, in full riot gear, had to rush onto the pitch after the final whistle to prevent attacks on Celtic players and match officials was a disaster for the local soccer club.
However, it must be said in their favour that Linfield did all in their power to manage the game as effectively and as well as they could. But some irrational supporters - primarily because they are simply fuelled by sectarian hatred - will defy the most reasonable efforts to achieve a peaceful and enjoyable match. Those supporters who are responsible should be quickly identified and banned from future matches for the good of the Blues and the good of soccer here.
Sectarian hatred, although it is always directed towards the other side, is essentially self-destructive and usually ends up eating the purveyor.