TAKING TO THE STREETS

14 December 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The return of violent protest to the streets of Belfast and other cities and towns in the North in the past week, with masked figures hurling missiles and engaging in confrontation with security personnel, is a shocking sight for all Irish people.
The scenes bring a particular chill of dread to those who can remember similar violence as a commonplace in the life of the province – the ghosts of a once recurrent nightmare returned to haunt us.
Yet the provocateurs and participants in the disorder are very much flesh and blood, even though some carry out their depredations in sinister and cowardly disguise.
The stubborn remnants of intolerant loyalist extremism have seized upon the anxiety created by the sensitive issue of flags and emblems to make an ugly claim for attention, and provoke a response from their dissident republican counterparts which, with the death threats issued to Democratic Unionist politicians in recent days, has not been long in coming.
That a renewed cycle of outrage and reprisal will be set in train by the current events is undoubtedly a perverted hope of the extremist few – a hope that communities of both traditions in the North must now dedicate themselves to denying.
The decision by Belfast City Council to limit the number of days the union flag can fly at City Hall provided the spark for the current unrest – but it cannot be seen as legitimising it.
These violent events demonstrate that much work still needs to be done to reconcile the deep-rooted sensitivities around symbolism that remain part of the fabric of identity of Northern communities.
Come the day when the emblems of both traditions can be displayed simultaneously or separately in public and private forums with no connotation of offence, that work will be finished – but we seem a long way from such an end.
The unease felt by those of unionist viewpoint to curtailments of symbolic rights is perhaps akin to the unease experienced by those of republican outlook when Orange parades infringe on their traditional territory during the marching season.
Antagonism is a natural product of such unease – but the mutuality of the experience amongst both communities when their symbolic rights are infringed surely also provides some common ground upon which reconciliatory discussion could be conducted.
The reaction to the Belfast City Council vote suggests that this is not an issue that will ever be satisfactorily resolved by voting decisions at political level – if there is one lesson to be learned from the progress made to date in peace-building on our island, it is that there can be no perception of winners and losers when issues of difference fall to be resolved.
Ultimately, questions of symbolic tolerance can only be determined at local community level.
This is the task that falls to the common people of the North to undertake themselves in the times ahead – and the many individuals and organisations in our own circulation area who have forged links with communities across the Border to pursue social or commercial endeavours of mutual benefit can give their own quiet encouragement to the task by continuing to cultivate their own neighbourly example.
The current tensions threatening the stability of life for our Northern neighbours can be resolved on the streets – but not by masked militants.
Good people of both traditions should set about taking back their streets from the men of violence and work towards resolving their differences by learning to live as neighbours, and resolving and accommodating difference as neighbours do.

THE CRUELLEST CUT
Even in the context of severe economic difficulty in which last week’s Budget was framed, the €325 cut in the annual grant for respite care is cruel and unjustifiable.
Many of the measures contained in the Budget strained the promise that the most vulnerable sectors of society would be protected from further hardship to the limits of liberal interpretation – this one exposes its blatant insincerity.
A great many people among our readership with their own harsh burden to bear in the coming months as a result of child benefit cuts and the looming property tax would, we expect, tolerate those impositions gladly if the blow being delivered to carers and those dependent upon them were stayed when the Finance Bill comes before the Dáil today.
The care being delivered to young people with disabilities and older people with infirmities in our communities carries a value beyond pecuniary measure.
This is just as well, because the way in which the sector has been cut in recent times in terms of hours and remuneration renders it a service being habitually discharged by those who deliver it through motivations of dedication and human compassion rather than financial gain.
The difficulties which this Budget reduction will pose for many vulnerable people throughout the country have been movingly articulated by the carers and their dependents who have taken to the streets to protest.
The refusal of the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers to countenance any change of position on the measure is outrageous.
Even the puppeteers of Europe for whom the Government are dancing must be shaking their heads at the callousness of their marionettes’ insensitivity.
A late change of heart seems unlikely, but if enough Government Deputies, including those from our own constituency, were to act concertedly in conscience when the measure is put to them for approval, perhaps some small portion of belated compassion might yet be won.
Who cares for the carers? Not this Government, it sadly seems.

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