Belfast Telegraph

An urgent need for Northern Ireland to start healing itself

The election is over and it will be analysed in the coming days and years, perhaps as a watershed. Certainly it was brutish, and ostensibly we are back where we suspected we might be.

The orange-green tribalism is stronger than ever nearly 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and we are living in dangerous times, which call for wise heads and calm nerves.

There is physical danger too, as exemplified in our report on the young police officer who survived a republican dissident murder attack in north Belfast a few weeks ago.

He talks movingly about joining the PSNI to help people, and almost ended up dead at a petrol station.

There will be much debate about the motivation in the Sinn Fein surge in voting, but Arlene Foster's ill-judged remarks about crocodiles at the hustings certainly did it no harm.

Constitutional nationalism did well, and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has built a solid base.

The Alliance Party also did well, with the strong direction of Naomi Long,

The major question is the future of unionism, after losing its Stormont majority for the first time.

Although the DUP just nudged ahead of Sinn Fein, the resurgence of the latter is a wake-up call to all unionists.

Unionism needs to be politically smarter, more relevant and modern, and more gracious in outreach.

Logically, a single unionist party might do better, but given the bitterness between the two groups, is a united front a realistic option?

The big question for the DUP is whether Foster should remain as First Minister, a post that it came so close to losing.

She has been unimpressive since the RHI scandal broke, and it is a moot point whether she received a personal vote, or whether DUP supporters voted with a heavy heart mainly out of fear of damaging the Union.

Perhaps the role of First Minister and party leader should be separate, if that could work, but the jury is still out on Foster's future.

Meanwhile, the serious challenges facing Northern Ireland have not gone away.

There are huge questions over health, education and infrastructure, as well as Brexit.

The election caused political earthquakes here, but outside Northern Ireland there is little interest, and we are on our own.

There is no viable alternative to genuine power-sharing.

Many people feel that a political cloud hangs over us again, and it cannot be underestimated that many unionists are gloomy and fearful.

Sinn Fein has put much emphasis on equality, but this works both ways, and unionists need equality too.

We need to turn down the temperature and to have a calm and constructive approach by all sides.

It is not a time for triumphalism, but rather for finding a way to live together permanently in peace.

It is tempting to forget how far we have come until we are reminded of the continuing violence, including the vicious dissident republican attacks, and the tragedy of a young policeman lying on a forecourt with a shattered arm and fearing he was going to die.

His story is a chilling reminder of the risks the police take, of the continuing and grotesque paramilitary violence here, and of the consequences of our endless division.

Above all, the events of recent days are a reminder of the urgent need for Northern Ireland to start to heal itself.

Nothing less will do - for all sides.

Belfast Telegraph

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