Nationalists and unionists need to discard their illusions about Brexit. The gap is dangerously wide.

We begin with two different  views of the impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland;  from first, the historian and Irish Times columnist Diarmaid Ferriter, contrasted later with DUP MP Nigel Dodds.

In 1998, at the time of the endorsement of the Belfast Agreement, Fintan O’Toole observed that “Northern Ireland is now a place that is arguably unique – a place that nobody claims and nobody owns, a place that is free to become whatever its people can agree that they want it to be”.

The problem now is that such freedom has been denied.

It also remains to be seen what impact it will have on the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which includes the assertions that “it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people.

And that recognition will be given to the right “of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland”.

Fintan O’Toole, quoted favourably by Ferriter plainly exaggerates the extent of Northern Ireland as Utopia ( the land of nowhere).

Their argument is that Irish citizenship confers EU citizenship on northerners who opt for it. Removing it by Brexit is therefore in breach of the GFA.

But is this right?  It is indeed true that under the GFA and the 1998 NI Act, northerners are regarded as Irish citizens and are accorded British citizenship rights. There may be grounds for grievance when these rights are withdrawn. But look at it another way. How could they continue applying to some northern citizens and not for others within the territory of Northern Ireland?  The constituency has to be the state. And the state remains the UK.

But should not the Republic have been consulted about the referendum in advance? Perhaps, but what could they have said except please don’t?  As one sovereign government to another, they could not have – and would not have – argued for the North to have a veto or an exemption from the vote.  By the same law of states, the Republic chose to join the euro and the UK didn’t.

What about the “status” referred to above? Status here means legal status.   As the Belfast High Court found, that status applies only to the constitutional status of remaining within the UK or joining the Republic and does not extend beyond it to create an autonomous community entirely in charge of its own destiny. Neither unionists nor nationalists want their future to be an autonomous region. They want to belong to a bigger entity.

True Northern Ireland’s political conditions are subject to intergovernmental partnership but that is a different matter.

Do these arguments seem too pedantic and against the spirit of the GFA?  To an extent. The partners sealed the GFA deal against the background of EU membership neither side contemplated leaving. But the risk was always there. Had they wanted to guard against it they should have tried to opt for some form of joint sovereignty. But the unionists would never have bought it and the Irish would probably not have been ready to shoulder the front line responsibility.

Contrast the Ferriter case with the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds  in the FT (£). Dodds I believe is the DUP’s main ideologue for Leave.

 The UK has voted to leave but that does not mean Anglo-Irish relations are poisoned…..

The EU neither brought peace to Northern Ireland nor obstructed it: it was, and is, irrelevant to whether or not violence is employed by a small minority rather than constitutional politics. Given the trauma of the Troubles, it is irresponsible to conflate peace with EU membership.

On a practical level, the commonality of British and Irish borders is based on pragmatic political friendship. By agreement, the British provide effective air defence for the Irish, so deepening existing information-sharing protocols is just further good work. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are friends; we work together; we can each choose which multilateral bodies to be members of…..

The border is in the mind of those who want cynically and recklessly to exploit it. The facts on the ground are the proof of the good relations we have built together. Brexit means for Ireland only what Brussels wants to inflict, and only what Ireland wants to accept. We wish our neighbour well.

Nigel Dodds chooses to ignore the Remain majority and comes across as a hard Brexiteer. He seems to regard the physical border as a problem solved. He is silent on vital matters such as access to the single market, the continuation of the customs union, the impact of Brexit on the already slow development of north-south economic development and the problems of growing divergence. He gives an implied welcome to Brexit to differentiate the north from the south in a nevertheless good neighbourly relationship. Although he is decisively in a minority in his own region, he is placing majority unionism in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1922 in synch with the unionism of England. So he would say (quietly I presume)  –one up to unionists.

While all this is mightily unpalatable to nationalists who are feeling ominously disempowered, they should not regard Brexit as the litmus test for maintaining the Good Friday Agreement. The real test is to develop it significantly as the UK withdraws from the EU, including the option of exploring special status which is no threat to the Union.


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  • Anglo-Irish

    Tell you what, why don’t you continue to use inaccurate descriptions of places and things and leave people confused – or be forced to provide further explanation from time to time – and I’ll use the old fashioned method of attempting to be factual whenever possible?

    When words have more than one meaning I have this not unreasonable inclination to clarify things.

    Obviously, you prefer the man of mystery obfuscation approach, each to their own,but please abstain from trying to convince me that you can alter fact by wishful thinking and personal bias.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And yet many nationalists today want to keep Northern Ireland; and all the nationalist parties have agreed it is legitimate and exists through the wishes of its people.

    I do sympathise, though it may not always seem it, with the nationalist plight of being in a state that wasn’t their choice. I would hate to see NI under the Irish flag and with Irish politicians with no connection or sympathy with the place pontificating about it, as we get with the English sometimes. I can imagine how much it must rankle for those who don’t feel British at all and may even dislike the UK to be born and brought up in an area where most people are proudly British and wear their loyalties on their sleeves. I also think though there’s a limit to how much a relatively small number of people can expect the rest of society to be denied its identity in order to cater for them.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Ahh but which of us is which?

    I tend to think that MU is more like Superman with Unionist ingrained thinking as his Kryptonite . : )

  • Anglo-Irish

    Yes I know what CAIN is, I also know that it is somewhat selective in its approach.

    Starting a timeline in 1968 and missing out the formation of the UCDC by Paisley to oppose the civil rights movement and the formation of the UVF which carried out bombing and shooting attacks resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians in 1966, is disingenuous to say the least.

    Choosing a start date to suit your narrative is transparent and goes to bias.

    The IRA wasn’t in operation as a force in 1966, it had ceased to be active after the failure of the border campaign.

    The fact that it took until December 1969 to form PIRA which was a totally different and more deadly organization should make it obvious to all but those who can only see in one direction that the ‘loyalist’ actions brought about a reaction that opened up a whole new round of conflict which ended badly for the ‘loyalist’ cause.

    I have an ardent Republican line?

    Please rearrange these words into a well known phrase or saying, ‘ Kettle, The, Calling, Black, Pot, The.

  • billypilgrim1

    You talk about a united Ireland as if we would be swapping one quasi-colonial relationship for another. (“Irish politicians with no connection or sympathy with the place.”)

    Those “Irish politicians” will be the ones we elect from our own ranks.

    “…there’s a limit to how much a relatively small number of people can expect the rest of society to be denied its identity in order to cater for them.”

    I know you don’t get it and probably never will, but THIS is why the Troubles happened. THIS is why the very worst of our society got into the driving seat for so long.

    “And yet many nationalists today want to keep Northern Ireland;”

    Your understanding of and empathy for nationalists is zero, I’m afraid. The moment a UI becomes demographically possible, it will be electorally imminent. You heard it here first.

    “…all the nationalist parties have agreed it is legitimate and exists through the wishes of its people.”

    Nationalists argue from a position that NI is legitimate because we must. We conceded this point in the context of an all-encompassing negotiation in 1998. But we will never believe that in our hearts. We collude in the fiction of NI’s legitimacy because it’s a pre-requisite to any discussion about its abolition. You must surely know this?

  • billypilgrim1

    He’s Batman, surely? He supports a status quo which has been a century-long Dark (k)Night.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Was the formation of the border, to cater for the different loyalties of people on the ground in NE Ireland, really an act of violence directed against Catholics, any more than the formation of the Free State was an act of violence directed against Protestants? They were both formed in the context of violent confrontation and the prospect of much worse of the same between unionist and nationalist. The border was a way of keeping the peace and saving lives compared to the alternatives of having no Free State at all or one that enveloped a million people or so against their will.

    It comes down to numbers ultimately and the bottom line is, the NI solution left fewer people in the wrong country than any of the other solutions. NI Catholics, as a minority in their area, got stuck on the wrong side, like Protestants in Cork or Dublin or my own relatives in Donegal did. It’s not ideal, but there’s no way around it. Borders can’t be drawn around everyone and there are always going to be national minorities. It was a messy compromise in truth, not an act of violence.

