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A Clare voice in the ‘fear and unease’ of Sydney

The Bondi Junction shopping centre attack in Sydney on Saturday has created a huge “sense of fear and unease” in the city, according to a North Clare Mental Health Manager who has revealed he could have been stabbed if his haircut had taken longer.
Six people were killed and several others were injured in the attack, including a small child. Police shot the 40-year-old attacker dead.
Niall Naughton believes the perpetrator conducted several stabbings on multiple floors of the shopping centre.
“I was on Level Three. I think the first stabbings happened on Level Four. I was just moments away. If I was any longer getting my hair cut, ultimately I could have been in that situation. I probably would have been stabbed,” he said.
“I consider Sydney a home away from home. It is a fantastic place to live and work. I have a really good work life balance. It is a very safe place to live.
“The attack has had an effect on me and the whole community of Sydney. It has given me some form of post traumatic stress disorder.
“I commute to work on a bus and a train and often come home late at night when it is quite dark. For the last few days, I have been looking over my shoulder and are mindful of my surroundings. My sleep has also been affected.”
Having travelled to Australia on September 1, the Mental Health Manager is on a working holiday visa in an independent living premises looking after 17 clients recovering from mental health issues.
Mr Naughton, (27) who is from Boston, Tubber Co Clare, went to the Sydney shopping centre to get a haircut and to do some shopping.
In an interview with The Clare Champion, Mr Naughton he was on his own while he was getting his haircut with a barber and went downstairs to buy some clothes.
“I was in a rush as I meant to meet my friend. He said to me ‘are you on the way’. I said I am just going into Zara and I will meet you in another shopping centre.
“I went to Zara again and picked out the clothes I had seen the first time I went in to have a look.”
At about 3.20pm Mr Naughton was trying on some clothes in the dressing room when he heard what sounded like a stampede of cattle of people running.
The first thought that came into his mind was that someone must be trying to rob the shop and someone was running after them. The next thing he heard was screaming when a lady pulled back the curtain in his dressing room and told him he needed to get out because “there is stabbing and shooting”.
“I remember grabbing my stuff. I didn’t have time to think what she was saying to me. I grabbed all my stuff. Everyone was going in the one direction,” he said.
“I didn’t have time to look behind me to see if the person was in the shop, what kind of weapons they had, and ultimately we just ran as fast as we could to a basement area downstairs in Zara.
“Staff barricaded the door. We were in there for five to ten minutes, there were kids there, young, old, every kind of nationality and age. We were all huddled into this one room.
“There was just sheer fear in the room. It was a horrible atmosphere and environment to be in. I remember we were all looking at each other wondering what was actually going on.
“Nobody knew what was going on. All people knew there was a stabbing and shooting because of word of mouth. It didn’t happen outside the Zara shop. It had started up on the other floor. No one knew if there were multiple people or one person involved in the stabbing. There was a lot of speculation around terrorism.”
Because there was no concrete information at the time, he said everyone was panicking. One of the Zara staff knocked on the door and Mr Naughton who was near the emergency exit felt it was safe to open the door and let people out.
When the door was opened, he recalled it was like “putting your head through a television screen when you are watching a movie”.
“Hundreds of people were fleeing from the shopping centre, from emergency doors and down side lanes. There were four helicopters up in the sky. There were police cars and ambulances everywhere.
“Cars were driving at high speed doing their best to drive as fast as they could to get away. Two distraught Australian girls came up to me who said they couldn’t find their parents.
“I offered them my phone to ring a number but then one of them spotted their parents. I walked across the road with them. I remember looking at the ground for one of the entrances to the shopping centre. There were flip flops, shoes, shopping bags, handbags and other stuff on the ground.
“It was like everyone didn’t give a dam what property they owned. They knew they needed to get to a safe place.”
Mr Naughton tried to contact his friend who works in the construction industry. He tried multiple times but she didn’t answer. She texted him back to say she couldn’t answer him at the time but he persisted, stating she needed to answer him as it was an emergency.
After explaining what happened, she told him she was leaving work to meet him. His first priority was to contact his place of work to ensure none of his clients were outside and received confirmation they were safe.
“I remember running as fast as I could and wondering ‘Am I going to die here if someone is running behind me’. I remember running with an Irish couple who were distraught, which sparked another thought about the huge community of 20,000 Irish people who are in Sydney and hoped there were no Irish people killed or injured.
“I remember running and running and thinking back to the downstairs basement when there were so many people I couldn’t reach down for my phone and if someone burst in with a gun or a knife what would have happened.
“Was I going to die? All I could think about was my family. It was a very distressing situation to be in but thankfully I made it to a safe place and my friend came and collected me.
“It is just horrific to see the outcome where so many people were killed and there was a baby involved as well. I am grateful I didn’t see anything graphic even though I am a strong person and work in mental health. When something as traumatic as this happens, it does have an impact on your mental health.”
Once the North Clare man found a secure place, he posted a message in his family’s group chat to confirm he was unharmed and spoke to his mother, Martina for about an hour on the phone.

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