One tweet summed it up: amid all the concern about who was parading where, who was protesting when, and who was determining what, ultimately what happened last week was a few people went out with the specific intention of having a riot for reasons they did not know.
This article demonstrates aptly that most bonfires and parades pass off with much fun being had, much good being done, and very little in the way of trouble.
Yet in a few cases, it seems to me that a lot of young men (and increasingly women, it appears) look forward to the Twelfth in certain parts of Belfast precisely because it gives them the opportunity to let off some steam – after all, a riot involving a whole raft of weapons from golf balls to hand grenades is hardly spontaneous. Looked at remotely objectively, the idea that they do this merely because a parade was or was not allowed past a few shop fronts is obviously laughable – a riot would blatantly have occurred regardless of any Commission’s determination, thus instantly dismissing any attempt by “leaders” to suggest the Parades Commission had anything to do with it. And frankly, if a parade route is all the Northern Irish have to worry about in the current global economic climate, they must live truly blessed lives!
Of course, that is not all the Northern Irish have to worry about, hence the point occasionally made on the peripheries that the rioting is really a social issue (often stated in terms of an implicit suggestion that young men, particularly those out of work, have nothing better to do with their lives that riot occasionally). That point hints at the truth, but is grossly simplified and actually offensive – most out-of-work people in Northern Ireland (as everywhere else in the British Isles) don’t riot about it.
Alex Kane and others are thus right to point out that this is nothing to do with the “voices of the unheard” – in fact, if anything, the problem is that some voices are overheard. Fundamentally, my view is that the riots continue to be a result of our collective failure to understand what post-Agreement Northern Ireland really is – a failure encouraged, not tackled, by political and even civic leaders who have nothing to gain from actually being honest about it. We’ll come to this…