    The violent challenge to the new NI state from the start meant that unionists developed a highly defensive, self-protective attitude to it that only exacerbated nationalist rejection of it. It has been up against Irish nationalist disapproval from Day 1. I think in the circumstances its record, while poor in some respects, was overall not so terrible. It didn’t become a police state, it didn’t become South Africa or the southern US or anything like it. It was actually more than anything a quiet backwater where nothing much happened. It was a divided society with structural inequalities; but they weren’t spectacular.

    The depth of the problems that emerged came from not just the structural unfairness, though that was one contributing factor, but deep tribal rivalries and implacable mutually unachievable ambitions. But those could have festered more or less peacefully. What made things go so badly wrong was the tendency of both communities towards an itchy trigger finger – a toleration of high levels of violence within each community in everyday life and between the two communities. NI was a hard place and violence was seen as a normal form of self-expression, even of political expression.

    I’m hoping that the changes in school practices around corporal punishment, the softening of society generally and the change in public attitudes to domestic violence over the past decades, as well as better basic economic conditions through the benefits system, has changed people’s attitude to violence to some extent. I’m hoping it means that we no longer have such a reservoir of brutalised, viscerally angry young lads itching to hurt people, and parents who regard that as normal teenage behaviour. However, I’m not sure if things have changed enough in that regard.

    West Germany went through a massive culture change post-war where a formerly martial, ultra-violent society turned into one determined to show no tolerance for such tendencies. From afar it seems NI society has got part-way, but I still see and hear way too much doffing of the cap to the culture of violence. If we want to be like post-war Germany, we should take a leaf from their book. They weren’t painting murals of the glorious German dead, regardless of the fact Germans suffered hugely and were the victims of countless atrocities. They weren’t perpetuating nationalist cultural myths about the exceptionalism of their culture. They weren’t blaming Germany’s adversaries. They accepted that their violent past was wrong, was not to be defended and was absolutely not to be repeated.

    NI people need to let the paramilitaries go and they need to be as disciplined about it as the Germans were with their dark past.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t have an intimate knowledge of nationalists, but nor do I, even as a unionist myself, have a knowledge of all the different shades of opinion within unionism. It’s too easy to base everything on the bubble of people we know and our own little world. We have to look at what people say when asked and how they vote. And it seems from all the surveys done over decades, there is a very consistent one third or so of the ‘nationalist’ community who actually prefer NI to stay in the UK. This is study after study after study.

    You think they’ll all switch the day there is a Catholic majority. I used to think maybe that could happen, but I’ve become increasingly convinced it won’t. The reason being, most people generally are (1) disengaged from politics, (2) decreasingly keen on the nationalist / unionist dichotomy, they don’t want any of it; (3) skeptical of grand schemes from politicians and (4) fearful of another Troubles.

    Ironically the way Republicans dealt with being a minority, through plunging the place into violent darkness, has played a big part in making a future turning of the tables an extremely unattractive prospect. Many I’m sure would welcome a united Ireland if they thought it would be a painless transition. But I don’t think many sensible people really believe that. The status quo has a lot going for it.

  • billypilgrim1

    In answer to your first question: the formation of the border most certainly was an act of violence against the Catholics in the six counties. You may argue it was necessary – but that’s not arguing that it wasn’t an act of violence. You may argue that it staved off a worse act of violence against Protestants in that same area – but again, that’s not arguing that it wasn’t an act of violence. You may argue that a corresponding act of violence was perpetrated against southern Protestants – again, that’s not arguing that it wasn’t an act of violence against northern Catholics.

    It is THAT act of violence – not the one arguably perpetrated against southern Protestants, and not the notional one that northern Protestants avoided, but the one that actually DID happen to northern Catholics – that continues to poison these six counties, and has so often poisoned the island of Ireland, and British-Irish relationships.

    “…the alternatives of having (a) Free State … that enveloped a million people or so against their will.”

    You exclude the other obvious possibility: those those million people could have chosen differently. That their will might have been different. It was never axiomatic that Ulster’s Protestants had to be unionists. It was a choice.

    The choice they made at the time was understandable, but is there any serious doubt that it has proven to be the wrong one?

