Belfast Telegraph

Malachi O'Doherty: Violence is still unacceptable but politicians don't seem to care

By Malachi O'Doherty

A former Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling became famous for his insensitivity to Northern Ireland.

"What a bloody awful country", he is rumoured to have said on a flight home, "Bring me a large whisky."

Bernadette Devlin attacked him in the House of Commons after Bloody Sunday.

But his most famous contribution to the body of cliches with which the Troubles were discussed was, "an acceptable level of violence".

Not only was it catchy and as memorable as it was cynical, it is a concept that has endured.

For we are living with it still.

Nearly every week, someone is relocated by the Housing Executive because of a threat.

This can be a racist threat, a homophobic threat, but it is mostly the old fashioned kind.

That's the kind that is initiated by a paramilitary organisation which specialises in shooting, mostly in the legs, those it judges to have offended against them, or the community they insist on representing.

And while such a violent assertion of the right to represent the people of their housing estates rivals the more legitimate claims of actually-elected councillors, MPs and MLAs, there is a curious silence from the usurped.

We have just come through two election campaigns in a year, with high profile debates and heated clashes over the Irish language, the Renewable Heating Incentive, Equality and LGBT rights.

We have heard candidates insist on protecting the environment, retrieving a collapsing health service and improving education, but if there was a single word spoken during this campaign about the unacceptability of the level of violence we are used to, then I missed it.

It's not as if the violence and intimidation took a rest during the election campaign.

Recently we had two attempts to kill police officers, one by an under-car bomb in Derry, which fortunately detached itself.

A 14-year-old girl has been ordered out of the country by one of the republican gangs that claims to still cling to the old cause.

No one in any of our political parties seems to care.

Certainly, none of them sees any political gain to be made by attempting to assure us that they will try to get this dull, boring drumbeat of continuing violence to stop.

And why is that?

Because they know we wouldn't trust them to follow through?

That doesn't stop them making ambitious promises in other areas, whether to cut waiting lists or put manners on an Executive partner.

The awful reality is perhaps that they don't even notice the violence, because they are used to it, or because they are content that the acceptable level is now acceptably lower than it used to be.

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