Posts Tagged ‘ UVF ’

Northern Ireland – Sharing the State Means Sharing Responsibility

Castlederg. Photo: Kenneth Allen.

Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, has called on the organisers of a Republican commemoration to call off their plans. A demonstration is planned for this Sunday in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, commemorating the deaths of IRA members killed during the Troubles, including two members killed when a bomb they had planned to plant in Castlederg exploded. Unionists have called the planned event a glorification of terrorism, while DUP leader Peter Robinson has gone on record to denounce the commemoration as ‘insensitive’ and ‘inappropriate’. An event is held by Republicans in Tyrone every year and this year marks the 40th anniversary of the deaths of the would be bombers.

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A History of Bigotry – Should Orangemen March Through Dublin?

In a way, the predicament of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission each July is one that can be sympathised with, in a limited manner. On one hand they have the mobs of loyal Orangemen demanding they be allowed to forcefully remind those pesky Catholics how a Dutch king once beat an English king ensuring Scottish settlers would remain on the lands of dispossessed Irish Catholics. On the other hand lies the genuine Nationalist/Catholic complaints which arise over said Orange triumphalists needing to march and wave their banners through Catholic streets, something which often seems like a move to fulfil some errant craving for attention. Who do they favour? As of now, the Orange march routes which apparently exist solely to bait Nationalists and Catholics routinely set off riots and fights each twelfth of July. This year was no different, as Orange marches through the predominantly Catholic area of Ardoyne in Belfast ended in what has been called a “night of serious rioting,” with the usual violence and arrests on both sides of the coin. Chairman of the Commission, Peter Osborne, has attempted to shift the blame. Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, he said “It is complete and utter nonsense to blame the Parades Commission for the violence last night. There has been violence in this location for many, many years now. It is time for politicians to take ownership of contentious parades… that’s the way forward.”

But really the solution lies at the feet of the Orange Order. Sinn Féin and the IRA were often criticised for failing to do their bit in helping to heal the rift in the Northern part of Ireland, and now the Orangemen must take some blame. Controversy has followed the Order since its inception. Founded in 1795 the new organisation took a leaf from the Peep-O-Day Boy’s book – a Protestant and sectarian group which often clashed with their Catholic rivals, the Defenders. The aim was the suppression of Irish nationalism and Catholicism and the upholding of the Protestant Ascendancy (the political, economic and social domination of Ireland by members of the Protestant faith). By the time the Order came into existence, the United Irishmen, who were still led at this point by mainly Protestants, had morphed into an organisation seeking an Irish republic, one in which Catholic, Protestant and dissenter alike could find freedom. Several historians have argued that in an attempt to thwart such aims, the government backed the Orangemen and promoted sectarian feelings. And, when in 1798 the United Irishmen rebelled, both the Orange Order and the Peep-O-Day Boys were among those who aided the government in suppressing the insurrection.

And since its early days, the sectarian nature of the organisation hasn’t changed. Following a revival in the 19th century, they were instrumental in the formation of the Ulster Unionist Party and were influential in organising constant opposition to Home Rule for Ireland, including the famed Ulster Covenant, in which 500,000 people pledged themselves against such a move. Early armed Orange militias were gathered into a central organisation which became known as the Ulster Volunteer Force and since 1921 and the creation of the Irish Free State, the Order has been influential and often central to Northern Ireland. From 1921 to 1969, every single Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was a member of the Order, ensuring that the state would remain for decades a Protestant state, and an Orange state, keeping Catholic citizens in the second class. During the Troubles the Order once again showed its usefulness, encouraging many members to join Northern security forces, while others opted for Loyalist paramilitary groups, although officially, the organisation had a fractious relationship with these groups. Around 300 Order members were killed during those thirty odd years. Orangemen were often found in possession of weapons or documents likely to be used in acts of terrorism while bands hired to play during marches have previously and openly declared support for Loyalist paramilitary groups. In recent years the Order has still attempted to exercise influence amongst unionists, holding talks with both the DUP and the UUP in an attempt to unite the two parties before a recent general election in the province. Grand Master Robert Saulters has openly called for a single unionist party in the North so as to maintain the union with Britain.

