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Leona O'Neill: We must not let hope slip through our fingers

The horrors of 1993 remind us of what we stand to lose if we don't work at keeping our society peaceful. In the midst of the peril that Brexit's divisions pose, we must listen to those who suffered most, writes Leona O'Neill

The scene on Belfast's Shankill Road after the IRA bomb attack of October 23 1993 in which 10 people were killed

MOST of our children weren't even alive when the Shankill Bombs and the Greysteel massacre happened 25 years ago. They will not have been aware of the horrors of that day.

They will not have listened to the news bulletins as each brutal detail was laid bare. They will not have seen the eyes of those lost staring up at them for days from the papers or the stories of the lives and the families they were forced to leave behind.

They were spared that and allowed, for the most part, to have a normal childhood, nothing like our own growing up in this place.

This day last week relatives of those killed in the IRA bombing of the Shankill Road gathered in silence in the local church, heads bowed at the exact time the bomb went off 25 years ago, snuffing out the lives of young and old, destroying families forever and shattering the community.

We heard the stories of the victims. Little Leanne Murray, just 13, who had dreams of becoming a nurse and her heartbroken mother left behind saying that she "will suffer until the day I die".

We heard of Michael Morrison and his partner Evelyn Baird, both 27, who died along with their daughter Michelle (seven), leaving their two other children parentless.

Nine people died that day.

Tonight, the families of those lost in the Greysteel shooting, claimed by the UFF and said to be in retaliation for the Shankill bombing, will gather in the tiny Co Derry village to remember their loved ones.

Eight people died, between the ages of 19 and 81, when four loyalist gunmen walked into the Rising Sun Bar and began shooting.

Adrian Moyne, who was just 15 when his father John was murdered at the Rising Sun shootings, spoke to me this week about the heroism of his father. John pulled his wife, his childhood sweetheart and the mother of his four children on to the ground and covered her so that the bullets would not touch her. His father was killed and his mother survived.

Many Greysteel children like Adrian had to grow up without a parent. They lost so much, but in the face of hate they came together. The village internalised its pain and grief and spoke to no-one.

Adrian told me that the voices from Greysteel, voices from the Shankill and other atrocities are important so as to teach young people, who have no experience of these horrors, how futile sectarianism and violence is. He should know.

Brexit presents all of us here in Northern Ireland with a huge problem. I've spoken to enough politicians and political leaders to know that no-one knows what the future holds for any of us with regards to a hard border.

But what is certain is that a hard border will bring a visible boundary between north and south, which will undoubtedly bring violent attacks, which will bring increased security, and increased attacks, which will lead us into a vicious circle.

Some of our young people, who have no experience of the horrors of our past and the heartache the reality of that brought, could be in danger of being sucked into that void.

On the wall outside the Rising Sun Bar there is a plaque. It lists the names of those who died and ends with a quote: ‘May their sacrifice be our path to peace'. I hope that it still is.

That is why the voices of those who lost the most must be heard.

This month, as the faces of those innocent people lost to the mayhem peer up from our newspapers, as those they left behind speak once more of their crushing, ceaseless and timeless heartache, we must remember why it is so important to keep moving forward.

The Shankill bomb and Greysteel were horrors of such magnitude that they changed Northern Ireland, they shifted attitudes and made people fight more fiercely for peace than against each other.

We can't let our differences today become a cavern that we cannot find our way out of. Our politicians must take courage from those who led us out of the dark days of 1993 and get back to talking and working on making things better.

The memory of those who died in October 1993 was the catalyst and our best hope for a peaceful future. We must not let that hope slip through our fingers.

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