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Leona O'Neill: If you've declared 'it's Derry, not Londonderry' or vice versa then you're part of the problem

As Leona O'Neill contemplates the north's latest political impasse, she asks the age-old question: won't somebody think of the children?

The persistently defaced Derry road signs are very visible reminders us that we're still a long way from accommodating both traditions in Northern Ireland. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.

WE HAVE just emerged from one of the most dire, depressing weeks of our recent political history.

Perpetual turmoil seems to be our default setting here in Northern Ireland, but last week just as we dared imagine that things might be turning around, hopes were dashed.

A man in his 20s lay dead in Poleglass after being murdered by faceless gunmen in front of his family. Meanwhile our two largest parties, after talking for 13 months, walked away from the negotiating table to hold briefings with the media blaming one another for the demise of the Assembly, while the smaller parties held their heads in their hands.

There was palpable anger on the streets of Northern Ireland. Everyone had something personal to be angry about. There were arguments about the Irish

Language Act, there were fears allayed about the stealing of identities and culture.

There was so much anger, fury and hot air produced it's a wonder the Earth did not shift off its very axis.

I watched the whole sorry tale unfold on television news and I'm not ashamed to say it made me incredibly sad. I mourned for the place that Northern Ireland could be, a place that could very well be as unique as it is beautiful, an edgy, ceaselessly thriving modern corner of the world where people want to bring their business and their tourism.

A place where young people want to come to live, not leave in their droves. I mourned for the opportunities we have missed because we can't get past our differences.

I felt sad for the home we are handing to our children. A place and a people that seems largely intolerant of differences. A place where, because of lack of outward investment, jobs are tough to come by. A place that has sky-high health waiting lists and rock-bottom school budgets. A place that can't even form a proper functioning government.

As a parent, I'm not interested in the blame game, who is right and who's wrong: I'm interested in the queues in A&E being shortened, teachers not being laid off at our schools, people not losing their jobs, our children not abandoning all hope.

I don't even blame politicians solely for this bleak scenario we find ourselves in. I think we also need to take a long hard look at ourselves and the baggage we are handing to our children, and their children.

On both sides, people sit entrenched, refusing to acknowledge one another's identity or hurt, ceaseless one-upmanship, mocking, sniping and trying to force culture down one another's throats, holding and feeding the fear that we need to fight or 'themmuns will win'.

It will take small steps at grassroots level to make changes at the top. For example, if you've declared to someone "it's Derry, not Londonderry" or "it's Londonderry, not Derry," then you're part of the problem. If you've thought less of someone because of their religion or sexual preference, you're part of the problem too.

This place is complex, more divided than ever and on a dangerous trajectory. Our peace has always been paper-thin fragile. We need not hand these problems to the next generation so that they struggle too. We need to sort this mess out.

We've been on the sickening, head-spinning merry-go-round that is Northern Ireland politics for 20 years now since the Good Friday Agreement. We've come so far from the dark days that no one wants to remember, but it seems that we are on the edge of some kind of abyss again.

We're never far from that edge.

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