Belfast Telegraph

Belfast bomb: Blitz-like spirit defeats ghosts of Christmas past

by Gail Walker

It was a telling sight. Throngs of Christmas revellers milling around the streets of our newly refurbished Cathedral Quarter in Belfast minutes after a bomb went off.

As you would expect from people in this part of the world, they displayed good cheer, fellow feeling. It was a kind of tinsel version of the Blitz.

And all because of a few sad, delusional people who want to believe that it is still 1972 – or 1916, or whatever. And decide that the show – sorry, the 'struggle' – must go on.

Even if that means putting a bomb in a Slazenger sports bag, giving the wrong location (nice retro Omagh touch) and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

The operation was claimed by the Oglaigh na hEireann group, which undoubtedly has its share of commandants, quartermasters, volunteers, brigade headquarters – fancy titles and delusions all round.

But isn't that the point? These people aren't interested in a united Ireland (whatever that means exactly). If the border disappeared overnight, after the initial confusion, I suspect that quite a few would defect to the loyalist paramilitaries to keep the 'war' going.

They are in love with the theatre of violence. Does anyone – even in the highest commands of these organisations – really believe that making office workers eat their Christmas pud on the pavement brings their stated objectives any closer?

I mean, really? No, this kind of thing is just show, a holding operation until better times come along, when they can really up the ante and relive those wonderful 1970s and '80s. It is a desperate effort to keep the past alive.

True, Friday's operation was a massive blow to the British war machine, dependent as it is on the income generated by exclusive chi chi bistros, bars and art centres.

It's war on the economy. Which is really just a fancy name for destroying local businesses, putting people out of jobs and, generally, just making this a grimmer place to live.

And in the event of the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, or whatever, succeeding, they can then complain about the atrocious economic conditions of the British Occupied Six Counties – just look at all these people out of work and without hope!

But the people have seen through their ruses, their ploys, their sad little lives and causes.

That is why the response to Friday's bomb was so cheering. They stayed put and partied. Friends made their way to the area to lend support.

On Saturday night, Cathedral Quarter was packed again.

In other words, they gave a massive V (and not for Victory) sign to the bombers.

Yes, this was an inconvenience, but we aren't going to be deterred from having a good time, being kind to strangers and generally enjoying Christmas.

These people represent the kind of country the vast majority of us want to live in. We may sneer about our cappuccino culture, but in comparison with the last twitchings of the death cults on either side, it stands for life, for opportunity, for – and this will be an irony lost on the brave volunteers – freedom.

What these people cannot understand is that freedom doesn't involve blood, heroic sacrifice, last stands and a refusal to accept reality.

Freedom for most of us involves the banal choices of the everyday – to study this course, to go for that job, to love this or that person, to live how we want to live.

How many debates were there over the stuffed mushrooms on Friday night about the rights and wrongs of partition. None.

How many discussions about the illegitimacy of the state were launched on the chilly pavements around St Anne's Cathedral? None.

Because the people have already decided these issues. Imperfect as it is, our new political dispensation has the overwhelming support of people here.

As long as people aren't dying, we really don't care about ancient squabbles up on the hill. We vote every four years and those parties opposed to the new politics can barely muster a MLA.

More importantly, people are voting every day: in their workplaces, in their offices, on their town streets. We are getting on with the business of getting on – without the gaudy trappings of blood and glory, without the ideologue's love of death and dying.

And now, we are voting in our bistros and eateries; our art galleries and theatres. The rowdy cheer of the milling throngs spoke more eloquently than the old clapped-out rhetoric of historical reconstruction; societies in love with a past that was actually rather horrible.

It was the sound of real revolution. With a cappuccino in one hand and smartphone in the other, we will take power in this land ...

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