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21 July 2011

Bored and angry…part 2

This time last year I wrote a piece on the rioting in the Ardoyne. At the time I spoke about the violence having its roots in common-a-garden disaffection - that by their own admission, the young perpetrators were bored and angry. Bored, not least because unemployment was high in these areas.  Angry, because while most of the country is moving on, embracing the peace dividends, these young people from areas bearing severe scars from the Troubles believe that they see none of these benefits.  "Everyone talks about a bright new Belfast but there's none of that around here," one rioter commented.  They were looking for someone to blame and something to do; fighting the police or 'establishment' and rival 'tribes' offered an outlet for both.   

Politicians and business leaders alike publicly rebuked those involved for their lack of concern about how their actions could negatively affect the Northern Irish economy.  However, for these teenagers spurred on by drink, drugs and the on-looking crowds, posting videos of the rioting on YouTube, trying to outdo one another in their feats of bravado, the economic future of the country was a very distant reality.

One commentator suggested that "condemnation from a distance is cheap... Be it from a pulpit, newsprint or the Stephen Nolan Show. Pouring money into these areas isn't the answer either. It requires the investment of time, energy and imagination into these communities and lives. Not rewarding bad behaviour but trying to find ways of supporting what is positive in such communities. Growing the good and weeding out the bad. Making the good news headlines…" 

So were there any good news headlines about the 12th week this year?

Well, unless you count a reduction in the number of police officers injured and the riots not lasting as long, the short answer is no. Disturbing images and news stories of rioting in Northern Ireland were once again beamed around the world.  However, there were signs of real change with the DUP's North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds paying tribute to the efforts of nationalists to keep the atmosphere calm and Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly very overtly liaising with senior police officers on the ground over their handling of the disturbances. Many third sector groups have also been working hard to facilitate better relations within and between groups in areas most prone to rioting.

Yet work being done to arrange meetings between youth groups from across interfaces, or victim groups on either side - while hugely positive and important - is limited in terms of what it can achieve without progress on wider issues like flags, parades, shared schools and shared housing, according to BBC NI's political editor Mark Devenport. A view shared by many.

Thankfully this wasn't the only headline to come out of Northern Ireland this week.  The despondency triggered by the stream of news reports on the rioting was cut short by scenes of great jubilation, a story of long awaited triumph over adversary, when Darren Clarke won the British Open, the third Northern Irish golfer to win a major in just 13 months. This is not just about a personal victory or even boosting the tourism industry as I discussed last month, but a story of hope that the whole nation can get behind, something we can be proud of, something that can re-energise our community and political leaders, many of whom have become understandably weary.  It took 'DC' 20 attempts to win the British Open during which he endured the agony of losing his wife to cancer - good things don't always come easily or quickly.

This is a reality that Christians should be able to identify with and we should therefore be at the leading edge of pushing for and delivering a sustained effort to bring about a shared future for our land. To that end there are two political projects to watch out for (and engage with) in the next few months. A working group being headed up by Jeffery Donaldson MP is due to examine how protestant working class areas can be reconnected with the peace process, looking at issues like deprivation, educational under-achievement (an issue pioneered by the former MLA Dawn Purvis) and political alienation - an initiative that dates back to before the Assembly elections but is only getting off the ground now.

Also, the contentious Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy is due to be published in the autumn followed by the action plan in December. According to a written answer just given to Alliance's Anna Lo, the five main Stormont parties have now "agreed to appoint representatives to a working group that will seek consensus on issues".