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.

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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.