A troubled past: an echo from Ireland of the East

0
10

A troubled past: an echo from Ireland of the East

The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka are a stark reminder of the preciousness of peace, writes Joe Corcoran


A Sri Lankan catholic priest stands near broken glass in front St Anthony’s Church in Colombo (Manish Swarup/AP)
A Sri Lankan catholic priest stands near broken glass in front St Anthony’s Church in Colombo (Manish Swarup/AP)

One month ago, I was in Sri Lanka on a holiday. As I walked through the crowded streets of Colombo – scene of half of last weekend’s bombings – I found myself thinking that this place, a tiny island, battle-hardened through centuries of colonialism and civil war, yet so profoundly enlivened today by the promise of peace, commerce and multicultural cooperation, might well have been called an Ireland of the East.

All that is gone now. Today, 253 bodies lie buried: 253 bodies of people who on that Easter morning had opened their eyes at around the same hour, dressed in their Sunday best and set off out the door for eight o’clock Mass, or who had sat down for breakfast in their hotel; 253 people, carrying out 253 individual life plans, just as rich and as complex as yours or mine.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

window.gigyaIntegration = window.gigyaIntegration || {};
gigyaIntegration.command = gigyaIntegration.command || ;
gigyaIntegration.command.push(function() {
gigyaIntegration.addEventHandlers({
onLogin: function(e) {
location.reload();
}
});
$(‘#datawall-sign-in’).click(function(e) {
e.preventDefault();
gigyaIntegration.showLoginScreenSet({
signupSource: ‘opinion’
});
});
$(‘#datawall-sign-up’).click(function(e) {
e.preventDefault();
gigyaIntegration.showRegisterScreenSet({
signupSource: ‘opinion’
});
});
});

Isil are currently taking credit for the act, though frankly, it’s hard to ever really know what to make of their boasts.

In Sri Lanka itself, the main topic of political conversation is who’s responsible for the catastrophic security failures that must have occurred in order for something like this to be allowed to happen.

All evidence is that the warning signs were there. At least two weeks beforehand, Indian and US intelligence officials sent information about a potential plot against Sri Lankan churches and tourist sites. This information eventually made its way, via the defence ministry and inspector general of police, to several government directors in charge of security matters.

At no point along this chain of communication were any actions taken.

So far, a few officials have resigned – but looming over the whole scene is a feud between the president and the prime minister, a feud which has been threatening to bubble over into a new authoritarian government for Sri Lanka.

Looming behind this political battle is a long legacy of violent disputes between Sri Lanka’s two main ethnic groups; the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and the minority Hindu Tamils.

The atmosphere of exuberant peacefulness which tourists once met was only ushered in after May 2009, with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers; a militant group which, among other things, brought suicide bombing back into vogue in the early 1980s.

The defeat of the Tamil Tigers ended a 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka which is estimated to have taken more than a 100,000 lives in total, and displaced another 800,000.

This is why the turn taken with these bombings feels so especially cruel. The common wisdom that violence only begets more violence threatens once again to become prophecy in this little island nation. There was a sense of dull fatalism about the news reported last Friday that Muslims were being evacuated for their own safety in the face of a threat from bloodthirsty mobs out for revenge for the bombings.

}
});

#bb-iawr-inarticle- { clear: both; margin: 0 0 15px; }

While I hesitate to inject such far-flung hysteria too deeply into our own national conversation, since the bombings, I have not been able to get that thought about Sri Lanka being the Ireland of the East out of my head.

Over dinner in Sri Lanka, my tour guide and I couldn’t resist comparing notes on our two countries’ political experiences. Obviously, the legacies of our respective troubles was a prime topic – but still more uncanny were the similarities between Sri Lanka’s difficulties in trying to balance economic allegiances to their region’s two competing powerhouses; China and India, and our own situation, sandwiched between Britain and Europe.

From the beginning of these bitter Brexit negotiations, we have heard whisperings of how border tensions could be re-ignited if push comes to shove. Along the way our Taoiseach, a good-willed and intelligent man, but one who is comparatively young for the job and who hasn’t quite the same cultural memory of life at the height of the Troubles as people of an older generation, has made clear his desire to one day lead a united Ireland, with an enthusiasm often bordering on cavalier.

By the time news from Sri Lanka hit our shores last Sunday, we hadn’t yet had three full days to mourn the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in the riot-torn streets of Creggan, Derry. I do not mean to suggest that Lyra McKee’s death is as stability-threatening as the Sri Lankan bombings, though these things need not compete with each other in the first place.

All I advise is that if we take away any lesson from our counterparts across the globe, it should be to tread lightly in times such as these, and respect the preciousness of what we have achieved in the last 20 years.

Sunday Independent

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here