Why leadership is needed now more than ever before
Published 12/08/2013 | 08:30
The peace process will come tumbling down in Belfast if Sinn Fein continues to wind up an unsettled and disillusioned section of the unionist community in the city.
It is patently obvious that dissident forces are at work within the most depressed loyalist neighbourhoods in the north and east of the city. People are being told their Britishness is "trashed". Their political self-esteem is low.
They are ready fodder for the kind of "mindless anarchy", to use the chief constable's words, witnessed in the very heart of Belfast and in the disgraceful attack on the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir, in Woodvale.
His party has invested as much as any other in the peace process. It now needs to draw back, to take stock and to ask itself serious questions about its tactics particularly in Belfast. Its campaign to remove the flag from the City Hall has proved disastrous for community relations and the image of the city. The insistence to hold an anti-internment march last Friday was wholly inflammatory and unnecessary. So, too, was yesterday's event in Castlederg, where the chief guest was none other than Gerry Kelly, who has hardly endeared himself to loyalists and unionists in Belfast.
Mairtin O Muilleoir and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, need to exert a more moderating influence on the rank and file of Sinn Fein in Belfast. So too must the DUP and Ulster Unionists in loyalist districts where the Orange Order bears a heavy responsibility for the summer's disorder.
Belfast has no meeting of minds, in stark contrast to Londonderry where on Saturday the Apprentice Boys paraded in a sane and sensible atmosphere. A tribute should be paid to everyone in Derry where there is clear evidence of what can be achieved through dialogue. Without the same mutual respect and cooperation, Belfast will descend into a dangerously deep chasm.
Politics in Northern Ireland's capital city is fast becoming the Billy Hutchinson versus Gerry Kelly contest, a bruising and distasteful Punch and Judy performance, played out regularly on the likes of the Nolan show. To what extent such tough-talking exchanges reflect broader unionist, nationalist and republican attitudes must be debatable. For the moment other voices are being drowned out.
If an opinion poll were taken among ratepayers in Belfast I suspect a sizeable proportion might indicate their patience is running thin after another summer of quite unnecessary and totally irresponsible trouble-making.
While much of the rest of Northern Ireland goes about its business nowadays in a relatively tension-free atmosphere, the same small pockets of unrest are resurrected every July and August to the shame of our entire society. The MPs, MLAs and councillors who represent these areas tell us that they are doing their best to keep people from violence. At times, however, it seems as if another agenda defies their efforts.
This poses awkward questions as to who really controls some loyalist and republican districts particularly in Belfast.
To what extent are some public representatives pandering to rather than confronting such destructive elements?
Are there darker dissident forces still at large on both sides, feeding off one another – closet loyalist or republican revisionists, determined to bring us back to a time when the Good Friday Agreement did not exist?
There may not openly challenge elected representatives in troublesome districts yet they exert power from the shadows of the streets in which they operate.
These people may not be great in number but they do seem to hold a disproportionate influence on some neighbourhoods.
They appear to play on the feelings of ordinary people.
They seem to engender distrust where they can. It is as if they can rustle up a riot at a stone's throw and can just as readily call off the hounds when required.
They are a legacy of the Troubles because they have always been there and still harbour the same old thoughts of bitterness and bigotry.
We hear unrest in Belfast 2013 excused as "recreational rioting" – children running amok beyond midnight without parental control, youths without education, ambition or jobs.
Events on the city's streets suggest that the vulnerable are easily led. We have plenty of evidence of that this summer.
The unionist, nationalist and republican leaderships in Belfast City Council need to show more courage to confront their respective backwoodsmen and women than has been evident to date.
Pandering to them will get Northern Ireland nowhere.