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Dissidents' double standards must not fill republican void

Editor's Viewpoint

In his poem Easter 1916, W B Yeats speaks of a terrible beauty being born. In executing the leaders of the Rising, the British reinvigorated republicanism rather than weakening it and today, 101 years later, that terrible beauty is still being invoked by those who seek Irish unity by compulsion rather than argument.

The parades over the weekend and yesterday by dissident republican groups show that there are groups here who pay no heed to political consensus or the will of the vast majority of people in the province.

There is a well-defined and totally democratic process for those who want to see Irish unity. It is based on the principle of consent and if sufficient numbers of people here can be persuaded that this is the best way forward, then it can be achieved.

But that is a process which those in the dissidents' ranks do not buy into. The disparate dissident groups talk of unfinished revolutions, coercion and fighting for freedom.

This is language which most people had hoped was consigned to the past. It should have no place in Northern Ireland today, but it shows that there is still a nihilistic rump within the republican movement who do not support the peace process and who seek to ferment strife in both word and deed.

Unwittingly a billboard along the route of a republican parade in Londonderry yesterday portrayed the truth about armed agitation. It showed armed men firing a volley of shots over a coffin alongside the words 'Join the IRA'.

For many young men and women who did just that in the past, the coffin was their reward. For even greater numbers of victims of IRA violence more coffins were needed. Our graveyards are full of people who died because of the mythologising of the terrible beauty of the Easter Rising.

But it is not only the dissidents' message which is depressing. So too is the sight of people in paramilitary-style uniforms forming so-called colour parties in an attempt to legitimise the gathering as some sort of military parade.

And it is also depressing, indeed hypocritical, that dissidents in Lurgan and west Belfast over the weekend paraded in defiance of the Parades Commission. The Lurgan parade was illegal and the one in Belfast appeared to contravene the Commission's determination that it should be significantly different from last year when some participants were photographed wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities. Yet this year many appeared in the same garb.

So dissidents have no regard for the Parades Commission yet want it to ban marches by the loyal orders from certain routes. They invoke the rules - or seek to - when it suits them and disregards them at other times.

It is therefore expected by all right thinking and law abiding people that action is taken against those who have acted illegally or outside the rules during these marches. It is understandable that the PSNI does not seek a confrontation at the time of the parades, but they must use information gleaned from the marches to prosecute those who have stepped outside the law.

These parades - at a time when mainstream republicans have sidelined themselves from government - are another blow to the image of Northern Ireland. To an uninformed outside world, the idea of people talking about unfinished revolutions and using force is enough to make them shun the province unless they are given a different narrative.

But the alternative political voices are too busy squabbling to do that effectively.

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