Belfast’s City Hall has seen its fair share of demonstrations over the years, but this Wednesday’s peace rally commemorating Constable Ronan Kerr was the first I had ever attended. And it was quite extraordinary.
Walking out of the Scottish Provident building and taking the short few steps out to the middle of Donegal Square where the rally was taking place, I was struck by how many people were walking with me, from all corners, walking silently and with purpose. When I joined the bigger group of people, I was the furthest away from the podium on my side of the street. When I looked back a few moments later there were legions behind me, and when I looked back again after a few moments more, the whole street was wedged. There was something incredibly powerful in the implicit unity of people, of all ages, of all occupations, who had never met or even broke breath to each other.
The demonstration itself consisted of two very concise statements from the trade union organisers, two bagpipe laments, and silence. Palpable, powerful silence. In a big city in the midst of a big crowd at lunchtime, you couldn’t even hear a mobile phone go off or people whispering to each other. City Hall has seen its fair share of demonstrations in the past, but never quite like this.
The past, so the aphorism goes, is another country, they do things differently there. Northern Ireland today is a markedly different country to the one it was when I, or indeed Ronan Kerr, was born. This Wednesday was a case in point: the murder of a police officer wasn’t met with equivocation, qualification or justification, just concentrated condemnation of the mindset and actions that prompted a young man being killed so senselessly.
The past is another country, and nobody wants to revisit it.
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