A Portadown man living in Brussels found himself working in a virtually empty office this Tuesday, as the city effectively shut down due to the terrorist threat following the Paris attacks.
Paul Hagan, a European adviser in the Welsh government office, had taken the Foreign Office advice and stayed at home on Monday. But the following day, he ventured back into his workplace in the city, although he was one of only a handful to do so.
The former Lismore Comprehensive pupil reckons that Northern Ireland people are probably a bit more accustomed to a heightened security situation. “I suppose there is a sense that we have seen this all before,” he said.
“It is probably more inconvenient if you have children as the schools are off, the metro is not working and the buses and trams have been severely restricted.
“But pretty much all the shops are open again and although the security threat is at level four today (Tuesday) it is due to be lifted completely on Monday.”
Paul is one of three people from Portadown working for the European Commission in Brussels. Among them is Andrew Winter, who has also taken the disruption in his stride. “Whilst there is clearly an additional security presence in response to the increased terrorist threat, it’s also very much business as usual,” he said.
Paul said security around the European district in which he works has been quite heavy since January when the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked.
“I don’t really consider my office to be much of a target so I am not particularly frightened. There haven’t been many attacks on Brussels itself. They reckon the city is being used as a base for terrorists,” he added.
Belgian police have made 16 arrests in anti-terror raids, following the Paris attacks in which more than 130 died and 350 were injured.
Other local people, however, remain more fearful about visiting the city. A group of friends, who had planned to go on a four-day break, have cancelled their trip.
One of them, Michelle, said, “We made the decision after watching the news. None of us would have felt safe, especially as our hotel was right in the city square. We had planned to go to the Christmas market and visit Bruges, so we are a bit disappointed.”
They have already booked another mini-break in Galway.