Leona O'Neill: Cycle of violence must end now - our kids deserve better

The violence on our streets has continued over the past week, with young rioters attacking the police while being egged on by older bystanders. What chance have our children got while growing up in this kind of a sick society asks Leona O'Neill – again...

Loyalist youths clashing with police in north Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow

THERE was a video doing the rounds on social media at the weekend that sickened and shocked most right-minded people in Northern Ireland. It showed a group of masked teenagers running up the street in west Belfast, petrol bombs and bricks in hand, heading for the Peaceline while being cheered on and clapped by grown adults at the side of the road.

It was sickening, firstly because they had implements of violence and hate in their hands and were off on a mission to attack either the police or their neighbours on the other side of the wall. But what really struck me were the shouts, claps and cheers of those standing on the sidelines.

One older man shouted directions as these young men ran. Another woman clapped them on like it was some manner of sick and twisted charity run. Another viral video showed young masked people pelting a double decker bus with petrol bombs to set it alight while older men shouted instructions from the pavement.

All last week we have been subjected to images and videos of young men putting themselves and others in danger by rioting on the streets. One journalist on the scene during the worst of the violence last week spoke of how children as young as 14 were being instructed on how to construct petrol bombs and throw them successfully. Another spoke about a group of adults on the sidelines cheering on those attacking riot squads while facing baton rounds, injury and arrest for their actions.

I may sound like a broken record here, but what chance have our children got growing up in this society which appears to be as sick and as far from normal as any society could possibly be at times?

Away from these pockets of violence, as always in Northern Ireland, life goes on largely as normal – well, as normal as it can do in a pandemic. But the trouble and the strife is far away from a lot of people's doors.

Those outside these socially and economically deprived areas are allowed to embrace the peace. They have the privilege of being afforded hope for the future. But is it proper peace if only those who live without the shackles of deprivation can enjoy it? It's a half peace, and therefore no peace at all.

The dogs in the street know that the ugly shadow of paramilitarism still looms large over many of our communities. Shadowy figures can manipulate and utilise our young people when they want.

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, money was thrown at communities in order to help paramilitary groups transition to peaceful means. Has that worked? I would say that's a firm 'no'. And if it worked with some groups, there were other groups waiting in the wings to take the stage and take their shot at the cash prize.

Now, the British government is throwing more millions to help paramilitary gangs make the move to peace. The problem with this plan is that it seems to reinforce the notion that violence pays.

If we are to cure this cancer in Northern Irish society, we need to break this quite remarkable cycle which sees violence flaring and then the government throwing money at it to make it go away. If we do nothing, that cycle will never stop spinning, and our children and our children's children will still be dealing with the same nonsense that has held Northern Ireland back for so long.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed 23 years ago on Saturday. It promised us so much – healing, prosperity, equality, an end to sectarianism, hope for the future – that has yet to be delivered upon. We owe it to our children not to be simply satisfied by the fact that we are no longer killing one another. They deserve more than this.

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