Ulster

PIRA/SINN FEIN: A MOVEMENT WITHOUT MORALS (PART 10)

PART TEN
By 1993 the Provo leadership was slowly coming to the realisation that the so-called “Armed Struggle” would never bring Ulster to its knees. Years of bombing and murder had not forced any real concessions from the British government nor had it broken the will of the people. Loyalist resistance groups- namely the UVF and Ulster Freedom Fighters- were carrying out more and more audacious and brazen attacks. The previous two years had been particularly successful ones for the Loyalist paramilitaries. PIRA/SF had lost a number of high profile activists and many more had been wounded or left psychologically scarred. Sinn Fein ‘Advice Centres’ had become frequent targets of UVF bombers and the UFF’s ‘Rocket Team’, a specially selected group of volunteers armed with RPG-7s.

UVF volunteers pose with an assortment of weapons, including an RPG. 

With much of their terrorist activity curtailed by the actions of the UFF and UVF, and with more and more of their NI based members devoting more and more of their time and energy to try to retaliate against- and keep themselves safe from- the Loyalist groups, PIRA/Sinn Fein took the decision to concentrate their efforts on the British Mainland. Some within the senior ranks of the Provos had been advocating a renewed bombing campaign in England for some time. Believing that such a campaign would finally bring some sort of victory. Even though behind the scenes, the SDLP and senior figures within the Roman Catholic Church had been tentatively discussing the prospect of a ceasefire with PIRA/Sinn Fein, and even though there were those within Provo ranks who appeared to genuinely desire peace, there was still a strong element which argued that a Mainland bombing campaign could, and would, rejuvenate the so-called “Armed Struggle” and bring the fevered desires of rabid Irish nationalists a step closer to realisation.

Indiscriminate Violence

On Friday, the 26th of February, 1993, a PIRA bomb gang exploded three devices at a gasworks near the town of Warrington, Cheshire. The bombs caused extensive damage but no injuries. Whilst fleeing the scene, the bombers shot and injured a police officer and two of them were then caught after a high-speed pursuit. Less than a month later the Provo bombers were back, though this time they were out for blood. On Saturday, the 20th of March, as the people of Warrington went about their daily business, PIRA/Sinn Fein plotted mass murder. Two bombs, hidden in litter bins, exploded on Bridge Street, a busy shopping area. The two devices had been placed less than 100yds apart, one outside McDonalds, the other outside Argos. The blasts happened within a minute of each other. Eye-witnesses reported how “the first explosion drove panicking shoppers into the path of the next blast just seconds later“. A brutal and cynical tactic used many times by the bloodthirsty Provos. It was later found that the bombs had been deliberately placed inside cast-iron litter bins, causing huge amounts of shrapnel to fly out in all directions, causing maximum death and serious injury. Buses were organized to ferry people away from the scene and 20 paramedics and crews from 17 ambulances were sent to deal with the terrible aftermath.

Three-year-old Johnathan Ball died at the scene. He had been in town with his babysitter. The second victim was 12-year-old Tim Parry, who received the full force of the blast and suffered terrible injuries. He died on the 25th of March, 1993, when doctors switched his life support machine off, having asked permission to do so from his family, after tests had found minimal brain activity. Fifty-four other people were injured, including a dozen children and two pregnant women. A piece on BBC North West’s ‘Inside Out’ programme in September, 2013, speculated that the bombing may have been the work of a “rogue” PIRA gang, which was supported by the Provos but operated independently and was driven by a warped, extreme Left-Wing ideology. This murder gang reportedly used operatives who were from England to avoid suspicion. The programme suggested, but provided no evidence, that those who planted the bombs were members of the Marxist-Leninist group ‘Red Action’.

Tim Parry, age 12, and Jonathan Ball, age 3. Innocent victims of psychotic Irish republican gangsters 

More Bombs- More Tragedy
Despite the international outrage at the deaths of two children in Warrington, PIRA/SF continued to attack civilian targets in England. On the 23rd of April they bombed a fuel storage depot in North Shields, near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. On Saturday, the 24th of April the Provos detonated a massive bomb, containing more than a ton of home-made explosives, at Bishopgsate, London. Photographer Ed Henty was killed and 44 others wounded. The bomb caused extensive damage and extended as far north as Liverpool Street station. On the 12th of May, the city of Oxford became the Provos next target. They detonated a device in an area popular with students but the device only partially exploded and no-one was injured.

The Provos then decided, for reasons unknown, to target England’s seaside towns. In August they targeted Bournemouth, detonating a number of crude fire-bombs in shops in the town and also targeting the pier. Brighton was next, though fortunately the 4 devices left by the incompetent PIRA gang all failed to explode. On the 4th of October PIRA/SF once again turned their attention back to London. Five bombs, all placed in crowded civilian areas, exploded injuring five people, the youngest of whom was just 8 years old. More innocent people would have died but for the fact that, for some reason, timer units being used by the terror gangs seemed to be defective and devices were only partially exploding.

The Shankill Bombing: Sectarian Slaughter
The Shankill Road in west Belfast has long been regarded as one of the spiritual homes of Ulster Loyalism. Alongside Dan Winter’s cottage and the walled city of Londonderry, the Shankill Road has become something of an iconic location for Loyalists and Unionists. The ‘Road’, with its close-knit community and spirit of defiance had become a powerful symbol of Ulster Loyalist resilience. On Saturday, the 23rd of October, 1993, PIRA/Sinn Fein visited carnage on the people of the Shankill. Coldly, calculatedly and deliberately. The Irish republican gangsters unleashed terror onto the entire Unionist/Loyalist people and, as a direct result of their murderous actions, onto their own community as well.

Two PIRA members, Sean Kelly and Thomas ‘Bootsy’ Begley were dispatched on a mission of mass-murder. Unbeknownst to Kelly and Begley, the Provo godfathers had intended it to be a suicide mission. Kelly was 21 years-old, Begley was slightly older but had been described at secondary school as being “educationally sub-normal” and was functionally illiterate. The two hapless goons were bundled into a stolen Ford Escort car, handed a five pound bomb with a 7 second fuse and told to place the bomb on the counter of Frizzell’s Fish Shop on the Lower Shankill and “run like Hell”.

The alleged target was a supposed meeting of the UDA’s ‘Inner Council’ (the collective leadership of that organisation) which was taking place in an upstairs room. Irish nationalists/republicans claim the bomb was designed to kill Johnny Adair and the entire leadership of the Ulster Freedom Fighters. That myth, presented as truth by, among others, Wikipedia and the CAIN Index of Deaths, is a deliberate and cruel lie! It is also stretching credulity to breaking point. How can anyone expect there not to be civilian casualties when a bomb with a seven second fuse (or an 11 second fuse, or even a 30 second fuse) is placed in a busy shop, in the middle of a street packed with innocent people? What kind of hate-filled imbecile really believes that everybody in that fish shop, in adjacent shops and walking past outside, could put a safe distance between themselves and the bomb blast in just a few seconds? What kind of terrorist masterminds send two gluesniffers, one of them (Kelly) a petty thief and joyrider, the other (Begley) an illiterate man-child with learning difficulties, on a hugely important (if the Irish republican narrative is to be believed) mission to destroy the HQ of your most bitter enemy and obliterate their leadership in the process? Surely such an allegedly vital mission would have been undertaken by much more experienced and senior members of the Provisional IRA? How can a device with a 7 second fuse “explode prematurely“? But that’s just it, nobody does seriously believe it. Those who trot out that despicable, callous, filthy lie do so in the full knowledge that it is absolute garbage. It is designed to divert blame and absolve the perpetrators of their guilt. The Provo godfathers knew full well that they were unleashing sectarian slaughter on the Shankill, that was their objective, and that is why, rather than sending hardened and competent terrorists they sent two utterly expendable, completely ignorant young thugs. If Adair or other senior members of the UDA/UFF were killed alongside the civilian dead, then in their eyes- “so much the better“- for the deaths of any Loyalist activist would, no doubt, be used as pathetic justification for a cowardly and sickening attack.

“They Were Bringing Out Limbs in Plastic Bags”

The Shankill Road was devastated by the PIRA bomb. The whole road was covered by a thick layer of dust. Acrid smoke rose into the air. Local men formed a human chain to remove debris from the wrecked and partially demolished fish shop. The first thing many of the desperate rescuers saw was a mangled pram, sticking out from under the rubble. Tiles, bricks and pieces of wood were falling from what remained of the shattered building but nobody was deterred. They disregarded their own safety to search for survivors. There were a number of girls trapped in a hair salon above one of the adjoining shops and rescuers were faced with the dilemma of whether to try and get them out first, or to try to help people on the ground until the emergency services arrived.

Seven year old Michelle Baird, youngest victim of the Shankill bomb outrage. 

As the rescue operation continued, a huge crack appeared in the wall of a nearby building, sparking fears that more buildings would collapse, killing and maiming even more people. One local man later spoke of how severed human limbs were carried away from the scene “in plastic bags“. In total 9 people were murdered on the Shankill that day. Provo killer Thomas Begley was also killed. More than 50 people were wounded, many of them women and children. Some of them suffered horrific injuries that still limit their lives to this day.

A Heavy Price

In the wake of the sectarian carnage on the Shankill, the UFF issued a chilling statement warning that “Gerry Adams, John Hume and the entire nationalist electorate will pay a heavy price” for the attack and also stating that “all units” had been placed in a state of readiness. Ulster held it’s breath, waiting for the inevitable retribution. Two days later the UVF shot and killed two men- Sean Fox, an elderly man killed at his home in Glengormley and Martin Moran (22), an alleged republican activist shot dead as he delivered take-aways in the Donegall Pass area of Belfast. The following day, the 26th of October, an ASU from the UFF’s 2nd battalion, C’ company, opened fire at a Belfast City Council depot in Andersonstown, killing two council workers. Meanwhile, the Mid-Ulster Brigade of the UVF shot and killed the Cairns brothers at their home near Lurgan. As bad as these ‘tit-for-tat’ killings had been, worse was yet to come. On the night of the 30th October, two UFF volunteers entered the ‘Rising Sun‘ bar in Greysteel, an exclusively Irish nationalist village a few miles from the city of Londonderry. The two gunmen opened fire, killing 8 people.

Northern Ireland was on the edge of an abyss. PIRA/SF had unleashed unbridaled carnage on the Loyalist/Unionist community, the UFF and UVF responded in kind.

The Downing Street Declaration 

On Wednesday, the 15th of December, 1993, the Prime Minister, John Major and the Irish Taioseach, Albert Reynolds, delivered the Downing Street Declaration, affirming both the right of the people of Ulster to self-determination, and the concept of consent, i.e.- that there could be no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unless a clear majority of the population advocated such a change and thereafter voted to that effect in a referendum. It also included, as part of the prospective of the so-called “Irish dimension“, the principle that the people of the “island of Ireland”, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between Ulster and Éire. It is the latter statement that provided PIRA/SF with a “way out”. The joint declaration had pledged the British and Irish governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promised that parties linked to armed groups, such as Sinn Féin, could take part in the talks, provided that they abandoned violence.


Contrary to recent historical revisionism, the 1993 Downing Street Declaration was not universally well received by Irish nationalists and republicans. 

Irish nationalism now had an opportunity to completely abandon their rapidly failing military campaign, without losing control of their core constituency, and without the humiliation of having to quietly slink away back into the shadows without a single concession to show for 25 years of murder, destruction and atrocity. Messrs Major and Reynolds had just provided PIRA/SF with an opportunity for “peace with honour“. The Provos were neither foolish enough, nor suicidal enough, to reject the “exit strategy” that had just been handed to them on a silver plater. Any ethically minded organisation, any group sincerely interested in the well being of their community, would’ve begun the transition from war to peace immediately, but Provisional IRA/Sinn Féin are neither. Better, at least for them if not for their community, to carry on killing and maiming, whilst at the same time negotiating. It would seem that for the Provo godfathers “war/jaw” was preferable to either “war/warorjaw/jaw“. 

