Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

For sake of the children, we need a new mindset

Peace rally Belfast City Centre in response to recent violence and public order following protests over the flying of the Union Flag at the City Hall

One disturbing aspect of the violent protests over the Union flag issue is the involvement of children and young people in the riots.

This has been mentioned recently by the Presbyterian Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Roy Patton, and also by senior Methodists, Anglicans, and other church figures. Sadly, nobody seems to know what to do about it. If one child or youth is injured by the police, then the protesters become martyrs.

Those who orchestrate the riots have cynically used women and children as part of their tactics, but a peaceful protest can suddenly turn into mayhem.

There are also suggestions from people whose opinions I respect that the protests are not just about the flag, or even the deeper question of unionist identity, but also a calculated ploy by some people to bring more Government money into east Belfast.

However, if money is the only major basis for such a settlement, it will be like putting sticking plaster over a deep wound that will not heal.

One of the central questions remains: “What are we going to do about the children?''

There is much talk of ‘recreational rioting' and of children getting their kicks from goading the police.

This is not just a loyalist phenomenon, and in the summer riots in the Ardoyne and elsewhere there was ample evidence of well-turned out children involved in rioting for the sheer adrenaline rush it created.

For all of us who have lived through the violence of the past 40 years, and for some people like me who reported regularly from the front line, it is especially depressing to witness such behaviour. These young people know nothing about the horror of those years, or the suffering associated with Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday and all the other bloody days.

In a sense we have all failed. I know that you and I and many others have raised our children properly to have a value system whereby they know right from wrong and respect law and order as well as other people's possessions and rights.

What about those parents and their children who do not obey these basic standards of citizenship? Clearly the politicians, the churches and the education systems have failed to lead, and to dig beneath the fragile peace we have known in order to prevent the Troubles re-emerging in a different form.

This is not to blame only Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Mike Nesbitt, or successive Presbyterian moderators, Methodist presidents or Church of Ireland archbishops, or those who shape our educational system.

The task is beyond a handful of individuals, and it requires a total change in mindset from people of all backgrounds in our society.

It requires the middle-class to stop looking down on the marchers, protesters and rioters as bloody-minded idiots. And it also requires the rioters, the protesters and the marchers to realise that they cannot bully or blackmail the rest of us into getting their way.

When the present crisis is brought to an end sooner or later, we will all have to think about rebuilding our society from the bottom up. Otherwise these outbursts of madness will never end.

However, anyone who watched this week's Nolan Show on BBC television will have been profoundly depressed by the sterile political dogfight in front of a baying loyalist audience. It reminded me of some of the worst television confrontations of the Troubles which only added to the hatreds. God only knows how we are going to put the pieces together again.

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