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NO NEWS IS GREAT NEWS

25-10-2007

Dr David Nicholl sends a despatch from his homeland, Northern Ireland, and reflects on the curious fact that Belfast is probably the least likely place in the UK to suffer a terrorist today attack.

As our car drives off the ferry before dawn in Belfast, I switch on the radio. I love listening to Radio Ulster when I go 'home' to see family because there is just so little news on it, but it was not always that way.

Thirty years ago, I can still remember looking across at my parents' anguished faces as they listened to another terrorist atrocity on the breakfast news. At the time, it seemed entirely normal to hear about a soldier being shot, a bombing or a knee-capping over my cornflakes before school

Yet, now, as we speed west across Northern Ireland, I am struck by the sheer dullness of the local news - a stabbing, a tragic suicide and farmers whingeing. Sad though these stories are, this could be local news anywhere.

We drive past in the early morning mist, the Divis Flats, the Falls Road, Loughgall and Enniskillen - each the site of numerous shootings and bombings during the Troubles.

The graffiti on the bridge "Free all Irish political POWs" has almost faded completely now, close to the signs advertising a Halloween fireworks party. All fireworks were banned during the 'Troubles'- can you imagine how lousy a party can be when you just have sparklers and 'snake in the grass' for entertainment? It's a bit like having Xmas dinner without a turkey and crackers.

Across Northern Ireland, there is building everywhere, another shopping centre, supermarket or housing development springing up. Belfast city centre is a bohemian café society when it used to be so drab.

Just as I am amazed at the dullness of local radio (so dull the presenter is now talking about terrorism in Iraq and Turkey now), I am excited at going into a multi-storey car park in Belfast.

They never existed in my youth, - too big a security risk, a sitting duck for the IRA. I smile to myself at the irony that Belfast is probably the least likely place in the UK to be subject to a terrorist attack.

As our car comes to a halt, we are having breakfast with my Uncle - a remarkable farmer who was once a colonel in the Ulster Defence Regiment and responsible for security in half of Northern Ireland. I honestly don't know how he is alive, maybe the panic button and revolver by his bed helped.

Anyhow, today's its breakfast with my Uncle, tomorrow its lunch with my Aunt - the one who shook hands with Martin McGuinness a couple of months ago. How Northern Ireland (and my family) have changed!

I'm sure the people in Basra would give their right arms to have their local radio be as "dull" as it is in Belfast at the moment.

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