Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: People like Peadar Heffron deserve a new, much better Northern Ireland

Editor's Viewpoint

There have been so many statistics about death and injuries in Northern Ireland due to the Troubles and their aftermath that there is a danger of just looking at the numbers alone.

Yet behind every statistic there is a human story, including that of Peadar Heffron, the former PSNI officer who was badly injured in a dissident republican bomb attack.

In a moving interview in the Sunday Independent with well-known GAA figure Joe Brolly, he talks about his motives for joining the PSNI and the effect that decision had on his family and also on some of those who had been his friends.

Paedar speaks frankly about the tensions created by his decision to join the police.

His parents supported him, but some from the GAA world shunned him.

He describes the stark reality of boyhood friends who never spoke to him again, and former team-mates who turned their backs on him because he had joined the PSNI.

What emerges most clearly from the interview is Peadar's great courage in following his convictions to be part of the PSNI in a hopefully new Northern Ireland.

He discovered that he was the only GAA member in his intake, but then went on to help form the force's Gaelic football team. He was a young man who gave 100% effort to everything he did.

Tragically the bomb changed everything, and he describes the suffering in a very personal way, including the horror of his life-changing injuries.

Some times these kinds of injuries are not described in detail because of their appalling nature, but in the no-holds-barred interview little is left to the imagination.

In one split-second a young man's life and that of his new wife had been changed due to grotesque violence and hatred.

How disturbing is his angry observation about his existence, some seven years after the cowardly attack, by saying: "It's a life, but it's not my life."

This is just one searing story of human pain and courage in a Northern Ireland that is still trying to achieve political stability, as we await the outcome of the Stormont talks.

While the main stumbling block to a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein appears to be an Irish Language Act, there is a much bigger picture at stake, and that is the future of Northern Ireland itself.

It seemed a strange, more hopeful place following the Good Friday Agreement nearly 20 years ago.

However, since then the so-called peace process has staggered on, with two policemen, two prison officers and two soldiers murdered in separate incidents.

Sadly, the peace is not perfect, and sectarianism still casts a dark shadow over so much. There have been lives lost and others changed beyond recognition, but regrettably that is the reality of where we are.

It is easy for people to concentrate on the details of daily differences, but it is important to look at the big picture.

Peadar Heffron and others who have been injured or killed in the recent past, and during the Troubles, are very much the big picture.

The public on all sides is tired of more talks and deadlines, of health service crises, infrastructural problems, job losses and other depressing developments in an economy under pressure and facing an uncertain Brexit.

There is always a bigger price that could be paid for long-term stability, and people like Peadar Heffron have paid that price. They deserve nothing less than a new and progressive Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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