Well here we are again. Not for the first time, Northern Ireland hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Rioting, damage and disorder are being broadcast across our TV screens again and the familiar sound of the police helicopter in the sky.
It’s hard to try and rationalise why these instances of violence erupt. Moreover, the sense of helplessness as you struggle to figure out how to stop it.
Often this place feels like the USA, violence erupts, we get thoughts and prayers and then it happens again. Rinse and repeat.
As I write this tonight, I remember that scene with Martin McGuinness, Peter Robinson and Hugh Orde. It wasn’t the power of the words spoken that day, but more the symbolism of the example they were setting. Northern Ireland has an agreed democratic process and no matter what the disagreements would be, this consensus was staying in place.
Removing the protocol will no more appease the people burning buses tonight, than a united Ireland would appease those involved in violence in places like Derry.
This is a problem of economics and language. Economically, Northern Ireland has been in a bad way since the early 1960s and many of the communities who are suffering the most, have born the brunt of the economic war that we have been losing for decades. Poverty breeds despair, which gets you to these scenes.
That doesn’t give those conducting the violence a free pass it doesn’t. But if we want to solve the problem, we need to recognise that there is one. For too many people, Northern Ireland doesn’t work. I mean that politically, economically or socially. If you feel your government is unresponsive added with a crap job and a housing waiting list that is years long, you get the picture. In fact this helps you answer the question as to why some people just don’t care that they are destroying their own areas.
One of the tragic aspects of our peace process is that many of those rioting last night is that for them the Troubles is something they have only read about and never experienced. Sectarian tensions and “othering” of those on the other side of the peace wall is keeping this suspicion and mistrust.
Today our MLAs will meet. I hope that they get that this is the society we are dealing with. Tone matters and the language you use matters. Making people scared and scapegoating the Shinners for some of the disorder is something Unionist politicians need to shake off. When Martin McGuinness called dissidents “traitors” it mattered and sent calming ripples through the community.
We need the collective political leadership of this place to calm things down. That includes standing with the PSNI leadership.
The entire Brexit process poses issues for Northern Ireland, full stop. The mistake was it being sold as a one way bet that would be nearly consequence free. All of us need to work this process and figure this out, step by step. Because this issue isn’t being solved by one swift bold action.
The fact is Northern Ireland pits itself with way too many enemies. I have heard many loyalist contributors make arguments about economic deprivation that exists across nationalist communities to the exact same extent. This idea that Nationalism gets everything and loyalism nothing, has no basis in fact. Deprivation and lack of opportunities is a problem, but what those seeking to “other” this problem don’t get is that you’re letting those failing to deliver off the hook. Instead of it being your local minister’s job, it’s instead the person, living on the other side of the peace wall.
If we spent as much time debating our economic performance, shifting our education debate away from grammar schools and an investment strategy that focused on small business creation, as we did on a technical protocol for trade, when flags should fly on government buildings and whether Michelle O’Neill drops word deputy from her title, we’d be much further along.
All of us have a role in this place. Politicians, civic society and yes, the media. Tone and focus of debate matters. So hopefully today, we can focus on the real things that can move us forward. People are listening, wanting leadership and we need to make sure that they get it from people who want to see it move forward, not keep it stuck in a conflict time warp.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs