Changing the broken record of blame and fault

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Sinn Féin MLA’s Gerry Kelly and Carál Ní Chuilín talk to the media at Carrick Hill, North Belfast.


(You can follow Brian Rowan on Twitter by clicking here)

Friday night’s controversial incident on Carrick Hill in north Belfast came as a post script to the parade.

That ‘Tour of the North’ march had gone – but as it walked away the tension lingered as it so often does.

So, the work now is how to make things better before the next set of parades in just a few days’ time.

It won’t be easy.

On the nationalist side, new residents groups are emerging, and, within the loyalist community, there is a mood that marching is still a target of cultural war being waged by republicans.

In the middle of all of this, the hopes of personal/community policing are hard to find in the images of riot gear, barking dogs and the shoving and shouting of standoff.

Those who were there will tell you that the recent Cardiff dialogue was not about negotiating parades.

Rather it was about trying to change the broken record of blame and fault; trying to make sure that the words and actions of political/community leaders and police would not make things worse.

So, Friday has been a setback to that – those headlines and images of Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly being carried a short distance on the bonnet of a police vehicle after he had intervened to discuss the arrest of a youth.



On Monday, he tweeted: “On the one hand unionists accuse me of telling the PSNI what to do. On the other they have spent three days telling them to arrest me.”

All of this is a distraction – whether it’s trying to blame a few police officers for the events of Friday, or playing a poison game of political point scoring.

It avoids the main issue.

This street mess that comes together in parading, protesting and policing has to be addressed – not brushed aside.

The loyalist leader John Bunting is right when he describes the impact of the ensuing political war of words and how that spills down to the ground.

Measured words are often forgotten as the old rhetoric is replayed.

“When people see politicians getting on the way they are getting on, how do they expect us to get on with the work we’re doing?

“There is work going on on the ground that would shame them,” Bunting told the Belfast Telegraph.

This mess needs sorted, and if those who talked in Cardiff, and who have been talking back home since, can’t sort it by themselves – then they need to broaden the agenda and participation.

They need to bring others and the parading issue into the room – and there should be no excuse for not talking.

The marchers, the protesters, the police, the politicians, church and community leaders all need to be part of this conversation.

It needs those who can make decisions – and that means not those second, third or fourth or further down the ranks of the different leaderships.

A few years ago, Kelly – the villain of Friday night in the eyes of unionists and others – was something of a hero when at risk to himself he stepped in to save soldiers in a very vulnerable spot in Ardoyne.

I remember a military spokesman telling me: “There were some ugly moments and things were tense.

“While those people showing restraint may not wish to be acknowledged by us, I am bound to say: ‘Fair play for intervening’.”

That was nine years ago, and these situations remain highly dangerous.

There are those, of course, who want to use these street plays to undermine and damage the peace process.

Think about it.

They are rubbing their hands in the news and headlines of recent days and looking forward to another summer of discontent.

This is the danger in these situations and scenes.

That it doesn’t end with what we see.

For others there is a strategy – using street confrontations to bolster their argument that nothing has changed.

So, as the leaders of this place walk away from addressing these unfinished arguments, they walk into that trap being set by others – set by those who don’t want these street issues settled.

So, what to do.

For those who are the leaders, the answer is something and soon.

Doing nothing is not an option.

This is about something bigger than culture and tradition.

It’s about the peace process itself – who wants it and who doesn’t.

(You can follow Brian Rowan on Twitter by clicking here)

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process and contributed chapters to 'Reporting the Troubles' and 'Brexit and Northern Ireland: Bordering on Confusion'.


  1. I am more concerned about the attitude and actions of ‘Our’ Culture Minister never mind Mr Kelly. This is the 2nd high profile parade she has been protesting against culture. How can a minister for Culture protest about Culture would be a joke is wasn’t so concerning!

    • Vince – These things aren’t going to be sorted out on the streets. There is a need for a grown-up conversation about flags, parading and the past. Sooner the better. Too many people playing games.

      • Glenn Bradley on

        What you state is true Barney however a Minister of our Government must be capable of rising above the past & projecting by example the potential of future.
        Specifically to Friday, there is no point in Gerry A, Martin, Séanna, Spike et talking of our shared future unless the troops follow the directive?
        Similarly there is no point supposed ‘Loyalists’ talking about ‘British Pageantry’ when the purpose is coat trailing that has little to do with GOLI, RBP & ABOD but more to do with bandsmen (my personal experience)
        Our future is what we, collectively, engage in & sort – anyone (republican or loyalist) playing a purist; supremacist; absolute victory agenda, provide society with what?
        Regardless of their previous political, military or more latterly criminal position the mini-fascists or purists cannot be allowed to stop the advance of economic growth; our limited democracy or reconciliation (as opposed to revenge or perceived justice or singular hurt or supremacist values) and yet all those minorities are a much needed voice to the present political system……
        Lets get Peter, Martin and all in 1 room, lock the door and after days see what happens.

        • Glenn – You’re right about identifying those who are serious and those who are messing. The street is still a dangerous play park – and there are those who see all of this as a game.

  2. CASP weren’t at Cardiff. What is their objectives. I believe their number one ambition is to hear the rattle of Ulsters Finests guns again. How do we deal with CASP?

  3. Too true Barney, but the suspicion created around the Cardiff non negotiations and the apparent roll out on the streets of deals which were in fact made in Cardiff make the whole topic of Cardiff a very toxic one to deal with. So called churchmen who only have influence in front of their own pulpit, so called community reps (some of whom do not have contentious parades or interfaces to deal with) and so called political reps some of whom do not have a political mandate.(and are also very unlikely to get one anytime soon either)
    Add into that mix a posse of upper class PSNI management team many of whom do not even know how to speak to working class communities without looking down their noses at them and a sprinkling of so called open university academics (£50 per degree) who were only there hoping to increase their “funding” eligibility. Adding together any combination of the above groupings, leaves vast sections of both communities in despair and totally fearful of what lies ahead in the coming weeks.

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