Belfast Telegraph

Flashback to Northern Ireland's murderous past as depressing as it is disturbing

By Henry McDonald

"Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes," wrote Bertolt Brecht at a time when the German people were being hypnotised by militarism, Nazism and war, leading ultimately to national ruin and shame.

For those of us who grew up during a time of war here in Northern Ireland, we know exactly what the playwright, poet and left-wing exile from the Nazis was getting at.

You have to wonder why, in the second decade of the 21st century, at a time when the ugly truth about the conflict is becoming clearer by the day, anyone would seek to pull on a woolly mask and pose with guns threatening to re-start the "war".

It is less than 24 hours since an unnamed loyalist terror group warned that both the PSNI and the Parades Commission were "legitimate targets" - that chilling phrase coined by the Provisional IRA to justify not only the murders of members of the security forces, but also the fitter working on an Army base, or a business serving policemen and soldiers.

The pictures were a depressing reminder of the dark place from which this society has been trying to escape. The masks, the uniforms, the guns, the flag and the menace - all echoes of a blood-splattered past the vast majority in Northern Ireland never want to go back to.

Writing about potentially active, illegal armed groups poses ethical dilemmas for journalists. Are you giving undue publicity to an unrepresentative cabal, whose response to decisions they don't like is profoundly immoral and undemocratic? On the other hand, if you were to ignore, or fail to amplify, their threats, how would you feel if they carried them out without you airing them in public - particularly for those they say they are targeting?

There were, of course, men and women - also wearing masks - who behaved with professionalism and courage on Monday evening on the Crumlin Road.

In one scenario, these armoured ninjas probably saved an Orangeman - now charged with two attempted murders - from a crowd of angry nationalists after a teenage girl was dragged underneath a car. At the same time, balaclava-clad men and women, alongside people from Ardoyne, managed to flip up that car and give first aid to the 16-year-old lying seriously injured on the ground.

But these men and women were wearing their headgear as protection, to counter missiles and fire. They were the police officers who, whatever your political leanings, saved two lives in north Belfast.

There were other heroes as well on that road on the Twelfth, including Holy Cross priest Fr Gary Donegan, whose appeals for calm demonstrated a quiet, determined humanity that defused what could have been a disastrous situation.

Happy the land that has unsung heroes such as them.

Belfast Telegraph


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