Burnt out buses show how old habits die hard

Ian MacKinnon finds hope for the future among the wreckage of a day of riots in west Belfast
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The Independent Online
It was eerie, a ghostly echo of the past. In scenes that many prayed had been consigned to the dustbin of history, the blackened skeletal hulks of buses, vans and lorries sat strewn across the streets of nationalist west Belfast yesterday.

Before the vehicles had met their untimely end, put to the torch, some had plainly been used as battering rams by their new owners. Gashed and dented lamp-posts stood at drunken angles or had been completely flattened.

Yet, even on the streets of a city hardened by years of street violence, the sight of several slightly charred, blood-red carcasses lying in the gutter in the Whiterock area was shocking.

Closer inspection, though, revealed them to be nothing more than a couple of sides of beef that had been looted from a butcher's shop in a soot- covered parade of businesses.

No one had taken any action to remove them by late afternoon, or for that matter the vans and lorries that had been drawn - like a latter-day wagon train - into a circle to block the Springfield estate before being set ablaze.

As old folks stood chatting on their porches looking on, tut-tutting, excited skinhead children gathered around the wreckage and policemen in their armoured Land-Rovers watched, steely-eyed, from behind grills and bullet-proof glass.

Motorists, driving for all the world as though the obstruction was an everyday occurrence, slowed, queued and left the four-lane carriageway for the footpath to pick their way round the obstacles.

The scene was much the same on the Falls Road, outside the Sinn Fein centre, and in Andersonstown, just along from the party's headquarters, where the smell of burning rubber - the signature of Ulster riots - still hung in the air.

All along the road tangled coils of wire were all that remained of the tyres.

Two single-deck buses, their cream and red livery a distant memory with only the bones of their superstructures remaining, neatly straddled all four lanes of the highway.

Flames still licked around the diesel tank of one, but that was of no concern to the scores of youngsters in the football shirts of Glasgow Celtic and the Irish Republic who gathered at the scene admiring their trophies of the previous day.

Walking along, noting the scene, one of the skinheaded youngsters spied this stranger and asked from the corner of his mouth, grinning: "Got a match?"

Perhaps that is the point, burning buses in Belfast, particularly during the marching season of July and August, is a tradition that will die away slowly.

As if to emphasise the point and support the view that Monday's violence did not spell the death of the peace process, police manning road blocks just half a mile away had abandoned their flak jackets of the day before in favour of shirt-sleeve order.

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