Leading article

Time for calm and measured leadership

This weekend marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a landmark event that has had a profound influence on politics and wider society from that historic day in April 1998 right through to the present.

It was a moment of optimism and hope, that future generations would be spared the violence and suffering that had blighted the lives of those who had endured decades of bitterness, division and trauma.

There is no doubt that countless lives have been saved as a result of the agreement and the peace process although, sadly, wholly unjustified and inexcusable killings have continued.

Nevertheless, the agreement provided a foundation for the future, the hope being that politicians, sharing power, could build a stable, peaceful and forward-looking society.

Above all, it was essential that democratic processes were seen to work, with paramilitary organisations fading away and eventually leaving the stage entirely.

Unfortunately, as we know, some armed groups on both the republican and loyalist sides have refused to eschew violent, criminal and intimidatory conduct.

As a result of the Good Friday Agreement, we had hoped to see an end to young people being drawn into the malign web of the paramilitary godfathers, who use and manipulate them for their own ends.

The fact that this toxic influence has continued is deeply depressing. In recent days we have seen young loyalists, including children, engaging in disorder, attacking police, hijacking and burning cars and causing fear and destruction in their own community.

While there are undoubtedly a number of agendas at work, the rioting came after unionist calls for the resignation of the chief constable following the PPS decision not to prosecute the Sinn Féin representatives who attended the Bobby Storey funeral.

It is at moments of heightened tensions that political leaders must be especially careful about the words they use, recognising the potential for serious consequences.

Justice minister and Alliance leader Naomi Long has accused some political representatives of 'helping to fan the flames'.

Speaking on the BBC she said: "41 police officers have been injured after a week of constant criticism of the PSNI. I don't think you can ignore those facts."

The clear concern is that the disturbances we have seen in recent days will spread and escalate.

What we need to see now is calm, measured and responsible leadership.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Leading article