Is Reconciliation Impossible?

Anybody who has been keeping up with the news in Northern Ireland over the last few weeks would probably be inclined to say yes. With the Sinn Fein leader walking behind a xenophobic and anti-British banner in New York, people in a bar singing about their hatred of Roman Catholics, people in another bar chanting “up the Ra”, sectarian attacks against the Protestant community in Claudy, Co. Londonderry, and the disgraceful vandalism of a Protestant Church in Newry, Co. Down.

Reconciliation looks like it is far away as it ever was, especially if one looks at the attitude of certain people on social media; Irish republicans especially. For whilst Sinn Fein, the SDLP and other nationalist/republican groups like to present themselves as rational, reasonable, non-sectarian and intelligent, there are many Irish nationalists and republicans who do not attempt to hide their hatred and contempt for Loyalism, Unionism, the United Kingdom and anything that they perceive as being ‘other’.

The purpose of this blog post is to shine a spotlight onto the attitudes and opinions of some of those people. People who will never accept anything which is not Irish, Catholic and ‘gaelic’. People who use social media in the same way a pitbull uses it’s teeth and jaws. People who revel in the sectarian slaughter visited on the people of Ulster by republican murder gangs.

Unfortunately, we have hundreds of examples of the bitterness and hatred of such people. We ask you to read their vile comments and their idiotic rants and to ask yourself- is reconciliation really possible?

Of course there are bigots on both sides of the divide. Of course the people featured in this article do not represent all Irish republicans. However, they do represent a large section of that constituency. In all honesty, we rarely see naked sectarianism from Loyalists and Unionists online. We rarely encounter the kind of 19th century style racism that is so often demonstrated by Irish supremacists.

Perhaps we do not see it because we are not looking for it, or perhaps we do not see it because it is much less prevalent than the kind of hatred and vitriol one encounters from republicans on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.

Please take the time to look at all of these images; imagine the sort of venom and bitterness that a person must feel within themselves to actually articulate this type of intolerance, xenophobia and hate. Then ask yourself if there is any hope for real, sincere, reconciliation and the resolution of legacy issues in Northern Ireland.

Can unreconstructed Irish republican bigots like these ever become valuable (and valued) members of a secular, democratic and pluralist society?

There is no place in the ‘new’ Northern Ireland for their toxic, narrow nationalism. There is no place in the 21st century for this sort of bigotry, sectarianism, racism and dehumanisation. If such people cannot, or will not, let go of their own toxic prejudice, then they must be left behind to wallow in their hatred in their own little vile, miserable echo-chamber.

It is interesting to note the exceedingly low level of education many of these people seem to have attained.

Interesting to see Irish supremacists use a term such as “mudderland” (sic), a term which neo-Nazis/white supremacists use to refer to the continent of Africa.

Another example of this kind of racist language being used by republicans is the use of the term “slurry skinned” which Ladfleg (South Belfast SF) use continually to refer to Belfast City councillor Ruth Patterson.


Another Irish republican/neo-Nazi ‘crossover’. A modified meme, depicting Celtic FC manager with a rifle and wearing military style uniform, which was originally a neo-Nazi/antisemitic meme widely used by the so-called ‘altright’.

Homophobic insults and breathtaking ignorance all in one tweet. Scarcely believable that such crass stupidity still exists in the 21st century.

Unfortunately this kind of abuse is all too common. Victims of Irish republican terrorism seem to attract more of this sort of poisonous bigotry than others. Perhaps republicans feel threatened by those who speak out on behalf of their murdered family members?

Usually republicans attempt to mask their ethno-religious bigotry by using derogatory terms like “immigrant”, “hun” or “planter” but sometimes their rage and bitterness gets the better of them and they revert to the type of language online that they generally only use at home, in pubs etc

This is the kind of dehumanising rhetoric used by Irish supremacist bigots. They dismiss the Protestant community as “stupid”, “uneducated” and even use the term “underprivileged” as an insult, ignoring the fact that they are unwittingly admitting that the ‘PUL’ community suffers social exclusion, deprivation and discrimination.

For some reason many republicans on social media deny being republicans. Despite the fact that their political opinion is obvious (Easter lily avatar etc)

(For the record, we have never murdered or raped anyone)


The irony of someone with a Liver bird, emblem of the city of Liverpool and of Liverpool FC, tweeting this kind of anti-British racism is apparently lost on Irish republicans.

More homophobic ranting, this time from a republican ‘parody’ account. There are at least a dozen of such accounts. None of which engage in any kind of satire or even any attempt at humour, instead using obscenity and school yard insults to attack Loyalist and Unionist elected representatives, victims of terrorism etc. The most notorious of these ‘parody’ accounts being Ladfleg, which is now (more or less) completely controlled by Sinn Fein.

Often, tweets by Irish republican extremists are almost unintelligible.

The use of the word “evil” and the comparing of Unionism to a “disease” or even to “cancer” is particularly curious. This would suggest a quasi religious aspect to the bigotry of such people.

The twitter user above is a favourite of Ladfleg and seems to comment on almost all of their tweets. It has been suggested that the account actually belongs to one of the people behind the Ladfleg account, who uses the @Cobblerz37 account to vent his spleen and say what he really thinks about Protestants.


More homophobic remarks and glorification of the “RA” (presumably the Provisional IRA?)


Outright genocidal rhetoric from someone who wished to see the Loyalist/Unionist community “exterminated”. Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot would be proud!

This is a new low, even for @corkyhere, a well known republican oaf who uses someone else’s picture for his avatar.

Shinnerbots are usually blatantly obvious. No avatar, an obviously fake/bot generated username, fewer than a dozen followers etc etc

The disgusting fascism of Irish republicans. The last Queen of Éire here telling another twitter user what their future will be and engaging in inflammatory racist language that would make Andrew Anglin blush!

@Irish_Ulster is a compulsive liar who, it has been suggested to us by a reliable source, has serious mental health issues. She is neither Irish nor male but is in fact a woman from the North-Eastern United States.

More dehumanising rhetoric from the usual suspects.

More homophobic insults, this time suggesting that Jamie Bryson has HIV/AIDS.

Ladfleg like to propagate the old PIRA/Sinn Fein myth that the UDR was merely a Loyalist paramilitary group in uniform. Ignoring the sacrifice of many Catholic UDR men murdered by Irish republican terrorists.

A rare admission that many Irish republicans support republican gangs involvement in the illegal drugs trade.

Comparing Loyalists and Unionists to rats is another staple of Irish supremacists.

evil”

Note that Ladfleg have never censured @cobblerz37, taken him to task for his overtly sectarian (and frankly deranged) replies to their tweets or even suggested he show some constraint.

I have no idea what the above even means.

The irony of that tweet (sent from Walthamstow, London)

Elaine believes the recent sectarian graffiti that was daubed across Claudy was done by fairies.

So, is reconciliation possible? From where I sit I’m sorry to say I don’t know anymore!

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Ordinary Voices; Interview 4

Respondent is Lez – who describes herself as “Grammar school educated. Happily retired RUC/PSNI. Happily divorced mother of two grown up kids. Passionate about family, animals, gin,integrated education, truth and travel. Hate sectarianism, lies and lack of integrity

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As with all the interviews in the Ordinary Voices project, this interview was conducted via email.

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Q1. How would you describe yourself politically?

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Apolitical. I have been very fortunate in my life to see many sides of the arguments. I have seen the way catholic communities were treated by certain members of UDR ( I experienced this first hand) I came from Protestant background so see how unionists view life here but mostly I’ve seen just the senseless manner in which peoples lives were taken, how easily others killed and maimed and how BOTH communities vilified police.

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Q2. Do you think that legacy issues are damaging the peace process?

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Yes. It would seem that for many high profile cases it is a case of getting the truth from security forces/state, but where is the truth coming from Republicans? When Gerry Adams can’t even admit being a member of the IRA how can anyone expect the ‘truth’ when everything seems to be so one sided?

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Q3. Do you think that legacy issues are being handled well?

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I have mixed feelings on legacy issues. For some victims, it can never bring them justice because the very people who they rely on to give them closure and answers will never actually come out and tell the truth. By these people I mean IRA and the state. Do I think we should just draw a line in the sand and put the legacy issues down to unprecedented times and accept things have changed? Personally I could but I am acutely aware that many many victims cannot do that.

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Q4. What do you think could be done to help improve community relations and foster reconciliation?

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Integration of schools is the single most important and successful way of improving community relations. When people start to OPEN their ears and listen rather than being so entrenched that they lose the ability to listen then we may have a chance.

Q5. Do you believe there is a bias in regards to legacy issues?

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Unfortunately yes. As outlined in previous answers, it would seem that security forces would be easy targets for legacy investigations since there were some sort of records kept, it’s much harder for victims of terrorism to get to the truth.

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Q6. Do you believe that Loyalists, especially within the UPRG and PUP, have done enough to reach out to nationalists and republicans?

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I think that David Ervine was the greatest loss to the loyalist community. Forward thinking, articulate and repentant of his wrongdoing. It’s the DUP who have done nothing whatsoever to reach out not just to nationalists but also to Protestant community.

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Q7. Do you think that republicans could do more to reach out to the Loyalist/Unionist community?

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I think admission of guilt, admission of the wrongs done to so very many people. A start would be for Gerry Adams to admit his role as a Republican in a proscribed organisation.

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Q8. What are your hopes and aspirations for NI in the medium to long term?

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More integration of education system, more business investment, more emphasis and funding for reconciliation projects. For our politicians to get back to actually earning their wage and for parties to work more closely on co-operation where possible instead of bickering, sniping and denigrating each other. Find the common goals and work harder to achieve those together rather than constantly in opposition.

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Our thanks to Lez for her participation in the Ordinary Voices project.

Ordinary Voices: Interview 3

Interview 3 of our Ordinary Voices project.

Respondent is Brian (61), a retired teacher from the South L’derry area. Brian describes himself as “happily married and even more happily retired”. Brian is a former member of the Irish Independence Party and a is father of 4 and grandfather of 7.

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As with all the other interviews for the Ordinary Voices project, this interview was carried out via email.

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Q1. How would you describe yourself politically?

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I would definitely say I’m a nationalist. I didn’t vote until I was in my twentys, I was much more of a firebrand in those days and I didn’t have much time for the likes of the SDLP. But when the IIP emerged they appealed to me much more as a party and eventually I became a member.

When the IIP started to fall apart I became a bit apathetic again. I sorted of drifted towards the SDLP a few years later and have supported them ever since, with the exception of one assembly election when I voted Sinn Féin.

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Q2. Do you think that legacy issues are damaging to the peace process?

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Yeah I think they are. We need to find a way of dealing with the past. That’s vital. So many people suffered and lost loved ones, there is so much hurt and anger out there, we have to face up to it and deal with. How we do that I don’t know. That will need to be worked out by smarter men than me.

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Q3. Do you believe that there is a bias when it comes to legacy issues?

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Yes and no. It certainly looks as if there is and I know many people in the Unionist community feel like that but you need to remember that we must hold the state (and the army/RUC) up to a higher standard than the likes of the IRA, UVF or INLA.

The army, police and UDR kept records, the paramilitaries didn’t. That makes it really difficult to get to the real truth of murders carried out by them. I think though that something should be done to make the entire process less about what the state and security forces did and more about wrongdoing on ALL sides. I think that’s important.

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Q4. Do you think that Loyalism, in particular the UPRG and PUP, have done enough to reach out to the nationalist/republican community?

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To their credit they have at least done something in that regard but all the fine words in the world count for nothing when you then have the UVF and UDA involved in killings and pipe bomb attacks and who knows what else.

I honestly think the best thing that the likes of the PUP could do would be to encourage the UVF and UDA to dissolve their organisations completely.

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Q5. Do you think that nationalists and republicans have done enough to reach out to the Unionist/Loyalist community?

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Honestly no. The SDLP works well with the likes of the UUP but they can do more. The SDLP and the [Ulster] Unionists should be going into ordinary communities, the SDLP into unionist areas and vice versa, I think that would be a very good start.

As for Sinn Féin, I’m afraid I see no outreach at all. If they were truly genuine about a reunited Ireland they would be putting all their efforts into convincing unionists that they have nothing to fear in a new Ireland but they seem incapable of doing that. Some of things Sinn Féin put their time and effort into leave people like me scratching our heads to be honest.

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Q6. Would you like to see a ‘border poll’ in the near future?

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As a nationalist I have to say yes but everyone involved, including unionists, need to set out their plan for what they will do in the event of a yes vote. Let all parties be upfront about what they think a united Ireland should look like and what concessions would have to be made.

Unionists could get a lot of concessions to get them to buy into a new Ireland. They could really have nationalists over a barrel if they wanted to and were ready to look at it realistically instead of just totally rejecting the idea.

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Q7. Do you believe that collusion was as widespread as republicans allege?

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No I do not. We had a very dirty “war” here and all sides were up to their knees in it. There are no innocent parties when it comes to this sort of thing. All sides did evil things and worked with other groups when it suited them. Of course collusion happened but it’s made out to be something it wasn’t.

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Q8. What are your hopes and aspirations for Northern Ireland in the medium to long term?

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I want to see the assembly up and running again, although I don’t know if Sinn Féin and the DUP can ever make it work long-term. Maybe it’s time to give other parties a chance to form a government.

I also want to see some sort of legal recognition for the Irish language. They have legal protection for Gaelic in Scotland and for the Welsh language in Wales, why not for Irish in the North of Ireland?

Most of all I just want to see this place continue to be peaceful and relatively normal. I never want my grandchildren to have to put up with the sort of stuff I had to (or my kids had to) during The Troubles. Time for everyone in Northern Ireland to get on with normal everyday life, as much as we can.

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Thanks to Brian for this interview and for contributing to the Ordinary Voices project.

Ordinary Voices: Interview 2

Interview 2

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As with all the other interviews for the Ordinary Voices project, this interview was conducted via email.

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Respondent is Peter, (48), who lives in Newtownabbey with his partner and two boys. Has no connection to any political party or organisation, but takes a “keen interest in events that happen and have happened in the Province”. Peter describes himself as a keen follower of sports and a “TV junkie“.

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Q1. How would you describe yourself politically?

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Currently, I would describe myself as extreme Unionist. My politics have changed greatly, since my father was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in 1993.

I had been an Alliance voter, but since the ongoing and ever increasing capitulation to Sinn Fein and their never ending demands, I have moved through most shades of Unionism, each in turn letting its Voters down when it counts and being more interested in their own egos and self gain, rather than how Unionism is continually on the back foot.

2. Do you believe that legacy issues are undermining the peace process?

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100%. The Legacy debate is totally controlled by Sinn Fein and Republicanism. Unionist politicians appear to be doing sweet F.A. for IRA Victims, again interested in their own furtherance and what back handers and positions they can receive.

The ‘Peace Process’ has been a continual one way traffic event. I would like a list of at least 10 things that the Unionist Community have gained from the ‘Peace Process.’

I can name only two Unionist Politicians who have given me any help and support in progressing my father’s case. Most others, not just Unionist, have promised that they would move mountains, but have done very little.

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3. Do you think there is a bias when it comes to legacy issues and how they are dealt with?

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A blind man can see that there is a total and utter bias when it comes to Legacy. Nearly every demand that Republicans seek, re enquiries, prosecutions, etc, is unendingly granted. If something doesn’t go their way, they kick up a stink with a compliant media and Police Ombudsman and lo and behold, sooner or later their demands are met.

When was the last Sinn Fein/IRA upheld conviction? What enquiries into the actions of the IRA have ever found against them? The perception in the Unionist Community is that the ‘Peace Process’ means that no matter what happens, nothing will be done to derail having ‘murderers in Government,’

4. Do you believe that Republicans have a genuine and sincere interest in reconciliation?

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Only on their terms. Whilst many, many mistakes were made in the past, the Republican movement want and demand ‘payback‘ and then some. Who can forget King Gerry’s “We’ll break the bastards…..” Has that ever been fully and unequivocally retracted?

Sinn Fein claim to hold out the hand of ‘friendship,’ but at the same time celebrate and glorify mass-murderers and seek a one-way justice, with no call for enquiries into IRA actions or Court cases, or recompense, and then oppose any show of Unionism, but then demand Irish language street signs, Easter lillies to be freely available, etc etc, whilst at the same time demonising anything associated with Unionism.

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5. Do you think that more could be done by Loyalists to foster reconciliation?

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What more are Loyalists expected to give? Politicians in Government involved in heinous events in Northern Ireland’s history, killers walking about freely (My father’s killer ‘allegedly‘ murdered again and is currently serving a sentence for Attempted Murder in the Republic of Ireland. The likelihood of him being returned to jail to serve out the remainder of his sentence for my father’s killing, is slim- next to zero!!).

Every part of Loyalism is under attack and what investment has taken place in Working Class Loyalist areas? Investment in terms of Social Housing, State of the Art Sports facilities? Again, Big House Unionism has a lot to answer for, but where is Sinn Fein’s ‘Equality,’ mantra here?

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6. Do you accept the Republican narrative that ‘collusion’ was very widespread and institutional?

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Collusion did not just happen on the Loyalist side and was not systemic! No light has been shone into current high ranking Provisionals turned Community Workers and politicians who have worked/work as ‘State Agents’.

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7. Do you believe that enough is being done to bring the two communities together, especially in interface areas?

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Millions of pounds have been poured into interface areas and Community Workers, so we are told. If this has been the case, where is there published a full and complete breakdown of what each of these ‘Community Workers,’ is paid and what scheme in each area has actually taken place in to ‘bring Communities together,‘ or is it just jobs and money for the boys?

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8. Finally, what are your hopes and aspirations for NI in the medium to long term?

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With unworkable local government and a British government too scared, or too unwilling, to take any sort of decisive action, any immediate change is unlikely. Sinn Fein and the Republican Movement’s sole aim is the destruction of Northern Ireland and to drive the British out of Ireland.

How any one in their right mind believes that Sinn Fein want Northern Ireland to ‘work‘ as an entity is on another planet.

Ideally, my father and I would have been of a similar mindset, in that we both would want nothing more than a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, but that is far from what we have here now. Northern Ireland is a Mafia-like state with political and paramilitary fiefdoms in each Community,

I hope that when my two boys grow up, that they have the wisdom to leave here and seek better opportunity elsewhere. When people talked to me after my father’s killing and asked if I ever believed there would be true peace here, I stated then and still firmly believe that we are probably at least two Generations away from that being possible, or at all likely.

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Our sincere thanks to Peter for agreeing to this interview & his participation in the Ordinary Voices project

ISOT.

Ordinary Voices: Interview 1

The first interview for the Ordinary Voices project. Respondent was Ian, a community worker and member of the Progressive Unionist Party from South Belfast.

The interview was conducted via email, as all the interviews in the Ordinary Voices project are.

Question 1; do you believe that legacy issues are undermining the peace process?

I believe that the legacy issues are undermining the peace process. I feel there is a tendency not to pursue those whose arrests could possibly destabilise the peace process. We need to respect people who lost their lives or were injured and their families by finding a key which allows us all to move on. Fundamental to that is an open, honest political system. The HIU however are under a huge amount of pressure given the amount of cases to be investigated in such a short space of time. I believe our ability to deliver for victims has been undermined by decisions made earlier in the peace process.

Question 2; Is there, in your opinion, a bias when it comes to legacy issues?

I am led to believe the legacy issue proposals ignore cross-border dimensions on many of the past crimes. There is no equal information process on the Irish side, which means no evidence available or even commitment to co-operate. Personally, I see a one-sided process that focuses less on those who murdered and more on those who tried to prevent violence; partly because the demand for investigations comes largely from one side of the community. Additionally with OTR letters issued I think its a fair assessment that legacy issues are bias. I fear the word ‘Justice’ is becoming politically weaponised.

Question 3; Do you think that Loyalism has done enough to challenge the negative stereotypes cultivated by others?

Decades of conflict have fuelled images and stereo types to the extent that the terms ‘Loyalist’ and ‘PUL’ have become a dirty words in some peoples opinions. I am a proud Unionist and I have hopes for a peaceful prosperous Northern Ireland, but I believe that the negative and disrespectful attitudes towards Loyalism and our culture is cultivating tension within our communities. I am extremely keen on challenging the Republican narrative as necessary and recommend others are conscious of this also.

Question 4; What do you think could be done to foster real reconciliation, especially in interface areas?

The biggest problem I see in South Belfast at the moment is the new developments popping up which sometimes, unwittingly, create new interface areas. We are in desperate need of social housing across South Belfast, there are many applications in for new private developments, however when they cant be sold for a massive profit they are sold on and re-classified as social housing schemes which turn to interfaces. In many Unionist areas there are limited educational choices at post-primary level, 2 secondary schools across South Belfast, which means parents have to bus their children out to attend schools, reconciliation is a long way off when we can’t sort out fair education in deprived Unionist areas.

Question 5; Do you believe that there is an inherent ambiguity in the Belfast Agreement?

People initially supported the Belfast Agreement but I have become disillusioned with how the agreement is being implemented, I think it is clear that the interpretations of it on both side are completely out of touch with each other.

Question 6; Finally, what are your personal hopes and aspirations for NI in the medium to long term?

I would like to see a return to Stormont soon but not at the cost of an Irish Language Act, my view is feel free to speak Irish, take Irish lessons in your own time but enforcing an Act which sees a compulsory percentage of Irish speakers be employed in workplaces etc is unfair. I hope for another peaceful summer and hope that Northern Ireland can continue to stand strong in these uncertain times of Brexit.

Many thanks to Ian for agreeing to an interview and participating in the Ordinary Voices project.

Ordinary Voices; Introduction

The Ordinary Voices project is our modest attempt to gather opinions from a wide range of people on the issues of peace building, legacy issues and reconciliation. Allowing ordinary individuals to have their opinions heard and to challenge stereotypes about their communities.

We hope to interview people from right across the political spectrum; right-wing Unionism, moderate Unionism, right-wing Loyalism, Progressive Loyalism, right-wing constitutional Nationalism, left-wing constitutional Nationalism, left-wing Republicanism and those of a politically neutral viewpoint (if such people can be found in Northern Ireland).

All interviews are conducted via email and all respondents are given the opportunity to proof read and edit before publication. The questions in each interview are similar, on similar issues, but each set of questions is taylored to the respondent.

We sincerely hope that the Ordinary Voices project will be a worthwhile endeavour and that it will, at least in some minor way, encourage people to reexamine their opinions, their view of our troubled past and any negative stereotypes that they may hold about others. We are sincere in our small efforts to foster reconciliation and rapprochement within our tragically divided society here in Northern Ireland. Hopefully you will enjoy reading the interviews and perhaps add your own voice to the growing number of voices of ordinary people who wish to move our society forward and begin to heal the scars of the past.

Prisoners of Conscience

I had intended that this piece would be an examination of how the political centre, namely the UUP and the SDLP, seem to understand, or at least seek to understand, physical force Loyalism far more, and far better, than the extreme Liberal fringe, epitomised by the Alliance Party and the Green Party.

I had intended to clearly demonstrate that the DUP does not, and has never at any time, clearly understood or sought to understand the driving forces which motivate militant Loyalism. However, as I began to think about this piece, I began to realise that it was always going to go in a very different direction.

For in the process of considering those themes, I was (reluctantly) forced to re-examine the War which was wasn’t a War, the role of Loyalists within that conflict and, on a more personal level, my own role in it and the pseudo war which has been fought since.

A re-examination of my own conscience which has neither been easy nor comfortable but which, on reflection, has been a long time coming. Not that I shall be making public much, if any, of that ‘soul searching’, but I will examine the outlines of the thought processes which were involved in my own introspection.

I sincerely hope that this piece will serve some purpose and that, at least, some of those who were most deeply impacted by the ‘Troubles’, both victims and participants alike, will derive something from it, however small.

Crossing the Rubicon

I will begin by stating something which I feel should be obvious to anyone seeking to understand the Ulster conflict; i.e. that within the working class communities of Northern Ireland, on both sides of the divide, violence is not, and was not, viewed as intrinsically evil or immoral. Both communities had men made notorious for being “street toughs”, both communities believed firmly in corporal punishment, and both ‘sides’ very firmly believed in the biblical concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, even before the advent of the 2nd ‘Troubles’ in 1969.

The idea must seem utterly foreign to the contemporary middle classes. Indeed, it may seem somewhat odd even to the younger members of some working class communities, but it is the fundamental starting point of this analysis. Violence, in one form or another, was part of our lives from a very early age. It is unsurprising then that when NICRA provoked the crises of the late 1960’s, that violent interaction between the two opposing factions would soon follow. The only real surprise was the level of violence which was to follow.

It is a truism that violence begets violence but it is worth bearing in mind. Once one rubicon had been crossed, it became easier to cross another and another. No tactic became ‘off limits’, nothing became unjustifiable. The two communities became ever more polarised and ever more entrenched in their respective positions. Good men did bad things and bad men did even worse.

Loyalist barricade, Belfast circa 1972

Ordinary killers

It is my personal opinion that some men are indeed “natural born killers”. As far back as Socrates and Plato it was postulated that some men felt driven to kill; that some men subconsciously saw in the act of killing, a sort of natural counterpart to the act of giving birth, which of course men cannot do under any circumstances. This theory of “birthing envy” is an intriguing one and one which is deserving of far more attention.

For every born killer however there are many, many more who are driven to kill. Driven to kill by rage, by circumstances, by a need for revenge, or, as incredible as it may seem, by fear. It is these men, those driven to kill, that constitute the vast majority of the killers, the gunmen and the bombers, of the Ulster conflict, and it is these men (and women) who would go on to perpetuate the violence, not for their own gain, not for their own twisted pleasure or some sense of divine purpose, but for reasons which will seem utterly alien and incomprehensible to those detached from the War, by distance, by time or by virtue of social class.

I recognise, as I have always recognised, that there were those on both sides who were not motivated by soaring rhetoric, or by idealism, but were driven instead by their own psychosis. By a deep seated, guttural and irrational hatred which moved such people to commit the most heinous and barbaric atrocities. Things indefensible and unconscionable.

What, in the process of my own individual reflection, I am forced to acknowledge now, perhaps for the first time, is that there were men and women “amongst the ranks of the enemy” who were people of integrity and of undoubted courage. Such people, whom in my opinion were motivated by an acutely skewed reading of history and who had scant regard for democracy, were nevertheless, decent people with real concerns, real grievances and genuine aspirations, however far those aspirations were from my own.

Prisoners of history

It is an undeniable truth of history that a war between two nations, separated by great distance, or even between two neighbouring states, is invariably less bitter, less savage and less brutal than a war between two peoples who share the same piece of territory. When one also factors in the long and complex history of Ulster, then it is unsurprising that the ‘Troubles’ turned out to be one of the most dirty wars ever fought in Europe.

It is also unsurprising that we have become prisoners of history. Prisoners of our own times. We will never be set free. For us, every generation born into the conflict, it is already too late. Our lives have been irrevocably altered by the war we were born into. The ‘Troubles’ are a millstone around our necks from which we will never be unfettered. We deserve sympathy that we will never receive. We deserve a respite which will never come. However, we can, and must, tell our story. We have a burden of responsibility to the younger generations to ensure that we never again slide headlong into a situation in which ordinary people are forced to become killers, ‘intelligence officers’, bomb makers, gun runners and ‘spotters’.

I genuinely fear that we will not be up to the task. There is too much malice, too much distrust and animosity on both sides. If the generation that fought the Second World War are remembered as “the greatest generation”, then perhaps those 3 generations or so who fought the ‘Dirty War’, might well be remembered as the worst generations. One generation who began a war they could not possibly win (and that applies to both sides), one generation who continued that war because they had no idea how to stop it, and one generation who continued it because they could not imagine life any other way.

Looking inward

We should nevertheless tell our stories. Although it would be infinitely more helpful if we, ‘the worst generations’, were to explain to our young people that we were motivated far more by what we thought was going on, rather than perhaps what was really happening. Suspending, as it were, the historical narrative as we understand it and instead relaying the personal narrative.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1994 CLMC ceasefire, militant Loyalism underwent a period of deep introspection. Such a period of introspection is once again required, and this time Irish republicans must include themselves, if indeed there is any real desire from that quarter for real reconciliation (which I, personally, very much doubt). Those who participated in the Conflict must also free themselves from the constraints of moral recrimination; that is, we must abandon objective moralism and, taking into account the circumstances of the times, must not be afraid to see ourselves as sometimes having been the villians, those who were clearly in the wrong, if only on certain occasions or in certain situations.

We must share the responsibility of maintaining good government” – John McMichael

Unlike Irish republicanism, Loyalism does not need to portray itself as whiter than white. True patriotism is not tarnished by the occasional uncomfortable truth. We are, along with every other Briton, the inheritors of the legacy of the British Empire. We recognise the moral ambivalence of that situation. That is perhaps why Loyalists have no fear of a critical analysis of the past and of their role therein.

Where to now?

What Northern Ireland needs now is for republicans to engage in the same kind of soul searching. To admit the immorality of at least some of their actions and, furthermore, to admit freely that the motivation for many of their actions was, at the very, very least questionable. What we also need is for the ‘3rd party’, the extreme Liberal fringe, to end their illegitimate occupation of the moral high ground and recognise, if they are capable of doing so, that there are those in Ulster who do not share their pacifistic and utopian ideals.

In particular I would appeal to the members and supporters of the Alliance Party, Green Party etc to stop the politics of wishful thinking and to acknowledge the very real and very deep divisions within NI society. To stop the utterly ineffectual lecturing of the working class Loyalist community, especially in Belfast. As I, and others within Loyalism, have stated repeatedly since 1998, peace and reconciliation cannot be imposed from the top down but must instead be built from the ground up. Indeed, my own opposition to the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ stemmed primarily from my view that the Belfast Agreement was the very epitome of a ‘top down’ peace. Something that we, all the people of Northern Ireland, have a chance, however slim, to change.

Such change is however very unlikely unless or until all parties to the Conflict have the courage to admit our own past failings, recognise our common humanity (which applies even to those who have committed violent acts), fully recognise the intolerable hurt of innocent victims and resolve to never again allow our communities to be held to ransom by our inescapable past. In short, any real and just peace can only be achieved once we, the very people who, one way or another, created the Conflict, have all admitted that we are prisoners of conscience and that that is what we will always be.