The police are covered from head to toe in jet black riot gear, the ground is covered in broken glass and the remnants of an entire twenty four hours of consumption litter the surrounding area. The streets themselves are masked with propaganda and crude sectarian graffiti. The hot air and blue sky that on any other day would have been sound-tracked by the sounds of children playing, barbecues and back garden music played through phone speakers is now under attack by the sound of screaming, sirens and the smashing of bricks against the ever increasing numbers of law enforcement. Political figures are quickly hospitalised and water cannons are deployed to push back the violent offenders, who now show no signs of leaving quietly. Riled up, crimson with anger and the effects of the sun, their lungs emit hatred against everything from culture to the democratic process. No dear readers, this is not some Middle Eastern battleground or a country in the midst of civil war, it is simply Northern Ireland on the twelfth of July. In a situation that would prove tiring if not for the threat it represents - it easily showcases the worst day in Northern Ireland's yearly calendar; when battle lines are drawn up based on geography, faked religious divides, roads and an outspoken denial of law.
Based on the sheer amount of positive press surrounding the recent G8 Summit in Fermanagh, it would be fair to say that it showcased some of the best the country has to offer. In contrast, there is no doubt the mob violence and sectarianism of the twelfth of July represents the worst. Once the dust settled, there were 32 police officers injured and 22 arrests made, although I personally think the latter number should have been far higher. There have been many interesting pictures and footage taken from those on the ground - notably showcased on the Belfast Telegraphs front page. The most compelling video released to date comes from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and shows a number of violent encounters with rioters. It is a rather disgusting visual feast, and from a personal perspective of a man of no faith or religious bias, it made for particularly awkward viewing. It is like watching an entire country fall apart, some offshoot or out-take from Night of The Living Dead. The footage shows grown men and women acting like spoilt teenagers: throwing bottles, dancing on riot vans and lighting their perceived 'enemy' flags alight. In the background, you can see children joining in. Is this how Northern Ireland should be? Is this the example we are showing to the rest of the world? It is watching the country fall - willingly, knowingly and doing so with a smile. You can almost feel the next generation slipping into a cultural coma.
It wasn't long after the incidents, and as the Belfast Telegraph reported, the 'blame game' kicked into action. Point scoring and political points were there for the taking. Peter Robinson, First Minister (DUP) showed a unnerving lack of leadership in declaring that some of the blame lay with the Parades Commission - the organisation that made the decision to refuse the Orange Order permission to march on the potentially hostile Ardoyne area. Mr Robinson blamed the PC, while simultaneously condemning the violence, perhaps to be expected from the man that branded the removal of the Union Flag a 'provocative' act, which may have led to increased numbers of irate loyalists on the streets. While Robinson was claiming that there was "justifiable anger and frustration" and saying the Parades Commission bore 'much of the responsibility' for the violence, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was reported as saying "responsibility for tonight's violent attacks on police and the community rests with the leadership of the Orange Order, they are a disgrace".
So based on the reporting from the ground (even by Ross Kemp) and via the commendable work by Northern Irish news outlets and journalists, we can get an accurate picture of the state of Northern Irish politics. The leadership, almost mirroring the population, is fragile. Resting forever on constantly moving tectonic plates, each consecutive year they are reserved to repeating the same tired lines speaking out against sectarianism while not entirety blameless in their own provocation of the acts.
The protesters on the ground claim that the political process and democratic votes are eroding their culture. But if this is a demonstration of the culture in which they wish to live, I am not only ashamed to say I am from Northern Ireland but would be on the first plane out of here. On the day of the twelfth, the destruction of culture could not be blamed on rival politics or religion, instead the blame lies solely at the feet of those that threw the bottle, thrust the sword, and burnt the flag. Any notion of a shared future, or of a shared culture, is aptly summed up by the ashes that remain on the glass covered red white and blue pavements.
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