Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Flag protest thugs will never succeed

This has been a dismal start to the new year. If the miserable weather was not enough to dampen spirits, the continuing violence accompanying flag protests adds its own bleakness to the outlook.

Politicians, having stoked up tensions over the flags issue, are now unable to bring any reason to the situation.

Those who have taken to the streets are ignoring all pleas to stop their outright criminality which has left scores of police officers injured and the orchestrating hand of loyalist paramilitaries is becoming ever more evident.

But the thugs on the streets are like the republican dissidents. They may have an ambition to return Northern Ireland to the dark days when violence was commonplace and paramilitaries set the daily agenda, but they will not succeed. The protesters, like the dissidents, are a tiny minority. Seeing the destruction they cause, the damage to the economy and reputation of Northern Ireland they have wrought and the injuries they have inflicted, it is easy to overestimate their presence or influence.

This is a battle for hearts and minds. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want no part of this violence. They have endured too much to see the fragile peace snatched away from them.

Police chiefs have complained about the numbers of young people engaged in rioting, but it must be remembered that many hundreds more young people shun such action. It is the voices of reasonable parents or teachers that they listen to, not the strident irrational exhortations of the godfathers. That is a reassurance that there is no going back to times of trouble. Those on the streets may not have learned the lessons of the past, but the rest of us have. In these times of austerity the province faces enough challenges without adding more hardship to the burden. That is a reality accepted by most people and one which they must continue to preach until even the most bone- headed get the message. And our politicians can help by concentrating on progressive policies, rather than provocative gestures.

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