1994: New year, same old nightmare 

As 1994 dawned a few in Northern Ireland dared to hope for peace, but for many that peace seemed as far away as ever. In December of the previous year the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Freedom Fighters had continued the killing, and the UFF continued to plan for a renewed bombing campaign against Irish republican targets in the Irish Republic. In the first three months of ’94 ten people were killed, half by Loyalist groups, half by republicans. Amongst the dead was former INLA warlord Dominic McGlinchey, shot dead as he stood in a telephone box in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

Very few people, anywhere in the British Isles, were aware of the intricate politicking that was inching PIRA/SF, painfully slowly, towards peace. As Winter turned once more to Spring, the violence that had blighted Ulster since 1969 continued. Inside the “republican movement” however, the uncomfortable truth that the Provos were a razor’s edge from military defeat, not by the “Crown Forces” but by the Combined Loyalist Military Command, had become an accepted fact. The so-called “armed struggle” could not be maintained in the face of constant and brutal pressure from the UVF and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. In the wake of the Downing Street Declaration and the United States’ allowing Gerry Adams to enter the country, apparently to seek the counsel of some of the terrorists more senior financial backers, the Provo leadership seems to have come to the obvious conclusion that “the war” was lost. Their only realistic option was the abandonment of their much vaunted “armed struggle“, and with it a significant portion of traditional republican precepts, negotiating a settlement with their sworn enemies and accepting the existence of the Northern Ireland state. Such a defeat had been unthinkable just a few years previously and their were many PIRA activists who would never acquiesce to a “partitionist settlement” or a “return to Stormont“, but Adams and McGuinness felt confident that they could secure enough support to at least claim that they spoke for the majority of their mafia like organisation. Peace was on the horizon, but the murder gangs of the Provisional IRA had not completely satisfied their bloodlust, not yet. They had a few more innocents to slaughter first!


Bonfires

Does Size Matter?

As we fast approach the 12th of July, bonfires are being built in Loyalist communities across Northern Ireland. For many people bonfires are an enjoyable part of the annual July festivities, for others they are a scar on the landscape. Whatever your opinion though, bonfires are here to stay.  I have nothing against a good ‘bonny’, but, I will say that in my humble opinion, bonfires should be scaled back in size. Some of the bonfires that are built each year are truly gigantic, do they have to be so large?

I contend that they do not. After all, isn’t the point of them to replicate the signal fires lit across the high hills of Ulster to communicate the news that King William III had landed at Carrick? Those original fires were not massive edifices. I fully understand that in some areas, especially in the Greater Belfast area, having the biggest bonfire is a sort of badge of honour. There is obviously a lot of fierce competition. However, there are other factors which need to be urgently considered.

Some Eleventh Night bonfires are on a truly epic scale

Some Eleventh Night bonfires are on a truly epic scale

Safety First

Last “11th Night” I attended a bonfire in County Antrim. Whilst not by any means a record breaker the bonfire was still very large. Consisting almost entirely of wooden pallets, the fire was not very wide at the base but was quite tall. After it was lit it began to burn on only one side. A few minutes later and the inevitable happened- the bonfire collapsed and fell over. Fortunately nobody was hurt but I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before one of these really large bonfires costs someone their life. Shouldn’t the safety of the community, and especially the youth of the community, be paramount? Bonfires don’t have to be gargantuan.

Some Loyalist communities have switched from large, and quite frankly ugly, bonfires to the much smaller and neater beacons. These beacons are metal, usually wrought iron, cage like structures into which combustible bonfire type material is placed. They have a number of benefits: they are safer, easier to clean up afterwards, easier to light etc. I know that in some places pressure has been applied to community groups/representatives to make the switch from bonfire to beacon but that is a counterproductive tactic. Often communities simply dig their heels in and refuse to even consider a beacon. To bribe communities with the promise of funding for other things (children’s playparks etc) is downright reprehensible, though I know full well of several examples of such shady practice.

Flag Burning

I don’t condone the burning of flags on bonfires. On the field of battle, an enemies colours, once captured, are rarely desecrated let alone destroyed, the Irish tricolour is though, being routinely burned on 11th of July bonfires, just as Loyalist flags are burned on Irish nationalist/republican bonfires. I can understand the reasoning of the flag burners, even though I don’t agree with their views. For many Loyalists and Unionists the Irish tricolour is a flag that will forever be tainted by it’s association with many and various terrorist gangs. PIRA/SF, RIRA, IPLO, CIRA, OIRA, INLA/IRSP, have all used (or continue to use) the tricolour as their emblem. If you ask the young bonfire builders what the Irish tricolour represents, many of them will tell you that it is the flag of “the IRA”, arguably they would not be incorrect in such an assertion.

It's not just Loyalists that burn flags on bonfires as vividly demonstrated by this republican "anti-internment" bonfire

It’s not just Loyalists that burn flags on bonfires as vividly demonstrated by this republican “anti-internment” bonfire

Nationalist/republican flags will also continue to go up in flames every summer whilst the Union flag and Ulster banner continue to be burned on republican bonfires. This is a sad indictment of Ulster society but unfortunately that is where we are at in terms of community relations. We live in a “zero sum” society. If one side of our divided community does something, the other side will do the same. “Yous burn our flag and we’ll burn yours”.

An Appeal to Common Sense

Whether or not you agree with me on the issue of bonfires, if you attend the Eleventh Night festivities please use your common sense and keep yourself and those around you safe. Too much alcohol is never a good idea at anytime, and especially not in the vicinity of a large open fire! Orange men and bandsmen should know not to indulge too much, after all, the 12th is a long day for those involved in the actual parade.

Keep dogs away from the bonfire. Never throw glass bottles etc into the fire. Keep a close eye on the youngsters and try to avoid getting your eyebrows singed off! What will I be doing? I’ll be tucked up in bed. Like I said, the 12th is a long day. I might not take an active part anymore but still, a good nights sleep is essential the night before Europe’s largest outdoor cultural festival.

The Political Soul of Ulster Loyalism: Part One

What is Loyalism?

Ulster Loyalism is most simply defined as being, loyalty to Ulster. Not loyalty to the institution of monarchy, not loyalty to any government or party, not loyalty to England, but loyalty to Ulster. Having Ulster’s best interests at heart and working to ensure that Ulster, as an entity, both literal and abstract, is not harmed or destroyed, and the willingness to use any and all means to prevent any such possible harm or destruction. It can also be described as loyalty to one’s community. Of course, there are those who would vehemently disagree with my definition of what Loyalism is, they will insist that Loyalism means loyalty to the British Crown and constitution, as revised after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-90. Or that Loyalism is merely a misplaced sense of loyalty to the British state. That is their prerogative. I have self-identified as being a Loyalist since I was in my early teens. In the years since I have examined and re-examined the defining characteristics of Ulster Loyalism. I have had many, many conversations with others about what they believe Loyalism means, about what it means to them to be a Loyalist. I have studied the history of my country and the history of Loyalism. I live and work within a predominantly Loyalist community. Those who know me personally, know my ‘credentials’. Forgive my arrogance but I am of the firm belief that those best qualified to define Loyalism, are Loyalists themselves.

That the very definition of Loyalism is a matter of debate says much about the Loyalist community. We are a ‘broad church’, welcoming of dissenting voices. Often divided on specific issues and seemingly content to tear each other to shreds over those issues. But all Loyalists (and indeed the vast majority of Unionists) share a sense of common purpose. From the upper echelons of mainstream political Unionism, to the ordinary woman or man on the street, from the Loyalist/Unionist ‘moderates’ to the former POWs, all have one thing in common. The sincerely held belief that Ulster should never enter into any form of political union, or be annexed by, the Irish Republic.  Beyond that point though, Loyalism begins to diverge from Unionism, at least in terms of terminology. There are many Unionists (I use the term here to denote those who would self-identify as Unionists but not as Loyalists) who hold the view that this country, the land of their forebears, is not worth the shedding of even a single drop of blood. To many no doubt, this would be an admirable quality, from my point of view however, it is a naïve rejection of the political and intercommunal  realities of life in Northern Ireland. Anyone who describes themselves as a Loyalist should, as a point of principle, defend the right of any (and every) free people to resist, by force of arms if necessary, that which they cannot tolerate politically.

Are Loyalism and Unionism the Same?

Not all Unionists are Loyalist. Not all Loyalists are Unionist. Many self-styled Unionists disagree fundamentally with some of the core principles of Loyalism. Some Loyalists lean more towards Ulster nationalism than support for the Union. Indeed, there are many Loyalists, myself included, who support the Union only for as long as the Union is beneficial to Ulster. For me, one of the central tenets of Loyalism is the principle of self-determination. Historically the Ulster people have exercised that inalienable right, choosing to remain within the British family of nations. There is, however, nothing which precludes Ulster from exercising her right to self-determination and choosing independence, in some form or other. If, for example, some future Westminster government was to display more than the usual level of obsequiousness towards Irish nationalism and declare that Ulster would cease to be part of the United Kingdom from such-and-such a date, some form of independence would be Loyalism’s only viable option, at least in the short to medium term.

Not all Unionists are Loyalists but most Loyalists are Unionists.

Not all Unionists are Loyalists but most Loyalists are Unionists.

The media and others used to use the terms ‘Unionist’ and ‘Loyalist’ interchangeably. Today they do not. Is this a recognition of the clear distinctions between the two, or perhaps merely a ploy to aid in their further demonization of Loyalists? I am prepared to, grudgingly, give the media the benefit of the doubt and say it is the former rather than the latter. The issue of Loyalist identity is an extremely complex one. It would be perfectly acceptable for one to proclaim that all Irish republicans are also Irish nationalist, but that not all Irish nationalists are republicans. One could also state that, for example, all members of the Tea Party in the United States are conservatives, but not all American conservatives are Tea-baggers. The same idiom cannot be employed when discussing Loyalism and Unionism. Although one could perhaps get away with using the phrase “most Loyalists are Unionists but only some Unionists are Loyalists”. That may well be as close as we can get to a succinct summation of the relationship between the two.

Aside from the pragmatic view that many Loyalists have of the Union, there is one other important issue where Loyalists and Unionists differ significantly. The issue of armed resistance.  As I have  already said, there are some within Unionism who are completely pacifistic. There are many more who seem to have no problem with armed counter measures, but only if and when such counter measures are undertaken by the forces of the state. For them the idea of citizen soldiers engaging in clandestine warfare is anathema. Yet a century ago even ‘Big House’ Unionists were prepared to engage militarily to defeat the 3rd Home Rule Bill, or at the very least, to ensure Ulster’s exclusion from any quasi-independent state arising out of it. It is bordering on the hypocritical for some Unionists to commemorate the use (and threatened use) of armed resistance 100 years ago, and yet totally condemn it in the context of the more recent conflict.

The People’s Right to Defend Themselves

Loyalism, in both principle and in practice, has always asserted the right of the Ulster people to defend themselves. In April, 1689, the representative of government in Londonderry, Governor  Robert Lundy, attempted to surrender the city to the forces of King James II. The people of the city, no doubt inspired by the Apprentice Boy’s shutting of the gates the previous December, paid no heed to Lundy’s orders and, under the leadership of Col. Adam Murray, began a fierce attack on King James’ besieging army. Technically, the citizens of Londonderry were, in disobeying Lundy’s orders, acting illegally. They were however, morally justified. If they had not resorted to armed resistance, King James’ army of French and Irish cut-throats would have entered the city and slaughtered the inhabitants. It would have been an extermination.

