Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Two decades after signing of Agreement, politicians on all sides need to be much more careful with their words

Editor's Viewpoint

Northern Ireland may have enjoyed 20 years of relative peace since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but increasingly the air, which once reverberated to the sound of gunfire, is being filled with verbal bullets.

Brexit is the catalyst for the toxic cross-border atmosphere, but that does not excuse the tone or content of the debate.

Leo Varadkar, not for the first time, has learned that careless talk cranks up the tension and causes hurt, even where none was intended. It is all avoidable collateral damage.

His argument that a Brexit deal which results in a hard border in Ireland could lead to a resumption of violence was, at best, ill-advised.

It is the sort of argument that could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy and implies that there are some who would resort to violence if they did not get their way. The fact that a very diverse range of unionists reacted angrily to it shows that it touched many raw nerves.

The Rev David Clements and Trevor Ringland are people who rarely veer from reason and calm words in pressing the unionist case, while Gregory Campbell and the hair-triggered Sammy Wilson can be relied upon to bring what could be described as plain language to any discussion.

However, Mr Wilson appears not to see that his use of words like 'vile', 'despicable', 'low' and 'rotten' undermine his argument that Mr Varadkar's own language was intemperate.

What all sides need to remember is that invoking past deeds or violence is not only trampling on the graves of the dead but also on the still raw grief and pain of the bereaved and survivors.

There are plenty of economic and constitutional arguments to be advanced by those on either side of the Brexit debate, without dragging the past into it. The Irish government's comments are also opening a can of worms.

Many people living along the border can argue that if previous Irish governments had policed the area more assiduously and extradited known terrorists more readily, the eventual death toll might well have been significantly lower.

Belfast Telegraph

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