Some local bloggers make it their business to immerse themselves in ’sectariania’, forever compiling a list of grievances against ’themmuns’. They seem to think it important to prove which ’side’ in Northern Ireland includes the most hate-filled thugs.
Generally I avoid covering hate crime and the squalid list of ’dissident’ attacks in Northern Ireland. They are, after all, terrible topics to commentate upon. Anyone with any wit knows that it’s inexcusable, it’s loathsome, it’s repugnant - what more is there to say? The idea that these attacks have political content, which should be taken seriously, is itself beneath contempt.
Sometimes, however, there is an incident which makes you feel so hopeless, which makes the bile rise in your throat to such an extent, that it’s necessary to contextualise it, somehow.
Yesterday saw just such an event, as a group calling itself the Real UFF left two pipe bombs at Catholic Primary Schools in Antrim. This wasn’t an act of recklessness or omission. It was a deliberate and pre-meditated attack.
An eight year old boy, Brendan Shannon, on an errand to fetch his classmates’ milk, lifted the device up, in order to show it to his teacher. Mercifully it did not go off.
Even after an endless litany of hate, sectarianism and brutality which has disfigured our recent history in Ulster, this latest development has the power to shock. What was the Real UFF’s goal? Did it intend to murder and maim primary school children, or just frighten and intimidate them? It’s practically beyond belief.
I don’t know much about this group, which, among the arcane alphabet soup of ‘paramilitary’ organisations here, is still desperately obscure. It seems to operate only around Antrim and surely it can have recruited only a handful of desperately warped individuals to the cause of attacking children.
Amongst the dregs of every society there are a few people, damaged, sick, lunatic or just plain criminal who are prepared to contemplate actions like these. The tragic thing is that, in Northern Ireland, they can claim the most flimsy pretense of political purpose to throw over their madness and badness, and we treat them differently.
Does this somehow provide immunity from the sense of utter cowardice, shame and self-loathing which would envelop a normal, functioning adult, tempted to plot an attack on a very young child?
Certainly if people in the communities from which members the Real UFF are drawn know who make up this group, if they are not filled with such utter contempt that they immediately shun them and provide information to the police, then we should despair, utterly, for the society that we have built in this country.