After the shameful rioting that followed the Parades Commission’s Ardoyne ban, loyalists on Saturday took a big step towards recovering their reputation.
By assembling and dispersing peacefully in north Belfast, Orangemen and their supporters registered ongoing anger at the ban, but did so in a dignified and powerful way.
The violence on July 12 was thuggish and repellent. It was also strategically disastrous.
The continual rewards for republican dishonesty show why image matters, and why unionists urgently need to pay attention to their public relations.
Nationalist intransigence is always disguised under a pretence of reasonableness and generosity.
Foolish people in organisations such as the Parades Commission fall for such dishonesty, and conclude that Catholics are always the victims, and Protestants always the villains.
This weekend the loyal orders and their supporters showed a welcome understanding of the need to tackle this perception by calmly reiterating that the commission had banned a traditional march on an arterial route that skirts neutral shop fronts which form an interface.
Yet anyone overseas paying casual attention to recent events might have concluded that vicious loyalists were intent on a coat-trailing exercise through the heart of hostile territory, and rioted the minute they did not get their way.
In truth, Orangemen were only planning their normal, brief march past Ardoyne shops. When this was made almost impossible last year, after the commission rewarded annual nationalist rioting by putting an impossible time limit on the return from the Field, the Orangemen complied.
It wasn’t enough for nationalists, who rioted again, culminating this year in the ultimate commission prize of a full ban.
Unionists must emphasise this unreasonableness repeatedly, and should never rule out talks with ‘residents’. Sometimes it is the best way to expose their obduracy.