Loyalists have an inalienable right to defend themselves and their communities.

Loyalists have an inalienable right to defend themselves and their communities.

In the early 1970s many Loyalists felt that they too were facing extermination. The Provisional and Official IRA were detonating no-warning bombs all over Ulster. Outside pubs, shops, offices and restaurants. In town centres and outside police stations (often in built-up residential areas). Meanwhile, Irish nationalist death squads roamed the streets looking for potential victims and IRA snipers (both ‘Pinhead’ and ‘Sticky’) created panic in the terraced streets of Belfast and Londonderry. The ‘authorities’ seemed powerless. The Army seemed either unable or unwilling to fully engage the republican gunmen and bombers. With little or no other option, the Loyalist people once again had to rely on themselves. To arm and organise themselves as best they could and begin to fight back. The Ulster-Scots, as a people, had an undeniable right to self-defence. A right to armed resistance. I will never, ever, condemn any Loyalist who took the momentous decision to disregard their own safety and take up arms in defence of their country and their community. In fact, I would commend anyone who took that decision. In the face of a ruthless, barbaric, genocidal enemy, armed resistance is a necessity. Indeed, in such circumstances, armed resistance should be regarded as a moral obligation.

We Oppose Only One Thing

Those who make it their life’s work to attack Ulster Loyalism often say that: loyalists know what they are against, but they don’t necessarily know what they are for” I fundamentally disagree. Loyalists know exactly what we are for. We are for full and equal citizenship. We are for civil and religious liberty for all. We are for integrated, secular education. We are for an end to discrimination in education, housing and employment. We are for a better standard of living for all the people of Northern Ireland. We are for an end to the cultural Apartheid that has seen one community lay claim to certain areas (in some cases whole towns and villages) to the exclusion of all others. We are for an end to Irish nationalist/republican terrorism. We are for normality, peace and conflict resolution. We are for justice. For peace with honour  (not peace at any price). For an accurate and truthful account of our country’s recent past. For our children and our children’s children. We oppose only one thing. We oppose the childish, reductionist, arrogant idea that our country ought to be politically, economically and culturally unified with the other country with whom we share this island.

At it’s very core, that is the only thing that Ulster Loyalism opposes, as an ideology. We will oppose this or that, in the course of normal daily political life, but fundamentally, ideologically, we oppose only that one nefarious notion. Loyalism does not have to work to change the status quo. Loyalism won when we achieved separate status for Ulster in 1921. The vast majority of Loyalists (those who, at least tacitly, support the Union) have what we desire. We are not working towards the fulfilment of a pipedream. We are not trying to subvert and overthrow the state. At times I think that it is to our detriment. Perhaps the Loyalist community would have more cohesion, more purpose, if we were working to achieve some romanticised ideal, rather than simply working to maintain what we already have. I shouldn’t covet the attributes of other communities though. For we, as Loyalists have different, but equally advantageous attributes. Our sense of self-reliance. Our indefatigability. The very fact that we, the Loyalist people, are not a single, homogenous, tightly controlled group, which is far more of a strength than a weakness. Something we should perhaps, be quicker to recognise.

Is Loyalism Reactionary?

For Irish nationalists this is almost a rhetorical question. “Of course loyalism is reactionary” they’ll say. “After all, loyalist violence was a reaction to the republican armed struggle”. For Irish nationalists and republicans this is one of those unquestioned truisms that their political doctrine clings to like a drowning rat. It is also one of the politically immature responses which makes one further question the ‘merits’ of a segregated/sectarian education system. For just because Loyalist violence was, some of the time at least, a reaction to republican violence, does not prove that Loyalism, as an ideology, is reactionary. On the contrary, throughout the conflict now known as ‘The Troubles’, it was Ulster Loyalism that provided the only real political innovation. As far back as the mid-seventies, David Trimble, then of the Ulster Vanguard movement, was writing eloquent and scholarly articles and theses on how the Conflict might be brought to a close. In the 1980s, the UDA, through their political wing, the Ulster Democratic Party, produced ‘Common Sense’, a document at least a decade ahead of its time. ‘Common Sense’ was itself the successor to that organisation’s earlier thesis, ‘Beyond The Religious Divide’. The Progressive Unionist Party had also contributed much to the debate about how Ulster might move beyond conflict, sectarianism, social exclusion and ‘zero sum politics’.

'Common Sense': A visionary  and innovative document that Irish nationalism had no answer to.

‘Common Sense’: A visionary and innovative document that Irish nationalism had no answer to.

Any objective observer may well conclude that, in response to such Loyalist thinking (for instance- ‘Common Sense’), Irish nationalists and republicans seemed unable to even garner an articulate response. Absolutely unable to come to any new conclusions themselves, or even re-examine their own ‘sacred beliefs’, Irish nationalism could do only what it knew how to do best- reject any innovation. The accusation that Loyalism is reactionary is, in light of the evidence, not only patently untrue, but also absurd. When the UDA produced ‘Beyond The Religious Divide’ and later, ‘Common Sense’, Irish nationalists were forced to react, but were unable to do anything more meaningful than sit in the corner, their fingers in their ears, whistling ‘A Soldiers Song’. When the armed wing of Loyalism escalated it’s military campaign, from about 1989 onwards, PIRA/SF, INLA/IRSP and the IPLO were forced to react. When the CLMC talked of “abject and true remorse”, for the killing of innocent people during the Conflict, Irish nationalism/republicanism was again forced to react, their reaction was a deafening silence! 

Loyalism is NOT reactionary or motivated by antagonism towards others.

Loyalism is NOT reactionary or motivated by antagonism towards others.

Loyalism as a Catalyst for Social Change

Arguably, working class Loyalist communities are the most tightly knit of any communities in the British Isles, with the possible exception of the Traveller Community. Close bonds were forged during the long, weary years of bitter, internecine conflict. In the last few years, with the increasing demonisation of working class Loyalists, those bonds have become stronger still. We, as Loyalists, know what community means, what it is. Loyalists have always had a deep, indeed profound, social conscience. It is that social conscience, and that feeling of being a part of something greater than the individual, that inspired many Loyalists to become politically, and/or militarily, active in the first place. Loyalism is primarily a working class, community based, ideology. Can Loyalism therefore act as a catalyst for social change? The answer seems obvious to me. Yes, of course it can. Loyalist communities the width and breadth of Northern Ireland face numerous complex social issues. Poverty, lack of social housing, educational under achievement, social exclusion, drug abuse etc etc. Loyalist communities are though, I believe, uniquely equipped to deal with such challenges. Loyalist marching bands and Lambeg drumming clubs are not only overt expressions of culture, they are also a fantastic way to occupy young people, to keep them from loitering on street corners or engaging in antisocial activity, encouraging them to be more physically active and expanding their minds through music. Loyalist communities also have other unique aspects which can be utilised for the benefit of the whole community. Orange Halls can be used for a multitude of purposes beyond that for which they were originally intended- crèches, slimming clubs, evening classes, community meetings, cultural events etc etc.

Loyalism is already a catalyst for social change.

Loyalism is already a catalyst for social change.

Not only can Loyalism can be a catalyst for social change, I would contend that it already is! In the future, the role of Loyalism in social change will only expand. The recent resurgence of the Progressive Unionist Party is a clear illustration that many within the Loyalist working class are sick and tired of the right-wing, economically conservative, socially inactive parties in the Unionist ‘mainstream’. ‘Joe Public’ has had a belly full of the vague and diffuse promises of the DUP. Most ordinary people in places like Rathcoole, Ballykeel, Ballysally or Tigers Bay, can see with their own eyes who the politically and socially active people in their neighbourhoods are. They’re not the property speculators and businessmen of the DUP. They’re the former combatants, the ex-POWs and the activists of the PUP and UPRG. People who have a vested interest in seeing improvement in those communities because they live in those places too. Loyalism has always been socially aware, today however, Loyalists are fast learning how to get things done, how the ‘system’ works and what needs to happen for Loyalist communities to get their fair share. Loyalists have always striven to fix the problems in our communities, now though, we have the tools at our disposal to do the job right. 

Loyalism and Feminism

One of the core principles of Loyalism is civil and religious liberty for all! So to exclude women from any aspect of political, social or cultural life would be an absurdity. Any man who calls himself a Loyalist needs to recognise the vitally important role women have played in the Conflict. I can think of no greater example of courage than those women POWs incarcerated in Armagh gaol, outnumbered by their enemies but never outfought! Enduring all manner of hardship and indignity but never allowing themselves to be broken. All men need to also recognise that gender equality is a necessity in any democratic, free and egalitarian society. As a man, I feel slightly uncomfortable speaking on behalf of women, after all, women need to be able to speak for themselves. We men though have a role in providing an environment within which women and girls feel confident enough to express themselves  freely

If civil and religious liberty for all is not just rhetoric, then it must be our guiding principle as we go about our daily lives. We must think before we speak, before we act. The task of transforming communities and attitudes is an arduous one. Loyalism is not a part-time political philosophy, it is an ideology which can be applied to almost every aspect of our lives. That includes our relationship with the opposite sex. I would like to believe that working class Loyalist communities have never been especially patriarchal, but then again, I’m a man, my experience and the experience of my mother, sister, aunt, daughter etc are no doubt very, very different. I do know one thing though, as an Ulster Loyalist I have a great desire to see equality and fairness in all aspects of society and in every community!

Loyalism and Intellectualism

If one assumes that ideology is, in general, a mask for self-interest (whether personal, national, ethnic or religious), then it is a natural presumption that intellectuals, in interpreting history or formulating policy, will tend to adopt an elitist position, condemning political mass movements such as Ulster Loyalism. Throughout the years of conflict, Pseudo-liberal intellectuals have often dismissed Loyalism as if it were an irrelevant nuisance, if they bothered to offer comment on Loyalism at all. The self-appointed ‘intellectual elite‘ have come in for almost constant criticism from elements of Loyalism, but there is no real reason for such antagonism between intellectualism and Loyalism. Unlike Irish nationalism, with it’s over simplification of historical issues and it’s obsessive mysticism, Loyalism is rational, pragmatic and stoical. As an ideology, Loyalism has it’s basis firmly in the real world. Whereas other ideologies, Irish and Scottish nationalism for example, are an appeal to the heart, Ulster Loyalism is an appeal to both the heart and head.

Perhaps it is because of the ingrained, phoney Leftist agenda prevalent in most British university faculties, perhaps is it because intellectuals view Loyalism as being inextricably linked to violent street protest, paramilitary activity and counter insurgency, but whatever the reason, many intellectuals see Loyalism as anathema. Certainly there are some within ‘intellectualism‘ who are, at least, closet Loyalists, but there are many others who have decided, for whatever reason, that they must attack Loyalism at any given opportunity. It is imperative that Loyalists challenge the perceptions of the intellectual class. Loyalism, as an ideology, does not have to make itself answerable to anyone, but it should seek to redress the misconceptions of certain sections of society, especially those sections of society that have no automatic reason to harbour any antipathy towards it. 

To determine the nature of man, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau proceeds to compare man and animal . Man is “intelligent, free….the sole animal endowed with reason”. Animals are “devoid of intellect and freedom”. Do the intellectual class not view Loyalists as men (and women)? Are we not endowed with the reason that Rousseau spoke of? It is time for intellectuals to step out into the real world, to engage with Loyalists (and others), so that a more comprehensive and inclusive view of Ulster politics emerges. The intellectual class do themselves, and the communities in which they live, a great disservice if they refuse to re-examine their opinions and prejudices. Intellectuals, and everyone else in Northern Ireland (and beyond) need to recognise that Loyalists are people too!

