Northern Ireland’s culture of caution

Malachi O’Doherty has moved to the Irish Times for an occasional contribuion. He kicks off today with a quote from Slugger (subs needed). Or rather one of our commenters remarks on the assault on Denis Bradley: “I have to say that I condemn the attack, but from a man of Bradley’s intelligence, I would ask what was he doing there in the first place.”O’Doherty remarks:

You would almost think that the attacker had a reasonable complaint against a target irresistibly presenting itself. Denis Bradley is not equally safe in every bar in Derry and should know it. More, any demonstration that he lacks the savvy to avert danger compromises the sympathy he is due when he is attacked.

It is universally taken for granted in Northern Ireland that people must take sensible precautions for their safety because the risks are so widespread. Denis Bradley, for instance, is not just at risk from dissident republicans as a member of the policing board; he is also at risk from loyalists, like any Catholic or anyone who looks like a Catholic to a drunken lout. How would he fancy a pint on the Shankill Road?

He recalls:

I don’t drink in the Felons club in Belfast because the last time I was there a very large IRA man called Bobby Storey escorted me into a corner and told me that I was a slug, and made a very impressive case in support of that charge.

One thing about the culture of caution within which we live is that it crosses all boundaries.

Bobby Storey couldn’t go into some of the bars that I go into. Loyalists and republicans as much as ordinary citizens of Belfast have to restrict their movements for their own safety and have to learn the geography of security.


Security is so much assimilated into our thinking and risk is such a normal part of life, that those who flout its elementary rules are thought not to be brave or candid, but simply foolish. “He had it coming to him” can as easily mean that he deserved it or that he was stupidly careless. It is not enough that we should be intimidated; we should anticipate where threats come and intimidate ourselves, and save others the trouble. That is the wisdom of the street.

But Denis Bradley should be able to go into any bar he likes.