Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Two different cities united against terror in any guise

Ed Curran

Dear David, We are relieved that you have taken a grip on the looting and rioting in Britain. Many people in Northern Ireland have family and friends across the water.

The last thing we would wish for them and England is the kind of wanton destruction of property and life that we experienced for too long.

True, Belfast and other places continue to suffer periodically, particularly during the marching season. Anti-social behaviour exists, but not to the same appalling degree as recently in England, in spite of the fact that words, such as deprivation, poverty and cuts, apply just as much to this part of the world as anywhere else.

For all the historically blackened face of Northern Ireland, a community spirit still survives here. We have nothing like the impersonal anonymity of the teaming millions living in English cities.

We also still have more family values and parental strengths - the kind which you, Mr Cameron, are hoping belatedly to instil in the 'broken' society of inner-city Britain.

We have community pride which was sadly lacking in the scenes from London and Manchester last week. Our education system seems geared to take more account of children from deprived and difficult backgrounds.

We also have public representatives, councillors, clergy and community leaders, long-steeped in our old conflicts, who are willing to stand up and be counted against troublemakers in their neighbourhoods. Northern Ireland may not have much going for it, but it has withstood a lot more than any inner-city neighbourhood in Britain and has come out the other end, the stronger for the experience.

As someone who travels regularly to London, I am as shocked as everyone else at the scale of street disorder, but not surprised.

English society has a win-at-all-costs mentality, an aggression about it which I would doubt exists anywhere else in Europe. On television, it is enshrined in the bullying manner of Lord 'you're fired' Sugar and in the storylines and language of EastEnders.

You can see it in the impersonality of everyday life. At its simplest, it is epitomised by people who bump into you on the street, or in the Tube station, and rarely say sorry.

Prime Minister, we were all voyeurs last week in our living rooms, watching events unfold before our very eyes with hardly a police officer in sight on the streets of London.

Many comparisons have been made with the handling of riots in Northern Ireland over the years. Disorder here has seldom been afforded such free rein as that given to the marauding gangs who roamed the streets of London at will last Monday before you, as prime minister, returned take charge.

No society, not even Northern Ireland in its most troubled times, can allow its streets to be taken over by thugs and hooligans.

As we know from harsh experience on this side of the Irish Sea, once you afford any gang, or group of men, the opportunity to take the law into their own hands, in the knowledge that they will not be arrested, then the worst follows. The primary lesson learned in Northern Ireland is that streets cannot be abandoned to any mob, as they were in London.

Ordinary people need reassurance and that can only be provided by a proper and adequate police presence.

Mercifully, we have not yet had helicopters hovering over street confrontations and riot situations and transmitting live pictures to our homes.

In any inquiry into how events escalated out of control, I would suggest, Prime Minister, that the deployment of media helicopters, broadcasting live footage of developing events, should be reviewed.

A debate needs to take place with the broadcasting organisations about their rights and responsibilities in such sensitive situations as street disorder. The helicopters appeared at times to be scouring the streets for signs of trouble and providing an added incentive for the gangs to show what they could do.

Finally, Prime Minister, you deserve praise for the 'fightback'. The quality of a political leader is defined in a crisis. You have shown inspirational and decisive leadership and brought England back from the brink. That could not be achieved without the consensus of law-abiding people and the other political parties. Therein is a lesson for Northern Ireland. We, too, can defeat whatever rump of terror remains in our society, but consensus is essential.

We must act together in support of our police and judicial services. Together we stand, divided we fall.

Regards,

Ed

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