Newton Emerson
Irish News

I am through the Broadway Roundabout and heading for the Boucher Road before I see them, so suddenly I am upon them. Three traffic cones stolen from the roadworks block my path and 10 little boys crowd around my car.

They are a boisterous blur of new sportswear, gold jewellery,
baseball caps and elaborate hard man haircuts – little copies of
their half-remembered fathers.

The middle-class do not dress their offspring like this: we can't
afford it... which is not to say that these children come from
working-class families.

Behind the Boucher Road, the streets of the Village itself will be
strangely quiet on this perfect Saturday evening as such families
keep their children indoors.

The junior sentries confronting me now are, instead, foot soldiers of
the underclass and I make no apology for using that term – in fact I
must insist on it, to distinguish them from their neighbours and
principal victims.

"You'll have to turn back mate," says the tallest of the boys through
my open window.

"We're bricking the cars up there." He says it much as you might
say 'We're painting the bathroom' – matter of fact, with just a hint
of satisfaction in a job well done.

He is eight. This is child abuse, pure and simple.

Not 100 yards from here his mother is kicking back on a leather sofa
enjoying her first Bacardi Breezer of the late afternoon.

Like all her class she would be furious at the suggestion that she is
an abusive parent, for paedophiles enrage the sentimentality that
passes for her intelligence.

Yet this mother, and nine just like her, have allowed their precious
darlings out to play 'Motorway Riot' for the second night in a row.

Worse, they have actually sent them out in 'protest' at a police
search the previous day.

While the others keep watch, three of the boys explain the rules of
their new game.

I am the age their fathers must be, so the instinct to gain my
approval outweighs the urge to deprive me of my car.

As they talk excitedly over each other, a surreal atmosphere of
innocence enters the general air of menace: in their expressions and
mannerisms, in their interaction with each other, these are still
recognisably little boys having fun and that realisation is

It is not too late for them but soon it will be, for the adults they
look to for guidance see nothing wrong in sending children out to
fight their battles for them.

Last week Patrick Lismore of Republican Sinn Féin appealed to 'the
youth' to rise up against the Good Friday Agreement. What a noble

I say a cautious goodbye to my three new 'mates', reverse onto the M1
and phone the police.

"How many are there?" asks the duty sergeant – and the poor scale of
the turnout sinks in.

There are 5,000 people in the lower end of The Village.

At the height of the previous night's rioting just 40 children took

This is no mass uprising but it is enough to bring the centre of
Belfast to a standstill, for the underclass hold the real veto in
Northern Ireland. We allow them to use the mechanisms of peace as
engines of war.

We listen to their contrived grievances, oblivious

to the fact that they would be lost without them.

We indulge their persecution of others – Protestants, Catholics,
immigrants, students, motorists – as they search for some outside
force to blame for their own squalor.

We let violent criminals terrify decent people into silence, then
appoint them for that very reason as spokesmen for their community.

Last night (Wednesday) the police called on just
such 'representatives' to "use their influence", although their
influence is the cause of the problem.

This morning Ruth Patterson, DUP sheriff of Belfast, blamed "heavy-
handed policing" for provoking the situation.

So the search begins again for a grievance to address and an outside
force to blame, which will distinguish this summer's rioting at the
Broadway roundabout from last summer's rioting at the Broadway
roundabout. Otherwise it might look as if some people in the Village
simply enjoy the attention that comes from violence, intimidation and
child abuse – and that would never do.

Meanwhile the 99% of the district's population not involved in the
disturbances may just keep their heads down.

Out of respect for their working-class community, we middle-class
people must not acknowledge the existence of a parasitic underclass
in their midst – although we wouldn't tolerate it in our own midst
for a second.

How did we reach the point where 10 lost boys can hold the gates of a
city to ransom?

The Northern Ireland peace process is an incredibly sophisticated,
generous and flexible system of rolling accommodation but an unspoken
promise of perfection may yet prove its fatal flaw.

Universal accommodation is impossible.

There will always be people among us prepared to man road blocks with

But they are small in number and perhaps, after 10 years of patient
progress, that number is as small as can be expected.

In the Village, in the Ardoyne, in the UVF, in Republican Sinn Féin,
it is the lowest common denominator that divides us.

We must prepare to write them out of the equation.

August 6, 2004

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