My home country is all over the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. Northern Ireland has always had a chequered past, but in recent years it had started to turn a corner and make some progress. Which is why it saddens me to read that the petrol bombs have returned, cars are being burnt out and bastards in balaclavas are causing havoc across the capital. The reason? Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag at city hall only on designated days: Loyalists believe their cultural identity is under threat and are fighting back. For me, the phrase “any excuse for a riot” springs to mind.
I don’t pretend to know much about the so-called ‘politics’ behind these people’s motivations, nor do I really care. What I do know, however, is that it’s oddly surreal to read about this kind of stuff when I’m so far away from home. It is the country I was born in after all, and I’d love to be proud of it for a change instead of ashamed and embarrassed all the time. It’d be nice to have a positive cultural identity instead of one that is associated with bombs and guns.
Living in Northern Ireland you definitely become desensitised to the squabbles between rival factions. It’s part of everyday life. When you move far enough away though, you start to see the country though the eyes of a foreigner. I know the violence probably isn’t as bad as the media portrays, just in selected pockets of the city. However, international mainstream media is painting the country as a war zone. Seen from Japan, Belfast could just as easily be Beruit.
Northern Ireland’s current tourism slogan is ‘our time our place’. But with such images and reports coming through, no one is going to want to visit. I couldn’t blame them either.