Sally McLean


This statement was prepared and presented by Vigil co-Organizer, Sally McLean at the Mornington Peninsula Peace Vigil, October 2001.

As an Australian of Scots and Irish heritage, my ancestoral background is littered with conflict. And that conflict, in some cases, has continued to the present day. When living in London in the mid-1990’s, I had my first encounter with what it was like to live with the threat of violence.

The conflict in Northern Ireland was in it’s sixth decade. Bomb scares and threats were a way of life in both London and Belfast, and occasionally Dublin. It was almost routine to have to turn off computers and leave the building at the BBC where I worked, due to a bomb threat. The Underground train system was regularly delayed because of bomb scares and if you’ve wondered why London’s been described as dirty, it’s probably because there are very few public rubbish bins provided, due to their being a good place to hide a bomb.

While it was initially unnerving, especially when a bomb actually went off, eventually it became just a part of life to be worked around. News services reported bomb scare delays around town like they would report traffic delays here – for the man on the street, it was nothing to get worked up about – it was just the way it was.

In a surprising, but welcome move in 1994, a peace treaty was negotiated between the warring parties. It was a sign that peace in this particular conflict, was possible. We all relaxed, enjoying a sense of security and relief that the threat had been removed. Life became more like life in Australia – work and socializing went on unhindered, and peace became the norm.

Then, at one past seven in the evening on 9 February 1996, while watching television at home in South London, I felt a tremor shake the ground, accompanied by a faint booming sound. It was so strong that it knocked some
of the picture frames sideways on the wall of the sitting room. While it was unusual, I thought nothing much about it, assuming it could have simply been an earth tremor or lightning strike. I turned off the television, and went into my room to finish some work before going to bed.

The following morning, on my way to work, I looked out the train window and saw that half of the Plaza complex at Canary Wharf, a development near Central London, was missing. Everyone on the train stared at this bizarre vision, not believing their eyes. The building was sheared on an odd angle and the hole that remained gaped back at us, almost appearing as startled as we were. Paper fluttered down to the ground below and the blue, red and amber flashing lights of the emergency service vehicles lit the dark sky.

What we didn’t know at that moment, but soon discovered, was that the destruction of the Carnary Wharf development had been caused by a bomb at the South Quay Light Rail station below the building, which killed two people, caused more than 100 casulties and caused over 150 million pounds worth of damage. The blast shattered windows up to 3 kilometers away.

The People of Northern Ireland clearly stated their horror at this act of terrorism. The English Government scrambled their forces, the terrorists were condemned on all sides and the search for the individuals responsible began.

The war began once more, and all hope for peace seemed lost yet again. The BBC itself was finally bombed – at Television Centre, a building I had worked in six years ago, which is still being repaired even as I speak. Several of my former colleagues were injured in the blast. Despite this, there was still hope that a solution could be found to end the conflict and the losses of life on both sides.

Eventually, that optimism was justified when a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in Belfast, providing shared power in Northern Ireland, and amnesty was granted for those IRA members still on the run. The IRA’s historic act of decommissioning and demilitarisation that began this week in Northern Ireland signals that maybe, finally, a solution has been found and the conflict can now begin to be put to rest. It is a long and difficult process to put aside mistrust, pain and anger, to forgive and move on. But the first step is wanting to try.

My reason for sharing this story with you, is that it illustrates that while achieving peace may seem impossible, while the odds seem so against it’s eventual reality, and while there seems to be no common ground between any of the parties concerned – if one person, one community, one country want peace, and actively take steps to show their goodwill and their commitment to peace – then it is possible, the odds even out and true peace does eventually have a chance of becoming a reality.



A graduate of The Actors Institute, London, Sally McLean has played roles in over thirty UK and Australian theatre productions, including Hamlet, Macbeth, Uncle Vanya, The Auxiliary, Chasing Pegasus (a play in ten chords), The Clairvoyant, P.S I Love You, the Australian Premier of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and the World Premier of Annabel’s Requiem on the West End. Her most recent theatre appearance was as “Dowsabel” for two seasons with the Australian Shakespeare Company in their critically acclaimed production of Comedy of Errors. She has appeared in various lead and guest roles on numerous UK and Australian television series including Lowdown, Elephant Princess, Flying Doctors, Totally Full Frontal, Blue Heelers, Tonight Live, Bingles, Comedy Inc. and the BBC mini-series Bootleg. Film credits include Raymond Taylor’s Earnest Adventures In Love, V for Vienetta, Evie Wants A Baby and Why Must The Show Go On?, amongst others. Sally continues to work in Australian theatre, film and television as an actor as well as developing several projects for both the big and small screen as writer and producer.