Friday, 16 July 2010

Welcome to our nightmare

WE recently had a horrible nightmare – of struggling amidst sheets that tangle the legs, with a shadowy silhouette flicking across the curtains and the flare of burnt cars skittering through our troubled sleep.

Then we awoke – sadly it wasn’t a dream delivered by the ghost of Julys past.

The annual Twelfth riot/march/Orangefest/protest got underway with civil disturbances adorned by PSNI in full body armour and masked rioters.

The political reaction? Confused, garbled and with loads of commentary from those who should have known better.

First we had the First Minister Peter Robinson bristling at comments from a PSNI senior officer, who had the audacity – nah the cheek – to suggest that there needed to be better community leadership from politicians.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the First Minister reacted as if the police officers comments were a personal attack on him and his party colleagues. Did he sense an implicit criticism? Or was this a unique sign of political paranoia given elections are less than a year away.

Party colleague Lord Morrow, among others, criticised the police for not making more arrests and clamping down on the rioters in Ardoyne and other areas.

We, of course, do not know the experience Lord Morrow has or has not had of front line policing in north Belfast, or other interface areas. Nor do we know whether he has experience, or not, of making command decisions in a rapidly changing civil disturbance situation.

Which, makes it all the more ironic that Sinn Féin were commending, at times, the police, and pointing out that if someone breaks the law the police will, and should, be making arrests as appropriate when evidence is available.

Now, there have been those – who take the internet as a platform for making comments without engaging brain – who have said that Sinn Féin were impotent in the face of the riots.

However, so long as we in Northern Ireland are governed by a democracy – a democracy that establishes the right to govern by a mandate expressed at the electoral booth – we can judge that those who rioted, and those who encouraged others to riot do not have that mandate.

Ardoyne wards in the recent general election and recent European and Assembly elections singularly failed to either have representatives stand or representatives elected from any of the so-called dissident groups.

Which leads us to the conclusion that either there is a massive, untapped group that feels disenfranchised; or the couple of hundred rioters across Northern Ireland represent nothing other than a shade of a fraction of the people who every day get on with their lives, try to make a better future and try to achieve their political goals through the ballot box.

The ghost of Julys to come, we expect to visit us shortly. Its message will, we suspect, be that the dissidents of the republican side and the naysayers of the loyalist fringes will not be coming close to any successful political achievements at the doors of Stormont, Westminster or any venue where they have to explain their reasoning in anything more than a grunt of ‘no’ or the throwing of a petrol bomb.

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