Leona O'Neill: It's time to stop cycle of violence for sake of our childrens' children

In the wake of fresh loyalist violence involving youngsters, Leona O'Neill wonders what it will take for us to stop a legacy of hate and distrust being passed down from generation to generation long after the Troubles have ended...

Eight police officers were injured and seven people arrested as loyalists rioted in south Belfast on Friday night. Picture by Alan Lewis

THE scenes of young people attacking the police last week in loyalist areas of Belfast and Derry were utterly, utterly depressing.

In this beautiful place we call home, every so often we are reminded that we will never be able to fully move on, that we will never be a fully functioning normal society. We will be perpetually spinning in this vicious circle, ceaselessly standing at the edge of an abyss with our past, our identities, our beliefs, our flags and emblems swirling violently around our heads.

What struck me most about the violence we saw over the last number of days was the age and the rage of those attacking the police with bricks, bottles, petrol bombs and masonry. Those hurling missiles weren't even born when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. They know nothing of the Troubles, bar what has been passed down to them by the generation who have lived through and been traumatised by what they experienced.

Looking at the age of those who find themselves before the courts from one particular night – six teenagers, including a 13 and 14-year-old, and two people in their early 20s I doubt very much that they are all totally clued in to the fall-out over the Bobby Storey funeral or the Northern Ireland protocol, as some social media commentators would argue. I doubt very much that they were all angry that their voices weren't being heard.

In the same way that older men of violence are sending these young men out to the streets with their petrol bombs and missiles to hurt, get hurt, kill, be killed or indeed secure themselves criminal records, others are stealing their voice, altering it and putting words in their mouths to push their own agendas.

It's a terribly sad picture that has played out in Northern Ireland since time began. If it's not Newtownabbey, it's Creggan, or Shaftsbury Square, Ardoyne, the Bogside, Tiger's Bay or the New Lodge.

Our children deserve so much more than being handed the cancerous baggage of our past. They deserve more than to have their youthful energy and enthusiasm turned toxic by those who do not want to see peace on our streets, who want to win against 'the other side', to have their own way.

Those in power in Stormont, those with the biggest platforms, are not using those platforms to reconcile this place as promised to us all in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein seem blind to the fact that honouring their volunteers with such gusto – volunteers who murdered members of the unionist community – alienates the unionist community. They seem blind to the fact that putting themselves and their people above all others does not an island of equals make.

The DUP seem blind to the fact that cosying up to the Loyalist Community Council – a group made up of representatives of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, who slaughtered Catholics in Northern Ireland for years – makes nationalists sick to their stomachs.

And those are just the issues surrounding this month's crisis.

Healing takes time, but ripping off the plaster of old wounds constantly, picking at them, pouring vinegar on them at times, digging the knife in at others, will prevent that scar from ever healing. We are doing nothing but handing our children, and our children's children, this poisonous legacy. It needs to stop. Otherwise, what chance do the next generation have?

Will our grandchildren's children be out rioting on the streets? Talking about not trusting the 'other side'? Still spinning around on this relentless not-so-merry-go-round?

We find ourselves once more on the edge of an abyss. It's a place not unfamiliar to any of us. Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible. We have to have faith that better days are ahead, we have to work, we have to have hope for the future and we have to stop hurting one another.

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