In what kind of a society would a grandmother be murdered solely because she was married to someone belonging to the "enemy" community? A very, very sick society indeed. It needs no sociologist or psychologist to tell us that. Yet, this is what happened last weekend in Portadown, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland, where 59-year-old Elizabeth O’Neill, a Protestant married to a Catholic, was killed by a bomb thrown through her window. Her crime was that she had "crossed over" — she had married a Catholic. The loyalist bigots who killed her regard that as a crime deserving of death.
It is, of course, no coincidence that the bomb attack came when and where it did. It was one of several that night, all aimed at Catholics or, in Mrs. O’Neill’s case, people who are brave enough to associate with Catholics.
On Monday, a bomb was left in a Catholic primary school in Harryville, but fortunately did not go off.
Portadown is the scene of the never-ending saga of Drumcree, where Orangemen have been protesting for almost a year now in an effort to force their parade past a local Catholic neighborhood. Harryville, in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, has been the scene of ugly protests in the past, with hundreds of Orangemen picketing the Catholic church there on Sundays.
It should be no surprise then that such acts of hatred occur in such places, where bigotry is allowed to express itself almost unhindered. The problem is that hate-mongers are rarely content to restrict their hatreds to verbal or symbolic gestures. They usually want blood. And in the North, it is clear, they still have not had enough of it.
Attacks on Catholics have now become such a part of the North’s routine that the British government is in danger of taking it all for granted. Recall the outrage when a month ago there were several bomb attacks in black areas of London. The outrage was intense. The shock could be felt across the Atlantic as all decent English people rushed to condemn the attacks and distance themselves and their society from those racists who were responsible. But the North is different. Catholics have been long subjected to a vicious sectarian campaign aimed at driving them out of Protestant areas. Their schools, churches and homes have been bombed. They have been attacked while going to work. They have been bombed while out for a quiet night’s drink. And all this during a time of peace.
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Imagine, too, if instead of loyalists attacking Catholics it was dissident republicans attacking Protestants. Would the forces of law and order rest until they had rounded up the usual suspects and blunted the edge of their campaign? Anyone who knows anything about the North knows the answer to that. Yet, to date, there has been only one loyalist charged in connection with the current bombing campaign. He was arrested some weeks ago in Carrickfergus, where he was caught with pipe bombs.
But the murderous campaign goes on, fueled by the Drumcree Orangemen’s protests and their threats to escalate the confrontation and bring the North to its knees, as they did once before. The police and Unionist politicians spout pieties about bringing the guilty to book for their crimes, just as they lament the violence as a threat to the peace process. Does this make a difference to vulnerable Catholics and their families? Words are no protection against pipe bombs. Unless they are followed by deeds, so that law and order is seen to be enforced fairly and equitably, then this summer will spell the doom of what was called Ireland’s greatest hope for peace in a generation.