“something almost pathological here”

There almost seems to be a concerted effort to play down the extent of the violence in Ardoyne on 12th July.. and other attempts at causing destruction over the past week.. possibly for an obvious reason. So, from Thursday’s Irish Times, Gerry Moriarty’s eye-witness account of the riot in Ardoyne is worth noting.. as is his comment – “Sure, there is global terror and suicide bombers on our London doorstep but that must not interfere with our ancient hatreds.”

Riots were as ugly, raw and bitter as it is possible to imagine – 14/07/2005

Republican leaders were not able to control a deeply disaffected crowd, writes Gerry Moriarty

\We were in the middle of the small roundabout on the Crumlin Road. To our left were the Ardoyne shops, to the front, down the Crumlin Road, hundreds of nationalists were bombarding police lines with all manner of missiles: petrol bombs, bricks, masonry, paint bombs and golf balls fired from catapults.

My colleague Dan Keenan was standing on top of a wall beside the roundabout trying to count the number of rioters. I was below him on the path. A few seconds earlier there was an explosion that sounded like a blast bomb, although some colleagues thought it was just a loud fire cracker.

Then there was another ear-splitting blast close to the island at the centre of the roundabout. I saw SDLP representative Margaret Walsh being knocked to the ground by its force, but happily being helped to her feet by police in riot gear.

A journalist was lying on the ground close by in great pain. The shrapnel and/or casing from the blast bomb had ripped through the back of his leg, exposing bone. How could the rioters manage to throw the bombs, which are designed to kill, such a distance from the Crumlin Road? Then to our immediate left, from the corner of the eye almost, we noticed objects landing beside us from the roofs of the Ardoyne shops: two or three blast bombs.

The police in their Darth Vader outfits were screaming at us to get back. I ran towards the nearby loyalist Twaddell Avenue and, as I avoided a blast bomb on the ground, oddly had time to assess how perfectly cylindrical the steel object was, how some careful engineering went into its creation. Then there was a lightning flash and another blast, but fortunately for me no sense of any impact.

Whether it was that or another blast bomb which exploded I am not sure, as at least one of the devices failed to detonate.

A few minutes later as police were assisting the badly injured journalist – whose injuries thankfully are not life-threatening – another blast bomb exploded within yards of them. I saw one police officer crumble to the ground. Ambulances came up Twaddell Avenue to ferry the injured away. The ambulance crews wore helmets. Police were taking hit after hit after hit. They maintained their discipline and restraint.

That all happened between 7.48pm and 8.30pm, the bulk of the violence erupting after the Orange feeder parade had returned past the Ardoyne shops. It was when the British army and police were trying to leave the scene that the worst of the trouble flared further down the Crumlin Road. Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly, who were trying to calm the troublemakers, were drenched by police water cannon.

Adams and Kelly said the police were too precipitate in reacting, adding that their dousing only served to provoke the crowd. From where we stood, as the rioters showered the police lines for almost three sustained hours, this crowd, some of them shockingly young, didn’t need any such provocation.

The majority of people in Ardoyne did not want this trouble, but the most senior of republicans couldn’t stop it. People talk of recreational rioting but, as observed before, there was something almost pathological here.

The IRA statement will come when it will, before the end of the month, or sometime in August, or maybe September. We don’t know for certain, and maybe the violence on Tuesday will affect the timing and content of that announcement.

What’s in that statement is hugely important politically, of course. But what happened up at Ardoyne goes beyond that. It’s about people employing potentially creative energy towards hating each other, and that won’t be healed in the short term, or by a reformed Assembly – although a political deal would have some impact on the streets.

What happened at Ardoyne was as bitter, ugly and raw as you can imagine. We are told the IRA statement won’t involve a commitment to policing; that is for another long, draining period of negotiation. But who then will police difficult nationalist areas if, as was evident on Tuesday night in Ardoyne, head honcho republicans couldn’t control a deeply disaffected, nihilistic group of young people?

As we watched the rioting I couldn’t avoid resurrecting that phrase of Churchill’s, almost hackneyed now, about those dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone always being with us, no matter the tumultuous conflicts elsewhere. Sure, there is global terror and suicide bombers on our London doorstep but that must not interfere with our ancient hatreds.

Ardoyne, with its frightening suicide levels, needs better than this. Northern Ireland needs better than this. But where’s the solution? For decades such rioting served the interests of the paramilitaries. But this monster seemed out of control in Ardoyne: it certainly appeared beyond the control of Sinn Féin and the local IRA.

So at the end of the Twelfth the Orangemen marched and the nationalists got their riot. This stuff runs dangerous and deep and can’t be good for the soul and spirit of any community – and it’s working-class society that takes the brunt of this trouble.

I spoke to unionist, nationalist and republican politicians up in Ardoyne and at least there was agreement that this serves nobody’s interests, not these days, apart from the interests of the crazies. Both the Orange Order and nationalist representatives in the coming days will fight for the high ground on this issue: Orangemen saying we marshalled our people well and stuck to the law; nationalists saying why must you march where you are not wanted.

But what good is that if the struggles over parades are prefigured to continue endlessly, and to twist and inflame ordinary people endlessly.