As I parked my car yesterday, I caught the eye of a middle-aged woman standing waiting nearby. In a typical “up-the-country” Northern Irish accent, she blurted out “I hope your car is okay, the wee skitters have taken mine.” Her frustration was palpable.
I was reminded of the weeks leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and I remember my girlfriends car being stolen. We were parked outside a friends house and the arrival of the police prompted a flurry of opening windows and beating the air with magazines. Two days later, on the day of the vote, the car re-surfaced with a heavy weight in the back along the Grosvenor road and was duly exploded in a controlled fashion by the Army.
I mentioned that may have happened to her car. Same time frame, same size of car (small hatch back with R plates). She shook her head and continued to tell me all of the business of the day; the make, the model, that her brother was coming to get her, that it still had R plates and the first couple of letters from the registration. I smiled politely and decided to wait until her brother arrived which he did about 2 minutes later.
I bid her goodbye and scurried across the road towards my next meeting and something made me look across the road where I spotted a small, recent model white Fiesta with R plates and the same first numbers on the registration. Of course, I did what any normal human would do and ungracefully loped back across the road, waving my arms like a lunatic to an extremely grateful lady.
Yesterday a man was also shot. There’s no doubt that as a former IRA commander and the various implications in his life that he was no innocent. And there’s no doubt that as a “community worker”, he had an army of people rallying around him. But someone walked up and shot him. I’ve heard rumours of loyalists, or republicans or drug lords or turf wars but really I’m left with this single thought.
In 1998, most of us turned out and voted for peace. And then most of us switched off again. Because we switched off, we have moved barely an inch forward from that vote and barely an inch forward from the supposed ceasefires of the past.
We have to switch back on and vote for a civic society because the alternative is a world where cars are turned into bombs and men, whatever their background, are shot in the street.