"There is a cultural space for rioting in the Northern Ireland calendar," says Paddy Hoey, a former journalist who is completing his PhD thesis in the literature of dissident Irish republicanism at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Irish Studies. He says that the unrest in interface areas – places where republican and loyalist communities abut – is a "result of the vacuum of the peace process."
While the political battle has left the streets and entered the halls of government in Northern Ireland, the Troubles' one-time fighters still remain in control of their districts as "community representatives," Mr. Hoey says. That leaves them in position to wage the cultural war through annual parades and protests, but without being held to account if the events devolve into riots.
"It's a manifestation of social control by people who were able to act with tacit impunity," he says.
This summer has been no exception to the cycle of cultural conflict. Marches by the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution, both Protestant fraternal organizations, erupted into violence on July 12 and Aug. 25 when a marching band named Young Conway Volunteers marched outside St. Patrick's Catholic church in Donegall Street.
On July 12, the band stopped outside the church and played an anti-Catholic tune named "The Famine Song," which spurred reactive protests that turned violent later that night in the republican Ardoyne district.
The Parades Commission, the statutory body which sanctions marches, banned Young Conway Volunteers from the Aug. 25 march, but the group flouted the ban, spurring a further series of disturbances by republican protesters.
Loyalists have rioted as well. Only yards away from Donegall Street, a republican march commemorating 18th century republican Henry Joy McCracken resulted in three consecutive nights of violence from Sept. 3 to 5, with loyalists attacking police with stones, bricks, and fireworks in objection to the march. Police fired plastic bullets in response.