To be continued…

 

 

WHY EASTERN UKRAINE SHOULD MATTER TO LOYALISTS

During the Czechoslovakian crisis of 1938, with Nazi Germany pushing for the annexation of the Sudetenland, UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spoke of “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”. Today our world is a much smaller place (figuratively speaking) there are no more people of whom we know nothing. Every evening our television screens are filled with images of conflict in Syria, Iraq & lately, in Eastern Ukraine. Why should Ulster Loyalists care about that “far away country”? For me it is very simple, we should care because the Russian people of Eastern Ukraine have much in common with the British people of Northern Ireland. Both are much maligned by the BBC! That should have alarm bells ringing for a start!

The Russian people in Eastern (& parts of South-Western) Ukraine constitute the largest number of ethnic Russians outside of the Russian Federation, numbering 8.5 million, according to the last census there in 2001. Much of Eastern Ukraine has an ethnic Russian majority. They speak Russian (although Russian & Ukrainian are mutually intelligible languages anyway, in the same way as English & Ulster-Scots), they are culturally Russian, they are Russian in their outlook & way of life. In fact, they are Russian in every way, except by citizenship. They are not Ukrainian, they do not identify themselves with Ukrainian culture, they do not view themselves as being Ukrainian & they are prepared to fight to defend themselves, their culture, their heritage & their way of life. Remind you of anyone?

A 'flag protest' in Donetsk. Russian style!

A ‘flag protest’ in Donetsk. Russian style!

A LONG HISTORY

Russians have been settling in Ukraine (or rather, in what is today considered Ukraine) since medieval times, when the Goriun peoples settled in Putivl. The first new waves of Russian settlers onto Ukrainian territory came in the late 16th century, to the uninhabited lands of Slobozhanschyna, in what is now Northeastern Ukraine. More Russians came to settle in those lands in the late 17th century, at the same time as the Williamite Wars were being fought in the British Isles. At the end of the 18th century, the Russian Empire captured large swathes of territory from the former Crimean Khanate & the systematic colonization of lands in what became known as ‘New Russia’ (Novo Rossiya) began. Officially, the Russian Empire regarded ethnic Ukrainians as being Russian, belonging to a single Russian nation, the descendants of the people of the Rus’. In fact, until the end of the 19th century, Ukraine did not really exist, even as a concept, let alone as nation.

After the October revolution (1917) several Soviet Republics were formed by the Bolsheviks of the region,  later, due in large part to pressure from Lenin & other Bolshevik leaders, a single unified Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed. The Ukrainian SSR was de jure a separate state until the formation of the USSR in 1922 & survived until the breakup of the USSR. Lenin insisted that ignoring the national question in Ukraine would endanger the support of the Revolution among Ukrainians & thus the new borders of the Ukrainian SSR were established. These new borders included all of Novorossiya & other neighboring provinces, which contained a substantial number of ethnic Russians. In 1954, the Supreme Soviet issued the decree on the transfer of the Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. Thus increasing the ethnic Russian population of Ukraine by almost a million people. Since Ukrainian independence in 1991 the Russian people of Ukraine have felt increasingly isolated & marginalised. Many Russian language schools have been closed, Russian culture has been attacked & cultural activities curtailed (again, sound familiar?) When the far-right ‘European Movement’ seized power in the so-called ‘2014 Ukrainian Revolution’, ousting democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian people of Crimea & Eastern Ukraine decided that enough was enough & took up arms to defend themselves from the illegitimate new regime in Kiev. The ‘Crimean Crisis’ resulted in that region declaring independence on the 17th of March this year, with Crimea applying to join the Russian Federation soon after. A referendum on the issue was called & 96% of Crimeans supported joining Russia. In the East however, things are more complex. Crimea is a relatively small peninsula on the Black Sea, even if the far-right junta in Kiev were to bow to inevitability & recognise it’s new status as a part of Russia, Ukraine could continue much as it has done since 1991, but to accede to the demands of the Russian people in the Donbas & other Eastern areas means relinquishing control of a large (& lucrative) portion of the country. Ukraine will not let the coal miners of Donetsk, or the metal workers of Luhansk, break away from Ukrainian domination without a fight.

THE PARALLELS ARE DRAWN

A people whose culture is threatened & attacked, whose language is denied legitimacy, whose schools are closed, whose way of life is denigrated & who are condemned by the media. Am I talking about Russians in Eastern Ukraine or the Ulster-Scots people of Northern Ireland? Clearly both face the same problems. We both face an implacable enemy, driven by a sense of self-righteousness & a swivel eyed fanaticism rarely found in most modern European nations. We are both vilified & demonised by the politically motivated & morally repugnant BBC. We are both accused of being ‘planted’ into our native lands, of being ‘invaders’ or ‘immigrants’ (a favourite slur of the more racist element within republicanism). We both face an enemy with a murky & disreputable history, for Ukrainian nationalists, just like Irish nationalists, supported the Nazi war machine in WWII, whilst Ulstermen fought against Fascism in every corner of the globe & Russians made the ultimate sacrifice in their tens of millions to rid the world of the genocidal Nazis. The Russian people of Eastern Ukraine & the Loyalist people of Ulster have much in common. Loyalists should be proud to support those in Ukraine who are fighting to free themselves from the grasp of a monocultural state, a state that is as foreign & as artificial to them as an all-island republic would be to us. Ulster Loyalism as always had an international dimension. Loyalists are not parochial or insular. International affairs have always had a special significance for us here in Ulster. The history of the Ulster-Scots as a people is invariably tied to the history of Western Europe & beyond, after all, The Boyne was not an Irish battle but a European one, as were the battles of both world wars. Loyalists & Unionists have never been predisposed to think that the world revolves around this one small island, nor content to stay within these shores & plead for help from our diaspora, or anyone else. Loyalists & Unionists have gone out into the wider world, as soldiers, as statesmen, as pioneers & frontiersmen. I hope that Loyalists/Unionists never become political introverts. That we never become as obsessional about this one little patch of Earth as our fanatical & xenophobic enemies within Irish nationalism. Let us never be afraid of reaching out to those with whom we feel a strong affinity. Especially when there are such striking similarities, such strong parallels, between ourselves & those in “far away lands”.

The Russian people of Eastern Ukraine, forced to take up the gun to preserve their national identity.

The Russian people of Eastern Ukraine, forced to take up the gun to preserve their national identity.

A LESSON FOR IRISH REPUBLICANS

Kiev cannot make the Russian people of Eastern Ukraine be Ukrainian. They cannot force Russian culture out of the heads of those who feel themselves to be Russians. If they ratchet up the violence in the East of the country even more, they will either be beaten or they will have to ‘ethnically cleanse’ those loyal to Russia & leave huge swathes of the country as wasteland (although Russia will never tolerate that). There is clearly a lesson there for Irish nationalists & republicans. A culture cannot be destroyed unless you destroy the people that carry that culture in their hearts. A people cannot be made to feel that they are something they’re not. A national identity cannot be forced onto people. You may be as Irish as you like but you will never force that sense of ‘Irishness’ onto me, nor supplant my identity for any other. Just as the Russian people in Eastern Ukraine are prepared to fight, to kill & to die for their national identity, culture & way of life, we Ulster Loyalists are prepared to do the same. We have been compelled to do so before. We will have no compunction about doing so again. We should stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the Donetsk Peoples Republic & those Russians fighting for their very existence in Ukraine. We should tell the world that we support them. For just like us they have been pushed down & vilified for too long. Their culture has been criminalised. Their heritage threatened. Kiev has tried to take the very language from out of their mouths. But no more. The Russian people of Eastern Ukraine have risen against their oppressors & I salute them for it!

 

___________________________________________

If you agree with me about the situation in Eastern Ukraine, please show your support for the Donetsk People’s Republic, give this Facebook page a like- https://ru-ru.facebook.com/stopukrainianarmy & use the hashtags- #SaveDonbassPeopleFromUkrainianArmy
#SaveDonbassFromUkrainianArmy
#SaveDonbassPeopleFromArmyUkraine
#SaveDonbassFromArmyUkraine when tweeting, thank you.

COLLUSION: PART 2

PROLOGUE

In the first part of this article I examined the inflated claims of Irish nationalists & republicans concerning alleged collusion between militant Loyalists & the British state. There is however another side of collusion, one which is beginning to be exposed. Despite not recognising the legitimacy of the “partitionist 26 county state”, otherwise known as the Irish republic, republicans have, throughout the history of ‘The Troubles’, colluded with & accepted aid from the organs of that state. Irish nationalism is demonstrably immoral. That nationalists would cast aside their principles in order to advance their aims, is not in the least surprising. What is more surprising, indeed shocking, is that a supposedly modern, democratic, European nation state would sponsor terrorism against their closest neighbour. What is also shocking is the way in which this collusion between the Irish state & the crazed fanatics of PIRA, INLA etc has been covered up. That cover up is thankfully now being exposed. Loyalists & Unionists, indeed anyone interested in truth & transparency, need to ensure that that exposure continues.

HOW THE IRISH GOVERNMENT HELPED CREATE THE PROVOS

In October 1969, a meeting of ‘Northern Citizen Defence Committees’, which had been set up to ‘defend’ republican areas & which included senior IRA members, was held in Bailieboro, Co. Cavan, with Irish army intelligence officer Cpt. James Kelly in attendance. The meeting was told that £50,000 (sterling) would be made available, from the Irish government to buy weapons “for defence of Irish nationalist areas”. Later, Irish Minister of Finance, Charlie Haughey, held meetings with Cathal Goulding, so-called ‘Chief of Staff’ of the emerging (though as yet unnamed) Provisional IRA. Minister for Justice, Micheál Ó Móráin, reported one of these meetings to the Irish Cabinet, but Haughey dismissed it as a mere “chance encounter” & no further action was taken. Meanwhile, Neil Blaney, Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries, made plans with Cpt.Kelly to import weapons from continental Europe, with Haughey providing the money for the purchase & also arranging customs clearance for the guns. By late April 1970, An Garda Síochána Special Branch were aware of the plot & informed Taoiseach Jack Lynch. However, Lynch took no action until the leader of the opposition, Liam Cosgrave, became aware of the smuggling scheme & pressed the Prime Minister to take action. Haughey & Blaney were sacked by Lynch on the 6th of May when they refused to resign. Kevin Boland, Minister for Social Welfare, resigned from the government in protest at the sackings as he was adamant (as were the accused) that Lynch & most of the Cabinet, in particular Jim Gibbons, then Minister for Defence, knew about the plan to import guns with which to arm the Provo death squads, all along. Minister for Justice, Micheál Ó Móráin, who was in hospital at the time, was asked to resign on the 4th of May. He later claimed that he had in fact informed Lynch of the individuals involved weeks before.

On Friday, 28th May 1970, Haughey & Blaney went on trial in Dublin, together with Captain James Kelly, a Belfast republican leader named John Kelly & Belgian businessman & fugitive Nazi Albert Luykx, who had allegedly agreed to use his contacts in West Germany to acquire the weapons that would be sent to the PIRA death squads in NI. All charges against Blaney were controversially dropped in the District Court on the 2nd of July 1970 & as a result he was not tried. Following a second trial the other four accused were cleared on the 23rd of October. At the trial there was a direct contradiction of evidence regarding the sanctioning of the imports between Haughey & chief prosecution witness, Jim Gibbons, Minister for Defence at the time of the attempted gunrunning. Haughey admitted arranging customs clearance for the shipment, but claimed in his defence that he did not know it consisted of weapons. This directly contradicted the evidence of Gibbons & Peter Berry that Haughey was fully aware of all the details of the conspiracy. It also contradicted the stories of his co-defendants, who admitted that they had tried to import weapons for the Provos, but maintained that the shipment had been legally authorised by the Irish government! During the trial, the judge remarked that either Haughey or Gibbons had to be committing perjury. Sadly though, due to the efficient cover up of these events by the Dublin government, we will probably never know the truth. Was the proposed arms shipment sanctioned at the highest level? Were other shipments of guns & explosives successfully imported & turned over to the Irish government’s Provo allies? How much Irish government money found it’s way into PIRA/SF bank accounts? One can only imagine the uproar & the outrage amongst republicans if this affair had involved the UK government channeling money to, or attempting to import arms on behalf of, the UDA or UVF.

THE MURDER OF RICHARD FALLON

In April, 1970, Garda Richard Fallon, 44, was shot dead as he & another garda chased armed raiders who had just robbed the Royal Bank of Ireland on Arran Quay, Dublin. The robbery & subsequent murder were widely believed to have been the work of a small Irish nationalist terror gang, styling themselves Saor Éire . One might think that no stone would have been left unturned to uncover the killers of a police officer, especially when he had three brothers who were also Gardai. But The investigation was botched from the very start. No effort was made to cordon off the crime scene. Children found spent cartridges at the scene & handed them to the gardaí. Shockingly though, the investigation may well have been deliberately sabotaged by senior members of the Dublin government. Gerry L’Estrange TD told the Dáil on the 4th of November, 1971 that “one of the men who murdered Garda Fallon was brought down to Greenore ferryboat in a State car”. He did not name the minister responsible in the Dáil, but gardaí were convinced it was Neil Blaney. On the 29th of July, 1970, Blaney told the Dáil “I would query how active these forces [the Garda] have been in apprehending the murderers of Dick Fallon? The murderer was witnessed by some members of these forces & yet the people involved in the murder have escaped the net.” It seems that having had his driver, a garda now dead, help one of the wanted men to escape, he was now taunting the police.

Garda Richard Fallon, whose killers were aided by members of the Irish government.

Garda Richard Fallon, whose killers were aided in their escape by members of the Irish government.

Des O’Malley, Minister for Justice when Blaney made his reprehensible statement, told the Dáil in July 2001 that  “there is some reason to believe Garda Fallon may have been murdered in April 1970 with a weapon which had been part of earlier illegal arms shipments into this State. There is also reason to suppose that some senior gardaí suspected that a prominent politician was fully aware of this earlier importation and had turned a blind eye to it.” Investigators believed that Pádraig “Jock” Haughey had smuggled a consignment of pistols in through Dublin Airport the previous September. Jock Haughey, was the brother of the infamous Charlie Haughey, who was in charge of Customs at the time. Another Irish political dynasty, the Aherns, were also implicated, with one of those arrested for questioning on suspicion of possibly harbouring the raiders being Con Ahern, the father of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Thirty years after his father’s murder, Richard Fallon’s son, Finian, went in search of the files relating to the murder, but they were withheld. He later told an RTE interviewer that “the Government, or elements within the Fianna Fáil Government of the day, were embarked on a common endeavour with subversives to supply arms to the North for whatever reason, & that one of the guns made its way into the hands of the gang, or members of the gang, called Saor Éire, who killed my father, & in the aftermath of that I believe that the Government had to cover up those circumstances.” A damning indictment indeed.

SMITHWICK & BEYOND

On Monday, 20th of March, 1989, a Provo murder gang killed two senior RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen & Superintendent Bob Buchanan. The 2 were returning from a cross-border security conference in Dundalk, Co. Louth, in the Irish Republic, when Buchanan’s car (a red Vauxhall Cavalier) was flagged-down & fired upon by six PIRA gunmen. Buchanan was killed outright whilst Breen, suffering serious gunshot wounds, was deliberately shot in the back of the head as he tried to crawl out of the vehicle. They were the highest-ranking RUC officers to be killed during ‘The Troubles’. The Smithwick Tribunal, a judicial inquiry into the killings which opened in Dublin in June 2011, published its final report in December 2013. In the report Judge Peter Smithwick stated that he was satisfied there was collusion in the killings & that somebody inside Dundalk Garda station had passed on information to the Provos regarding the presence of the two RUC men. Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore responded to the publication saying:

“Chief Superintendent Harry Breen & Superintendent Robert Buchanan of the RUC were murdered by the IRA on 20 March 1989 as they returned home from a meeting in Dundalk Garda Station. For years we have sought to get to the truth about their deaths. Today we must acknowledge & confront the central grave finding of the Smithwick Tribunal Report, that there was collusion with the IRA from within An Garda Síochána in the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen & Superintendent Robert Buchanan. I am appalled & saddened by this finding; it is a matter of grave public concern. On behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland, I apologise without reservation to the Breen & Buchanan families for any failings identified in the report on the part of the State or any of its agencies”

Collusion between the Irish state (or agencies thereof) & Irish nationalist terrorist gangs had been proven, at least in one case, but there are many other cases of alleged collusion between republican killers & representatives of the Irish state.

Other high-profile cases of alleged collusion include the murder of Lord Justice Maurice Gibson & his wife Cecily in an PIRA bomb at Killeen, Co Down, 1987; Co. Louth farmer, Tom Oliver, who was murdered by the Provos in 1991 for allegedly being an ‘informer’; the murder of electrical contractor Terence McKeever, who worked in RUC stations & was brutally tortured & killed by a Provo gang in June 1986 in South Armagh. The deaths of four RUC officers- William Wilson, 28, Stephen Rodgers, 19, David Baird, 22, & Tracy Doak, 21, in the bombing of a Brink’s-Mat van in 1985 moments after the RUC had taken over escort duty from the gardai. The killing of businessman John “Big Note” McAnulty who was abducted by the Provos from a border pub in July 1989, tortured & murdered. There was also the sickening ‘mistaken identity’ murder of Robert Hanna, his wife Maureen & their seven-year-old son David in a bomb at Killeen, Newry, as they made their way home after a family holiday to Disneyland, Florida, in July of 1988. In a callous attempt to excuse the murder of an entire young family, PIRA/SF said it meant to kill Judge Eoin Higgins but had slaughtered the Hanna family “by accident”.

IAN SPROULE

Ian Sproule was 23 years old & lived with his parents at their home on the Lisleen Rd, just outside Killen, near Castlederg, Co. Tyrone. Ian was a joiner by trade & spent a number of years working for his father who was a builder. He left Ulster
for a short time to take up a job in England but returned home in 1991 & was again working in the family business. Ian was an avid Everton supporter, & was learning to play the guitar. On the night of Friday, the 12th of April, 1991, Ian attended a birthday party in Castlederg. He returned home around 1 am in the morning. As he parked his car in the street outside the family home, three republican terrorists, who were lying in wait, opened fire on him from close range. Ian died instantly. Follow-up searches of nearby fields produced no evidence & the security forces made no arrests. After Ian’s murder, PIRA/SF claimed their victim had been a member of the UVF, in a bid to distract media attention away from what was, in reality, another sectarian assassination of a young Protestant civilian.

After the murder of Ian Sproule, Unionist politician Gregory Campbell raised the issue of PIRA/Garda collusion.

After the murder of Ian Sproule, Unionist politician Gregory Campbell raised the issue of PIRA/Garda collusion.

In the week after Mr. Sproule’s murder the Provos tried further to ‘justify’ this latest sickening sectarian murder. A masked man, claiming to be from PIRA/Sinn Fein, passed papers to a reporter from the ‘Derry Journal’. The papers included copies of Garda security files alleging Mr. Sproule was a suspected member of the UVF, wanted in Éire for questioning in relation to a firebomb attack in Ballybofey, Co. Donegal, in 1987 (an attack that was the work of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, not the UVF) In any event, Ian Sproule had never been charged with, nor found guilty of any offence. He was an innocent man. The Garda Commissioner at the time ordered an investigation into how confidential files belonging to his police service were passed onto terrorists – an irrefutable act of collusion between members of the Irish republic’s police & PIRA/Sinn Fein. Mr. Sproule’s family was never advised of the outcome of that investigation, although it was referred to in the Smithwick tribunal in 2012 when an RUC witness (‘Witness 68’) testified that “beyond doubt that there was a leak from the Gardaí to the IRA” in relation to the Garda security document containing Ian Sproule’s details. Today, this disgusting act of collusion remains uninvestigated & largely forgotten. Ian Sproule’s family deserve to know the truth. They deserve to know, as do we all, who sanctioned such acts of collusion? Who was directing the Irish nationalist killer gangs that stalked the border regions of Northern Ireland for over 30 years? Why did the Gardai make false allegations against Mr. Sproule? And who among them gave PIRA/SF documents containing those heinous slurs? Surely now, nearly 25 years on, it’s time the Sproule family were told the truth.

CONCLUSION

Whilst Irish nationalist/republican propagandists repeat their lies, myths & half-truths about alleged collusion between the NI Security Forces & Ulster Loyalist militias, the issue of actual, proven collusion between republican death squads & the Irish state, in particular An Garda Síochána, goes undiscussed, unmentioned & largely forgotten. That is a travesty. The Unionist/Loyalist community suffered at the hands of (Irish) state sponsored terrorist groups. Innocent people, men, women & children, were murdered by blood thirsty fanatics, acting in collusion with (at various times) the Irish government, the police force of that state & it’s army. The truth must be told. The victims of PIRA/Irish state collusion deserve to be told the truth. The international community also needs to know that PIRA/SF & other Irish nationalist murder gangs, were state sponsored. There is blood on the hands of successive Dublin governments. Time that that was acknowledged. Loyalists will not allow Irish nationalists/republicans to whitewash the history of the Conflict any longer. We absolutely cannot, will not rest until the truth comes out, until justice is done & until the suffering, hurt & trauma inflicted on our community is recognised. For if it is not, if the demonisation of our community continues, if we do not see any prospect for truth & justice, then it will not be mere recognition that Loyalists seek, it will be retribution!

COLLUSION: PART 1

PROLOGUE

If one were to believe the historical revisionism of Irish nationalists, one would come to the conclusion that Loyalist paramilitary groups were armed, trained, financed, directed & controlled by the British state. That is patently untrue. It is a spurious myth that is easily disproven. The Irish nationalist myth makers do not stop there however, because they would also have the world believe that despite such external aid, that Loyalism was incapable of taking the war to their enemies & that republican groups, such as the Provisional IRA, received no outside aid from any source, nor at any time colluded with any third party. The motivation for such irresolute lies is not difficult to understand. Irish nationalism, especially the more extreme varieties, likes to portray the Northern Ireland conflict in a very simple, black & white, way. In the Irish nationalist/republican narrative it is always simply a matter of ‘native Irish gael’ versus the ‘evil Brit occupier’. Loyalists & Unionists do not figure in this fable because republicanism has always insisted that Loyalism & Unionism doesn’t count. Indeed, many Irish nationalists still cling to the ludicrous notion that in the event of a ‘united Ireland’, NI’s pro-Union population will simply throw up their arms, realise the error of their ways & somehow become enthusiastic little Irish men & women, virtually overnight! To concede the fact that Loyalist groups were effective & sophisticated, to concede the fact that they were not controlled, nor armed, trained or funded, by the British state, means by default, conceding that Loyalism was/is a major player within Northern Ireland, undermines some fairly basic republican ideological tenets & complicates the simplistic ‘native vs occupier’ narrative so oft repeated by organisations like INLA/IRSP, PSF & now the multitudinous ‘dissident’ groups which seem to be popping up like mushrooms. Don’t just take my word for it though. Let’s examine the facts, then you can decide for yourself

 

“TIS WELL THAT WAR IS SO TERRIBLE…”

