Was Sunday’s loyalist riot in north Belfast an attempt to ‘regulate by riot’?

So there was riot in north Belfast. What’s new? Well, what’s new is that for the first time in a number of years it was initiated by Loyalists against a Republican parade. In recent years, the traffic has been more or less one way in the opposite direction.

And it seems to have been pretty pre meditated. At 2pm yesterday a crowd of several hundred were seen gathering at the flash point some of them wearing scarves and balaclavas. Not the regulation gear for a political protest.

As the Guardian notes:

The atmosphere in north Belfast has been tense since the previous weekend when loyalists defied a ban on their bands playing sectarian songs as they filed past St Patrick’s church in Donegall Street.

Henry McDonald also reports that up 40 petrol bombs were thrown at police. You simply don’t rustle up that amount of ‘ammunition’ in a ‘spontaneous eruption’ of ‘community spirit’ pretty premeditated. By early reports this morning 26 PSNI officers were injured.

Some are suggesting the UVF (the predominant paramilitary organisation in the area) were behind the riot. We have no confirmation of that, but does seem to have been organised by someone.

The PUP’s Ken Wilkinson was early out of the blocks to explain the riots. Curiously he notes (30 seconds in) that the protest ‘just seemed to escalate’ without offering any explanation for it other than the Parades Commission had not consulted the community of the lower Shankill estate.

Politically motivated rioting is hardly a strange event in north Belfast. Three years ago, the dissident Republican protests at the Orange march kicked off before an Orangeman was within a mile of Ardoyne.

Looked at coldly, this looks like an attempt to game a Parade Commission’s ruling that local activists did not want in their area. Regulation by riot, if you like. If that is what’s at play here, it’s far from clear at this what can be done to deal with it.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty