Belfast Telegraph

We must find a solution to woes

Editor's Viewpoint

During the past weekend, the two faces of Northern Ireland were on show to the world. These were epitomised by the sectarian clashes and attacks on the PSNI as well as the pro-paramilitary parade in Castlederg, and in stark contrast to the closing ceremony of the World Police and Fire Games which underlined that they were "the best and friendliest ever".

Unfortunately, however, it is the violent and sectarian image which will be remembered.

The police have once again been caught in the middle of the shameful clashes in Belfast and the glorifying of terrorism in Tyrone, and these developments once again underline the lack of political leadership in Northern Ireland.

This is particularly evident in unionism, but also across the political spectrum.

Who are the leaders to take us out of this impasse? Who within unionism will take to task the minority of hardliners, including the paramilitaries, who are behind the protests and violence?

Who has the courage to confront the loyalist rump? Our unionist politicians seem paralysed and afraid to upset this small core, and this leaves more than 90% of the unionist population without responsible leadership.

On the other side, Sinn Fein have partly distanced themselves from their dissidents, but when will mainstream republicanism begin to understand that any act of glorifying the Provisional IRA rubs salt into the wounds of the unionist community?

This in turn prolongs the sectarianism that blights our society. It is incumbent on the First and Deputy First Minister to make a joint statement condemning the violence, resolving to tackle its root causes, and providing the crucial leadership that is so badly lacking in Northern Ireland.

Sadly, however, there seems to be neither the will nor the desire nor the grounds for agreement between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to do so. Perhaps it is all three, but whatever it is, the public deserves to be told why. Given the lack of political leadership, the vast majority of the public will back the clearly exasperated Chief Constable Matt Baggott, whose officers had 56 casualties on Friday. He has defended the right of people to protest and to parade, but he is absolutely right to declare that there is no excuse for the "mindless anarchy" of Friday evening.

He also strikes a chord when he calls for our politicians to act as statesmen, and for "a very real sense of engagement" with the US diplomat Richard Haas during his challenge in trying to find agreement on the hard questions which our own politicians have dismally failed to resolve.

The Belfast Telegraph is solidly behind both men and everyone else who is genuinely trying to bring peace to this troubled province.

The only glimmer of light this weekend was the flexibility of both sides in keeping the Castlederg march peaceful, but we all still have a very long way to go in finding a solution to our problems.

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