Belfast Telegraph

Leaders absent in our hour of need

Editor's Viewpoint

Imagine if Friday night's rioting in Belfast had occurred in the middle of London with 56 police officers injured. What would have been the reaction from the media and the public if then David Cameron decided to go on holiday with barely a word to say about the violence?

There would have been an outcry and his trip abroad would have been regarded as a stain on the career of the Prime Minister. Yet no one seems to bat an eye when Northern Ireland's First Minister and Deputy First Minister head off on their summer break after yet more disgraceful scenes on our streets.

Perhaps our unique form of government is part of the reason why we see so little real statesmanship or leadership from our politicians. All parties are in power and all share the blame, or should that be the shame, for staying silent so often when events cry out for strong condemnation of violence and unequivocal support for both the forces of law and order, and also law and order itself. No one suggests that politicians don't deserve a holiday, but their role in society is pivotal and they must prioritise their actions.

Of course it doesn't just fall to Peter Robinson or Martin McGuinness to speak out against the lout on the streets of whatever political hue. Their party colleagues or members of other parties should also show leadership instead of leaving the condemnation of violence to the chief constable or the secretary of state. More than 500 police officers have been injured holding the line during protests since Christmas. That is unacceptable and should not be tolerated, never mind excused, by any right thinking person here.

Politicians here want to play it safe, ever mindful of the backwoodsmen of their parties who they feel they must not offend. They need to show more courage. It is not enough to warn of possible dangers on the street and then fade away like melting snow when their prophesies of doom come true. The silent majority – the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland – wants to know who speaks for them. If politicians showed greater leadership, perhaps they might even win more votes from this huge disenchanted electorate.

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