Michael Shilliday: Northern Ireland does not want to go back
The last police officers to be murdered in Northern Ireland were killed in 1997 and 1998. The last soldier to be murdered was also killed in 1997. The O’Reilly, Graham, Johnston and Restorick families must have thought that they would be the last service families to suffer.
Our thoughts and prayers are every bit as much with those families as our thoughts are with the families of those murdered this week. In 1997 I was twelve years old. I, and thousands like me, thought that we would be amongst the first to not know the horrors of violence to the extent our parents did.
At the weekend I happened to be reading Malachi O’Doherty’s book, The Telling Year – Belfast 1972. In it, he recounts that the Provos in the 1970s very quickly discovered that the worst time to plant a bomb or commit a murder was on a Sunday evening – that would miss the news cycle. This week it is easy to imagine dissident republicans calculating their date and time based on maximum impact. Except on this occasion, their date was chosen for a reason even more callous.
They must have known that the remaining soldiers of 38 Engineer Regiment were due to leave Massereene Barracks for nearby RAF Aldergrove for transport on to Afghanistan around midnight. Whatever else they knew, they knew they were slaughtering in cold blood men due to serve their country abroad. It is testament to the terrorist’s inhumanity that they describe a Polish man who had moved to Northern Ireland for a better life, a legitimate target and a collaborator with the British presence in Ireland for the crime of delivering pizza.
Our future in Northern Ireland is dependent on holding the line against these murderous elements amongst us. Waking this morning is a Northern Ireland afraid of what these people will bring to our door tomorrow, but for that fear, waking is a Northern Ireland largely at peace with itself. The Chief Constable and others have acknowledged that those who wish to drag us back to the mire are not people who represent the views of anyone but their own insignificant minority.
Northern Ireland has moved on; moved past indiscriminate murder, moved past the chillingly sinister lexicon of Republican terrorism, moved to a place we all want to live. Northern Ireland does not want to go back.