Leona O'Neill: Won't somebody think of our children?

In the wake of the disturbances during and after a Derry teen's funeral last week, Leona laments the lack of political leadership in our abnormal society, where punishment beatings by paramilitary groups are still a regular occurrence

It is not normal for masked men with baseball bats to be doling out 'justice'

AFTER yet another weekend of mayhem here in Derry, I am more convinced than ever that we are letting another generation of Northern Irish young people down badly.

On Friday, I covered the funeral of a young man who had burned to death in a stolen car in a housing estate. The funeral service for this 18-year-old was terribly sad and the congregation was made up of so many heartbroken teenagers, all clinging to one another in the midst of their grief.

Outside, more teenagers had gathered. It was noon and it was very clear that many of them were under the influence of drink and drugs. Many of them were promising a night of anti-social behaviour, of car thefts and joyriding and whatever else they could get up to as an expression of remembrance or rebellion or whatever they felt.

They were children not much older than my own teenagers and I was sad thinking about what had led them to be so very lost that drugs and wrecking their own communities were their only means of expression and escape.

There are times that witnessing what happens in society here feels much like taking a Brillo pad to your soul. You think you've seen it all and then young people take a car and joyride it at speed around a roundabout as a young man – who died in a stolen car – is being carried past in his coffin to his final resting place, narrowly missing mourners and parents going to the nearby primary school to pick up their children.

You think you've heard it all then you watch a young man, a friend of the deceased, produce a video on social media saying that the action was "in remembrance of him", he would have "loved it" and would have told them to "keep going".

His family said that those responsible for the actions were 'thugs'. In the hours that followed, there was a mass brawl beside shops and a primary school. Primary schools in the area told parents to come and pick their children up because there were joyriders in the area and they were not permitting them to walk home. Care workers were told to leave the area early for safety reasons. The cemetery was shut early.

A young man was found in the street with puncture wounds to his shins after being attacked with a pick axe. The windows of a home in the area, front and back, were broken by a gang of masked men.

Police were lambasted for not coming in to Creggan to tackle the issues. They were also lambasted for coming into the area six weeks ago to raid a house. Republicans say that this move sparked a riot during which Lyra McKee was murdered by a masked gunman.

When police enter areas such as Creggan to deal with anti-social behaviour or a house break-in, they are attacked, and therefore come in in great numbers. This can, and almost always does, start unrest.

If they don't come in, those who administer 'community policing' come to the aid of the beleaguered residents, and we see young people with their knee caps shot to pieces or their bodies bruised and battered. Vigilantes are perceived as 'heroes' and the police are perceived as the enemy. And so the cycle continues.

No matter what way you dress it up, this is not a normal society that we are bringing our children up in. Every day we sit back and think that it's happening in other places, not on our doorstep, so therefore we don't care, is another day we sink even further into the abyss.

It is no coincidence that this advanced breakdown of society is running parallel to the lack of government, leadership and progression here in Northern Ireland. Whether you agree with Stormont or not, anything is better than the nothing we have at the moment.

Northern Ireland's political leaders met last week with British and Irish ministers for talks aimed at restoring devolution. The two governments released a statement recently stating that the talks process was set to 'intensify' in a bid to get Stormont up and running.

In reality that intensity lasted for a grand total of 25 minutes. And that is simply not good enough.

My kids and your kids deserve more than to live in a society where it is normal for masked men with pick axes or baseball bats to inflict their justice on those perceived to be breaking the law.

They deserve more than paramilitary groups, riots, bonfires, marches, conflict, hatred, division, sectarianism and the ceaseless glorification of violence and murder.

The summer is just around the corner. Our summers are hot and tense, peppered with riots, fighting over bonfires, conflict and tensions over marches. This year, we have already seen murder and mayhem return to our streets. It is simply not acceptable for our politicians to kick this political football further down the road and sit back while Northern Ireland implodes again.

If you care about your kids, put pressure on your politicians to steer us away from the dangerous road ahead – before it's too late.

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