Leading article

Powerful community leadership contrasts with sinister sectarianism

THE disorder which erupted in Belfast this week has been described by police as the worst seen anywhere in the north for some time.

Petrol bombs have been hurled, a bus burned out, cars hijacked and masonry and fireworks thrown.

More than 70 PSNI officers have been injured this week. A police dog was struck by masonry and required stitches.

Young teenage boys are among those who have been arrested and charged in connection with the violence. They have been encouraged from the sidelines by adults, in what justice minister Naomi Long and others have described as a form of child abuse.

Referring to the disturbances at the Lanark Way interface, Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts highlighted their sectarian aspect "involving large groups on both sides" as something not seen in recent years.

The violence was futile and dispiriting enough when it was focused within one community, and it is profoundly concerning that it has spilled over from the loyalist Shankill district to the nationalist Springfield Road area.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the trouble could have been much worse.

Community figures, including politicians, church workers, youth leaders and residents, have played a vital role in attempting to calm tensions and pull young people away from violence.

This was especially apparent on the Springfield Road on Thursday, where they removed a barricade of pallets and bins blocking the road and urged parents to bring their children away from the area.

They also formed a line to act as a barrier in an effort to stop youths from reaching the Lanark Way interface.

Sport clubs have set a powerful example, urging people to resist being drawn into trouble.

One of them, St James Swifts, said it had been encouraged to speak out "after seeing our friends at Sandy Row FC show great leadership in asking people to also stay away from these interfaces".

There have been many gains made since the Good Friday Agreement was signed 23 years ago today.

Yet there must be honesty about the shortcomings in how powersharing has been operated, the unevenness of our peace and the fractures of sectarianism that remain.

In the midst of this week's mayhem, the collaboration between grassroots groups like St James Swifts and Sandy Row FC points to a better way.

Their voices, and those like them, must be heard, rather than those sinister elements fomenting fear and destruction.

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