The order’s anti-Catholicism is clear as day; members must be of the Protestant faith, Catholics are banned from holding membership. In previous years such a ban was clearly stated against Roman Catholics, nowadays the various laws require vaguer wording. In particular the Grand Master quite recently referred to the oppositional dissident republicans as the “Roman Catholic IRA”, something which isn’t so surprising when issued from the mouth of the Orange Order, who have, since the beginning, attempted to link Catholicism with nationalism and the enemy, in an attempt to unite unionism and promote and promulgate sectarian feelings. Some have attempted to draw links between the Order and the American Ku Klux Klan. Though former Grand Master Martin Smyth rejected such comparisons, writer and historian Tim Pat Coogan argued that in America, the Order manifested itself in the form of the Know Nothings (a xenophobic and anti-Catholic organisation during the 1850s) as well as the KKK, with whom they share an extreme bias towards Roman Catholicism and somewhat exotic leadership titles.

Perhaps even more well-known than their anti-Catholic stance and attempts to unite Protestant Northern Ireland against Roman Catholicism is their incessant marching practices each July and in particular, the Twelfth. This, more than anything, has been the cause of troubles over the past several decades, troubles which so easily could be avoided. The Order insists on marching through Nationalist areas, such as Ardoyne, despite the hassle and grief it causes. Memories take a while to fade, and many people still remember the violence the Order sparked each year with their insistence on rubbing the memory of William of Orange in Catholic and Nationalist faces, like a spoilt child waving a fistful of sweets at a deprived neighbour. And despite their attempts to maintain a dignified stance, the Order is well able to toss their toys from the pram if they don’t get their way. In 1998, the first year the authorities dared challenge their power and rerouted the march, protests erupted. Orange followers set fire to a Catholic house in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, in which three little boys were burned alive. The thunderous banging of the drums long served to ignite fear in anyone who stood against them, while their marching through rival streets highlighted how their kind held the power, and they could do what they liked. Would a Republican march bearing IRA banners and shouting anti-Protestant slogans through the Shankhill Road receive Unionist support? I think not. Double standards are at play here, as the Orangemen desperately attempt to cling onto the six counties in which they once ruled as they desired.

While this may appear as an entirely one sided diatribe against the Orange Order and its Loyalist ways, it doesn’t forget the other side which can often be guilty of anti-Protestant sentiment. A war waged solely partly based on the two opposing religions, as nationalism has boasted quite a few supporters over the centuries, while not all Catholics are in favour of splitting with Britain. Nationalist and republican history may indeed boast quite a few scholars but precious few saints. But while republicanism in the form of dissident republicans fighting a war which ended years ago can be criticised, and rightly so, so too can the other side of the coin. Because the Orangemen are not exactly doing their part in easing tensions between the opposing peoples. Quite recently, the Order addressed the Irish senate, seeking a second shot at an Orange parade through the streets of Dublin. One might remember the clashes that occurred the last time the Order attempted the Love Ulster parade. Much of the violence was instigated by thugs with precious little knowledge of our history and driven by a mindless desire to hurt and break, but those genuine protestors had genuine reasons, similar to anyone who might protest should the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church come to town. Perhaps one day in the future, when the Order forsakes its long held tradition of sectarianism and triumphalism, and finally shakes off its links with a Protestant Ascendancy and Loyalist thuggery, then they might walk through our streets without fear of disruption. Until then, our roads have no place for ancient bigotry – from either side.

Voices from the Grave

A recent Community Relations Council Report had two surprising revelations. Firstly, one of the less anticipated results of the peace process is the emergence of places like Derry city and Belfast as centres of urbanisation, witnessing the birth of a ‘cappuccino culture’ with rich people enjoying consumerism more than the tribalism the province is famed for. Indeed, Belfast hosted the last MTV awards, and Derry was awarded the City of Culture contract. Think back fifteen or twenty years. Northern Ireland would be the last place anyone would think to hold such events.

