Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Peace certainly comes dropping slowly for us

It's clear now that, no matter how the majority of the people in Northern Ireland want to live their lives, it is never going to be without daily controversy, disturbance, abnormality and threat.

Take your pick how many years it is after 'peace', according to which treaty or agreement you count from. There is a whole raft of new institutions, even a parliament and the police. For the first time in decades, there is in Bombardier a multi-billion pound industrial success story to rival the achievements of the shipyards.

UK City of Culture for LondonDerry. Your Time, Our Place.

But you are never, never, never, going to wake up in Northern Ireland and think that, oops, you're still on holiday in Wicklow, the Lake District, the Trossachs. Why?

Because the place is still stuffed to the gunwales with hatred and bile and bitterness and venom.

Our politicians, especially the First and Deputy First Ministers, have received plaudits for acting in concert when things got truly rough - by which I mean murder. It was so important that they stood shoulder to shoulder, when any chink of light between them would have put the goblins among us in good heart, if they had a heart.

Murder is our social dysfunction in its most extreme form and it is necessary that the political class closes ranks in the face of it. They deserve acclaim when they do.

And, distressing cases apart, the political murder tally is not ticking over in the horrendous way it did during the decades of the Troubles. But that is not good enough. As a population we shouldn't be expected to 'put up with' being tormented, taunted and bullied by extremists simply because they aren't firing guns at us or putting bombs in civic spaces. As if the periodic, regular raising of the temperature here, because it isn't killing us, should be tolerated as somehow part of the peace process.

Well, it isn't. It's part of the war process - part of the old mentality, threatening us with 'something worse' if we don't accede to this or that demand.

The current furore over what everyone has come to refer to as 'flegs' is just one example. Sinn Fein political manoeuvring at Belfast City Hall, matched by SDLP positioning and unionist in-fighting, has led to a completely unnecessary stand-off and the appearance of popular legitimacy for street protests which have wounded the image of the city internationally, damaged trade in the run-up to Christmas and challenged the capacity of the police to maintain order in the face of a mob.

The PSNI can't do it, any more than some unionist political leaders have been able to resist surfing on the urge of unsavoury elements to burn cars and wreck normal life. While thugs are protected and their 'rights' safeguarded, families are warned off the city centre, turned back from the Christmas tree at City Hall and told to back off Santa.

Is this fooling anyone? The confusion last week over tourism figures would indicate that no one is fooled at all. The regular outbursts of nastiness, from riot to makeshift bomb to attempted and actual murder, have had their effect - Northern Ireland is a zone of risk, not the sort of place you'd bring your kids on a weekend break.

Was the orchestration of protests that occurred over the last weeks a spontaneous expression of popular disquiet? No chance. Like the clumsy transport of ever more sophisticated explosive devices by dissident republicans, the resort to street riot by loyalists has an all too familiar smell off it.

Peace is being able to go shopping and know you'll get home. Peace is being able to travel freely where you need to. Peace is when the police keep the road clear for the public. Peace is when there is sound, stable political leadership reflecting the occasionally-expressed political wishes of the people.

When these things aren't in place - and especially when political leadership is led by street rats on the one hand and the fear of something worse on the other - you can call it what you like.

It'll still be a desperately unhappy place to live.

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