So, let’s recap last night’s happenings in the centre of Belfast.
An anti-internment parade was organized along an entirely non-contentious route, winding its way from a nationalist part of north Belfast through the city centre and ending up in west Belfast.
In a remarkable development which further serves to discredit what remains of political Unionism’s entire parading argument, Unionist politicians call for the parade to be banned for utterly spurious reasons. Lest we forget, Royal Avenue is used by scores of loyalist parades annually, and protesting loyalists from the Shankill Road had to pass by the nationalist Carrick Hill area to get to their protest location (and a number of them stopped along the way to carry out a disgraceful sectarian attack on the Sunflower Bar, as well as ransacking the Hudson Bar in Gresham Street.)
Loyalist groups, including the Orange Order, organise protests which rapidly descend into violence against the PSNI, with sectarian chanting accompanying the bricks, stones and various other objects hurled at police officers.
The PSNI, caught off guard by the loyalist scheme, attempt to clear the parade route of those illegally blocking the road. They are met with violence by loyalists, resulting in numerous injuries to PSNI officers.
The PSNI, failing to clear the route of protestors, reroute the parade along Millfield.
Instead of mimicking the conduct of loyalists when faced with a similar dilemma, the parade organisers agree to follow the diverted route and complete their parade without it descending into violence.
DUP politicians- and other voices within loyalism- blame the Parades Commission and all else for the loyalist violence.
It is unfortunate that the PSNI failed to enforce the Parades Commission determination, and that will have given some succour to the dissident republican narrative, though the fact that PSNI officers did clearly attempt to so do, as well as succeed in agreeing a diverted route for the parade, should go some way to countering that interpretation. In terms of reputation, any objective analysis would conclude that the PSNI have had a good summer to date, enforcing parade rulings (up to now) and responding to violence consistently, paying a heavy toll in terms of violence suffered by its officers.
What is clear is that, again, the violent behaviour of loyalists exposes their rudderless existence, and the absence of leadership on offer from political unionism is becoming increasingly obvious with each passing violent debacle.