    I’ll certainly concede your point that there was a violent, oath-bound subculture within nationalism that, although tiny, was always there. And it saw its hour come round at last when the Civil Rights movement foundered on the rocks of the Orange state. But I did hope that you’d address the question of structural violence. Perhaps you don’t really believe there is such a thing? Not everyone does.

    The analogy with Germany is interesting and instructive, but you’re overlooking the absolutely indispensable condition of this reformation of the German character – Germany’s complete and absolute defeat in 1945.

    A comparable transformation in the character of our society would also require complete and absolute defeat for either nationalism or unionism. Such a defeat for nationalism is not possible. Such a defeat for unionism requires only a referendum.

    Therefore if you truly wish for the healing of our society, you must fervently hope for your own defeat and an end to “Northern Ireland”.

    And you know what? I half-suspect a lot of unionists secretly do.

  • billypilgrim1

    “The status quo has a lot going for it.”

    Jesus, what status quo are you talking about?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU: “Try reading it through the eyes of someone who, as we all should, thinks the Provisional IRA are and were utterly beneath contempt.” Well I grew up with any number of such people, who thought that Catholics in general were beneath contempt, because they were all potential PIRA in their eyes. with some this was almsot understandable as PIRA had targetted them or their friends and their generalised response was intensely personal. I personally find it impossible to catagorise any group of people as “beneath contempt”, as the motivations which go into beliefs vary so very much, and few people are utterly, utterly dehumanised. Most who have committed to something political manage to accomodate things such as the IRA violence, or, in the case of some UNionists the 1920-22 Unionst violence against an almost defenceless Catholic community in Belfast and its echo in sectarian killings during the most recent troubles . Five months back when I wrote of the McMahon killings and the Arnon Street murders, both carried out by men in the uniforms of the Specials, and you yourself responded:

    “Incidents like the 1922 murders you referred to would have had to have been perpetrated many times over, consistently over a period of years. That isn’t what happened. It’s possible the state was over-policed, though the events of 1969 suggest otherwise”…..

    I sincerely find it confusing that you can write of the Hunger Strikers as “utterly beneath contempt” because of the PIRA campaign and describe Diarmaid’s article so: ” Now the sympathetic, calm tone doesn’t seem ‘normal’, it seems inappropriate.” while this is excactly how you yourself have responded to terrible, unacceptable actions by those supporting the Union which were dsecribed in the (non-republican) press as “The most terrible assassination that has yet stained the name of Belfast” at a time when the Black and Tan war had set a most vicious standard of artocity.

    Personally I find Diarmaid’s descriptions of how most of the world views the Hunger Strikers perfectly understandable, while I may not necessarily agree with them, your own suggestion that his “support” is evident form his employment of how this was popularly viewed outside of NI looks both forced and local to me. Diarmaid is simply recording how people in Britian and the United States talk about these things, just as you are able to simply view the murder of the entire male members of a non-political Catholic family as somethimg which “would have had to have been perpetrated many times over, consistently over a period of years” to shake your beliaf in the authority of that NI government which failed to even identify the perpetrators who acted wearing its livery.

    You are missing the simple fact that SF has skilfully managed its image across the world media by frequently presenting what can be seen as very positive images, as with this, where people willing to die a painful and prolonged daeth for a cause are always going to be far more attractive than the “Ulster Says NO” image which Unionism has cultivated. Both you and I know that this is not the only face of those supporting the Union, where there is also love and committment to things, but driven by aggrievement much of Unionism unfailingly seem to go, as you have done with Diarmaid’s writing, for the most negitive engagement with what is being said. As Brian walker has stated above ( I repeat) “These are civilised people. We should debate to reach a better outcome.” Simply slapping down a fine and objective historian simply recording what is after all the usual world view of these events, because you are enraged against PIRA for decades of violence and seemingly cannot see this, is no way forward for our community. There is a case for the Union, certainly, but not in this endless encoded negitivity and intrasegence against thise who are striving to make sense of our convoluted history.

  • Anglo-Irish

    As I don’t watch Batman or Superman films I googled it to see who won.

    Apparently Batman used Kryptonite to win and as that’s Superman’s weakness and MU has a glaring inability to face up to reality which is his weakness I must be Batman.

