THE situation at Ardoyne in north Belfast over the Twelfth period again descended into chaos and it was an appalling advert for Northern Ireland as a whole which was broadcast on a widespread scale.
These unfortunate events have come against a backdrop of relative positivity over the past 18 months.
The whole country has supported our three golfing major winners and the hosting of the Irish Open was a huge success; the highly significant Jubilee visit from Her Majesty the Queen was well-received by thousands of people at Stormont; and the Centenary of the Titanic was remembered in a dignified fashion with vast numbers flocking to the new Titanic Building to learn about our proud history in the shipbuilding industry.
All of these events presented an upbeat and progressive image of Northern Ireland and are an indication of some of the good work which is being undertaken in the contexts of sport, the economy and reconciliation.
However, that positive image was damaged over the Twelfth period, with bottles, bricks and petrol bombs thrown, shots fired and 20 police officers injured. Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr referred to the “three days of annual madness” which are the norm at this time of the year.
I firmly believe that we need to build a shared and tolerant society and, although we have heard several sound bites from Peter Robinson, the rioting in north Belfast proved we still have some distance to travel in fully delivering on that aim.
It remains the case that sectarianism still pervades much of our society and, despite the clumsy language used by Jonathan Bell with respect to sectarianism within golf clubs; the point that sectarian views are not limited to any particular social class is a valid one.
We must find a mechanism to deal with parading which recognises the right to celebrate cultural heritage as well as the right to protest.
It must be an improvement on the draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill which was overly complex and ultimately flawed.
This legislation was hailed by the DUP and Sinn Fein as the answer to the parades conundrum but was evidently not fit for purpose.
Much good work has been done on the ground by the Orange Order and others and this is evidenced by the fact that only around 3.5% of parades are now considered as contentious.
However, as we seek to move forward, it is important to realise that, no matter what mechanism is in place, not every decision will please everyone and a culture of mutual respect is therefore necessary. What is absolutely clear is that we cannot continue along the same lines year after year.
John McCallister is the Ulster Unionist deputy leader and MLA for South Down