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ULSTER: PEACE IN OUR TIME?

10-05-2007

In the light of this week’s historic power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland, Birmingham doctor David Nicholl reflects on his childhood as an Ulster Protestant during The Troubles. Can peace now hold?

When I think back to my childhood, I can’t believe the news this week. Ian Paisley joking with Martin McGuiness?

It’s about as believable as Bush hugging Bin Laden, Hamas joining the Israeli government or Villa winning the Premiership. Yet, the impossible can happen, and in this case has. Maybe we should stop being so cynical.

When I was a medical student in Brum in the mid-1980s, I remember the railway bridge in Balsall Heath that had the graffiti “Thatcher out, Mandela out” and it really seemed as if those things could not be true at the time.

There are so many anecdotes of the bigotry, hatred and plain evil to recall regarding Northern Ireland in the 1970s and early 1980s, some details of which I will have to change for obvious security reasons.

A friend at school who phoned up a Catholic leisure centre to book a squash court for a joke and gave his name and address as “Bobby Sands, 6 foot under”.

I had a now deceased great aunt who used to look after me if I was ill as a child; when I went to the US on a foreign exchange visit, she warned me against having any Catholic girlfriends (good thing she never saw the ones I DID go out with!).

A close relative of mine was a Colonel in the Ulster Defence Regiment; quite simply, I do not know how he is still alive as he lived in border country and could so easily have been murdered like so many of his colleagues.

Maybe the revolver by his bed and a panic button (which would get an army chopper to his farm in 10 minutes) helped.

My best friend’s father was murdered by Republican terrorists for allegedly refusing to pay protection money for his taxi. My brother, a photographer, was shot by the Army with a plastic bullet. And then there was my anger at seeing the clear evidence of Police collusion in the murder of lawyer Pat Finucane.

The list goes on.

Yet, strangely I honestly don’t feel I was affected by ‘the Troubles’ - even though I must have been. They were my roots, they are why I feel so strongly about human rights, the law and terrorism - as I would not want anyone to have to go through what the 3500 families of terrorist related murders and the entire community have had to go through.

So maybe the lesson of Northern Ireland is that anything truly is possible and patience to all those who wait.

Now lets get to work on the Middle East, Darfur, Zimbabwe, global warming and keep remembering the glass is half full, not half empty.

Anyhow for a brilliant Catholic view point, I would commend Sean O’Hagan’s piece in this weeks Observer to you http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2073495,00.html

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