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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
Parades and the 'bigger picture'

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland correspondent

The buzz phrase of this year's marching season in Northern Ireland has been the importance of the "big picture".

This is nothing to do with wide-screen TVs and everything to do with the delicate political situation.

Father and son at bonfire
Bonfires in Protestant areas marked the Battle of the Boyne
Those thinking of causing trouble are being advised to focus on the greater good, the possibility of a political breakthrough in the near future.

Here's the plan: a quiet summer on the streets, followed by a busy autumn at the talks table and then a power-sharing government returning to Stormont by the spring.

It all sounds so simple - "don't be so narrow-minded, focus on the big picture."

But what about those ugly pictures from north Belfast on the Twelfth of July?

That wasn't in the game-plan. It may have only lasted for a couple of hours but it was the worst street violence for two years.


Like most things in Northern Ireland, there are two ways of looking at it.

Here's the view through dark glasses.

The peace process has suffered another setback.

The clashes between soldiers and young Catholics on the Ardoyne Road show just how deep the divisions here still run.

Not so long ago, it might have developed into a bigger riot, with serious injuries

The crowd spat at the Army, then hurled bricks, stones, golf balls, a children's scooter and even a small tree.

There was also a brief exchange of missiles with the Protestant marchers as they passed the area.

Same old divisions, same old Northern Ireland. Or is it?

Not so long ago, it might have developed into a bigger riot, with serious injuries.

And who was there trying to calm things down?

A Sinn Fein leader heckled in his home patch...a rare sight indeed
Key members of the republican movement.

If you look closely at the pictures of the trouble, you can see senior republicans like Gerry Kelly and Bobby Storey with arms outstretched at Army lines, telling the young people to move back.

Unionists may claim they were only playing to the cameras.

Republicans will say their peace-making was genuine and will point to the fact that a section of the crowd jeered Gerry Kelly as he appealed for calm.

Positive whispers

A Sinn Fein leader heckled in his home patch.....a rare sight indeed.

In the end, the trouble was defused.

Parade begins in Carlisle Circus
12 July is the biggest day in the Protestant marching calendar.
So maybe things are not so bad after all. Drumcree was quiet this year and overall, the Twelfth of July wasn't as bad as some had feared.

What is more, there are whispers about political progress in the background, as attempts continue to try to bridge the gap between Northern Ireland's two largest parties, Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley's DUP.

That takes us back to the bigger picture.

The conflicting signals make it impossible to make a proper assessment of the chances of a deal.

We should have a better idea once the negotiations are stepped up in September.

Stay tuned.

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