I’m sorry for my absence last week but last Saturday I found myself paying an unwelcome visit to A & E in St. James’s Hospital. Such events are always stressful but I’m glad to say that I am now safely home. However, it was a stark reminder that Covid still stalks the land. Despite being fully vaccinated I still had to be tested and had my stay been extended beyond 4 days would have had to be tested again. An abundance of caution you would think but a rule not applied to staff. In the circumstances I did not step outside my room. Spare a thought please for all those currently in hospital. Because of Covid you are allowed no visitors. When I headed for hospital last Saturday, it was this I dreaded the most because at that stage I had no idea how long I was going to be incarcerated. So to be back at home and hear the birds singing from my own bed was nothing short of bliss.
Now I don’t want to pour cold water over the growing sense of exuberance that is bursting out all over the place but this cursed thing is far from over. Many of you will have watched with horror the terrible images coming out of India. Now the hugely transmissible B1617.2, or Indian strain, has reached Bolton, Greater Manchester. Boris Johnson has said it is “ of increasing concern here in the UK. “ As of Thursday the Republic had 20 cases. The good news is that the European Medicines Agency have said that jabs such as Pfizer and Moderna which use mRNA technology can “neutralise” the strain. All the more reason to vaccinate the maximum number of people as soon as possible. No vaccines should be left in cold storage. They should be in people’s arms.
I am delighted that the British Prime Minister has “apologised unreservedly for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed”. However, what did seem peculiar, if not insensitive, was that he did not go into the House of Commons and make a statement. The British Government must move to de-escalate tensions in the North. Boris Johnson played fast and loose with the truth over Brexit and now the difficulties with the Protocol are too apparent. It is true that Ursula von der Leyen’s utterly insensitive handling of Article 16 did not help but events since then have proved very unsettling. On Thursday I was struck by a full page article in the Daily Telegraph by Dominic Nicholls, their Defence and Security Editor, with the dramatic headline “ This is the biggest threat to peace in Northern Ireland there has ever been”. He talked to a number of people from the Loyalist tradition with links to Paramilitaries. In particular Winston “Winkie” Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party who speaking of the Good Friday Agreement said “ This isn’t what I signed up for, what I went to jail for. This isn’t why my family are lying in graveyards across Northern Ireland. The dangers are absolutely massive. We are all a matchstick away from this place being ignited”.
There is no question that there is a deep sense of loss in the Loyalist community and, dare I say it, a view that the Republicans have won, with violence playing a part. This requires the urgent attention of both governments.