Belfast Telegraph

Do the years of terrrorism mean we no longer care?

By Paul Connolly

It was by the standards of anywhere – except our own little part of the world – quite an extraordinary event. On Sunday, up to 100 masked and armed men laid siege to homes in two areas of Larne. The large mob, many wielding baseball bats and sledgehammers, set about destroying three properties.

Attempts were made to set fire to at least one of the houses while the occupants were inside. Two houses in the Ferris Avenue area were gutted. Dozens of masked men smashed their way into the homes. A 15-year-old girl in one of the houses was chased upstairs.

"It was like a warzone," said one resident. The gang then departed, many to the Carrickfergus/Newtownabbey area, it was reported, which is a "stronghold" of the renegade south-east Antrim UDA.

Quite astonishingly, there were no arrests, by the time of writing anyway, even though it appears police had received reports of masked men gathering in Carrick one hour before the attacks.

In most other places, this kind of rampage would have dominated regional newspapers and broadcast bulletins for quite some time. The implications for law and order, the continued and flagrant existence of a massive armed conspiracy in our midst, the escape routes and the apparent lack of a police cordon, arrests (or lack of them): each and many other angles would be scrutinised.

This being Northern Ireland, however, it was a two-day wonder and even then only a relatively minor one.

The reason, of course, is we have been inured down the decades to tales of paramilitary thuggery. Kneecappings, so-called "punishment" beatings, pipe bomb attacks, bullets fired into homes: all of these and more remain everyday events in Northern Ireland.

Each, on their own, would be a sizeable news event if they happened in towns in England, Scotland, or Wales, but they merit barely a paragraph here, even in our own media.

Putting it frankly, unless they actually happen in your own street, unless they actually result in death, or very serious injury, people simply don't appear to be very interested.

Twenty years – yes, 20 years – after the IRA ceasefire, the daily litany of terror makes depressing reading. Especially as no one really seems that bothered anymore.

A photograph of the body of a murder victim lying in the street was, regrettably, used in the Belfast Telegraph last week.

The use of the image caused distress to the man's family, who complained to me about it and, rightly, wanted to know why such a distressing photo was published.

I explained the picture should not have been used, because of its graphic and distressing nature. Even though the terrible event occurred several years ago, publication of an image like this can, of course, have a traumatic impact on relatives and friends. Its use came about because it was retrieved from our archive by someone who clearly did not understand its graphic and distressing nature, having previously been used in Sunday Life (a decision which Sunday Life accepts was incorrect).

I have since taken steps to ensure that the photo cannot be retrieved from our archive for use in any future issues. I have also spoken to the picture agency that supplied the image and conveyed the family's distress and a request that the image be removed from their own archive so that it won't be used elsewhere (it has previously appeared in other newspapers). I'm not identifying the family, because I don't want to draw further attention to them at a difficult time and also because legal proceedings are active in relation to the incident.

However, I have apologised to them for publication of the image and taken steps to ensure that the faulty decision-making behind it is banished from our production processes.

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