Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

The future's bright, but bigotry's the fly in our ointment

Cause celebre: Peter Robinson regularly trumpets his party’s fundamentalist credentials, such as their opposition to abortion

In spite of the recent eruption of violence, there are reasons to be cheerful about Northern Ireland's future.

The crime-rate is lower than in most of the developed world. So is the murder-rate and, last year, there were fewer violent deaths here than at any time since before the Troubles.

More young people are going to university here and that holds the promise that, if we can build an inviting society, they will stay here and contribute to its growth.

Stormont may be a slow and ponderous system of government, but it is moving forward on some fronts.

Replacing the Housing Executive and rationalising councils are recent examples of processes that have at least been started.

The lurking menace is sectarian division which, like an unhealthy lifestyle, can stop us in our tracks and abruptly wreck everything. The flags protest (left) resembled a heart attack which took us by surprise after years of over-indulgence and dismissing the warning signs.

We must find ways of handling these divisive issues without feeding a culture of victory and defeat, which is the seedbed of conflict; a common strategy of flag-flying, not a model by which unionists enforce their will depending on who holds the majority. We have an opportunity to move forward this year. But first we have got to get ourselves into shape for the challenges ahead.

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