Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Measured language crucial going forward

Editor's Viewpoint

The wrong words in the febrile political atmosphere of Northern Ireland can do damage, and many people here will be disappointed at the way in which new Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald signed off her first major speech as party president.

They will regard it as at best unfortunate, and at worst extremely crass, that she used the term "Tiocfaidh ar la", which evokes images of the Provisional IRA and its terror campaign.

She is the new face of Sinn Fein, yet the tone of her remarks will call into question her credibility with people in Northern Ireland whom she needs to win over.

She also appealed to "our unionist friends", but does she not realise that at present Sinn Fein has absolutely no unionist friends? Ms McDonald is based in Dublin and it is clear that she quickly needs to get up to speed with what is happening on the ground here.

Does she also realise that you cannot look forward to a "new day" and still hark back to the past? What's next? Will she utter the stark old war cry "Brits out"?

As we know only too well from our past and more recent history, the wrong words cannot be unsaid.

They can prove harsh and divisive, and they place people in positions which they did not seek to be in, once they had time to think about it.

A good example was Arlene Foster's reference to feeding the Sinn Fein crocodile, which helped galvanise her opponents. Ill-judged words also polarise communities, and this has been happening to a distressing extent the past year.

People have returned to the trenches, and at times the mood music and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement has seemed much further away than 20 years ago.

Politicians have a duty to lead by example and to realise that words are hugely important, not only in private encounters but also in the full glare of the media.

That is particularly important this week, when the expected presence here of Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggests a long overdue settlement is possible.

This has been a frustrating and toxic year, and against a backdrop of increased pressures on health, infrastructure, education and job losses. Northern Ireland has become a harder sell overseas at a time when all minds should be focused on Brexit. We hope that all words will be chosen carefully over the next crucial period.

Belfast Telegraph

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