Wars are now fought right where we live.

Another regular day bleeds into an uneventful evening which ends on the sofa in front of the TV.  As I begin to think about heading to bed, I check Twitter and my heart sinks.  That now almost familiar, feeling of dread, seeps through my bones as I try and piece together what is happening in Manchester.  I have been here before.  I was also watching TV at home in November 2015 when the news started to break online about the attack on the Bataclan in Paris.  I was also at home in July 2016 when we got the first tweets about a truck, mowing down people watching Bastille day fireworks, on the seafront in Nice, France.

Each time my first reaction was a refusal to accept that this is terrorism.  Each time I hoped for a logical explanation to the horror that was unfolding in real time and I was witnessing virtually from my suburban home in Dublin.  And each time I was wrong.

On last Monday night as I went to bed, I prayed that only one or two people may have died.  I hoped it was a gas explosion.  Not that that would make any difference to the outcome for the victims but I didn’t want to believe that such callous evil could exist in the world.

Less than twenty-four hours later, the names and photos start to appear of the first victims.  Georgina Callander was 18 years old and described as a super fan of Ariana Grande.  Little Saffie Rose Roussos was only 8 years old.  There will be at least twenty more photos and names to be revealed in the coming days in a roll call of heart-breaking devastation.

It is just over one hundred years since the end of the Great War when the world lost a generation of young men, young soldiers who died on battlefields, fighting for their country.  Today’s wars have no battlefields.  Wars are now fought where we live, in our cities, among communities.  Approximately 25,000 children have been killed in Syria since 2011, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.  We have moved from a world where men signed up for war, to one where children have somehow become legitimate targets.  Children, for whom death can come straight out of a blue sky over Syria, or when walking with their families on the seafront in Nice or while in the foyer of an arena in the UK where they were attending a concert.

I don’t understand for one moment how any man (and it is usually men) can justify their actions when their intended targets are children.  Innocent children.  Of course, they would say that the children are just collateral damage.  The intention is to instill fear and terror into the hearts of the population.  And they do.

As the news from Manchester began to break on last Monday night, my first thought was of the parents.  Waiting outside the venue to pick up their precious children.  I can only imagine their terror and fear.  And then I thought of the children, most of them young girls, who must have been feeling so happy and grown up to have been at a concert with their friends and suddenly thrown into unspeakable horror. Alone, with only each other to try to work out what they should do.

Taking your child to a big concert is almost a rite of passage.  Most of us have memories of producing the magic ticket for a birthday or Christmas present and the intense excitement as you prepare to share, what is one of the best experiences in life, going to see your favourite artist with thousands of other fans.  I took my eldest to the Spice Girls in The Point Depot.  For the younger two, it was One Direction in the same, renamed venue.  There is something very special about being able to introduce your child to the joy of live performance and the excitement of a big concert.

As your children get older, you have probably, slightly anxiously dropped them off at a big venue with strict instructions to leave immediately it’s over and proceed to your agreed rendezvous point for their lift home.

And if you are parents of very young children, all of this is in your future.  And it most likely will be a deliciously bonding, joyous experience.

But right now, when the world feels like a dangerous place for our children, it is important that we hold on to hope and to love.  As parents, we must shine a light on the goodness that is all around us and was much in evidence in the aftermath of the horror in Manchester.  To do anything else is to let the bastards win.

When Home Is A Dangerous Place

Waking up on a spring morning to the news of a bomb in Brussels airport was a deeply unnerving experience.  As I scanned up and down Twitter for more information I experienced that now familiar feeling of dread, sensing that this would not be the only attack on Brussels that day.  Ever since 9/11, terror attacks seem to be multiple events and sure enough another bomb on the metro sent the toll on human life upwards. Belgium’s bloody and dark day had arrived.

All day the news media was full of eye witness reports and the opinions of security experts.  The message is always the same; it’s almost impossible to prevent these kind of terror attacks on civilian populations.  I wonder if I should hold off on booking a foreign holiday for the family.  I know that my reaction is somewhat irrational and of course plays right into the hands of these bloody-minded monsters but I, like most other people I think, am deeply disturbed by how frightening and dangerous a place our world can become in the blink of an eye.  And when we feel threatened our first reaction is to retreat to where we feel safest, our homes.

As I contemplated not travelling for a while, the Belgian government was issuing that very same advice to the citizens of Brussels.  The message was to stay home, stay indoors, stay safe.

Then Caitlin Moran tweeted “always good, on days like this, to remind everyone that the guys blowing up Brussels are THE PEOPLE THE REFUGEES ARE RUNNING AWAY FROM”.  Sometimes a simple 140 characters can be very profound.  In suburban Dublin my instinct is to hug my children, postpone travel plans and stay safely at home.  In Belgium the population are being urged to do precisely the same.  Yet on the other side of Europe there are families who have done exactly the opposite and who are now stuck in appalling conditions on the border between Greece and Macedonia.

These families have walked away from all that was familiar and all that should have been safe.  They have left their homes to make perilous journeys into the unknown in search of shelter.  These are families that up until a few years ago were just like mine; their kid going to school, the parents making dinners, doing chores, feeding the dog, watching TV, living their lives just like we do in Belgium and in Ireland.  Suddenly in the cold light of the callous terror in Brussels I have some insight into just how terrifying it must have been in Syria to have forced families to take the action and the risks they did and still do.

If any country in Europe should be able to identify with their plight, then surely it is the Irish.  The neutral Irish, the peacekeeping Irish, the Irish who still donate more to charity than any of our European neighbours, the Irish who for centuries were refugees arriving on foreign shores.  How can we not understand how horrific Syria must be that these families choose to leave all that is precious to them?  And yet there seems to be an empathy gap between us here in Ireland and our Syrian brothers and sisters who are currently camped in the mud and squalor by a fence in Greece.

As I sit and wonder about all this I am acutely aware that we currently have no Government in this country.  We have 157 elected representatives (and one on a free pass) but we have yet to see any leadership come forward with the political will and the sense of responsibility to get to work on forming a government to begin to tackle some of the urgent problems facing us in Ireland.

In the meantime, I thank God that so far Ireland has been spared this kind of terrorist attack because just like in Paris, Madrid, London and New York we cannot prevent such horror but unlike all those cities we would be even less able to deal with the consequences of such wide scale death and injury with a health service that can’t even cope with day to day emergencies.

The world needs a voice of reason and compassion to counter the evil of organisations like ISIS.  Ireland in my view is perfectly positioned to be just that voice.  To be the voice of the poor, the dispossessed and those in desperate need of aid.  But most of all to be the voice of peace.  However, our current homeless crisis (which includes providing homes for the travelling community) are proof that we cannot practice such humanity at home.  So how would be possibly be a beacon of light to counter the dark evil of organisations who are intent on killing and maiming wherever they so choose.