Belfast Telegraph

Laurence White: Blind eyes turn thugs to wreckers

Belfast's Westlink, Northern Ireland's busiest road, may have to be closed to protect workmen who are carrying out a major widening scheme.

One digger driver was struck on the head by a brick; more than £50,000 worth of damage was caused to five excavators; attacks on workers are now almost a daily occurrence and every day equipment is stolen from the construction sites.

The culprits are mainly teenage tearaways, but some are as young as 10 or 11, according to a spokesperson for the consortium of construction companies engaged on the widening project.

However, it is hardly surprising that the workforce should feel under siege. In the past four years there have been almost 9,000 attacks on emergency and essential services in west Belfast.

These include the stoning of ambulances, fire tenders, police vehicles, buses, Royal Mail vans and black taxis.

There are gangs of young people in parts of west Belfast whose only enjoyment in life seems to be destroying other people's property or actually assaulting people.

They care not a jot whether their actions lead to the closing of the Westlink, the withdrawal of bus services to certain estates at certain times or endangering someone's life because of attacks on ambulances or fire tenders on emergency call-outs.

Anne Monaghan, the public liaison officer for the Westlink consortium, hinted at the exasperation of the companies that the attacks and thefts continue in spite of their best efforts to engage the help of the local community in countering the culprits.

Fuelling that exasperation is the fact that the identities of many of the culprits are known. It seems that many parents are turning a blind eye to the activities of their children to the detriment of the whole community.

Undoubtedly the same situation applies in the case of those who attack emergency or essential service personnel or vehicles. Again their identities are well known and many local community groups do their best to bring the offenders to book. However, many parents pay little heed to what their children are doing at all hours of the night.

Commenting on the report on the attacks on the emergency and essential services, West Belfast MP Gerry Adams said the findings " underscore the need for effective engagement between the statutory agencies and local communities".

There does indeed need to be effective engagement between the statutory agencies and local communities, but not perhaps in the way Mr Adams means. The police should scoop up every stone throwing thug they can find and put them in the dock. Jailing them is not the answer, but they should be made to repay their communities by being ordered by the courts to undertake community work, for example, cleaning up public areas or repairing the vehicles they have stoned.

Mr Adams also said that research into this problem should highlight the association between poverty and anti-social behaviour.

Why should poverty compel someone to go out and stone a passing ambulance or bus? Why should poverty be blamed for chucking a brick at a digger driver doing his day's work.

Poverty is not to blame, but parents are. They should know what their children are up to and they should instil some sense of community pride or even lawful behaviour in them.

Pay no heed to Children in Need critics

Tonight is Children in Need night. For some reason it has become fashionable to criticise the fare served up during the seven hours of live entertainment on BBC television.

Fair enough, the sight of BBC newsreaders attempting to sing or dance can be jarring, but it is only fun. They know they are not professional entertainers, and so what if they are desperate to show off their little party pieces.

After all no one is forced to watch the show. Turn over and watch even worse drivel on the hundreds of other channels which the digital age has brought us. But don't forget to make a donation to Children in Need. This is an unique national event. It actually addresses disadvantage in our own country. This is not about bringing aid to some famine-stricken nation or responding to some foreign national disaster. It is about helping children in our own little part of the developed world, who, shamefully, are in quite desperate need for one reason or another.

And Northern Ireland does well out of the fund-raising, getting much more to distribute to needy children than it actually raises. Every penny earmarked for distribution to applicants in the province is actually spent on those applicants. The sums may be large or small, but they all make a difference. A bit of equipment for a youth club can make it attractive to local youngsters. Other projects are given huge sums of money for staffing. Their role is more strategic, but the aim is the same, to help children in need.

Children in Need is harmless fun. Every year thousands of people make idiots of themselves to raise money. We should be grateful to them and to the BBC for providing them with a vehicle for their fund raising. Dig deep and cheer up. Just be thankful that your children are not in need.

Vote me out of open-air house

Question: Why is I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here described as a reality show when everything about it is as fake as Hollywood smile? The celebrities would be in far more danger in their own homes than their designer jungle set. I'm a Celebrity ... is really just Big Brother in the Garden.

Another country ...

I am not a bitter or vindictive person, but I really, really hope that Russia beats Israel in a European Championship qualifier tomorrow, virtually putting England out of next summer's tournament.

If England fail to qualify for the tournament, the Football Association will have to scratch around looking for matches to fill its expensive new Wembley stadium.

It will be so good to see them humbly begging anyone to play them. One suggestion being considered is that England play Scotland in a one-off throwback to the old Home Championships. That, of course, could only happen if Scotland also fails to qualify.

England and Scotland withdrew from the original Home Championship tournament in 1984 because they felt they were too good for Northern Ireland and Wales.

Ironically, in that last tournament, Northern Ireland won the title and Wales finished second. The Home Championship trophy now resides in Belfast.

How the arrogant have fallen.

The England team, through its stupid choice of Steve McClaren (above) as manager, is on the verge of being dumped out of the European Championships. Suddenly opponents they would formerly have turned up their noses at are being courted.

Wouldn't it be great if they asked Northern Ireland to compete in a re-run of the Home Championships? Then the IFA could tell them to take a running jump. After all, England are not in Northern Ireland's class. Remember the last meeting at Windsor Park when the boys in green whipped their more famous opponents.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph