THE dissident republicans who orchestrated the rioting in the North on Monday night are putting all of the progress made, through tortuous negotiations and considerable concessions made over decades by everyone involved, in great jeopardy.
Those who, by insisting on marching where they are not welcome, give this minuscule but terribly dangerous minority the oxygen of opportunity they need to survive. It may not be easy to concede something imagined an age-old right but in the scheme of things, and for the sake of what tomorrow could be, rerouting a parade seems a price worth paying.
We are just one moment of tragedy, one nasty accident away from turning street riots into a nascent terror campaign. If just one rioter is badly injured or, God forbid, killed, then they will almost immediately be used as a catalyst for an intensification of dissident activity and recruitment. Inevitably, this awful development would be echoed amongst Loyalist extremists and the whole horrible, destructive, not to mention anti-democratic, tit-for-tat, merry-go-round might start all over again. More lost generations, more wasted years which would inevitably end with today’s dissidents, like every other group of “dissidents” before them, eventually coming to the table to belatedly join the democratic process.
The greatest gift of the peace process was that we could begin to believe that we were the generation of Irish people who would finally move away from the seemingly interminable conflict that had crippled this island for centuries. That we might be the first generation to live in a society where relations between different cultures, and in this instance the differences are almost irrelevant, are acknowledged but understood and respected.
This hope is being challenged by the rump of the terror organisations that would not agree with the Provos’ decision to end their terror campaign and concentrate solely on the political process. What is so frustrating is that history has taught us that today’s dissident republicans become the Gerry Kellys of tomorrow but not before far too many lives have been wasted.
The Sinn Féin MP has accused dissidents of orchestrating the trouble. Just as earlier generations of nationalist politicians – John Hume, Gerry Fitt and Paddy O’Hanlon – encouraged Mr Kelly and his colleagues who once believed in “the armed struggle” to replace the armalite with the ballot box, Mr Kelly and his colleagues in Sinn Féin are using the very same arguments with today’s terrorists.
In any normal society any group that wishes to hold a peaceful march should be able to do so but, even in July 2010, it has to be accepted, however reluctantly, that many wounds have healed in the North but the memory of the great hurt and injustices remain a powerful if latent force. The grave injustices of the past may be consigned to history but even their memory retains the power to make the old hatreds destructive again.
We have reached a good point in the history of our relationship with our nearest neighbour and the culture that once dominated this island. Anything or anyone who might turn the clock back to the days of the sectarian murder and car bombs killing innocent people going about their daily business must be resisted with all the power we can muster.
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