Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Cost of talks failure will be far too high

All right-thinking people will agree that Northern Ireland's police officers cannot continue to face the onslaught they have been subjected to this year. More than 700 were injured policing public order. That is a horrendous toll on a relatively small force in what is supposed to be a peaceful province.

Indeed most of Northern Ireland has absolutely no hand in the violence which has often accompanied parades and counter-demonstrations, yet, as the Secretary of State points out in this newspaper today, our reputation is being sullied worldwide. The violence comes at a terrifically high price. There are the thousands of pounds spent every evening policing the stand-off at Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast.

There is the human toll already mentioned. And there is the loss of other services because of the money drained out of the system by policing costs.

Again the Secretary of State makes a very valid point – Westminster will not keep underwriting the soaring police bill. Other sectors of public life will have to suffer if the violence continues.

Our political leaders have shown themselves either unable or unwilling to control the wilder elements on the streets.

Sadly, on occasion, some of the politicians' comments have only inflamed the situation. Indeed politicians won't even shoulder the responsibility of trying to find a solution to the traditional problems of marches, emblems and culture clashes, instead drafting in US envoy Richard Haass to hope that he will somehow instil sense into talks on these issues.

The template for this is what brought the power-sharing administration here into being – the talks chaired by Senator George Mitchell.

But at that stage there was a general war- weariness in Northern Ireland and even sworn enemies were seeking some alternative to violence.

There needs to be the same willingness among all those involved at any level in the current unrest to reach a consensus. We are already paying far too high a price, in human and financial terms, to allow the current impasse to continue.

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