This afternoon, after a violent and destructive 12th of July in Northern Ireland, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have finally broken their collective silence and condemned the rioting of recent days.
The condemnation followed a complaint by Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Finlay on this morning’s Stephen Nolan Show that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister were not showing adequate leadership in the situation.
Nolan, of course, jumped on this, pointing out that there had been disturbances for days and even the dogs on the streets knew the riots were coming.
But when First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness issued their condemnation, it included a further condemnation of Finlay for daring to voice this opinion.
Okay, so it’s not the role of the police to be ‘political’ in a normal society so maybe Robinson and McGuinness can score a point there.
But at this point I don’t care if Finlay was out of line. I agree – it would have been nice to see Robinson and McGuinness showing some sort of united political leadership throughout the entire 12th period.
I’m tired of the endless rounds of condemnation and finger pointing that follow these events, which seem to take up more time and energy than doing something like, say, implementing a ‘shared future’ or a ‘cohesion, sharing and integration’ policy.
Each year, my School organises an intensive summer school for our master’s students around the 12th of July events, called ‘Understanding Loyalism.’
We have an excellent guide in local historian Philip Orr, who tries to help us unpick the varieties and nuances within loyalism, unionism, the Orange Order, the Ulster Scots movement, and others who identify with aspects of Protestant culture that are out on the streets this time of year.
Each year, we meet people from that community who are engaged in creative attempts to promote and rework their culture. This year included perspectives on traditional Lambeg drumming, attempts to foster dialogue between Catholics and Protestants over shared historical experiences such as the tragic loss of life at the Somme during the Great War and the events of 1798, and efforts to identify flute bands with historical military regiments rather than paramilitarism.
But I’m afraid that this year, most of what my students – many of whom are from abroad – will take away from the summer school is memories of the rioting and a sense of hopelessness about the prospects for positive change.