Sinn Fein anger at nationalist rioters

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The Independent Online
LONDONDERRY yesterday went about its now-traditional task of cleaning up the mess following another night of rioting in the wake of a controversial parade decision.

Trouble broke out when nationalist youths resorted to violence in protest against a Parades Commission ruling which allowed the loyalist Apprentice Boys of Derry to march through the city.

Although there was much destruction as the youths went on the rampage, attacking police with scores of petrol bombs and destroying a number of premises, no serious injury was reported during the night.

In Belfast, however, 19 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and a number of civilians were earlier injured following clashes between police and nationalist protesters in the Ormeau Road district. No injuries were reported to be serious.

The police found themselves pitted against angry nationalists when the Parades Commission ruled in favour of loyalist marches in the two cities. The commission has, over recent years, displeased many loyalists with its rulings but in this instance the pattern was reversed.

An RUC spokesman said that around 100 petrol bombs were thrown at the security forces, while 100 more were recovered by police on the fringe of the Catholic Bogside district of Londonderry. He added that 10 vehicles were hijacked and set alight. Nine people were arrested for "petrol bombing, looting and riotous behaviour".

The violence was criticised by, among others, Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness. While saying he was disgusted by the fact that the march had been allowed, he added: "I do think that the people who were involved in burning buildings in Derry last night, and exposing the people of the city to further trauma, were wrong."

Although the clashes meant ugly scenes, the overall judgement is that Northern Ireland is now approaching the end of its least troublesome marching season for many years.

Since 1995, each July and August have brought major disruption to the streets, in more than one instance bringing normal life to a virtual halt and in more than one case resulting in deaths. This year, by contrast, neither the marching issue in Drumcree, Co Armagh, nor the Orange Order's main parades on 12 July resulted in any significant bother.

This will come as a huge relief to the Government and to most political elements, given that there were many predictions of a long hot summer which might prove damaging to the peace process.

When the political talks aimed at achieving devolution ended in failure in July, it was feared that the process might unravel. Instead, despite the problems of the weekend, the marching season has turned out to be more peaceful and less tense than almost anyone had dared hope for.

The political atmosphere is difficult to gauge, given that many important figures are on holiday and there is now little activity going on. The general feeling appears to be that, so far at least, the summer has not produced any obvious political deterioration. This feeling will be put to the test in September when a review of the Good Friday Agreement will take place, bringing the politicians back to the table.