Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

It's time to stop parading our sectarianism for all to see

Remember when Bill Clinton talked about normal becoming normal here, after long years of the abnormal being our norm?

For me one of the big indicators was the day I saw a police officer buying a Mars Bar in a city centre sweet shop.

He was wearing uniform (and a flak jacket.) He was doing something that would seem entirely normal in any other city in the UK. But in a place where police officers historically had to watch their backs - and the lives of the civilians around them - nipping into a shop, without a back-up team, was something they didn't do lightly.

As this paper has been charting in a special series this week, times and attitudes and circumstances have changed dramatically. But as other shocking headlines also remind us, police officers are still on the front line - still the human targets taking the hammering from thugs on both sides.

Dozens have been injured in recent weeks. That's a shameful, disgusting toll. And it's not just about the impact on those injured officers themselves. It's about their families. Their partners, parents, children ...

How much they must all worry when somebody they love gets sent to stand sentinel between two packs of baying yobs.

We all talk about the parades problem. But the parades issue is only the symptom of a much greater malaise.

There is still a sick sectarianism at the very heart of our society. And groups on both sides happy to foster and encourage that division, bitterness and yes, hatred, for their own ends. Those organisations have unforgivably been allowed to grow and to flourish while Stormont has turned a blind eye.

How much worse could it get? All too many of us remember. All too well. All too many of us fear that it would take so very little to tip us back to the abnormal becoming the normal again.

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