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Irish youths have picked the wrong time of year to riot for kicks.
He told reporters he was investigating whether “international influences” were involved (he didn’t say what he meant by this), and that police were looking at the issue of “tourist rioting.” He said some of the rioters were as young as 8, 9 and 10 years old.
Observers at the scene recounted how many youths had come from other parts of Belfast and the Republic to be “offended” by the Orange marchers and to engage the police in battle. The “sinister edge” to which Baggot referred is the action of dissident republican nationalists, who were seen to be orchestrating the violence in the background.
Since the Troubles, the largest nationalist party, Sinn Féin, has entered government and has thrown its support behind the reformed Northern Ireland police service.
Thus deputy first minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin joined First Minister Peter Robinson and all the other Northern parties in condemning the latest violence.
For the first time, the police force in Northern Ireland is not only supported by both the main nationalist and pro-British parties but also subject to the power-sharing government at Stormont, as justice powers were devolved by London earlier this year. As part of that process, the parties agreed to tackle the contentious question of Orange parades that pass by Catholic areas but that issue remains unresolved.
The dissidents behind the rioting, supporters of the “Real IRA” which has carried out several explosions and shootings in the last year, were intent on challenging the ability of Sinn Féin to control elements of its base support.
The danger is that a death on either side could stir up more general communal passions, but the measured response of the police contrasts with the heavy-handed and often sectarian actions of riot squads during the Troubles when it was known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Then it was common to hear nationalist crowds taunt the police with shouts of “SS-RUC.”
The same slogan was recently shouted by teenage rioters. It is an indication of how some people are stuck in the past, however young, just as much as the Orange marchers who every July publicly celebrate a victory over Catholics more than three centuries ago.