Belfast Telegraph

Why Aussies’ danger alert rings so true

By Gail Walker

It's beyond me why there’s been so much outrage over the Australian government’s advice to visitors to exercise caution when visiting Northern Ireland.

As far as I can see, the advice contains not one word of a lie: they warn of rising ‘civil unrest’ and advise visitors to avoid demonstrations as they might “inadvertently be caught up in violence directed at others”. Potential tourists from Down Under are told: “We advise you to be alert to your own security in Ireland.”

Following the clashes in Ardoyne, escalating attacks on the PSNI and police warnings that the terrorist threat is at its worst in over a decade, what's so controversial about that?

After 15 years of relative peace, the dissidents are growing in strength, while the loyalist paramilitaries have never really gone away, you know

The advice was measured, sensible and non-sensationalist — indeed, the type of advice you’d expect from the British and Irish foreign services if you were heading to a troublespot abroad.

But well dare anybody point the finger at us. Our ‘leaders’ (I use the term loosely), well-used to fine art of emotional blackmail, automatically expect the rest of the world to join in our cosy game of ‘Denial’, where you put on rosy specs and close both your eyes.

Arlene Foster, clearly hoping to exert pressure on Canberra to retract, is raising the matter with the Foreign Office.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has written to both Bruce Davis, the Australian Ambassador in Dublin, and John Duath, the Australian High Commissioner in London, accusing their government of “over-reaction”. She also claimed — and here comes the pitch — “It is the stated aim of dissident republicans to destabilise the peace and this type of advice plays right into their hands”.

The arrogance of that statement is breathtaking. In other words, the Australian government should ignore the safety of its own citizens in order to protect ‘the peace process’, which is now in danger of dissolving into an exercise in 1984-style self-mind control: the terrorist threat is only a terrorist threat if we recognise it as such.

But it's not even so grand as that. No, the response of our leaders to the growing violence has been little more than whistling in the dark — and praying an emaciated PSNI is up to the task.

With the Executive, almost by definition, unable to come up with anything like a coherent response, we've had vague kite flying. Sinn Fein wants to meet the old pals for a good chinwag.

The Government may or may not be having ‘informal contacts’ with the Real IRA et al. And what used to be called the ‘main constitutional parties’ bunny-hop round the issue: a ritual condemnation here, a ritual condemnation there but no real idea — or desire — to tackle the issue. No, easier to ignore the mad dogs barking in the corner in the hope they go away.

But the reality is that it’s not just tourists who are feeling jittery about knocking about Northern Ireland — many natives aren’t brimming with confidence, either.

Anyone over 30 who recalls the horror first time round is probably surprised how quickly the old habits have come back ... but they have.

Friends have told me they’ve thought twice about going into a busy town centre to shop on a Saturday (Omagh anyone?) or have taken a careful look at the car they’re about to park beside.

Quite a few, too, have discussed their plans if it all kicks off again and, odd as it may seem to our politicians, most involve getting out of this place pronto.

Having survived it once, who’d push their luck? Admitting to those fears is just being human yet weirdly it’s frowned upon as ‘talking down the peace process’.

Yes, our leaders and tourism chiefs should be worried about the effect on tourism the Australian advice may have on our economy.

But the problem with bombs under PSNI officers’ cars, children nearly being killed in Lurgan and car bombs, is not the perception of these things in the capitals of the world; it's the all-too-real actuality of them on our streets.

The Aussies aren't guilty of ‘over-reaction’, but our politicians can are guilty of systematic ‘under-reaction’.

And I think we all know which one really hurts the people of Northern Ireland.

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