Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Politicians lack leadership and courage

In January 2007, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams did the previously unthinkable; he stepped on to the Newtownards Road in loyalist east Belfast to attend the funeral of PUP leader David Ervine. One of those who facilitated this astonishing event was the Rev Gary Mason, who conducted the funeral service. At the time, it seemed an indication that the peace process was indeed taking root.

Today, on that same Newtownards Road, the clergyman is among those being threatened by thuggish elements who objected to him bringing Brighton bomber Patrick Magee to talk in the local Skainos Centre.

There have been threats that the centre will be burned down and staff are said to be fearful.

It is a sadly familiar story of an area being held to ransom by a minority of thugs. The centre is a wonderful facility in an area crying out for investment. But why would anyone want to invest there if they could be subjected threats from criminal elements? It seems that there are paramilitary-linked elements who are determined to the make the area their own fiefdom at the expense of the aspirations and hopes of the ordinary people.

Former Methodist President the Rev Harold Good speaks for many when he asks where is the political leadership in all of this. Unionist politicians were not there to support those opposed to Magee speaking at the centre, so obviously did not share those views. But neither did they speak out against those who attacked the police that night.

The inevitable conclusion is that those politicians kept silent and avoided showing their hand for purely electoral considerations. But that is not leadership and the politicians also lack the courage of men like the Rev Mason and the Rev Good, who stand up against the rabble for freedom of expression and for decency. It is not too late for unionist politicians to do the decent thing and stand up for those under threat. But will they?

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