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The week from the 23rd to the 30th October 1993 saw twenty four people lose their lives in one of the bloodiest weeks of the ‘Troubles’.

The killing started with the Shankill Bomb on the Saturday and there were other killings during the week, before concluding with the Greysteel Massacre on the following Saturday.

My wife Sharon and her dad Desmond were amongst the dead on that terrible day on the Shankill Road.

On the 25th anniversary of their deaths I can’t help but think back to the horror of that week and the lives that were lost but today I also want to think about the hope that emerged from the bloodlust and to ponder where it went and more importantly when will it be back.

Throughout the 25 years I have tried to remain optimistic. There have been undoubted highs, like the IRA decommissioning their weapons, Sinn Fein signing up to Policing and age old adversaries sharing power.

Sadly, there have also been lows, like the 158 people that have been murdered, the growing polarisation of politics and the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I have a long-standing friend who tells me that my optimism is misplaced if I think that local politics can fix the current mess.

He argues that factors in the wider political context militate against progress here – especially the reliance of the present Tory government on DUP votes at Westminster.

My view is that local politics can be different, and it has been seen to be different, and furthermore it was essential to making progress here even when all the external ducks were nicely lined up with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern in office.

Yes, the external circumstances matter, and the threat posed by Brexit almost certainly isn’t going to help, but progress also takes local politicians to show courage and integrity.

Did I hear someone laugh? Back in the days before the Belfast Agreement, you would have been right to laugh, but since then we have seen political leaders who have risked their own interests, their parties and potentially their lives for the sake of putting an end to conflict.

Where are those kind of leaders now?

John Hume risked his party to bring Sinn Fein to the negotiating table.

David Trimble risked his to persuade Unionism to join them there.

Gerry Adams – love him or  loathe him – risked his personal safety as he made himself the target of dissident republicans.

And the biggest transformation of all, Ian Paisley, the Reverend Dr Never went into government with Martin McGuinness.

And it worked.

These men were all LEADERS.

They weren’t cynics exploiting the worst attitudes of their electorate; they made brave decisions that were taken not to bolster their popularity, further their career, expand their party, or benefit “their side”.

They made decisions for the common good, decisions that gave our children a chance, and thank God some of our children at least have grown up with little or no knowledge of the Troubles.

When Sharon died I made a big decision to move out of my Loyalist estate into a mixed area.

I wanted my daughter to grow up with friends from all sides of the community, and it worked.

Zoe got to be friends with a couple of little Catholic girls from across the street and I got to be friends with their parents.

One Eleventh Night I was getting ready to go round the bonfires, something I had done since I was a child.

My Catholic neighbours from across the street called over and invited me and Zoe to a barbeque at their house.

I explained that we could go for a while but since it was the Eleventh Night I would have to leave early to go round the fires.

What happened next has stayed with me for a long time and has served as a reminder of the kind of Northern Ireland in which I want to live.

When we arrived at their house they had built a small bonfire in their back garden, just for me.

There were no flags on this fire and no effigy to be burned.

I sat around the fire, drinking beer and eating a burger.

We talked about everything and anything as our kids laughed and played together in the garden.

Later on as I stood watching an Irish Tricolour burn on another loyalist bonfire I thought about what had just happened in my neighbour’s house and wondered why it couldn’t be like that all the time.

That’s the kind of Northern Ireland for which I voted in 1998.

It’s still the kind of Northern Ireland I want to be part of in 2018.

On this day, 23rd October 2018, twenty five years after the death of my wife, I implore our politicians to get back into government.

Perhaps they could take a leaf out of my Catholic neighbours’ book and ask what can I do to be a good neighbour?

I know if I wanted to be a good neighbour I would do all in my power to make my neighbour feel welcome.

To let them know that they have a right to be here, to value their culture and to respect the things that they hold dear.

Is any of this hitting home Arlene, Michelle or Mary Lou?

Imagine how you could transform society if you went into politics to try and please your neighbour and make them feel welcome rather than please yourself?

An Irish Language act?

No problem!

An act that protects the culture of Unionists and Loyalists?

No problem!

These things don’t have to be contradictory or cost the earth and be delivered at the cost of education or health.

Not doing it is costing us so much more in terms of missed opportunities and the ability to steer our own course.

How long will you continue to play hardball before the penny drops?

We need you working together to deliver the kind of Northern Ireland envisaged in the Belfast Agreement.

The Agreement didn’t have much to say on victims, but it did say that ‘the achievement of apeaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence’.

I believe that’s still the goal and I want you to work together to deliver it.

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  1. Denise Johnston on

    I have the pleasure of working with Alan and I can say hand on heart if unionism was led by him what a different NI we would live in, one that realised the somewhat fantastical hope that GFA had promised. Let us be good neighbours to each other in this place we all call home.

  2. Jonathan Worley on

    This article brought tears to my eyes when it mentioned the small bonfire in the back yard of the Catholic neighbours. What a powerful act of reconciliation. Let’s see some powerful acts of reconciliation from our leaders!

  3. What a refreshing read this article was from Alan McBride. This shows the true spirit of our ‘wee country’. Alan McBride you have done your wife’s memory proud but most of all I think the sentiments you have expressed are those of many of our fellow countrymen today.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me faith in human nature again. God Bless.

    Elsie Cully

  4. Such a courageous man to turn his worse nightmare into a beacon that has shone from he hit the headlines in terrible circumstances to let both sides in the war/conflict know the way forward wasn’t an eye for an eye. Alan chose to not only think outside the box but he took it a part built it bk up again and studied every possible situation. He is now for me especially, A. R.C From Ardroyne someone I’d like to emulate an have his foresight, I listened to him few yrs ago and while he spoke about the darkest day of his an many lives he seen that giving a different time in life how things would be different breaking down details on how everyone needed to move forward and give all our children a life much better than the one we were born into. His attitude is what’s missing from our island.

  5. Jake MacSiacais on

    Alan I sincerely wish you all the best and hope Zoe and her friends can surmount the old argument on which so many political careers reply. We will all continue to occupy this small piece of earth for the future. A bit of respect and an end to the desire to triumph or be right might go a long way.
    Take care and keep up the good work.

  6. Jake MacSiacais on

    Alan I sincerely wish you all the best and hope Zoe and her friends can surmount the old argument on which so many political careers rely. We will all continue to occupy this small piece of earth for the future. A bit of respect and an end to the desire to triumph or be right might go a long way.
    Take care and keep up the good work.

  7. Colman Magennis on

    I remember as a young boy of 8 or 9 going to the 11th night bon fire with my best friend John and his father. John a Protestant and I a Catholic, best friends. I was made welcome at the bonfire, we all had burgers, sausage rolls and a bottles of coke. There was no burning of Tricolours, effigies or statues of Our Lady. The next day mum took us down the end of the street and we watched the bands past.

  8. Alan told his story to a group from EU Member Sates in Belfast today on a Peace building study visit . They were moved by his motive, impressed by his understanding and touched by his compassion, This is a man who has turned his trauma into a true force for good. He speaks sense with the wisdom of someone who understands suffering and offers his shoulder to those who need help. Northern Ireland will be a better place when, as Alan suggests, we learn to become good neighbours.

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