Those Irish nationalists & republicans that uncritically digest the propaganda spoon-fed to them by their socio-political leaders, often demonstrate their pitiful knowledge of ‘The Troubles’ by alleging that the UVF & Ulster Freedom Fighters killed only a mere handful of active republicans during the long years of conflict. It’s a claim so imbecilic that I usually deem it unworthy of reply. In the interests of historical accuracy however, I will quickly expose this pernicious lie (whilst trying not to laugh)

It is claimed that Loyalist groups only ever managed to kill “a handful” of republicans, others claim they killed only 40 republicans throughout the entire conflict (& often cite the deeply flawed CAIN website to back this up) So let’s look at the facts-

Off the top of my head I can name, err, probably ten or twelve very senior republicans killed by the UVF or UFF. But let’s go back to the beginning, to the start of the erroneously titled ‘Troubles’. In August, 1969, Gerard McCauley, an IRA gunman (this of course is prior to the Official/Provisional split, hence McCauley is classified simply as ‘IRA’) was shot dead by a Loyalist sniper during a gunbattle in the Bombay Street area, off the Falls Road in west Belfast. During 1971 & 72 Loyalists killed another five republican terrorists/paramilitaries. Four members of the Provisional IRA & one member of the paramilitary Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association, which is now almost completely forgotten. The CEA was an Irish nationalist organisation set up in 1971, with the stated aim of “protecting Catholic areas”. It’s founding member was Phil Curran who, in common with other members, had previous military training. The CEA was paramilitary in nature. At its most active, in 1972, it had a claimed membership of 8,000. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that the CEA was also extensively involved in training both major factions of the IRA (Official & Provisional) at that time, & that some CEA members actively engaged in ‘offensive actions’ against the Loyalist/Unionist community (despite their claim to be merely ‘defending’ Catholic neighbourhoods) with the CEA accused of carrying out bomb & gun attacks which were later claimed to be the work of either the OIRA or PIRA. In 1973 Loyalists killed another four Irish nationalist/republican ‘footsoldiers’, 2 members of PIRA/SF, one Official IRA man & one senior CEA member. In 1974 another four, 2 PIRA/SF, 1 OIRA & 1 CEA. In 1975 & 1976 ten more republicans, of all ranks, were killed by the UFF, UVF & RHC, including senior PSF activist Colm Mulgrew & PSF Vice-President Máire Drummshot dead in a joint UFF/UVF operation as she recovered from a minor operation in the Mater Hospital in Belfast. Six more republicans, including OIRA ‘Chief of Staff’, Joe McKee, were killed by Loyalist groups in the last years of the 1970s, bringing to 30 the total number killed between 1969 & 1979. There are of course other dubious or contested instances, where it cannot be proven conclusively that deceased individual was, as claimed, a member of OIRA, PIRA, CEA, INLA etc, but where there is some evidence to support such claims. Of course it was republican policy not to ‘claim’ members who had meet a violent death at the hands of the UVF or Ulster Freedom Fighters, in instances where the dead individual could not be positively tied to the republican movement (an example of ‘plausible deniability). This was done for three reasons. Firstly, groups such as PIRA, INLA etc did not wish to appear vulnerable to Loyalist attack. Secondly, there was the issue of compensation to the victim’s family (NIO compensation would not be paid out to the families of proven terrorists) Thirdly, it is much easier to illicit public & political sympathy for an ‘innocent man’ coldly executed by Loyalist gunmen, rather than a dedicated terrorist, who ‘lived by the gun’ & consequently died by that same instrument.

During the 1980s, the level of Loyalist paramilitary activity decreased, due in part to the fact that the Security Forces seemed to finally be making inroads against Irish nationalist terror gangs, but Irish nationalist/republican activists were still being targeted & killed with some regularity. In the opening years of that decade, there were the UFF ‘shopping list’ killings, were the Ulster Freedom Fighters targeted & eliminated the leadership of the INLA/IRSP & the ‘Anti H-Blocks/Armagh Committee’. In 1980 & 81 Loyalists killed six republican activists, including the INLA terrorist godfathers ( & godmother?), Bunting, Lyttle & Daly. In 1981 the UVF executed James ‘Skipper’ Burns, the most senior member of the Provos to be killed during the conflict. The so-called quartermaster of PIRA’s ‘Northern Command’ was killed as he lay sleeping. His killer, armed with a 9mm pistol & silencer, shot Burns dead & escaped without waking Burns’ girlfriend, who lay sleeping beside him & did not realise he was dead until she woke in the morning. The rest of the decade saw a further 13 Irish nationalist/republican activists, including senior Provos such as Brendan ‘Ruby’ Davidson & Lawrence Marley, killed by the UVF, UFF, PAF & RHC.

INLA/IRSP leader Ronnie Bunting, shot dead along with his fellow terrorist, Noel Lyttle, by the UFF, 1981

INLA/IRSP leader Ronnie Bunting, shot dead along with his fellow terrorist, Noel Lyttle, by the UFF, 1981

A TIME TO KILL

The 1990s (up until the CLMC ceasefire in October ’94) saw an escalation of Loyalist violence. The UFF & UVF began to strike at the very heart of violent republicanism, again & again. In 1990, five members of PIRA/SF were killed, three of whom were convicted terrorists. In 1991, nine members of PIRA/SF & the IPLO were killed, including such ‘luminaries’ as Pádraig ‘Paddy’ O’Seanacháin, a senior member of PIRA/SF in West Tyrone, Tommy Donaghy, a senior ‘officer’ in the Provos ‘South Derry Brigade’ & IPLO ‘Chief of Staff’ Martin ‘Rook’ O’Prey, both of whom were shot on the same day, the 16th of August, in separate UFF & UVF operations in South Londonderry & West Belfast. On the 3rd of March that year, half of a local PIRA Active Service Unit, 3 men (Quinn, O’Donnell & Nugent), were shot & killed by Mid-Ulster UVF outside Boyle’s Bar in the republican stronghold of Cappagh, Co Tyrone.The UVF later released a statement claiming responsibility & stating: “This was not a sectarian attack on the Catholic community, but was an operation directed at the very roots of the Provisional IRA command structure in the Armagh–Tyrone area”. The statement concluded that “if the Provisional IRA were to cease its campaign of terror, the Ulster Volunteer Force would no longer deem it necessary to continue with such military operations”. 1992 saw another six republicans killed by Loyalists, with 4 more killed in 1993, including senior ‘South Derry’ Provo, James Kelly, whose death lead one UFF spokesman to quip- “For the Provos in South Londonderry to lose one CO could be seen as unfortunate, but to lose two in the space of 18 months just smacks of carelessness”. In the ten months of 1994 prior to the Loyalist ceasefire, three more republicans lost their lives at the hands of Loyalist paramilitary units, bringing the total number killed to 27, in less than five years. Again there are those whom Loyalists would consider to have been legitimate targets that republicans would maintain were ‘innocent men’. Indeed, this category may well run to at least 40 or 50 names, if not more. Men like James Kerr, shot dead by the Red Hand Commando in 1972. Kerr is listed by CAIN as a “Catholic civilian” but the republican National Graves Association maintains his final resting place & in one of their publications, ‘Republican Belfast Graves’, Kerr is named as a member of the Provisional IRA. Such muddying of the waters reminds me of an incident in 1991. A notorious republican & self confessed Provo had just been killed by the UFF, the media was on the scene & the family was being interviewed. The dead man’s widow was asked why he was killed, between sobs she stated “They shot him because he was a Catholic. Our ___ wasn’t involved in nothing political, he was an innocent man”. A few hours later, that “innocent man” was ‘claimed’ by the local PIRA as being one of their ‘volunteers’ (something they probably felt they couldn’t avoid, given the man’s notoriety). Someone was clearly out of the loop on that one! Either the dead man’s wife did not know he was a republican terrorist, or more probably, had been told that, in the event of anything happening to him, she was to deny everything, & being a good little republican, she did as she was told, not realising that it would backfire rather spectacularly & make all concerned look both dishonest & incompetent. There is also the issue of those categorised as ‘innocent civilians’ who were, nonetheless, regarded as legitimate targets by Loyalist paramilitary groups. Members of the GAA for instance, which provided financial & moral support to Irish nationalism & republicanism throughout the conflict, were often targeted & killed. Members of the West Belfast Taxi Association too were regarded as legitimate targets, since that organisation was widely perceived as being a front for the Provisional IRA.  The SDLP & Workers Party have also lost members to Loyalist actions. Though it is interesting to note that only one such organisation, PIRA/SF, complains about alleged collusion & seems unable to accept the conflict related deaths of their comrades.

The aftermath of the assassination of a PIRA member by South Londonderry UFF. Kilrea, 1991.

The aftermath of the assassination of a PIRA member by South Londonderry UFF. Kilrea, 1991.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

Of course, when confronted with the facts, most Irish nationalists & republicans will simply shrug their shoulders & dismiss anything which does not fit with their skewed version of events, but some will no doubt concede that, yes, Loyalists could & did strike at the very heart of the republican war machine, but of course they will tell anyone fool enough to listen, that was only because the UFF, UVF & RHC were acting as proxies for the British state. That claim would be a hell of a lot more plausible if were not for a few inconvenient facts. Like why did the ‘Brits’ spend so much time & energy trying to prevent Loyalist groups obtaining arms? For instance, the massive UVF arms shipment intercepted by the Security Services (MI5) at Teesport, England, in November of 1993. Surely the British state, if they were the benefactors & backers of organisations like the UVF, would welcome their purchase of 300 assault rifles, dozens of handguns & well over two tonnes of plastic explosive? Why, if republican claims have any veracity, would the security apparatus of the UK move to prevent such a restocking of the UVF’s arsenal? A few years earlier, in 1988, the Security Forces had also moved against the UFF in similar fashion, seizing part of a Lebanese arms shipment consisting of 30 handguns, 61 AK-47 assault rifles, 150 grenades & more than 11,000 rounds of ammunition.

Part of a UDA/UFF arms shipment. Imported from Lebanon, seized by the Security Forces, near Portadown, Jan.1988.

Part of a UDA/UFF arms shipment. Imported from Lebanon, seized by the Security Forces, near Portadown, Jan.1988.

And what of the Loyalists killed by the Security Forces within Northern Ireland? Or the thousands who were locked away for years in the nissen huts, & then the H-blocks, of Long Kesh? Were the female UVF & UFF volunteers incarcerated in Armagh gaol, ‘proxies of the British state’? Was Billy Wright a puppet of the ‘Brits’ when they colluded with the INLA/IRSP to facilitate his murder? What of the homes of suspected Loyalist activists, trashed as thoroughly by the RUC & Army, as any home in the Bogside or South Armagh? Do Irish nationalists really believe that UVF & UFF volunteers held at Castlereagh Holding Centre, were treated any less inhumanely or threatened any less frequently than INLA, IPLO or PIRA men? If Loyalists were in cahoots with the Security Forces, the RUC & Army seem to have been very dubious friends indeed! The inconvenient truth is, the state would have, given the opportunity, smashed Loyalism into the ground, then concentrated on Irish nationalism. Indeed, the fact that a new offence of “Directing Terrorism” was put on the statute books, just to take Johnny Adair off the streets of West Belfast, speaks volumes about the relationship between Loyalism & the Establishment. The state could have armed, organised & trained their own proxy force, recruited from ex-Army personnel within the Loyalist/Unionist community, had they so wished, & turned them loose on republicans. They could have ‘adopted’ one of the Loyalist paramilitary groups as their own. Removed senior people & put their own stooges in their place, then directed & controlled that group as they saw fit. They didn’t & that leaves one asking- why didn’t they? The only logical answer is, they preferred not to take sides & wiping Irish nationalism off the face of the Earth would not have been advantageous to them. Better to simply give a ‘nudge’ or two when required & keep both sides more or less equal in capacity. Successive UK governments did not want a Loyalist victory in Northern Ireland, they wanted a long-term political solution and/or a Security Force victory. The government & Security Service had equal disdain for both sides in the Ulster conflict, although to quote one former agent of the state “I always preferred the Orangies, because unlike the Provos, they recognised that if they wanted to play with the big boys, then it was big boys rules!”

