Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Let’s face down street thuggery

When the members of Belfast City Council very unwisely forced the issue and voted in early December to fly the Union flag at the City Hall on designated days only, they unleashed a monster which has overshadowed Christmas and the New Year.

Traders, hoteliers and restaurant-owners have been badly hit economically, the general public has been greatly inconvenienced, members of the police force have been injured, and Northern Ireland’s reputation has been tarnished internationally.

At the weekend the police came under attack in east Belfast for three nights running from people who used petrol bombs, smoke bombs, bricks, |fireworks and even golf balls. A ball-bearing gun was fired at a councillor, there were shots in the street, and the police had to use plastic bullets and water-cannon to prevent anarchy in our capital city.

What is particularly worrying is the fact that the protesters are not heeding the calls from unionist leaders and community workers to end the |violence.

Nor are the street-rioters listening to the message that their violence cannot be allowed to change the democratic decision of the Belfast City Council on the flags issue.

There is little doubt that elements of the UVF, and their associates, are revelling in their |newly-discovered power, in a situation where the social media is contributing to the dangers.

What is happening now is well beyond the flags issue, which is being used as an excuse by those who want to create mayhem and to hold everyone else to ransom.

This is now a period for tough policing and tough politics. The Chief Constable Matt Baggott has warned that the police will deal firmly with the |violence resulting from the flags protest, and this is not before time.

The courts, too, will have to play their part and deal very firmly with those who are found guilty of breaking the law.

Finally the politicians at every level, from the Stormont Assembly to the local councils and |community groups, need to start talking tough to their constituents and to leave them in no doubt that they cannot get their way through violence.

No other part of the world would allow a violent minority to usurp the rule of law, to frighten and |inconvenience its citizens, and to threaten the |political process itself.

Most regrettably, however, this was not the |attitude of unionist politicians, clergy and |community workers who suggested at a meeting in east Belfast last night that the police should be withdrawn from troubled areas to avoid further |escalations of violence.

This bizarre and disgraceful suggestion is totally counter to the wishes of all law-abiding citizens, and shows how far the situation is now out of |control. Those politicians and others who |unleashed this monster have much to answer for.

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