Belfast Telegraph

Ruck of discontent will not be healed by passing buck

By Alf McCreary

In the past week, Church leaders were among those who hit out at the disgraceful rioting in Belfast last Friday.

Bishop Harold Miller of the Church of Ireland condemned the violence and said: "We must not create any more situations which will result in predictable conflicts."

The Methodist President, the Rev Dr Heather Morris, said: "If there is to be proper reconciliation in Northern Ireland, we must learn to strike a balance between the respect that is due to the traditions and commemorations on all sides of our community and learn to act in the best interests of our people, our economy and the path to peace."

These words are sensible, and carefully considered. However, the people on both sides who are looking for trouble, are not listening to anything but the hatred in their own hearts.

The situation last Friday was correctly described by the Chief Constable Matt Baggott as "anarchy". I wonder how many people not directly involved in the violence can understand what this is like on the ground?

At Drumcree a few years ago, I watched loyalist thugs pelting the police with rocks, and it was nauseating. The police under attack were human beings, with wives, children, parents and siblings, but no-one cared.

The latest riots were particularly worrying because you could see individual police crumpling, and you wondered how long the PSNI can take this vicious and continuous abuse.

Most of the politicians and other public figures have been useless in this crisis. Our First Minister and Deputy First Minister were unfortunately away on holiday, and their absence has showed the abysmal lack of political leadership on the ground.

The local politicians blame one another, the rioters blame the Parades Commission, the Parades Commission blames the rioters, and the buck has been passed so often between all sides that it is now dizzy and virtually lifeless.

The shrewd Shinners, and the sometimes clueless SDLP, raised the stakes by voting in December on the flags issue, when it should have been put on the back-burner for years. Now the republicans have discovered one new cause celebre after another, and we are in danger of suffering damaging confrontations virtually every week.

They know how to deliberately wind up the loyalists, who are blindly and stupidly walking into every trap.

There is also a danger in placing too much pressure on the US envoy Richard Haass to help sort us out, so long as we fail to accept that the real problem lies among ourselves.

Given the virtual absence of political leadership in Belfast, we need to find a path to lead us towards the remarkable consensus that now applies in Londonderry, and the loyalists need to look at Castlederg where a quiet protest by the families of IRA victims was a powerful contrast to the ghoulish parade in honour of republican paramilitaries.

Church leaders and others are right to point continually to the need for the "gold standard" of reasonable behaviour, but don't let's kid ourselves that the rioters on both sides will listen, unless they are forced to do so.

We need to get tougher with everyone on the streets and with those who spur them on from the background, and also to find and support politicians who have the guts and ability to lead us out of this mess. Otherwise this continued anarchy will slowly destroy the peace process. and bring the roof down on all of us.

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