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

The truth is always more complex than propaganda. There is no black & white in history, especially very recent history. There are only shades of grey. Did individual members of the Security Forces pass information to Loyalists? Yes, they did. Sometimes. UDR & (less frequently) RUC personnel became so disillusioned, so disgusted at the nihilistic violence & indiscriminate bombing of republican gangs, that yes they gave snippets of information to known UFF, UVF & RHC members. UDR & RUC personnel also engaged in careless talk, in bars, in clubs, at football matches etc. Loyalists have ears (they’re just below our horns!) & loose talk is almost always overheard by someone (hence the name ‘loose talk’) There were also times when information came from higher up. There were times when it suited the Security Services to get certain people ‘out of the way’ (permanently). MI5 have a way of getting what they want (RUC Special Branch too) But that went for both sides. Did the Security Services also sometimes steer republican groups towards a certain target? Yes, undoubtedly. The truth is that ‘The Troubles’ was a dirty, grubby war. Both sides, Loyalist & republican, were sometimes played off each other. Republicans took information they were given about Loyalists, despite their professed hatred of the ‘Brits’. Loyalists took information given to them about republicans, despite the fact that all such information should have been treated as deeply suspect. Were the UFF, UVF, RHC & other Loyalist organisations mere puppets of MI5, the UK government, RUC SB or a combination of all three? No, they were not. Were Loyalist groups funded, armed, directed, trained and/or controlled by the British state? No, they were not. Had they been, to put it crudely, there would not have been enough Irish nationalists/republicans left to complain about it!

TO BE CONTINUED…

The history of collusion is not just about alleged collusion between the state & Loyalist forces. Nor about collusion between ‘dark forces’ within the security apparatus & players on both sides of the divide. There was some institutional collusion between state & armed groups, but the state in question was not the British state, it was the Irish state. In the next part we will look at how the Dublin government of the time, funded, armed & helped to organise the Provisional IRA & how organs of that state (most notably elements within An Garda Síochána) colluded with PIRA/SF in the murder of British citizens. To be continued…

DRAWING SUPPORT

MURALS 

In Ulster, murals are more than just a creative way of covering up unsightly graffiti, they are a means of political & cultural expression. Some would argue that it is time for murals to be ‘decommissioned’, I would argue that they are a fantastic visual representation of local politics, history & heritage, & furthermore, a very fair & impartial way for communities to voice their opinions, since for every Loyalist mural, there can be an Irish nationalist/republican response (& vice versa) in the form of another mural. But maybe that’s why most in the media & the ‘lets-all-just-forget-and-hold-hands’ brigade are so opposed to working class communities (especially Loyalist communities) expressing their traditions, opinions & aspirations through murals?

Anyway, I’m not going off on a rant today! So instead I’m just going to present a few (Loyalist) murals from across the country that I find interesting, well executed and/or thought provoking, so here ya go!

BELFAST

mural1

mural2

"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed"

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed”

Another excellent East Belfast mural, entitled 'War & Peace'

Another excellent East Belfast mural, entitled ‘War & Peace’

Shankill mural, honouring the contribution of women to the Loyalist cause

Shankill mural, honouring the contribution of women to the Loyalist cause

PORTADOWN

UVF mural, Portadown

UVF mural, Portadown

BUSHMILLS

UDA mural featuring Finn McCool, Bushmills

UDA mural featuring Finn McCool, Bushmills

COLERAINE

Memorial mural, dedicated to UDA volunteer William Campbell, Coleraine

Memorial mural, dedicated to UDA volunteer William Campbell, Coleraine

LONDONDERRY

Mural dedicated to the memory of Cecil McKnight, a member of the Ulster Democratic Party murdered by republicans. Emerson St, L'derry

Mural dedicated to the memory of Cecil McKnight, a member of the Ulster Democratic Party murdered by republicans. Emerson St, L’derry

MONKSTOWN

UDA/UFF mural, dedicated to the memory of two fallen UDA volunteers. Monkstown, Newtownabbey

UDA/UFF mural, dedicated to the memory of two fallen UDA volunteers. Monkstown, Newtownabbey

I intend to post quite a few more photos of murals from across NI. There are some fantastic murals around. Any suggestions or contributions would be very welcome, so if you know of any good Loyalist murals in your area, don’t hesitate to share them with me.

THE IRISH NATIONALIST PARADOX

Irish nationalists & republicans have a major problem. I would argue that it is an insurmountable problem. That problem is almost 1 million Unionists & Loyalists. Some within Irish nationalism argue that within a few years, there will be a Catholic, & therefore an Irish nationalist, majority in Northern Ireland & therefore the Unionist/Loyalist population will, somehow, become irrelevant. It is an argument expounded on Irish/Gaelic supremacist websites like ‘Ulsters Doomed’ (sic) & ‘Endgame In Ulster’. Leaving aside the fact that this ‘demographic argument’ is nakedly sectarian, one must look at the facts. A quick analysis of the 2011 census figures reveals that the Catholic population did not increase between 2001 & 2011. Yes, the ‘non-Catholic’ population decreased (by around 3%) but the Catholic population did not rise in mean terms (it did of course rise in percentage terms because of the decrease in the ‘non-Catholic’ population) Dealing in these sectarian terms makes me uncomfortable partly on principle, partly because it is ridiculous to reduce political views to such a base level. People are not born Irish nationalist, Unionist, Right-Wing, Left-Wing, Liberal or anything else. To blindly assume that a Catholic majority in NI automatically equates to an Irish nationalist/republican majority, is frankly laughable. Indeed, one could postulate that Irish nationalism is becoming less popular, not more, since in the most recent census, fewer people than ever identified themselves as ‘Irish’ whilst the number identifying as ‘Northern Irish’ is increasing. One can also point to the increasing number of the middle class who identify themselves as Catholic & Unionist (& the large number of people, both Catholic & Protestant, who are abandoning organised religion altogether, further divorcing religious denomination from political inclination!)

WAR WITHOUT END

But what if there was an Irish nationalist majority in 2016, or 2020? What if, say, 60% of the populace voted to amalgamate NI into an all-island Irish republic? What would the consequences be? Irish nationalists & republicans (who must be given credit for their eternal optimism if nothing else) seem to assume that all of the problems in ‘the North’ would simply evaporate, like morning mist & everything in the garden would be rosy! Would it be though? There are many Loyalists (myself included) who will never accept a unitary all-island state, under any circumstances. Will people like me simply shrug our shoulders, sigh, then quietly take the next boat out of Larne? Or is it far more likely that Loyalist militants will take up arms & began a brutal, prolonged & costly ‘armed struggle’ against this hypothetical ‘united Ireland’? The hopelessly optimistic republican will, no doubt, argue that such an insurgency would be easily & quickly quelled, but would it? Supposedly the Provisional IRA never numbered more than about 1200 active members, even at the height of ‘The Troubles’, the OIRA, INLA, IPLO etc, each numbered 200-300 active members, yet the republican death squads managed to cost the UK quite a few troops & a massive amount of money (along with the mass of civilians such groups targeted & killed) How would our hypothetical Irish state cope with, estimating conservatively, 5 or 6 thousand armed Loyalists? I would propose that the outcome would not be good, for anyone. The Irish Defence Forces & An Garda Síochána would have to be hugely enlargedGarda stations would have to be fortified (at huge cost) Not to mention the financial drain of constantly repairing bomb damage & paying out compensation to the families of victims. Short of ethnically cleansing the entire Loyalist/Unionist population, an aspiration quietly harboured by many Irish nationalists, there would be no military victory in such a scenario (for an example, see Northern Ireland, 1969- present) There would be only ‘War Without End’.

Loyalist paramilitaries: "They haven't gone away you know"

Loyalist paramilitaries: “They haven’t gone away you know”

HERE COMES THE PARADOX

So, if the so-called ‘demographic argument’ (i.e. the sectarian argument) does not hold up to scrutiny & if, even with a nationalist/republican majority, Loyalist reaction would make any unitary state unworkable, how do Irish nationalists propose to bring about this ‘united Ireland’ they wax lyrical about so often? The only realistic option is for Irish nationalists & republicans is to ‘persuade’ the U/L community that an artificial 32 county state would be advantageous, to woo the pro-Union population into accepting such a state. That is something the SDLP & others recognised years ago, it is something that Provisional Sinn Fein are also now coming to realise too. Therein lies the paradox though. For over 40 years ( or over 400 years?) Irish nationalism has been attacking the U/L community, physically, culturally, politically & economically. So how does one change that mindset & convince one’s followers that Unionists & Loyalists now must be embraced?  It seems like an impossible task. It looks even more unlikely when one considers the attitude of many senior members of PSF! A ‘united Ireland’ cannot be achieved without, at least, the tacit approval of the majority of Unionists, but Unionists will never give such approval unless Irish nationalism can convince Unionists that they would be fairly treated, influential, well represented & financially secure within such a state. Something that would be difficult for the leadership of Irish nationalism, given the dark past of many of those leaders, & is completely impossible for the rank & file, who have, for decades, been indoctrinated to think of their Unionist/Loyalist neighbours as lesser beings. Then, of course, one can add to the problem, the pressure being put on PSF, SDLP etc, by those rank & file nationalists/republicans, to stop Unionist/Loyalist parades in supposedly ‘contentious’ areas, remove outward symbols of Britishness etc. Such cultural attacks are doing nothing to convince the U/L people that they would be better off in an artificial 32 county Irish/Gaelic state. The leadership of Irish nationalism cannot reverse this cultural war though, for to do so would be to play into the hands of the Dissidents, further empowering those groups & further weakening Sinn Fein & the SDLP. Such is the Irish nationalist paradox.

CONCLUSION

Most Irish nationalists will still argue that demographics will deliver an all-island republic in the next 20-50 years, that Unionists & Loyalists will, stripped of British support, be left with no other option but to accept the new political reality, embrace their latent ‘Irishness’ & thus remove the conditions for any armed insurrection. This is fairytale politics, it is utter fantasy. Firstly, the longer NI exists as a polity, the harder it will be to persuade people to dismantle the status quo, dissolve the state & jump, feet first, into a new political construct. Secondly, I must remind everyone that Catholic does not equal Irish nationalist (nor does Protestant equal Unionist) Thirdly, even if (& it’s a big if) a large section of Unionists/Loyalists did accept some form of all-island state, a large section won’t, never will & will use ‘direct action’ to prevent it, or to destroy such a state in it’s infancy. Finally, the Irish nationalist paradox will not be resolved anytime soon. If the U/L community cannot be ‘outbred’ (a disgusting term republicans like to employ), cannot be ethnically cleansed or militarily conquered, (& I would argue they cannot) then a ‘united Ireland’ is rendered near impossible, since ‘persuading’ Loyalists & Unionists to voluntarily enter into a all-island state, could take a few centuries, not a few decades!

THE UWC STRIKE: PART 2

DAY 2

The effect of the strike deepened with the engineering sector being hardest hit. The strike began to have a huge effect on agriculture, with uncollected or unprocessed milk having to be dumped & fresh food not reaching shops. The UWC issued a list of ‘essential services’ which were to be allowed to operate as normal & also issued a telephone number for anyone engaged in such work. All pubs & licensed premises were ordered to close, in order to minimise any risk of public disorder.

