Ghosts on the Ardoyne

Hollywood westerns and musicals splutter in and out of fashion but zombie movies are, appropriately, a genre of cinema that refuses to die.

They hinge on the moment of fright when what looks like a corpse suddenly lunges for a victim and mayhem ensues.

Such shocks send popcorn spraying in a crowded cinema, but are not so much fun when the images are played on out on the streets of a city.

The return of rioting which features dehumanising brutality in Belfast is proof that sectarian violence has not vanished from these islands but appears alive and dangerous.

The sight of children and teenagers attacking a police force which was designed to command the confidence of both communities proves that this generation, too, has been pulled into the orbit of violence.

Interpreting the cause of this latest rioting is as difficult as solving one of Fermat’s harder theorems.

The tangled politics of this neighbourhood is a microcosm for the cauldron of competing forces within both communities in the province.

There were undoubtedly recreational rioters on the streets but there are also left-wing republicans angry at perceived injustice who are organising with energy, as a surf of websites quickly shows. They do not want to jettison the socialist dream of an Irish republic which excited James Connolly.

A merrily capitalist Ulster featuring regular royal visits and nothing to unsettle multinational investors and international tourists – a Devon Eire, if you like – is not their preferred vision for the future.

But you also have thousands of people who did not become paper millionaires during the housing boom, who are angry at continued deprivation, disillusioned with politics and labouring each day under enduring pain from the trauma of the Troubles.

Into this cocktail is dropped the hyper-inflammable ingredient of an Orange march.

Northern Ireland has never had the Springbok moment, when Nelson Mandela put on a rugby jersey and neutralised the sectarian connotations and rebranded it as a symbol of South African pride. It is unthinkable that a former republican prisoner putting on an Orange sash would have the same effect. But the province needs a moment of grace.

What would happen if Orangemen braced for resistance had been greeted with utter indifference or – most shockingly – a warm welcome?

The true revolutionaries on both sides of this divide will never reawaken Ireland’s awful history of maiming and killing. Instead they will seek to subvert it in the hope that the monster of hatred will collapse and this time stay dead.

A Thursday column