    Also the costume is cooler and as I tend to be more of a night person than a morning person it feels more comfortable.

    To be honest I’m not really a fan of either, not knowing that your underpants should be worn inside your trousers isn’t too impressive in my view. : )

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “The IRA wasn’t in operation as a force in 1966, it had ceased to be active after the failure of the border campaign.”
    They went through a lull in some senses but that is something of a myth. Even before the Troubles it had significantly increased its membership. Goulding, while pushing the politics, did not reject violence and was actively recruiting throughout the Sixties. To quote Prof Richard English of QUB in “Armed Struggle”:
    “The IRA during the 1960sdrew up at least preliminary plans for another military campaign, and at the end of 1965 the Northern Irish government publicly stated its belief that the organisation was about to renew violent attacks. In 1966 the government in Belfast was clearly anxious concerning disorder and outbreaks of violence and in that year the IRA’s ruling Army Council did set up a special military council to plan a new northern onslaught. IRA strength was then around a thousand, compared to approximately 650 four years earlier; and in Belfast the IRA had grown significantly in number between 1962 and 1969. All of this should caution against too simplistic an assumption that the organisation was militarily dead in the 1960s …”

    The IRA’s Liam McMillen was also the main organiser of the big Easter Rising commemorations in Belfast in April 1966.

    There was also the key initiative within militant Republicanism in the 60s of starting the Wolfe Tone Societies, from 1964 – “one to which the IRA’s enthusiastic participation was essential”. A young Gerry Adams was one of those active there. They of course were the progenitors of the civil rights campaign. That’s not to say the civil rights campaign didn’t have some legitimate grievances, but to deny IRA involvement in the genesis of the campaign would be wrong.

    Prof English concludes:
    “There was … an intentional and personal link between old IRA anti-unionism and the creation of the civil rights movement; and it was the agitation of the latter which (with admittedly idealistic intentions) spiralled Ulster into the sectarian violence from which the Provisional IRA emerged.”

    I take issue with English at times for not following through with his logic, because he shows how unionist ‘fears’ were actually based on not inaccurate suspicions about what was going on, while still at times treating unionists like they were over-reacting to be highly alarmed. There were some overreactions for sure – not least Paisley – but it’s far from clear that the moderate unionist unease about what was happening within nationalism in the late 60s was unjustified. It looks like they were spot on.

    The Troubles didn’t just kick off because of the IRA of course, there were mobs in both Protestant and Catholic areas attacking each other and the police and the early events were out of the IRA’s control. But the IRA was quick to jump on and try to steer the horse. After the split, in Jan 1970 you had the new PIRA leadership meeting and making the fateful decision to mount an offensive campaign against British forces as soon as circumstances permitted, to push for a united Ireland. Northern Ireland suffered the consequences for the best part of 3 decades.

    Oh and CAIN isn’t an organisation, it is an online historical resource database, so it’s a bit weird to talk about it having an “approach”.

    Like I say, most histories take Aug 69 as the start of the Troubles, in that that’s when the violence really kicked off for good, as opposed to the sporadic incidents of before. Don’t argue with me, argue with the reporters and historians. But if we are going earlier, 66 seems a bit of a random date, though I get the argument that the IRA-tinged Easter Rising commemorations of April 1966 may have been a key catalyst, and of course the ludicrous Paisley stuff. Still not the Troubles as such though.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Certainly not the one with Francis Rossi in it

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Well, I give way to you on the micro analysis of the Troubles – perhaps someone with better information than I can take you up on that. But clearly to me as an outsider, albeit just across the water in Scotland, and having been brought up as a Protestant, I see the whole affair as being caused:

    a) by the import of Scottish and English protestants into a previously homogeneous culture in Eire in order to win the ground for the English and later UK crown,

    b) the possibly at one time real but now completely irrelevant fear of majority Catholicism by these imported settlers,

    c) the fear induced intransigence and attempted enforced supremacy by those settlers,

    d) the continued intransigence and clinging to the external polity of the UK by Unionists, which is an un-necessary and obsolete obstacle to the uniting of the Island of Ireland to it’s previous unity, wantonly shattered by English and UK governments attempts at Empire. There is currently no real reason for this intransigence, except an inability to think outside the box.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    have you read it though? It is a heap of sh**

  • MainlandUlsterman

    hmmm … seems a bit one-sided! Had you looked at anything that nationalist Ireland has done as affecting events at all?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    So you don’t object to that analysis. Interesting!

