Rioting by night, peace by day: Belfast seeks a swift solution
Catholic and Protestant leaders decry the violence, which some locals put down to unemployment
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Tuesday 04 September 2012
Carlisle Circus in north Belfast, where in recent nights dozens of police have been hurt by bricks, stones, bottles and fireworks in savage rioting, was yesterday morning a picture of utter normality.
People were parking their cars, visiting the nearby hospital, popping into local shops and casually strolling around. No police were to be seen. That was at 10am.
"At a quarter past seven this morning it was like Beirut when I came to open the premises," the manageress of a local shop said wonderingly. "Glass everywhere, bricks, bottles, everything, you name it."
Another shopkeeper agreed: "By eight o'clock, you wouldn't think anything had happened here - they'd tidied the street and cleared away the bricks and whatever else had been thrown."
Some effects of rioting are not so easily remedied: the police casualties include two officers knocked unconscious and another with a broken arm. It is this human cost which yesterday led a senior officer to challenge politicians to "sort this out and sort it out now."
Although the rioters included many Catholic teenagers, the crux of the police problem lies in the tough loyalist heartland of the Shankill Road district. Most police injuries were inflicted when hundreds of Protestant youths poured out of the Shankill.
The trigger was an unforeseen new parading controversy sparked by loyalist bandsmen who played a contentious tune outside a nearby Catholic church. This was condemned as highly disrespectful by both Catholic and Protestant church leaders.
While few have tried to defend what was viewed as a nakedly sectarian incident, it struck a chord among many loyalists who feel "the other side" are doing too well.
A 31-year-old Protestant man who lives within 50 yards of the riot zone said: "There's nothing wrong with the parades. They should go ahead." So was the whole thing about marching?
He explained: "It just came to a head because the taigs (Catholics) were getting away with everything, getting everything they want, and we just can't hack it any more."
The Shankill has high unemployment, and he is out of work. He believes it is easier for Catholics to find jobs than Protestants - "Aye, definitely," he said. "They get the work on the building sites and all."
He and others in the immediate district all said the rioters were not local youths, but had come in from other parts of the Shankill and elsewhere. "They're not from round here," he said. "Some of them are from ten miles away. It's madness, it's a shambles."
One of his criticisms of police was that they had placed a camera vehicle close to his house: these are used to film disturbances, providing footage which is often later used in prosecutions.
Rioters concentrated on the vehicle, he complained: "It was just antagonising them to throw bricks. Some of them missed the cops and hit our houses. My kids were crying."
An old Protestant lady blamed both sides, saying: "It's six of one and half a dozen of the other. They're a lot of hooligans, the whole lot of them, both sides. The majority of people here are decent hardworking people."
But the marching issue is important to her: "I didn't agree with them playing like that outside a chapel if there's services on.
"But people have strong feelings about marching. It's our heritage, our religion, and I don't believe they should be stopped, not for one minute," she insisted.
A retired man pottering in his little garden added: "I watched it developing. There were people just coming and going here as if it was their own place. Most of them were just onlookers. The cops in my opinion did a good job. The cops are okay - they took care of most of the bother and stood up to it."
The picture is that the riots, while both dangerous and highly telegenic, are localised and the work of a few disaffected elements numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands. There is no sense that entire communities are pitted against each other.
Politicians and community leaders are now urgently seeking to defuse the issue, not least because a major march is scheduled for later this month.
In doing so they will be battling against the tide of history, for the area saw more killings than any other during the troubles. It witnessed so many that one stretch was known as murder mile.
Carlisle Circus itself featured a statue of "Roaring Hugh" Hanna, a Protestant preacher whose fiery sermons often stirred up rioting. It stood there for decades until, in 1970, it was blown up by republicans.
Even further back, the district has the dubious distinction of being close to the scene of Belfast's first ever sectarian riot. This broke out following an Orange march in 1813: next year will bring the 200th anniversary of that outbreak, the first of thousands.
Perez Hilton apologises for publishing Jennifer Lawrence naked 4Chan photos
Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
Ariana Grande nude photos leak: Pictures are completely fake, say representatives
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
Katie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge: ‘I hate fat people for making me do this’
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious