Belfast Telegraph

Politicians must not lose sight of threat in the race for votes

Editor's Viewpoint

After several abortive attempts to lure police into bomb traps, dissident republicans came very close to killing a PSNI officer in north Belfast on Sunday evening. He was wounded in the arm and there are suggestions that he was saved from even more serious injury by his bulletproof vest.

It was by good fortune that neither he nor any of the other people on the garage forecourt on the Crumlin Road were killed. As the Chief Constable George Hamilton pointed out, it was a callous attack totally disregarding the safety of anyone in the proximity. In that regard, it shows the kind of blood lust that marks the activities of the dissidents.

They have no concern for anyone other than their own blinkered desire to cause mayhem wherever they can, and by whatever means possible.

They have no political agenda beyond trying to force people into a version of a united Ireland that even most republicans reject.

There is no suggestion that this particular attack was launched because of the current political hiatus at Stormont, but collapse of the Assembly resulting in a fresh election will have heartened the dissidents who have set their face implacably against the peace process.

And they may well take further succour from the tone likely to be adopted by the parties during the election campaign. The atmosphere is becoming increasingly toxic, and views are bound to become further polarised.

It is into that arena that Michelle O'Neill has been placed as the new leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. Some have regarded her election as an evolutionary step for the party, a fresh face untainted by the military activities of many of the old guard, but her interview posted on the party website made it patently clear that she views herself as staunchly republican.

She recalled being affected by the shootings of IRA men near her home village of Clonoe in Tyrone, and at Loughgall, and how those deaths had hardened her resolve to become involved in the political struggle for a united Ireland.

She made no reference to how the activities of the IRA impacted on the Protestant community, although she did say that she would attempt to reach out to all sections of society here in the months ahead.

We have to accept that an election campaign in Northern Ireland is not the ideal forum for expressing conciliatory gestures, and recognising the difficulties parties have from moving forward at anything but glacial speed.

But the politicians must also recognise that, notwithstanding the election, they will be faced with very serious negotiations once all the votes are cast. They must beware of setting preconditions that make it impossible to square the circle of political life here.

No matter how bitter the battle for votes, there will have to be a recognition that sectarianism needs to be condemned and that the pursuit of a pluralist society based on respect is the only positive way forward.

The politicians of all parties deserve some credit for their condemnation of the attack on the police officer in north Belfast. They found a common ground and a common enemy in the dissidents. They must continue that united front against terrorism which no one except a malevolent fringe wants to see resurrected. The police are operating with far from ideal resources and it is encouraging that politicians are asking the entire community to cooperate with them. A similar resolve is required for the political challenges ahead.

Belfast Telegraph

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