If we are going to put an end to this mindless cycle of violence every summer…

Regular Journal.ie columnist David McCann has written this piece for Slugger:

Well here we go again; another 12th July is marred by scenes of sectarian violence as PSNI officers are wheeled off to A&E injured. What were the police officers doing to provoke such an angry response I hear you ask? Well, quite simply they were enforcing a ruling by the Parades Commission that banned marchers from passing a controversial flash point in North Belfast.

For many Loyalists the decision to re-route the parade is just another step in the culture wars being waged by Sinn Fein to erode their British identity. Stemming from the decision to remove the Union flag from Belfast City Hall a siege mentality has gripped many institutions like the Orange Order as they adopt a ‘no surrender’ attitude by issuing much more forceful criticism of the Parades Commission.

This drive to undermine what are legally binding decisions has seen certain bands who take part in parades in areas of North Belfast do reckless things such as playing the Sash outside St Patricks Church which not only was in violation of the commission’s ruling but also a source of great annoyance to the nationalist residents of that area. How on earth do those marching ever expect to get gain wider community confidence or respect for events like the twelfth if they show such blatant disrespect for other communities in the city. They could do well to remember that respect is something that you earn; it’s not an automatic entitlement.

Then we have the wider leadership within the Orange Order and Unionism. The decision to encourage people to engage in protests over this issue was the height of irresponsibility. Calling for peaceful protests as the Orange Order did in a relatively benign political environment is on its own fine. But to call for un- coordinated demonstrations simply allow those who are committed to violence a free pass to hijack them. Even though the Order did quickly condemn the violence that had taken place, the real problem was that they were trying to bolt that stable door after the horse was gone.

However this tragic failure of leadership extends beyond the Orange Order as politicians within the DUP also failed to show strong leadership over this issue. Since the Parades Commission decision we have seen from Peter Robinson right through to Sammy Wilson little more than vacillation from one plan to the next. The calling of protests ‘justified’ in tandem with accusations from Nigel Dodds that the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, was engaging in deception over the Commission’s ruling does little to calm tensions ahead of these parades.

The Assembly is due to be recalled this week to discuss this issue. Will we see the solidarity of condemnation among MLAs and a possible solution to the current parades impasse? The likely answer is no. What we are likely to be treated too is the same blame game politics of ‘your side started it’ that has come to characterise the assembly lately. It really will be a case of all politics and no government.

In various other pieces I have written on Northern politics I have constantly spoken of the need for republicanism and unionism to reconcile with one another if this province is ever to properly function. I still believe in that goal despite the events of the last few days. But what I’m becoming increasingly unsure about is the ability of many politicians and institutions like the Orange Order to properly engage with this process.

Instead of remembering an example of cross-community co-operation like that which took place in Derry what will be a stain on an otherwise peaceful twelfth celebration is the violence in North Belfast. Sadly people across the world are not hearing about the long traditions of Ulster Unionism as they see clips of bricks being hurled at police. For many people the only traditions that are being remembered are a growing number of PSNI officers spending the night at A&E.

If we are going to put an end to this mindless cycle of violence every summer then we need the key stakeholders in this process to climb down off of grand visions and start addressing some real concerns. The Orange Order needs to get past this siege mentality and address these concerns, otherwise, the summer marching season will always be the thing that people put up with rather than embrace as an important part of our national calendar.

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