Shadow of the gunman lengthens
I'm from Antrim. Born and brought up there. Eighteen years. I know it well.
Including the gates of Massareene army barracks where two soldiers were shot dead and four others, squaddies and civilians alike, were left wounded on the ground on Saturday night. For me, those events seem all the more horrific for having happened in the town of my childhood. Tonight, it seems, the horror may have been brought to Craigavon, with breaking reports of the killing of a police officer there.
I was in Antrim again yesterday, bringing my three boys to see their grandparents. Those boys have such exuberance, zest for life, innocence. As a father, I don't want to have to explain the likes of Saturday night to my children. I don't want that callousness and disregard for life to be a feature of the Northern Ireland in which they grow up. My generation have been there, done that and we don't want our kids wearing the hand-me-down t-shirt.
That these killings seem to have been so long in coming, despite the existence of a number of armed republican groups unreconciled to the political agreement and determined to wreck the deal through violence, perhaps lulled many people into a sense that these things couldn't, wouldn't happen again.
Ten months ago I blogged about the attempt on the life of a policeman. There have been numerous other attempts since. Only a few weeks ago a large car bomb was abandoned near Castlewellan, just a few miles from where I live, and possibly en route to the nearby Ballykinler army base.
That these armed groups (I'll not honour them with the term 'dissident', which calls to mind many of the persecuted individuals for whom Amnesty works around the world) are small in membership and small in support, limits their capacity to bring death but, as Saturday has shown, does not eliminate it. The IRA remarked in the wake of the Brighton bombing, that they "only have to be lucky once". Now it seems that their splinter groups may have the capacity to be 'lucky', in their terms, more than once in the space of a couple of days
There are many things different today compared to the Northern Ireland of a few decades ago, not least the mainstream paramilitary ceasefires, the reform of the police, the large-scale withdrawal of troops, the Good Friday and St Andrew's Agreements, and the sharing of political power at the Assembly.
Yet the unreconciled and probably irreconcilable would have us go back to those dark days of the seventies and eighties when the events of Saturday night – and apparently again tonight – could easily happen any night, when children would wake up to the worst of news.
But people in Northern Ireland don't want to live some 'Life on Mars' existence. We have come too far and we won't go back.
Our political arrangements may look a bit creaky sometimes, but they are our political arrangements – we voted for them.
Our politicians may seem a bit cranky sometimes, but they are our politicians – we voted for them.
Our peace deal may show itself to be a bit flawed sometimes, but it is our peace deal – we voted for it.
Our job now, politicians and people together, is to stand firm and not be deflected from the path of building a peaceful and just society. A good start has been made these last couple of days, from the church-goers of Antrim on Sunday, to the political leaders in Stormont today.
Now, we need to put an end to complacency and realise that the job of making peace and ensuring justice is not yet finished, nor perhaps will be for a generation and more.
I'll be standing in determined silence with my Amnesty colleagues and thousands of other ordinary citizens on Wednesday at the peace rallies called by the ICTU. If you're in Belfast, I hope to see you there.
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