Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to throw the book at the rioters

As the flag protests continue in Northern Ireland, many people are wondering why a more robust approach to the demonstrators - and particularly those involved in rioting or incitement on social networking sites - is not being taken.

Today this newspaper considers and compares the reactions of politicians and police to the disorder here to how the widespread rioting in England was dealt with two years ago. The contrast is remarkable and, it must be said, dispiriting, although the differing social and political climates here must be taken into account.

From the Prime Minister down, there was a fairly immediate crackdown on the rioters in England. A large number of arrests were made, both immediately and soon afterwards, and justice was dispensed swiftly and severely, often by courts sitting through the night or at the weekend. One person who attempted to incite a riot through a social networking site was jailed for four years.

Of course police resources here are much more stretched, yet there is concern that the template for dealing with the protests could set a dangerous precedent. No attempts have been made to clear demonstrators who are blocking roads. Will this also be allowed to happen during the marching season with all the problems that could cause?

Police tactics, however, should not detract from the courage of the officers who have faced barrages of petrol bombs and bricks at different locations, doing their best to keep rival crowds apart at interfaces. And the Chief Constable can argue that he does not have the same unswerving political and community support as that enjoyed by his counterparts in other regions of the UK. Outright condemnation of the protests took a long time to emerge right across the political spectrum and even now there are some who argue, against all logic, that the rioters' anger is righteous.

These protests are now an issue of law and order, not politics. Politicians and the public must not equivocate in their support for enforcement of the law and all those who break the law must be made to realise there will be serious consequences. They cannot continue to hold this community to ransom.

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