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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Historic news....

From RandiArt

It's election day here in the UK, and if the media hype is correct this is going to be a closer election than originally expected. Although elections are supposed to be about the future, they are unavoidably often about the past. In the case of Tony Blair's Labour Party campaign, history has worked both for and against them. On the one hand, they've used history to their benefit by conjuring up voter memories of Tory rule with the theme of "Forward, Not Back". On the other hand, the more recent history of British involvement in the Iraq War and Blair's push for military action has come back to haunt him and may play a key role in reducing Labour's majority in the next Parliament.

History plays an even more significant role here in Northern Ireland for obvious reasons. The politics of this place is as steeped in history as is the sectarianism that drives it. But yesterday the horrors of recent history moved center stage as progress was made in the investigation and prosecution of the infamous Omagh bombing of 1998 which killed 29 people and wounded many score more. In a history marked by many tragedies, the Omagh bombing seems to stand out not merely because of the numbers of dead and injured, but also because of its timing at a point when hope was so high that the violence of the Troubles might be drawing to an end. As it turned out, the Omagh bombing was in fact the last major violent manifestation of the Troubles. Nevertheless, it has been remembered more because the perpetrators were never brought to justice as far as the families of the victims were concerned. There was a prosecution and conviction in the Republic in January 2002 of a dissident IRA member allegedly involved in the plot, and a subsequent ROI prosecution of a Real IRA leader in 2003, although not for his role in the bombing per se. But the families of the Omagh bombing victims were not satisfied that enough has been done to pursue the prosecution of those directly involved, and they have in fact started a process of legal action against the police and prosecutors in order to sustain the case. Yesterday's announcement that an individual had been arrested and will likely be prosecuted for his role in the bombing was welcomed by the families, although with an understandable degree of skepticism.

Which highlights the fact that the history of the Troubles lingers in the background each and every day in Northern Ireland. Every so often -- perhaps a bit too frequently -- there is an incident to remind us of the violence that was once common around here. If you get major headlines, such as the Northern Bank robbery or the Robert McCartney murder that was steeped in the continued arrogance of the IRA. This past Monday, the Belfast Marathon was interrupted (or its lease the running course diverted) by a pipe bomb planted allegedly to get one of the runners, police official Hugh Orde.

Despite all this (and weather too), Northern Ireland and Belfast remains a terrific place populated by wonderful people, and I have never for one moment regretted the time I spent here....

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