Leading article

We need to tackle the divisions that cost us dearly

DURING the nineties, a time which saw the ceasefires and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, politicians frequently referred to the peace dividend, the benefits, financial and otherwise, which would flow into a more peaceful and stable society.

In the subsequent years and up to the present day, we can see dramatic changes. An increase in the number of hotels and visitors to occupy them just one sign of how life has changed from the days of conflict, when tourists avoided the north and the hospitality trade had more fundamental worries such as their premises being bombed or their patrons shot.

But for all the hugely positive steps forward, there is still division and a reluctance to fully embrace the changes that are part and parcel of a more normal society.

A University of Ulster report has put the spotlight on the extra costs that come from dealing with a divided society.

This research looked at comparable regions and calculated that Northern Ireland spends approximately £404 million to £834 million in additional public service costs each year.

The cost of service delivery tended to be higher than the UK average, with replication of services in education and health cited as well as a greater level of need and historical lack of decision making.

However, there will be little surprise in the finding that the main extra cost is in policing which was significantly greater than other regions.

As we saw last week with the attempted murder of a prison officer in east Belfast, the danger posed by dissident republicans remains high and until those organisations cease their activities then we can expect the PSNI to deploy the resources necessary to counter that threat.

But millions of pounds are also being spent policing contentious parades and the protest camp at Twaddell Avenue, placing a serious strain on limited funds.

It is important we make progress on resolving these issues, not only reducing the burden on the PSNI budget but helping to address the divisions that are costly in so many ways.





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