ACROSS the city and across the island families and communities are making preparations for the Christmas holidays. It’s a time of great joy and excitement, but unfortunately for too many in the lower Falls and Divis area it’s a time of apprehension.

We only have to cast our minds back to last year’s holiday season when the PSNI effectively handed over control of the streets to the thugs who masquerade under the name of the Divis Hoods Liberation Army – a ragtag collection which has at its core a small number of hardened criminals who surround themselves with a large cohort of younger people who allow themselves to be caught up in the false excitement of crime and anti-social behaviour in the absence of any meaningful outlets for their time and energy.

That the police can get a handle on the Divis problem when they feel like it is beyond question. Operation Echinus was a co-ordinated and serious attempt to address the problem of recidvist offenders blighting the local community. The Auto Crime Team has also gained a reputation as a professional and highly capable unit that has shown itself willing and able to get tough with those who put local lives at risk for the sake of drugged and drunken kicks.

Perhaps inevitably, though, the police have taken their eye off the ball in the district and slowly but surely levels of crime – much of it but by no means all car-related – have crept back up to levels that people had hoped never to see again. Indeed, many would argue that things in the area are worse than they have ever been. Whether that’s through a lack of resources or a lack of will, or an unfortunate combination of both, is hard to say. All we know for sure is that the lower Falls and Divis are urgently in need of a proactive and meaningful engagement by the police to ensure that the seaon of peace and goodwill can be more than just a message on a Christmas card.

Will Operation Galleas, the newest operation aimed at curbing the violent excesses of the thugs and hoods, bring crime and anti-social behaviour in the district down to manageable levels once and for all, or will it score high-profile successes in a blaze of publicity and then be quietly put aside? Only time will tell, but we’ll be watching to ensure that the good people of the district get the policing they deserve.

As well as maintaining an effective presence on the streets, the police would do well to take action on the social media outrages perpetrated by certain notorious individuals well-known to the local community. Are the shocking boasts they make online about their exploits serious enough to see them jailed? Ultimately that would be a question for the PPS (if the PSNI deigns to take it that far) but at the very least when these career criminals next appear in the dock for whatever reason their online threats and claims surely and at the very least should be more than enough to ensure that bail is out of the question.

The streets of Belfast at Christmas and the New Year belong to families, they should not belong to rampaging gangs. This year the police must ensure that there’s no repeat of last.

n THIS week we laid to rest Una Crudden, an inspirational local woman whoconsidered news of her terminal illness an opportunity to save lives. Her funeral was powerful evidence not only of the extent of the success of her ovarian cancer campaign in reaching people across the city and beyond, but of her determination to continue it right until the very end. Her family grieves, but are incredibly proud. We are too.