“It’s a manifestation of social control by people who were able to act with tacit impunity…”

In the Christian Science Monitor, Jason Walsh has a clearer view than most of what is “deliberate, almost formalized cultural chest-thumping”.

Even among many who are glad that the Troubles have ended, blame is beginning to point toward the structure of the peace process itself, specifically how it attempted to defuse the conflict into a culture war. While the Troubles’ zero-sum political conflict – between the competing ideas of a united Ireland and a United Kingdom – has ended, what remains is a split between nationalist and unionist, Irish and British, where the divide isn’t healed, but rather is reinforced annually.

“There is a cultural space for rioting in the Northern Ireland calendar,” says Paddy Hoey, a former journalist who is completing his PhD thesis in the literature of dissident Irish republicanism at the University of Liverpool‘s Institute of Irish Studies. He says that the unrest in interface areas – places where republican and loyalist communities abut – is a “result of the vacuum of the peace process.”

While the political battle has left the streets and entered the halls of government in Northern Ireland, the Troubles’ one-time fighters still remain in control of their districts as “community representatives,” Mr. Hoey says. That leaves them in position to wage the cultural war through annual parades and protests, but without being held to account if the events devolve into riots.

“It’s a manifestation of social control by people who were able to act with tacit impunity,” he says. [added emphasis]

Read the whole thing.

As he goes on to note

“Effectively you have to go out of your way to be offended. It’s a drama without an audience and it’s so predictable. It has none of the shock value of the London and Manchester riots last year,” [Pauline Hadaway, who runs the Belfast Exposed photographic gallery in Donegall Street] says.

But North Belfast resident and writer Daniel Jewesbury argues that some will nonetheless make sure to be offended. “One thing the Orange Order said that is true is that there are some groups who are dedicated to taking offense, but on the the other hand there are some who are dedicated to giving it,” he says.

He also questions the idea that the rioting genuinely represents widespread feeling on the ground – though he acknowledges that it is a popular conception among the rioters.

“There’s still a sense that, despite everyone knowing it’s staged, both sides expect community support” from their own cultural group, as the protesters feel they are acting for their respective communities, Mr. Jewesbury says. “This is the direct result of the peace process. It’s the way this strange architecture of peace is constructed.”

And, of course, “getting righteously offended has become something of a hobby over the last few decades…