Leona O'Neill: Shootings, rioting, political chaos: we're poisoning our kids' future

The north is still haunted by the dark memories of when we hated, hurt and killed one another because of our differences. We must do more to prevent this poison from infecting future generations, writes Leona O'Neill...

Political leaders join PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to speak to the media following the shooting of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell
Political leaders join PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to speak to the media following the shooting of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell

WE'VE just seen another horrific week in Northern Ireland. A father was shot down by gunmen as he loaded footballs into his car after a coaching session. A young son having to watch hate filled men shoot his beloved dad on an ordinary night in February. A man fighting for his life now in hospital, his son no doubt traumatised. An entire community, no strangers to trauma, reeling in shock that their peace has been shattered again. This is 2023 in Northern Ireland.

Our political leaders joined the rest of us right-minded people in hoping and praying that police officer DCI John Caldwell makes a full recovery. The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson told waiting reporters that those who carried out the attack were "not the future of this place".

But what is the future? Political chaos breeds more division. It creates a void in which malicious entities, ones who are indeed fuelled by chaos and uncertainty, can survive and thrive. The last time political progress was stalled for three years, a young woman was murdered in the street by gunmen.

This time around, a police officer was almost murdered and the UVF have warned that that loyalists will "wreck the place" and that "the streets will burn" if the Irish Sea Border is not scrapped. It is all sickenly familiar and utterly exhausting, and political chaos makes up a large section of the vicious circles that Northern Ireland ceaselessly spins in.

It's not just a matter of political vacuum doing us harm. Lack of progress, lack of moving forward, lack of working together has resulted in an almighty festering. It has resulted in a flare-up of tensions. It is a constant reminder of our bloody past. We are slapped up the face with the dark memories from times gone by when we were so very divided, of how we hated and hurt and killed one another because of our differences.

Northern Ireland has a huge wound, it was opened and deepened by 30 years of murder, of brutality, of a callous, at best, disregard for one another, of out and out disgusting sectarianism. The Good Friday Agreement stuck a plaster on that wound, but it is ripped off every so often and allowed to fester. It infects our communities again. There are people who would wilfully and enthusiastically pour salt on the wound for their own aims and means.

What kind of Northern Ireland are our kids going to grow up in? What of our future? Most of us as parents are grateful that our children won't ever experience the violence that we did as kids. But what if they are going to experience a new kind of violence? What if they are already experiencing violence that they will have to hope and pray their children don't experience? And their kids will experience something different again.

Children in 2023 had to run from gunfire at a sports club last week while masked gunmen shot down one of the dads. A few weeks ago, kids in Derry had to be kept off primary school while army technical officers made safe a bomb that had been driven to a police station. People are shooting rockets at police stations from residential areas. Children are frequently wakened from their beds and evacuated during security alerts.

Not too long ago, teenagers had a lucky escape when a bomb exploded, melting metal bollards, just minutes after they walked past, and a young woman in the prime of her life was gunned down in the street. Our teenagers are shot in paramilitary attacks. Men in paramilitary garb are marching the streets with gusto. Rioting erupts on our peace lines, sucking our young people into another spiralling hate-filled abyss.

Bomb scares, shootings, rioting, sectarian attacks, hate, division, political chaos. This is their normal. This is our normal. This is our society. This is what a good majority of them will move away to protect their future children from.

Shame on us for not doing enough to prevent this poison from infecting another generation.