Editor's Viewpoint: Orde’s gaffe is just unacceptable
The phrase ‘an acceptable level of violence’ was first coined in a Northern Ireland context by Reginald Maudling, a former Home Secretary in the early 1970s.
At a time of unparalleled terrorism he spoke of reducing the violence to an acceptable level. Even then that was regarded as a gaffe. It is therefore somewhat surprising to hear the phrase repeated by a man with very recent experience of the security situation in the province.
Sir Hugh Orde, who recently held the position of chief constable, described the current dissident |republican campaign as an acceptable level of violence. It was one phrase in a carefully worded address to an audience in Oxford, but it nevertheless suggested that society can tolerate |terrorism provided it is not too widespread.
Given Northern Ireland’s recent history, for the vast majority of people there is no acceptable level of violence. They want terrorism consigned to the past and feel that phrases like that used by Sir Hugh only give succour to terrorists. The phrase also suggests that every effort is not being made to stamp out dissident activity, another dangerous implication. Certainly that is not the attitude of Sir Hugh’s successor, Matt Baggott, who is determined to get on top of the dissident republican threat. He, like most people in the province, wants the creation of a peaceful, stable society where there is mutual respect between the communities and differing traditions.
To suggest that there could be an acceptable level of violence — even in a theoretical sense — sends out a bad signal about Northern Ireland to the world at large. It infers that terrorism has not been replaced totally by politics and that violence will always be in the background like static on an ill-tuned radio station. At a time when the province desperately needs high value foreign investment, it must be made perfectly clear that terrorism, of any level and from any quarter, will not be tolerated.