Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Community relations need to be fostered

Editor's Viewpoint

It is difficult to disagree with the chair of the Community Relations Council that we should be concerned at the declining number of people who feel community relations here are better now than five years ago.

The NI Good Relations Indicators report said that less than half of adults surveyed in 2017 felt relations between Catholics and Protestant were better then than in 2012 - a drop of 10%.

Most worrying of all is that the number of young people - the sector that is normally most optimistic and mix most easily - who believe relationships have improved fell from 52% to 46%.

It certainly does not augur well for the future if young people are despairing of cross-community relationships. Little wonder, perhaps, that so many of those who travel to other regions to study do not come back when they see what a truly normal society looks like.

This newspaper has consistently urged for more efforts by political and civic leaders to foster better relationships in the province, noting that it is 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the ending of the conflict by and large.

However, the failure to build on the optimism at the turn of the century is a blot on all our parts.

The first Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon was right to note earlier this year that Sinn Fein and the DUP have 'Balkanised' Northern Ireland, building their massive power bases largely on a manifesto of toxic criticism of each other.

Instead of building on the common ground that exists - and that is substantial if given the opportunity to flourish - too often the public conversation is one of blame and counter-blame. The comments by Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein that the British Government was the main protagonist of the Troubles is self-evidently nonsense, but is typical of the whataboutery that passes for political debate here.

We need politicians to agree to a return to devolved government and work positively on the day-to-day issues like health, education and infrastructure. It's through such constructive action that trust can be built and the more controversial issues debated in a non-threatening way.

Of course individuals have forged new cross-community relationships in recent times and there are positive developments in education and school sport, but there needs to be a wider conversation on the way forward in which all of us can play a part.

Belfast Telegraph

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