Reflections on a bad day for Northern Ireland

Anyone with a moral bone in their body would have been shocked at last night’s horrific events. I only heard of the news this morning, and was left in a state of shock and sadness. Two, possibly three people losing their lives at the hands of Republican gunmen who preyed on these men while they innocently ordered a pizza before they set off for Afghanistan.

The first thing on my mind was concern and sadness for the soldiers, who were around the same age as me and the same age as some guys I know of serving in our forces abroad. The second was one for democracy and stability in Northern Ireland.

As First Minister Peter Robinson was about to head off to the United States for St. Patrick’s Day festivities, but more importantly in aid of promoting our province as a sound place to invest, these individuals just send a shiver down the spine of Northern Ireland.

This one event may be a one off, or the start of a sequence of events. Walking through Belfast City centre this afternoon, with a loved one, we pushed our way through silent, empty streets. Perhaps this was a reaction to last night’s horrific events or a reaction to the media talk of the ‘great economic depression’, or perhaps the bad weather. But I never remember seeing the streets of Belfast being so empty since the end of the troubles.

Conversely while it may seem early to look at the political ramifications this is an event which could change the political pathway of Unionism as the extremes are bolstered by the tragedy. Jim Allister has run on an anti-Stormont ticket all along. The danger in this scenario is that this could be Peter Robinson’s Omagh bomb event, in terms of the view of the Unionist electorate; might people start to listen to the Traditional Unionist Voice?

However are we really going to go there again? Are we going to let an unrepresentative rabble dictate the political agenda? Such a scenario would be depressing for Northern Ireland and see Unionism playing and shouting from the back of the room. Plus we’d just see government attempts refocus to seeing the Assembly working again.

It is up to us; what I would say is don’t let an unelected, unrepresentative mob of murderers derail what has taken almost a decade to build.

Long time political hack