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Political leadership needed to stop divisive memorials


The new UDA mural in the Glenfield estate

The new UDA mural in the Glenfield estate

The new UDA mural in the Glenfield estate

No one can deny that Northern Ireland today is a much better place than it was 20 years ago, yet the progress towards a truly inclusive society is much less advanced than most people had hoped for. The traumas of the past still cast a long shadow over the province.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the factional way both the victims of violence and the perpetrators are remembered.

As one expert succinctly puts it, some memorials erected by loyalists and republicans create friction and damage community relations. The naming of a children's playground in Newry after an IRA hunger striker is one glaring example.

The name was confirmed by the local council after the abject failure of the SDLP to challenge the Sinn Fein proposal, even though all logic would scream that this was a divisive decision. Raymond McCreesh may be a republican icon but attaching his name to a play park was a provocative move.

Similar criticism can be made of a UDA mural painted in Carrickfergus in recent days, which simply glorifies violence and is a recruitment advertisement for the illegal paramilitary organisation.

Such memorials keep the pain of the past festering and play on the fears of people who had hoped that such echoes of the past were just that - in the past.

Equally offensive are the attacks on memorials to people killed during the Troubles, such as the commemorative garden in east Belfast or the plaques to the 10 workmen killed by republicans at Kingsmills.

An extension of such intolerance are the attacks on Catholic churches or Orange halls. These are demonstrations of the intolerance which still bubbles away beneath the surface in Northern Ireland.

While we have managed to create more stable political institutions and most people are happy to live in peace with their neighbours, there are elements who still want to foment division and create tension for either political or territorial gain.

What is desperately needed is strong political leadership. Too often the politicians are keen to score political points by pointing out the faults of their opponents without seeing the mote in their own eyes.

All the parties have signed up to the principle of a shared society. Now is the time when they need to put the principle into practice.

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