Where have all the moderates gone?

Well he’s back; Jamie Bryson made his first appearance on Nolan this morning since his restrictions on public speaking were lifted.

I listened to Jamie talk about the need for more protests (he did say they should be peaceful in fairness) and how he believed the last round of protests had actually achieved a lot. Last time I checked their number one goal of punishing the city council into submission hadn’t worked as the flag is still not up and according the latest polls Sinn Fein are still on course to be the largest nationalist party but that’s logic for you.

To me the flags protests only seemed to achieve simply more unemployment as businesses suffered and more young men with criminal records. But here’s my question how do the moderate middle challenge what is potentially a dangerous situation over the next few weeks? We had the two minute noise protests outside City Hall and the various calls from politicians for the protests to end, all of  which achieved next to nothing as the flags protestors ignored all of it. Looking back at our history, one problem that always seems to keep coming up is that the ‘middle’ in Northern Ireland is at times a bit too comfortable in allowing the more extreme views in our society to gain traction.

In his last speech as last speech as Prime Minister in April 1969, Terence O’Neill made exactly that point as he warned those who played their bridge and their golf that sinister forces were gathering to destabilise the province. History has shown he was completely right.

To me the moderate middle is making the same mistakes all over again as it allows others to occupy the airwaves. The only way to win this battle is for moderates to shout louder than those whose platform is to bring down the executive and disrupt the peace process. I’m no fan of the performance of the current assembly but even in my darkest moments of despair I do not think for a moment that collapsing the show is the way to achieve change.

If we are to face another Christmas of protests, then the only result will be declining trade and more people out of pocket. The ghost town that was the city centre last year proved how corrosive some of these actions can be. We have local government elections in just six months’ time, those who want the flag back up can use the opportunity provided at that election to rectify that decision if they so wish. I have no problem with those who disagree with the flags policy and who are content to use the political process to change it.

This year we really need the voices of moderation to make themselves heard. Noisy minorities and violence that happened last year cannot be allowed to continue for a second year running. If people continue to just turn a blind eye then as a society we are just begging to be taken back down a path that it took nearly three decades to emerge from. We need to show to those who want change in this place that there is a better way to achieve it than standing in a street. The only way that can happen is if the moderate middle gets up, stands up and actually does some of the shouting for a change.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs