Fear and loathing once more

It’s difficult to put into words the anger and distress that is emanating from Omagh and the surrounding areas this week.

On Wednesday evening I attended a significant victims conference held in the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh that featured Terry Waite, Richard Moore and Baroness May Blood. It was organised by the Omagh Support & Self Help Group (OSSHG), founded in the wake of the Omagh bomb and which has within its membership, 170 victims of the August ’98 atrocity.

Among them is Michael Gallagher, father of Aidan Gallagher, one of the 29 victims. As he took me around the exhibition entitled ‘Remembering the past – Looking to the future ‘, he pointed to the 43 banners on display. Each one carrying the story of 43 people from the last 43 years of our history. I began to read a few.

They hung side by side, draped in purple, pink and yellow pastel tones, creating a solemn and reflective atmosphere within the hotel function room. Each banner I turned to carried an individual and heart-wrenching story of personal loss, families destroyed all across the North West. In each case the families have made their own personal journey coping with their loss.

It was with utter shock and disbelief then that just three days later and only a few hundred yards up the Gortin Road from the hotel, that another personal tragedy would begin. While the Kerr family have been enduring their own deep personal loss, Ronan Kerr’s killing has left an indelible mark on the entire community in a manner not been felt since 1998.

ANGER

There is fierce anger among young people in the community. They are deeply affected because they feel they have lost one of their own. Aged 25, Ronan grew up as a teenager in Omagh during the post-bomb era in the town that saw the community grow closer together, where young people aspired for normality.

It’s a shock to imagine then how young people of a similar age to Ronan, who grew up through that stable era could be radicalised to the point where they are motivated to kill a young man their own age, from their own community, who they in all likelihood knew on some level. While they remain a tiny minority, their numbers have still grown.

There’s no doubt that they have been radicalised by a generation of ‘old hands’ hiding in the background, instilling their dogma and doctrine into the minds of those fit and able enough to go out and commit heinous acts. The growing sophistication of the weaponry too leaves little doubt of the expertise within their ranks from experienced ‘old hands’.

There was no mistake in who these people wanted to target; a young Catholic, GAA loving police recruit, representing a new generation of young men from nationalist communities who were brave enough to lead the way for the rest of us. Using more explosives than in previous attacks, it was their determination to seek out and kill a young Catholic that has instilled fear and shaken the community in a way not felt since August ’98.

In a week where news south of the border was dominated by ‘stress tests’ and the economy, dissident republicans have ensured that rather than Ireland uniting around shared issues such as the economy, the North is disconnected from the south, and forced to re-visit a period of history that most in the south don’t want to be associated with. Their ‘strategy’ only serves to further divide Ireland.

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About AldousDuke
Mid Tyrone journalist, not so freelance any more.

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