When I was eight years old I had my own brush with a school based bomb alert.
The junior Northern Irish minister with responsibility for education was due to visit my primary school in Bangor. One of the parents working up the road at the Department of Education at Rathgael, show the itinery for the day and asked had the school been swept for devices. The answer had been no so we were all evacuated from our classrooms while the RUC with sniffer dogs gave the place the once over. We were fortunate there wasn’t an actual bomb, it was just a check.
Eight-year-old Brendan Shannon of St Comgalls, Antrim is lucky today also; but for a different reason. I’ve just seen on the lunchtime news young Brendan describe dead calmly how he touched a suspect device (a pipe bomb), saw it was wasn’t smoking, then carry it into his school. The PSNI are describing it as a viable device.
When the IRA ceasefire was announced following by other groups I hoped that the generation of children that was coming after me. The children of those children who stood with me outside our school that day in the 1970s wouldn’t face the same risk that we and the others of our age faced on a day-to-day basis.
That pipe bombs have been appearing with a frequency that is startling is one thing. That they can be left in the playground of school premises where our children, our future hope can find them, poke around at them and then carry them about is beyond contempt. PSNI Chief Inspector Simon Walls sums it up:
“I cannot express enough my disgust at the cowards involved in these alerts today.
“To target the general public is never acceptable by any means but to take away the secure feelings of innocent children and to put them at risk like this is beyond despicable.
“It is by sheer good fortune that we are not dealing with a severely injured child right now.”
Good fortune it certainly as Thomas Burns the local SDLP MLA added, “There is obviously a group which is determined to cause mayhem in [Antrim] with these regular pipe bomb incidents, and until we know otherwise, we have to operate on the basis that they are prepared to cause murder as well.”
Today everyone was lucky. But if these carry on we may not be able to continue to say the same. We all need to stand against such actions as these, to fight for our brighter future.