The television pictures of the riots in Belfast cannot be wished away: petrol bombs have indeed been thrown, police officers injured, the peace disrupted, and the bad old image of Northern Ireland reinforced in the most graphic way. The world has been reminded, again, of the imperfections of the peace process.
The task of creating new jobs is made more difficult by riots, yet most of those in balaclavas are themselves jobless. They come from tough areas; their families never placed proper value on education. A dismayingly large proportion of young people have trouble reading and writing. But there they are, every 12 July, illiterate politically as well as academically, supplying dramatic pictures.
What television does not convey, however, is context. Marching season riots used to be near-cataclysmic, causing a meltdown in community relations. But that was then; this is now. Today, rioting is largely confined to a small number of stubborn troublespots, with hundreds rather than thousands involved. For the vast majority of the population – as elsewhere in the world – riots are things to be seen on TV.