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If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live in dignity and hope,
you begin with the empowering of the most powerless.
You build from the ground up.
- Adrienne Rich



Intervention During Street Disorder


Billy Mitchell


In an otherwise excellent article on Youth Culture and Anti-Social Behaviour Aine Fox claims that during recent street disturbances in North Belfast “there was no intervention by representatives of political parties in the area”. Aine goes on to write, “At no stage did they challenge the young people or attempt to calm the situation. They merely looked on, talked to the media cameras and disappeared from sight”.

This may well be true for many political representatives and it may well have happened during incidents witnessed by Aine, but it is untrue to say that there has been no intervention by representatives of political parties or that they appear during street confrontations simply to talk to the media.

One of my full-time co-workers workers is also a Sinn Fein councillor and I know that he has been active on the ground in both the Duncairn and Whitewell areas seeking to control rumour, intervene in incidents and remonstrate with young people (and older people) engaged in street confrontation. I am personally aware of the amount of hours that he puts in (often late and night and in the early hours of the morning) trying to diffuse tension and encourage non-violent responses to local conflict. I know too that he has all too often been rewarded for his efforts by being subjected to personal abuse from certain elements within his own community.

Another of my co-workers represents the local PUP, which does not have an elected councillor in the Duncairn or Whitewell areas. He too is regularly active on the ground seeking to reduce tension, remonstrating with people engaged in disturbances and generally trying to restore some semblance of normality. Again, I am personally aware of the amount of hours that he puts in late at night and into the wee early hours. I am aware too of the abuse that is heaped on his head by some individuals from within his own community during the heat of the disturbances.

I am personally aware of five other local members of political parties from within both communities who have been on the ground night after night seeking to diffuse tension and reduce violence. None of these individuals have “merely looked on” or arrived simply to “talk to the media cameras”. Indeed none of them have, to my knowledge, talked to the media at all.

Having said that, I must commend Aine Fox for her timely article. Much more needs to be done at both political and community level to address issues of socially harmful activity and to help break the vicious cycle of alienation, conflict and violence that is causing so much suffering to ordinary people within both traditional communities.



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