    And, surely Nationalist Eire has a perfect right to aim to re-unite the Island. They are not in any way saying you must all convert to Catholicism. They are just saying that most things would work better and be easier to manage in a united island. So what is the problem?

    Why don’t the Unionists face the fact, as pointed out here by someone else, that the rest of the UK are not really FUNDAMENTALLY interested or invested in the continuation of NI. Why don’t they cut their inevitable losses and volunteer to join the rest of Eire – they would get kudos if they did.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Freud was smarter than I thought he was, then.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Well most histories are incorrect then aren’t they?

    Unless of course they are prepared to disregard a ‘declaration of war’ on the IRA by the UVF and the fire bombing of a Catholic Public House resulting in the death of an innocent protestant woman, plus the shooting to death of two Catholic civilians and wounding of two others in 1966.

    There was the indiscriminate violence by the RUC carried out against peaceful protestors to keep the justifiable resentment alive during 1968.

    And in March and April 1969 the UVF blew up water and electricity installations in an attempt to blame the IRA which hadn’t been active for years.

    In April 69 during riots in Derry members of the RUC went into the home of an uninvolved Catholic man and beat him and his two daughters without any provocation, he later died of a heart attack as a result.

    When we come to August 1969 the ‘official’ start of the Troubles according to you, the first incident to take place was the bombing of the RTE Television Centre in Dublin by the UVF on the 5th of August.

    As the IRA hadn’t become involved at that point it really does take some serious twisting of facts to avoid the conclusion that it was the activity of the UVF in particular and the violent bias of the RUC which was the main cause of the Troubles.

    Obviously you can’t accept those facts because they don’t suit your version.

    Maybe you’ll accept facts from CAIN as you seem to hold them in some regard?

    Scroll down the timeline until you get to 1962.

    Read from there, and aside from demolishing Nelsons Column in Dublin explain what it was that the IRA did to be responsible for the Troubles.

    The facts are plain, the ‘Loyalist’ UVF together with the disgusting institutionalized treatment of the nationalist community by the Unionist authorities were responsible for what took place.

    People will only take so much before they rebel.

    You reap what you sow, and if you compare the situation that the nationalist community had to endure in the 60s with the situation they have today, and then do the same for the unionist community it’s obvious who prevailed.

    Tick Tock.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Anyone that relies on the London “Times” for accurate information is on a hiding to nothing. It’s not what it used to be, like a lot of other things.

  • Oggins

    I always find it a shame when we anaylsis the facts, that the original home rule movement was about home rule within the UK.

    This was not wanted within ‘Irish Unionism’ as the power would be sitting mainly in the three irish provinces, which were behind in terms of economic development to Ulster. Factor in the Scottish/Anglo influence in Ulster there was a obviously clash of culture.


    100 odd laters, devolution has happened (home rule), the Irish state has economically over taken NI; yes I know there was a WORLD recession, but the development of ROI is clear.

    The south in majority has a greater understanding of its past, much to do with the current generation not having any ties to its troubled past. The south is building relationships with G.B and its institutions.

    In NI we have Unionism refusing to engage on anything ‘Irish’. I can actually understand this because it will remove the FEAR.

    In NI we have SF who are on a socialist, almost Marxist crusade, alienating the middle right of nationalism and small unionism.

    I see similarity between now and pre-partition in terms of political stand points..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I entirely agree with you on all of this. We are a century behind “common sense”.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I will pass your insightful comment on next time I speak with Brendan.

