Tension built steadily in Northern Ireland in the weeks leading up to the July 12
commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne. In one instance, trouble erupted on Saturday, June 24 in West
Belfast when a disputed Orange Order parade took place. The parade route was to pass by a Catholic
neighborhood near the Springfield Road.
Organizers had been granted permission to hold the parade by the Parades Commission. A condition of the permit was that no music would be played.
A crowd of 300 Catholic demonstrators gathered. Between them and the Protestant marchers was a line of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in full riot gear. It is fortunate that they were so well prepared and equipped because missiles quickly began to fly as the parade passed Catholic homes 200 yards away.
For two hours, Catholics and Protestants lobbed missiles, including fireworks, back and forth from within their respective neighborhoods.
This event was witnessed by Professor Tom Constantine, the newly appointed Oversight Commissioner, now tasked with overseeing police reform in Northern Ireland by implementing the recommendations of the Patten Report. This fundamental reform of the police service is absolutely critical if lasting peace is to be achieved under the terms of the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998.
For the professor, it was a stunning and painful experience to observe first hand the depth of hostility that the Catholic community held toward the police. At the same time, he found it heartening to see the discipline and restraint with which the officers on the scene handled their difficult assignment.
What he witnessed on that day is a scene that has been repeated again and again over the past three decades. Sometimes with more and sometimes with less violence. But it was never wholly absent from the communal life of the divided society that has been Northern Ireland.
In observing the animosity of the Catholic demonstrators toward the police, Professor Constantine experienced the reality of what he had long understood in the abstract. Here was a community that was deeply suspicious of the police organization that had been organized to serve and protect it without bias or favor. Its people were blind to any evidence that this was anything other than an army of occupation and oppression. That is what they believed and that is what they taught their children.
The professor's mission was to oversee the transformation of the police service into an institution that would be universally perceived as serving the whole of Northern Ireland's community in a professional manner and that would in the very near future attract young Catholics in large numbers to careers in the police service. An extraordinary and daunting task, to say the least.
Several weeks later, West Belfast was again in the news. The government's allocation of 2.2 million pounds in drug awareness funding was reported to have bypassed West Belfast altogether. The Anderstontown News trumpeted: "Drugs awareness funding snub sparks blazing row." Local politicians and community leaders responded angrily. Said one: "Despite the fact that we have a growing drug problem in the area, all this money has recently been allocated and not a single penny has found its way into the community of West Belfast. This area has the highest concentration of young people in the North and yet no resources have been made available to work on the drug prevention strategy. So where is our share of these resources, or don't our children matter?"
They matter, alright. And that is why Professor Constantine kept in his mind what he saw in West Belfast on June 24 and resolved to devote his special attention to the children of West Belfast.
Terry O'Neill plays his bagpipe for the children of the Mohawk Indian Nation at the reservation school in Hogansburg, New York. Two years earlier, these kids and their parents were hiding under their beds at night to avoid gunfire during a period of communal violence. The disorder came to an abrupt halt on the night of May 1, 1990 when then state police superintendent Tom Constantine led the New York State Troopers onto the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.
Ask the Mohawks the story that they tell
About the time the sky above them almost fell.
To their rescue, the Long, Gray Line.
And riding point -- Tom Constantine.
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