Stakes so high our leaders cannot afford to fail
As we move towards another new year it is certainly difficult to comprehend the chilling statistic that during this year so far there were nearly 400 security alerts – more than one for each day.
During the 12-month period until the beginning of December, there were 73 incidents during which a device exploded or was defused.
Many of the security alerts were false alarms, but there was a number of very serious incidents, including an attempted car bomb at the Victoria Square shopping centre.
There was also a bomb in a holdall left in the Cathedral Quarter at the height of the festive season when hundreds of people were enjoying a Christmas night out.
In another incident, the car of a former police officer was booby-trapped, but fortunately he discovered the device before he drove his daughter to school.
This litany of incidents underlines that, despite our so-called 'peace-process', we are living each day in a far from normal society.
But what is equally depressing is that people have almost come to expect news of the latest incidents perpetrated by one or other of the dissident republican groups as well as the loyalists.
Frankly, there can never be an "acceptable" level of violence, but it is daunting to realise that some 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement we are still, today, experiencing the brutal behaviour of a minority who have not yet taken the point that the vast majority on both sides are opposed to violence.
It is against this worrying background that the Haass talks resume this weekend, and the stakes remain high. As Dr Haass warned in Thursday's Belfast Telegraph, the gains over the past few years could still be lost. And even if they are not, more remains to be done.
Yet there are welcome hints that there might be some movement this weekend on the flags issue and other vexed matters. This will be the supreme test for our political leaders to show courage and to reach an agreement. They cannot afford to fail us this time.