Editor's Viewpoint: Bonfire hatred drags decency into gutter
In any civilised society there is an acceptance that the dead deserve respect. But that was a norm of behaviour that those who placed on a bonfire the names of two police offers and two prison officers, all killed by dissident republicans, trampled into the gutter in Londonderry on Wednesday night.
The families of David Black, Stephen Carroll, Ronan Kerr and Adrian Ismay were being taunted about the deaths of their loved ones. Many of those among the 700-strong crowd doing the gloating around the bonfire in the Bogside were too young to remember the Troubles and the horror of the thousands of deaths that occurred over three decades.
Even in those dark days the vast majority of people were repulsed by the slaughter of innocents and shared an unspoken unity against what was being done in their names.
They were glorifying the actions of a desperate rump of fanatics without any political agenda and whose only reason for being is to carry out murder, maiming and destruction where possible.
But worst of all, they were causing distress to families who have already suffered enough. It was as if those who placed the placards on the bonfire were pouring salt on a festering wound.
Their actions were roundly deplored by politicians right across the political spectrum, including the Republic and by police and prison organisations. We have heard all those words before, and yet the sectarian mindset of some seems more engrained than ever.
Who would have thought that having come through more than 30 years of conflict that some people cannot yet bring themselves to contemplate an inclusive society?
Instead we have a daily grind of low-level sectarianism - painted kerbs, erection of offensive flags, bonfires with messages of hate, IRA chants and IRA flags at the West Belfast Festival - all designed to ferment and deepen division.
We need political leadership. Although, as the Derry bonfire showed, politicians can have limited impact. There has certainly been a change in dynamic when Sinn Fein cannot ensure that symbols of hate are taken down in one of their strongholds.
Yet the absence of a devolved government and a cohesive inter-party programme to tackle the myriad of problems building up in Northern Ireland is a factor in the growing instances of hate crimes. There is a vacuum that the disaffected are only too willing to fill, while poisoning the minds of young people at the same time.