In many areas across Northern Ireland, the RUC & Army moved in to remove barricades. Loyalists criticised the Security Forces, accusing them of heavy handedness (some RUC officers were accused, not without foundation, of outright thuggery) Meanwhile, Irish nationalists & ‘liberal’ Unionists accused the police & Army of not doing enough to break the strike, with the SDLP being most vocal, urging the Army to “sweep these Loyalist rabble-rousers off the streets”.
Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, met with Unionist leaders at Stormont, controversially however, Rees categorically refused to meet with, or enter into discussions with, the Ulster Workers Council.
DAY 3
As the effects of the strike began to bite harder, major disruption was caused to daily life in NI. Petrol supplies began to dry up & further electricity cuts meant that even when filling stations had fuel, they were often unable to operate their pumps. Postal delivery services came to a halt. The problems with food distribution began to become more serious & widespread. Special arrangements were made by the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that welfare & pension payments would be delivered to claimants. Vanguard leader, William Craig, launched a scathing attack on Merlyn Rees for refusing to meet with strike leaders. A sentiment echoed by the Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman, Francis Pym. Meanwhile, news broke of the Dublin/Monaghan bombs & the terrible loss of life. Sadly, many Loyalists, desensitised by 4 years of indiscriminate republican bombings of civilian targets, actually greeted the news with cheers. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see that the bombing of civilian targets in the Irish Republic was counterproductive for Loyalism, at the time however, many ordinary Loyalists regarded such attacks as entirely justified. Indeed, the UVF may well have considered the attacks justifiable, as a graphic demonstration of Loyalist resistance to the hated ‘Council of Ireland’ component of Sunningdale.  Today, it is easy to see things through the lens of contemporary morality, but that is an unhelpful perspective. Of course it is morally wrong to cheer the violent death of any person, but in the context of NI in 1974, such cheers were only to be expected. Similar behaviour was demonstrated by both communities in subsequent years, though of course, one never hears the anecdotes about republicans cheering when, for example, the bomb exploded in Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road in 1993.
DAY 4
The Ulster Workers’ Council  issued a statement calling for an all-out stoppage to begin at midnight on Sunday. More & more shops & businesses closed as the strike began to gather more & more momentum. Merlyn Rees again came in for fierce criticism, as he once again refused point-blank to meet with the UWC.
DAY 5
Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announces a State of Emergency. Rees flew to Chequers, country home of the Prime Minister, for talks. The United Ulster Unionist Council met & agreed to support the Ulster Workers’ Council. The UWC withdrew its call for a total stoppage as of midnight, as some shops reported panic buying & the RUC issued dire warnings of “severe consequences” of an all out stoppage.
The UDA's Glenn Barr addressing a rally in support of the strike, Irish St, Londonderry.

The UDA’s Glenn Barr addressing a rally in support of the strike, Irish St, Londonderry.

DAY 6
Many roads across Ulster were closed by Loyalist strikers, these road closures were so effective that some members of the Executive, including Brian Faulkner, had to be airlifted in & out of Stormont by the RAF. Electricity generation dropped to about one-third of normal levels. People were asked only to use telephones in an emergency. Five hundred additional troops arrived in Northern Ireland.
DAY 7
A revised list of those services which were to be allowed through roadblocks & the opening times permitted for shops was issued by the ‘Ulster Army Council’.  TUC leader, Len Murray, arrives in Belfast to lead a ‘back to work march’.
THE ‘BACK TO WORK’ FIASCO
One would have assumed that the Trades Union Congress would have expressed support for striking workers, especially those striking in order to overturn an undemocratic & unpopular government diktat, but no, the TUC instead took the ridiculous decision to send their General Secretary, Len Murray, to Belfast to lead a ‘back to work’ march & attempt to break the strike. The march was supported by leading  local Trade Union officials & was also attended by certain prominent republicans, including several senior OIRA & PIRA members, although in total, less than 150 people turned up to support the march. A group of Loyalists, almost entirely women, had gathered to voice their disapproval. The marchers didn’t take their rebuke well, shouting sectarian abuse at the women (Len Murray is
alleged to have called one woman an “Orange whore”) One senior north Belfast republican (now a member of Provisional Sinn Fein) appeared to take great pleasure in spitting at the protesters. The women, outraged by this abuse, surged forward & were only prevented from reaching the
hate-filled marchers by around 200 RUC personnel (who outnumbered the marchers!) The farcical affair came to end when the marchers finally moved off, though they were so disheartened  (& probably embarrassed) that they didn’t even bother to complete their proposed route! Another ‘back to work’ march due to start at Cregagh Industrial Estate, attracted only 17 people.
DAY 8
In an attempt to resolve the strike the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to postpone certain sections of the Sunningdale ‘Agreement’ until 1977 & to reduce the size of the ‘Council of Ireland’.  These proposals were rejected by leaders of the Ulster Workers’ Council  & other Loyalist leaders. The Westminster government repeated their stance on not negotiating with the UWC.
DAY 9

The Army moved in to remove barricades in Loyalist areas across NI, though most were replaced soon after. Workers in Londonderry were prevented from getting to Maydown Industrial Estate.  Although many schools managed to operate during the strike it was reported that some GCE examinations were affected. Gerry Fitt, ‘Deputy Chief Executive’, called on the government to send troops to the power stations and the oil refineries.

A UDA  vehicle checkpoint, East Belfast.

A UDA vehicle checkpoint, East Belfast.

DAY 10
Talks were held at Chequers, involving: Harold Wilson, Brian Faulkner, Gerry Fitt & Alliance party leader Oliver Napier. A terse statement was issued after the talks stated that there would be no negotiations with the strike organisers. By now, the role of government had been so usurped by the UWC that many government departments took to counterfeiting UWC passes & petrol coupons, something that quickly came to the notice of the strike organisers, who simply changed the paper to another colour.
The fact that the UWC was able to react so quickly to the counter initiatives from Stormont led people to believe that there were Loyalist/Unionist spies inside Stormont. There were -including a member of the Executive, Roy Bradford. When the Executive decided that the Army should be used to distribute fuel from the oil refinery, the strikers were ready & the refinery workers were already on their way out the gate when the soldiers arrived.
PART 3(FINAL PART)  SOON

THE ULSTER WORKER’S COUNCIL STRIKE: PART 1

PROLOGUE-

With the centenary of the UVF’s Operation Lion this year, it was perhaps inevitable that the 40th anniversary of the UWC strike would receive little attention. However, those 14 days in May, 1974, are no less worthy of commemoration. Ulster Loyalism, unified & determined, took decisive action against an undemocratic & flawed ‘agreement’, took control of their own destiny (& of much of Northern Ireland) sent out a clear message of defiance & ensured that the principle of consent would have to be enshrined in any future agreement. Detractors will, of course, say that the UWC strike was merely a matter of UDA intimidation & a weak government giving in to the rabble. An almost comical (& absurdly reductionist) view of history, proffered by those who often dismiss the UDA as being mere ‘corner boys’ & thugs. Of course, they cannot have it both ways. Either the UDA were, indeed, amateurish thugs, or, they were a sophisticated mass movement, capable of bringing industry & commerce in NI to a grinding halt, & thus bringing down a government. Real history though, is far less monochromatic. Yes, the UDA were intimately involved in the strike, but it was not the UDA that smashed the Sunningdale ‘Agreement’ into a thousand pieces, it was the Loyalist & Unionist body politic.

Londonderry mural commemorating the 30th anniversary of the UWC strike,

Londonderry mural commemorating the 30th anniversary of the UWC strike,

 

THE COMING STORM

In March, 1973, the government published a White Paper, outlining plans for a Northern Ireland Assembly to replace the illegally prorogued Northern Ireland Parliament, dismissed, in spite of popular local opposition, in 1972. This proposed Assembly would be elected by proportional representation with 78 members sitting at Stormont. In addition to having a power-sharing executive the White Paper also proposed a ‘Council of Ireland’, suspected by many Loyalists as being a device with which the UK government would deliver NI into a unitary, all-island, Irish republic. In June of that year the Assembly elections took place & on Tuesday, 31st July, the Assembly meet for the first time.

Ulster had been ravaged by 4 years of bloody, internecine conflict. The Left-wing Official IRA & the more sectarian & nationalistic Provisional IRA, had bombed the commercial heart out of Belfast. Murders & gun attacks were commonplace. Explosions had occurred in every corner of NI. The Loyalist tactic of defeating the OIRA & PIRA by removing their support base was ineffective, the killing of ordinary members of the Irish nationalist/republican community having little effect on the leadership of either republican organisation. In desperation, the government looked for some form of political agreement which might, possibly, undermine support for the OIRA & the Provos, create some type of political consensus, & maybe bring about peace.

On the 21st of November, 1973, the UUP, SDLP & Alliance parties reached agreement on the formation of a ‘power-sharing’ NI Executive. A few days later, at the beginning of December, a conference was held in Sunningdale, Berkshire, England. The so-called ‘Sunningdale Agreement’ set the parameters of the ‘Irish dimension’ in the government of Northern Ireland. It also laid the foundations of the crisis which was to come.

The short lived 'power-sharing' Executive of 1974

The short lived ‘power-sharing’ Executive of 1974

 

ULSTER GIVES HER ANSWER

By the end of January, 1974, the Unionist party’s internal divisions could no longer be contained, the anti-Sunningdale majority, led by Harry West, triumphed & former leader Brian Faulkner (who was also now head of the new NI Executive) walked away from the party, forming his own (much smaller) pro-Sunningdale, Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

On the 28th of February, 1974, Westminster elections took place across the United Kingdom. In Ulster, the election became, essentially, a referendum on the Sunningdale ‘agreement’ & the hated ‘Council of Ireland’. The result was unambiguous, with 11 of the 12 NI constituencies electing Unionist & anti-Sunningdale candidates (the remaining seat going to the SDLP)

Of course, the will of the people, democratically expressed at the ballot box, was ignored, both by the Westminster government & by the new Northern Ireland Executive. On the 14th of May, a motion was debated in the assembly, condemning the ‘Council of Ireland’ & the so-called agreement concluded at Sunningdale. The motion was defeated by 44 votes to 28 (the assembly being made up, almost by default, of pro-Sunningdale members) At 6.00pm, following the conclusion of the Assembly debate, Harry Murray announced to a group of journalists that a general strike was to start the following day. Thus, the dye had been cast. In the face of the assembly’s flagrant disregard of popular opinion & the Westminster government’s apparent disdain for normal democratic processes in Ulster, the Unionist/Loyalist community was left with little other option but to attempt to force the government’s hand. The Ulster Workers Council, the organising body of the proposed strike, issued a statement saying: “The UWC are determined that the Government shall not ignore the will of the majority of the people as to the form of Government or the Sunningdale agreement. The attitude of Government has made a nonsense of political action. The Workers have resolved to make an all out effort to bring about a change” No one could have predicted at the time, the seismic shift that was about to take place within Loyalist/Unionist politics, the astounding events which were about to take place, or the ramifications those events would have, not only in the short term but for generations yet to come.

DAY ONE

Initially the response to the strike was relatively poor. Many, unsure of how such an action could be successful, choose to go to work as normal. However, following a number of Workers meetings, hastily convened in offices, factories & engineering works across the country, people began to leave work in ever greater numbers. That evening the port of Larne was seized by local Loyalists & sealed off to all traffic. A large number of roads had been blocked in every county & in Belfast buses were hijacked & used as mobile barriers. Electricity supplies were disrupted, with rotating four hourly blackouts across NI. These power cuts forced many factories (those that remained open) to close & send their workforce home. The UWC moved to calm fears of food shortages by issuing a statement assuring the delivery of “all essential services”. For the doubters & naysayers who had confidently predicted that the strike would come to nothing, Wednesday, the 15th of May, 1974, proved to be something of an eye-opener!

PART 2 WILL FOLLOW LATER THIS WEEK!