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Frisking, evacuations, fear: France feels like Northern Ireland's bad years

Published 26/06/2016

Armed police at a stadium in Paris
Armed police at a stadium in Paris

France under terror threat has evoked memories of Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The shadowy danger hangs over citizens, and security was tight ahead of and during games. Armed security forces were on the streets, fingers on triggers.

Emergency powers have been introduced by the Government to counter the Islamic State (IS) threat, demonstrated to devastating effect in Paris's Bataclan Theatre when gunmen fired indiscriminately into the crowd and killed dozens.

Yet the venue is due to reopen in the coming months and cultural life in the capital has resumed.

An Ghaeltacht sur Seine meets regularly to practice the Irish language in the heart of the Latin Quarter under the shadow of the Pantheon - Temple to all the Gods - and in the grounds of an Irish cultural centre.

Kevin O'Connell, a retired English teacher from London with Irish parents, said: "I think people are more suspicious. There is more unapparent evil around and people are frightened by that."

On a Metro underground train somebody had set a large object wrapped in black plastic bags near the doors and it appeared unattended. Several passengers glanced at it and moved away down the carriage.

Mr O'Connell added: "After Bataclan people were initially very afraid to go out and then there was a movement of young people going out on purpose saying they are not going to be defeated by all of this."

He said the theatre would be reopening in six months and would probably be full.

Passengers on high-speed trains between Paris and Brussels faced long security queues after a shooting and stabbing incident last year onboard.

Searches were conducted outside Paris's fan zone and at the entrance to Paris's renowned Les Halles markets, setting for Emile Zola's book on insurrection amid the narrow alleyways and meat traders.

Mel Stephenson,from Longford, also a languages teacher in France, said people were getting used to being frisked.

"You are searched a couple of times, you go into shopping centres, they are looking in your bag, so people have gotten used to it, the military on the street now. People can accept it.

"There has not really been any negative or opposition to it."

Airport-style security protected the Lyon fan zone at the Place Bellecour, a short distance from the Rhone River. It is dominated by a statue of Louis XIV on horseback and overlooked by the grand Hotel Royal.

Police in armoured jackets were courteous to football fans. Gendarmerie vans lined roads around the centuries-old square.

Just a few metres away business people and couples sipped coffee and dined in some of Lyon's world famous restaurants, eating local Andouillette sausage and the potato and onion dish which bears the city's name.

Eoin Campbell, president of the city's French-Irish Association and a university lecturer and solicitor from Warrenpoint in Co Down, said life went on following last November's terror attacks.

"It reminded me of when I was a child at home where there would be a big attack and people are tense and then it fades away and life goes back to normal.

"Those were memories I had forgotten to be brutally honest but that is what it felt like.

"People were tense and you could feel it in the Metro but after that life goes on."

He said there were worries about the numbers attending the Euros.

"It is a security nightmare, let us be honest, the number of people in town and of course there was that incident when the two police officers were murdered (by terrorists) so it is there but as we know at home people get on with it.

"You still have to get up in the morning, you still have to have some fun, go to work - and you still have to watch the football."

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