It rains constantly for almost two months and then just when you want rain it does not come. Like the evening of Thursday July 12th when teenager rioters ran amok for what is increasingly becoming an annual orgy of self inflicted violence. The whole affair is getting rather predictable. The police as usual are the fall guys. When pictures show young tearaway teenagers being dragged away by four or five officers, the police bashers are outraged, conveniently oblivious to the petrol or nail bomb just released by the latest budding Che Guerva. The Chief Constable is right that this cant be allowed to continue. Its not fair on residents and its certainly not fair to police.
The one thing that does seem to be improving is the arrest rate. At last the police are actually arresting the protagonists. The real question is what the courts are going to do about it? It pointless putting police resource and time in if the courts slap the offenders on the wrist. More times than not those arrested are serial offenders and the police are at their wits end when they see these louts walk out the door smirking at them and at the whole criminal justice system. Whole communities are held to ransom by these wanton thugs and no one should be fooled- there is no ideology driving these kids onto the streets. Unless of course, ideology comes in a can of Special Brew or a glue-bag. While you can’t ignore the links between socio-economic conditions and disadvantaged communities- the vast majority of families in housing estates the length and breadth of Northern Ireland work hard at providing stability for their children.
As someone who was brought up in two estates throughout the troubles – the first barrier you had to cross was the threshold of the front door. In our house, like many others the word ‘no’ actually meant ‘no’ and there was no need for legislation or draconian policing to impose a night-time curfew that came with the rules of the house. And by no means was Newry in the 1970’s or 80’s some kind of rose-tinted cosy community environment. This was not the good old days- these were the bad bleak and bloody awful days of crippling poverty, high unemployment and a senseless war of attrition bringing with it personal tragedies and economic woe. There is no doubting though that since then there has been gradual breakdown in social cohesion and that society in general is more Me Fein than Sinn Fein. North and West Belfast are more than scarred by the legacy of the Troubles.
It will take generations to pass before what is normal for the rest of the North to become normal for them. The majority of catholic and protestant communities living in North and West Belfast most likely want to live side by side but have forgotten how to. But there are those who most definitely do not want to live cheek by jowl like the woman on last week’s Nolan Show who brazenly declared she simply did not like Catholics. She spewed venom. A sad example maybe but there are others on both sides who think likewise and they are as likely to be found swinging a golf club as throwing a petrol bomb. Anyone who thinks sectarian prejudice is confined to the working classes is living in cloud cuckoo land. If in any doubt about how the seeds of prejudice can best manifest watch the excellent Gregory Peck movie ‘ Gentleman’s Agreement’ to witness how old boys networks blackballed Jews from jobs, hotels and golf clubs! Our MLAs Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson may have actually watched this movie.
Back at home; matters are not helped when the peaceful aspirations of ordinary working people are sometimes thwarted by political agendas not of their own making. Some politicians are turning genuine concerns into scare-mongering tactics within communities and political battering rams against the other side. The Twelfth of July by and large passes off peacefully as most citizens adopt a live and let live mentality. We have all come a long way since the early 1990’s and local politicians deserve great credit for working together to achieve at least positive mood music. Certainly the Twelfth, for many people has become less contentious but its unlikely to and by its nature can’t be a wholly inclusive festival. If we have to have an annual fest of throwing things can we at least have something as colourful as La Tomatina.