A summer of sporadic rioting has underlined the fragility of the so-called "peace process" in Northern Ireland.
Three nights of rioting at Carlisle Circus in north-west Belfast last week follows similar scenes in July when tensions were heightened by climax of the loyalist marching session. The latest riots come after an incident when a Protestant marching band played sectarian anti-Catholic songs outside St. Patrick's Catholic chapel en route to the city centre on the day of marching organised by the Protestant fraternal organisation, the Royal Black Institution. This prompted a republican-organised counter-demonstration close to an Orange Hall near the loyalist Lower Shankill area.
These now-regular conflagrations are being exacerbated by tensions between sectarian paramilitaries on both sides. They also reflect divisions within loyalism in particular, as rank-and-file members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) are pressuring for their organisations, both currently on ceasefire, to confront “dissident” republican groups who are increasingly prominent in the north of the city.
Beneath these organisational considerations, however, lies the festering sectarian division between working-class communities on both sides of the divide. The intricate governmental artifice set up to check, balance, and manage this deep-rooted division - typified by the often dead-locked consociational Executive and such quasi-judicial non-departmental public bodies as the Parades Commission - is patently unable to resolve it.
Later this month sees the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant; it will be followed next year by the centenary of the original UVF, then by commemorations of the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising in 2016. The unrest which accompanied the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 is often seen as a prelude to 'the Troubles' which erupted three years later.
The current system of power-sharing between the sectarian parties in Stormont will face a sustained set of challenges over the coming months and years as it will be forced to deal with contentious parades, demonstrations and commemorations. Its record so far does not inspire confidence.