If the full murderous fury of the troubles came five years after its first murders (ie 1966), it may take some time to get all the of the genies released back into their various bottles. David Harrison notes that for many communities, there is no let up in both inter and intra communal violence:
The “armed conflict” may be over and the guns put away, but for many people the wounds of the past are still raw. Nor is the next generation being sheltered from sectarianism. In the Ardoyne area, where Catholic children had to run a gauntlet of abuse and missiles from adult Protestants as they walked through a loyalist enclave to get to Holy Cross Primary School in 2001, the children are now taken to school by bus and allowed to leave on foot only if accompanied by a parent or a teacher. The school head, Betty Quinn, says there have been some “minor incidents” in the past few years, but the new measures have helped to keep things calm.
The Catholics and Protestants in the area, another one with a peace wall, have slid into surly hostility. “We don’t talk to them and they don’t talk to us,” says Stuart Cahoon, 21. “How could I speak to the Catholics after all the things they have done to our people?” One Catholic mother collecting her child from the school on Friday said: “It’s shameful that we can’t let our children walk, but we know the abuse would start again.”
The hostility is not only between different communities, it is also within them. The paramilitaries who controlled their own communities for years, acting as arbitrary “police” forces and administering summary justice in the form of beatings and banishments, are clinging to power in the working-class areas.
A woman near the Shankill Road told how an 18-year-old youth was beaten with baseball bats recently by Ulster Defence Association paramilitaries after they accused him – wrongly, he claimed – of stealing a mobile phone at a party. “He needed 12 stitches, but he was too frightened to report them to the police because he knows they will come for him again,” she said. “They may not all be carrying guns any more, but they are still just as vicious.”
And there is a statistic at the end, worth repeating:
In the Beehive pub, on the Falls Road, David O’Neill, 49, a father of four who was 10 when the Troubles started, tells how he joined the IRA at 13. “The next thing I knew, I was 23,” he says. “I missed my teenage years. I grew up too fast, doing things that no teenager should have to do.” Out of 30 classmates he had at secondary school, 16 are now dead. “I don’t want that for my family, and I’m sure no loyalist does either,” he adds. “We still want different things, but at least it’s a political argument now, not a military one. That’s got to be good. That’s why this peace has to work.”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty