Respect, Integrity and Equality

How many times have you heard the Irish republican mantra of “Respect, Integrity and Equality”? I’ve oft wondered just what they meant when they said those words.

Sometimes I honestly think republicans don’t know what those words actually mean.

Respect? Integrity? Equality?

Every single day on social media one can encounter these lovely, tolerant people. The very epitomes of respect, unity and egalitarianism.

Ah yes, John O’Neill, the well known historian, author and university lecturer

A threatening tweet? Surely not!

Indeed. Keep this in mind for a second

Punctuation mustn’t be a strong point of renowned authors/lecturers like John

Anti-British racism as well, tut tut!

Maybe it’s me that is mistaken about the definition of words like ‘respect’ and ‘equality‘? Maybe, being a Loyalist, I really am stupid?

No lazy sectarian stereotypes here! Nope. None. Zero. Honest.

But perhaps I’m being too quick to judge, maybe these people are simply the lunatic fringe? Surely the self appointed ‘parody wing’ of the republican movement wouldn’t stoop so low?

OK, never mind, let’s move on….

Elaine is a special kind of bigot, here she is targeting a grandmother who shared a picture of her grandson (note, we have deliberately obscured the picture)

More from the charming Elaine? OK, if you insist

Elaine doesn’t like Americans. Or “Brits”, strangely though….

Oh……

Says the troll group that has a very cozy relationship with certain dissident republicans, but hey, I suppose they aren’t “terrorists”?!

Racist, sectarian and homophobic. Say it ain’t so!

Sometimes I can’t even read these lovely and tolerant tweets, such is the level of intellectual brilliance.

“ro0bbed the natives”. For shame

Do republicans deny being republicans so they can distance republicanism from their own tweets?

Oops, posted that one again! Btw John Paul, how does your own medicine taste?

Such beautiful people

Is it just me or does Elaine look like she’s dressed as Batman?

OK, so let’s try to get some balance here, let’s go back to John O’Neill, well-known lecturer and author.

Such respect.

I’m beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by all this respect, Integrity and equality.

Apparently John is also an expert in pest control.

What a shame. We should crowd fund some university to re-employ John.

Indeed.

Another one who seems fixated on rats.

I don’t know about you but all this respect and equality is starting to make me feel a bit ill.

The Dark Knight can’t stand crime*

(*unless it’s republican crime)

Somebody seems a little obsessed.

Elaine defending ISIS. Surely she must be on a watch list somewhere? GCHQ, we’re looking at you here!

Now that’s what I call respect!

Yes Paul, I think it is.

Nice of professor O’Neill to openly admit that Protestants were ethnically cleansed from Co. Cork.

True story. Ireland almost became a German state. Honestly.

John is a historian, an author of several books and is the world’s best lecturer. He is also fearsomely handsome.

Well folks, I think that’s enough for one day. After all that equality and respect I think I need to lie down in a dark room for a while.

Never fear though, we’ll be back next week with more evidence of the true nature of Irish republicanism.

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Ordinary Voices: Interview 5

Respondent is Enda, who describes himself as-

27, recently married, council employee, Liverpool FC fanatic and hater of DIY. South Tyrone man living in Belfast”

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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?

I’m not actually sure anymore tbh. I’m definitely a Nationalist and a couple of years ago I would have called myself a Republican but now I’m not entirely sure.

I suppose I am still a Republican at heart although I have lost a lot of faith in Sinn Féin in the last couple of years.

To give you the short answer- I’m a Nationalist without a party to support.

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Q2. Do you think there is an inherent bias with regard to Legacy Issues?

No, I honestly don’t think there is. The British forces (and I include the RUC/UDR in that) did a lot of heinous things during the “Troubles“. Those who killed innocent people have to be brought to justice.

An awful lot of Republicans and a fair number of Loyalists did face justice and served long prison terms, it is only right that state forces face the same. The IRA and Loyalist groups did not keep records of their actions, the army and police did though and people deserve the truth.

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

Yes, actually I think the UK government is doing ok in that regard. Something like a Truth Commission will never work in the North. Some people would be truthful, some wouldn’t and then you have those who simply wouldn’t be reliable in their testimony.

A relative of my wife’s is a former Republican prisoner. The man is 60 years old and in poor health because of years of heavy drinking. Tbh I don’t think he’d be able to remember accurately things he was involved in 30 or 40 years ago and I’m sure there are many others like him.

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Q4. Do you think that Legacy Issues are damaging the Peace Process?

No. I think the peace process is more or less fireproof now. There’s no going back to the “Troubles” now. Too much time has passed, too many people have moved on. There is a huge centre ground now and many of those people don’t really care about the issues of the past.

Of course there is still a lot of hurt on both sides, on the Nationalist side especially I think, but I can’t ever see things going back to the way they were years ago. There’s just no appetite for it from anybody.

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Q5. Do you think that the Loyalist community has been unfairly stereotyped in a negative way?

No. I don’t think that at all. Loyalists bring any negative publicity on themselves. They are their own worst enemy a lot of the time. Take bonfires for example. Why the constant need to insult and intimidate others with these massive bonfires? Why put Holy Statues and flags and other things onto these fires?

Loyalist “culture” is a joke tbh. Nothing but constant marching and burning things. It actually angers me. Loyalists could celebrate Irish culture in their own way but they refuse to even admit that they are Irish, so instead they go out of their way to antagonise others. The DUP pander to Loyalists which is why so many people hate them as a party. The DUP will never get votes from the centre ground because they won’t walk away from the bonfire builders and the “kick the Pope” bands.

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Q6. Do you believe that reconciliation is possible between the two communities?

No. We will continue to live parallel lives I think. The centre ground will keep growing, Nationalism will pretty much remain as is and Unionism will continue to be pushed to the margins. We will probably end up in a situation where the people in the centre interact with Nationalists and vice versa but Unionists and Loyalists will be left on the sidelines.

I don’t think that Loyalists are capable of reconciliation, or want it. There are some people on the other side who are the same, they just can’t move on. So I suppose the north will just stagger on as it is.

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Q7. Do you believe that a ‘united Ireland’ is imminent?

No, unfortunately. I stopped supporting Sinn Féin partly because they have absolutely no clue how they can achieve reunification. Sadly there are lots of Nationalists who are too comfortable and complacent. They will keep on as they are.

Everyone says that Brexit will lead to reunification but I don’t see it. It’s not going to make any difference to hard-line Unionists, they will still be against a UI even if they are broke and the country is ruined and despite what a lot of Republicans will tell you, a United Ireland is impossible without winning over a lot of Unionists.

It’s too late imo, the North is becoming more multicultural and progressive. Where I live now is very diverse. There is a large Muslim community here now. Will people who have come to live here in the last few years vote to leave the UK? Probably not.

Then there’s the centre ground, the people who vote for the Green Party and Alliance and even some SDLP or PBP voters, they might be Nationalists, even just culturally, but people like that will vote with their heads not with their hearts. If there was a border poll tomorrow people like that will vote to keep the NHS and their Civil Service jobs.

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

Aside from a United Ireland, I’d like to see the North becoming a more modern and progressive place. I want an ILA and the laws on abortion and Equal Marriage changed and brought into line with the rest of the world.

I’d like to see the DUP disappear from the political landscape and I’d like to see Sinn Féin come up with some coherent policies, especially with regards to the economy. Most of all I want there to be peace- complete peace and normality. No more murders like that of Lyra McKee. No more pipe bomb attacks. No more punishment beatings or kneecappings or security alerts or riots. Just peace for everyone.

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Our thanks to Enda for participating in the Ordinary Voices project.

The Dead Weight of History & the Hypocrisy of Sinn Fein

How do the ‘New IRA’ justify their actions?

In the wake of the senseless murder of Lyra McKee some reevaluation of entrenched positions is necessary, and urgent. We must ask ourselves how we have arrived at the situation, where 21 years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, young women are being murdered on the streets of our second city by Irish republican extremists.

From where do these gangs draw support? From where do they take their inspiration? Unfortunately those are extremely easy questions to answer.

The ‘New IRA’, like the Real IRA, Continuity IRA, Provisional IRA and the Official IRA before them, see themselves as the legitimate heirs of the insurrectionists of Easter, 1916.

The ‘New IRA’ on parade in Dublin. This could however be any republican grouping from the last 50 years.

Furthermore, groups like the so-called New IRA, also look to the actions of their predecessors for moral justification. The statement released by them today, apologising for the death of Ms McKee but attempting to deflect blame away from themselves, is almost a carbon copy of many such statements released over the years by the Provisional IRA, INLA, IPLO etc etc.

A significant number of the older ‘volunteers’ of the New IRA will have grown up hearing such statements. ALL of the members of that group, and it’s political wing Soaradh, will have grown up hearing dead PIRA/Sinn Fein, OIRA, IPLO and INLA/IRSP members being eulogised and lionised.

Hero Worship

Dead republican activists are held up as exemplary people. Made into larger than life figures, heroes to be worshipped and emulated by the younger generation. Such veneration of the republican dead continues to this day, indeed, it has become even more bombastic, unrealistic and quasi religious.

Bobby Sands, former burglar, now portrayed by republicans as a modern day Saint.

This Easter, Provisional Sinn Fein have been busily engaged in myth making. Remembering the so-called “patriot dead“, not as having been living, breathing, fallible human beings, but as symbols of their cause. Comic book versions of real people.

House breakers, gunmen, alcoholic thugs and child murderers are lauded as being almost saintly.

Lofty quotes are attributed to men who, in life, struggled with basic literacy. Morbid graveside orations take on the character of something akin to a church service, mixed with an NSDAP party rally.

Loyalism does not indulge in such outlandish commemoration. Partly because militant Loyalism remembers its fallen on Remembrance Sunday, a day on which any outlandish or overtly militaristic displays would be roundly condemned (rightly so), by the wider Unionist community and by society at large.

Partly because Loyalism does not have at its core a foundational myth like that of Irish republicanism, which has turned the events of Easter week, 1916, into an almost miraculous sequence of events, culminating in the “blood sacrifice” of the Easter rebels.

A Loyalist commemoration in Belfast.

Our critics will, without doubt, highlight our previous articles in remembrance of fallen Loyalist volunteers and accuse ISOT of hypocrisy. Any meaningful reading of those articles will, however, reveal that my co-author was not attempting to present the dead as paragons of virtue, nor as cartoonish, uber-heroic archetypes, but was attempting merely to humanise those who, in the opinion of both myself and my co-author, paid the supreme sacrifice in defence of their community and their country.

A re-reading of those articles will reveal no ‘call-to-arms‘ from beyond the grave. No quotes attributed posthumously in order to inspire the impressionable youth.

Rank Hypocrisy

There is, however, incredible hypocrisy in the words of PSF, who apparently see no contradiction in, on the one hand, condemning the violent actions of the New IRA, whilst on the other hand eulogising the dead of the Provisional IRA and presenting their actions, not only as justifiable, but as having been necessary in the context of the times.

“Our IRA = good, New IRA = bad” the hypocritical message of PIRA/Sinn Fein

Thus Sinn Fein glamourise and romanticise violence. Young, and not-so-young, men within the nationalist/republican community are left with the impression that in order to earn high status within their community, and to earn fame within Irish republican circles, they must engage in violence (of one sort or another).

It is not only hypocritical and disingenuous, it is also dangerous. Young Irish republicans in places like the Creggan will see Sinn Fein’s condemnation of the actions of the New IRA as being either- A) hollow words issued in order to assuage popular opinion, or B) the words of traitors who have abandoned the ‘true faith’, either for economic gain, or for the sake of their own personal safety. Weasel words spoken out of one side of their mouths, whilst PSF continually to harken back to the ‘righteous‘ violence of the Provo’s armed campaign out of the other side of their mouths.

A recent social media post by PSF in North Down. What message does this send to so-called ‘dissident’ republican gangs?

Who is to blame?

No political party or organisation can “ride two horses”. Either Provisional Sinn Fein take responsibility for the radicalisation of thousands of impressionable people within their community, and consequently tone down their martyr worship and constant justification of past violence, or they must face the fact that they will be guilty of giving further aid and succour to the so-called ‘dissident’ terror gangs.

Provisional Sinn Fein: rewriting history to suit their own agenda

Nor can the Provisional republican movement continue to openly and continually justify 30 years of sectarian violence, murder and mayhem, whilst at the same time condemning contemporary republican violence.

Every community has an inalienable right to remember their dead, a right which I would defend absolutely, however, however, for the sake of future generations, such remembrance must be solemn and dignified, absent any triumphalism and without the lionising of the dead which has done so much to indoctrinate successive generations. We must remind the youth that ALL such deaths were tragic.

Only by doing so can we move forward without glamourising violence. There is no “blood sacrifice”, no ‘martyrdom‘, there is only the personal tragedy of violent and premature deaths.

Sinn Fein have turned the republican hunger strikers into heroic archetypes

Let every community remember it’s dead, but in a way that does not jeopardise the future.

Conclusion

The dead do not speak to us from beyond the grave, as Provisional Sinn Fein would have us believe. They do not spur us on towards our perceived goals. This is the lesson that Irish republicanism MUST learn.

To dehumanise the dead by turning them into caricatures, semi-religious figures, absent of any human frailty, is to do them a grave disservice and to insult their memory in the eyes of those who knew them as living, breathing human beings with human failings and foibles.

It is also, as previously stated, a dangerous path. One which leads younger people into believing in violence for violence’s sake. Graveside orations and calls to action from beyond the grave are destructive, inciting and deeply damaging. They do nothing but add fuel to the fires, a fire already well stoked by the so-called ‘dissidents’.

Spot the difference- New IRA or Provisional IRA?

We must ALL learn that acts of remembrance are not calls to arms, nor appeals for fresh tragedy. Irish republicans need to learn this most of all. For if that lesson is not learned, our society will face more tragedy, and more senseless murder.

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!

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 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.

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.