The second revelation is far darker, hearkening back to the days before the peace process that brought about the end of the war between the Provos and Loyalist paramilitaries. Between 2005 and 2009, Derry city saw 452 sectarian attacks. Violence on the part of anti-peace  Republican offshoots, such as the Real IRA, is ongoing. Para-militarism has by no means been dealt with satisfactorily and the various issues that divided each side of the conflict are still bubbling beneath the surface. Dr Paul Nolan poses a very interesting question –“Which is it to be? Are we leaving the Troubles behind, or does the continuation of sectarian division mean that at some point in the future the underlying tensions could see a violent eruption?”

The book on which the 2010 RTE documentary Voices from the Grave was based draws heavily from the interviews of two major players from either side – former senior IRA member Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, who had been in the UVF. Both were interviewed at length by Boston College, which traces the movements of the conflict from the two perspectives, offering a hugely intimate and insightful view into the politics and plans of the Republican and Loyalist movements. Hughes was involved with the IRA from the beginning of the conflict, commanding IRA units in Belfast, operating right under the noses of the RUC and the British army. He boasted an impressive Republican pedigree, one which protected him from discreditation by Sinn Féin in his later years spent criticising the movement, and included a daring escape from Long Kesh prison. Of particular interest is Hughes’ (now deceased) revelations about Gerry Adams, who continually denies any involvement in the IRA and the resentment of old Republicans at his actions.

“If Gerry had told me [in the Seventies] that tomorrow was Sunday when I knew it was Monday, I would have thought twice, that maybe it was Sunday, because he said it,” Hughes said. “Now, if he told me that today was Friday, even though it was Friday, I’d call him a f—— liar.”

Hughes maintains the order for the murder of Jean McConville, a suspected British informer, came directly from Adams who later claimed he was still in prison at the time of her death. So too, Hughes claims, did the order for the killing of another suspected informer – IRA man Paddy Joe Crawford – come from Adams. Crawford was hung in Long Kesh, and reported as a suicide.

Unfortunately the memoirs of David Ervine are almost overshadowed by the frank and often startling revelations by Hughes which is a pity, as Ervine too was a senior man in his own organisation. Still he reveals interesting if less monumental facts; the links between Republican and Unionist paramilitary prisoners who aided one side in the feud between the UDA and the UVF, and the less than respectful view many Loyalists had of Ian Paisley, the firebrand preacher who was seen to say one thing then eventually do another.

Despite their blunt admissions about their involvement in para-militarism and the violence that came with it, the two are almost excused as the result of outside and ancient forces. Hughes came from a long line of Republicans; his father spent time in prison for his actions, and grew up around the presence of former IRA heroes and the need to protect the Catholic community, while David Ervine’s participation is seen as the inevitable outcome of the attacks on his own community. One thing is certain and clear – the effect of the conflict on the moral compasses of both sides. Both are presented as normal human beings, with friends and family, who are forced by the conflict to do terrible things, with some regret. Hughes showed some remorse over the killings of innocent bystanders though none over the deaths of soldiers or Loyalists, legitimate targets in his eyes. Ervine makes some attempt on his part to criticise the actions of the Shankhill butchers, but stresses his opposition was on a personal level, hinting that murders effectively did their job – terrorising the Catholic population.

The two lived out starkly separate and differing lives as the conflict moved to its close. Hughes left the IRA a disillusioned man, never happy with the peace process and those who brought it about and died in 2008, sad and bitter in a Belfast flat. At his funeral, Gerry Adams was prevented from giving the oration for his former colleague, an indication that the rift between the two and what they stood for had never healed. On the other hand, Ervine, who died a year earlier in 2007, moved towards the respectable side of political Unionism, joining the Ulster Unionist group in Stormont.

Essentially, Voices from the Grave charts the worst moments of the conflict that marred Northern Ireland for several decades, and gives its reader a stern warning and caution for the future, should those dark days ever seem likely to return.