independent

Monday 16 September 2019

Wexford woman living in France watches as terrorists strike at heart of society

Jacqui, husband Didier, sons Steven and Bryan and cousin Deano Walsh during a recent visit to Wexford.
Jacqui, husband Didier, sons Steven and Bryan and cousin Deano Walsh during a recent visit to Wexford.

By David Tucker

former Wexford town resident Jacqui Ménard Byrne has lived in France for the past 18 years and is currently serving a third term as a councillor in Wexford's twin-town, the commune of Coueron, in the Loire-Atlantique department in Western France.

Married to Didier, she has two children, Steven, aged 17, and Bryan, aged 12, and works as an English training teacher at the at the World Trade Centre of the Chamber of Commerce in Nantes.

'I'm here in front of the TV, it's spooky, the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck,' said Jacqui, closely following the live TV reports on the manhunt for the Charlie Hebdo killers, the Kouachi brothers.

Speaking to this newspaper on Friday, Jacqui said she had just come in to hear the killers had been cornered.

'My husband said they have them and they have just announced the name of the person who killed the police woman,' she said as news was emerging of a second siege, this time at a kosher superarket in Paris, by the same man, Amedy Coulibaly

While we are shocked, outraged and appalled at what happened, for the people of France, the savagery of the attacks was and is still frightening.

We may be removed from it, connected by television and social media. To the French, it is an attack on them all, their values and their republic.

'We're on high alert here. We have Nantes International Airport and the railway station just down the road.. there are security plans at all the schools. It's very alarming and very shocking,' she said.

The gunmen shouted 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest) as they carried out the attack, which has been described by President Francois Holland and other world leaders as an attack on the fundamentals of democracy.

The supermarket killer said he was carrying out his attack on behalf of ISIS.

Twelve people, 10 from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and two police officers, were shot dead in the first Parish attack, which has been linked to al Qaeda.

Jacqui said she had been working and very busy on Wednesday and didn't hear about the savagery in Paris until she returned home at 2.30 p.m.

'The boys were watching TV, I said "what's this" - it was a total shock, the barbarity of it,'

she said.

'The magazine (Charlie Hebdo) has been in circulation for 20 years and there have been many questions about some of the content, but at the end of the day it's about freedom of speech. Everybody has the right to speak their minds,' she said.

'They (the killers) had it well planned, they actually asked the people their names before they shot them, words cannot really describe how I feel.. it's horrific. It shouldn't happen.. the question is how do you prevent it from happening again?'

While there have been widespread media reports about the massacre causing further divisions in French society, Jacqui said she felt that communities were united and coming together to stand up and say 'we cannot let this continue, we will stay strong together' and this was reflected by the almost four million people who marched across France on Sunday in a show of defiance against the terrorists and support for their victims.

'What happened is savagery, we cannot let these people win.'

Jacqui said that she and her family sat down to dinner on Thursday night and watched a TV programme on the victims of the masscare.

'I had been thinking we didn't know any of these people who were murdered.. we were crying and watching this and thinking of the people who were killed and who escaped.. I don't know how they can rebuild their lives.

'Yes, you are afraid, but you have stay strong and united and as a mother you have to be strong for your children.. life goes on on'. At the end of the day on Friday, French security forces shot dead the Souachi brothers and Coulibaly, 'The nightmare is over,' said Jacqui.

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