    Seriously, yes I have raed it through, and understood it, MU, and like the Third Home Rule this, to me, is an intellegent proposal to retain the Union with the kind of flexibility that is becoming the norm in the modern world. A genuine, “state of the art” response to a complex problem where the Conservative default to sclerotic ideas of sovereignty will simply “pull the bit” and rip the horse’s mouthy, symbolically speaking. As any horseman knows, sensible control means working with the horse, not abusing it. I wonder why the broad Unionist default on this is to do an automatic “Ulster Says NO”? Were is all that “self determination over differences” arguement you’ve used before when it might actually do some good for our whole community?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Read the Scarman Report on the start of the Troubles. Slightly different from the partisan nationalist version you seem to have swallowed.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ha! OK, you “prevailed”, if that makes you feel better 😉
    Republicans have been through an elaborate dance to cover up the utter failure of the “armed struggle”. The whole thing was an appalling waste of life for absolutely nothing.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You and I obviously take a different approach to debate.

    It isn’t a question of ‘prevailing’ as far as I’m concerned, it’s a question of looking for the truth of the matter, as far as that can be ascertained in a complex and emotionally charged situation such as Northern Ireland.

    In a situation where I hold an opinion and a verifiable fact can be shown to me that alters the situation I will change my opinion.

    What do you do?

    To continue to hold a view of what went on which places almost all the blame on the Republican side as your above post implies is disingenuous to say the least.

    The Facts show that the nationalist community were being discriminated against by the state on sectarian grounds.

    The Facts show that it was that bad that a civil rights movement was formed in protest.

    The Facts show that the police carried out a process of violent intimidation against both the protestors and random Catholics.

    The Facts show that it was the ‘loyalists’ that began the bombings and the killings in an attempt to blame it on the IRA and discredit any progress that the civil rights campaign might gain toward equality.

    The Facts show that the British Army was originally sent to protect the Catholic population against ‘loyalist’ mob rule.

    The Facts show that it wasn’t until December 69 that PIRA was formed.

    The Facts also show that the difference between then and now is immense.

    Unionist hegemony gone for ever, equal rights for both communities, nationalists taking part in running the place and a pathway provided to achieve a United Ireland long term.

    All of which was totally unthinkable before the Troubles.

    Despite all of which you persist in your opinion that it was all the fault of ‘ themuns’ and it was all for nothing.

    Neither of which opinion is correct.

    The only correct thing you said was that it was an appalling waste of life.

    We agree on that point.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You referred me to CAIN in a previous post as you felt that it agreed with your view.

    The link you provided started a timeline where it agreed with your opinion.

    I provided you with a CAIN link which started the timeline earlier and showed that the events leading up to the original timeline including bombings and murders were UVF atrocities.

    Obviously in your mind they don’t count, ‘loyalist’ atrocities despite being unprovoked ( unless you consider the possibility of equality provocative? ) are apparently acceptable in your view.

    Lord Scarman has as much credibility as Lord Widgery both duplicitous establishment liars.

  • Thought Criminal

    There has never been an independent “united Ireland” nor a “homogenous culture in Eire”. You would think a Scot would be more educated about his own history and that the Scotti originated in Ulster, with there being continuous migration between Ulster and Scotland since the end of the ice age.

  • Thought Criminal

    And, speaking as an Ulster-Scot, we should have far more sense than to want absolutely anything to do with the completely wingnut Marxist “social justice” obsessed SNP-ruled Scotland at the moment.

  • Thought Criminal

    So should we.

  • Thought Criminal

    It isn’t going to happen. Most of us Ulster-Scots want absolutely nothing to do with the wingnut Marxist “social justice” obsessed SNP-ruled Scotland at the moment. Scotland has gone full-retard. Scottish Labour are just as retarded with the Scottish Tories not coming far behind.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    There was linguistic unity and cultural unity – notwithstanding the incursions of the vikings, unless you want to be really nitpicking about small dialect differences. The Scotti’s travelling backwards and forwards made little difference to the overall tone of Irish culture, of which they were a part. Sorry I did not make it clear that I did not mean to imply a previous political unity, (despite e.g. Brain Boru being called “High King of Ireland”).

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    It’s mutual – we don’t want any right-wing slaverers over here either.

  • Thought Criminal

    slaverers? What nonsense have you been indoctrinated with?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Ask yourself the same question.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Certainly not Scarman’s reputation when I studied law. He was rather well regarded as a brilliant mind and at the progressive reforming end of the judiciary.

    I didn’t refer you to CAIN because I “felt it agreed with my view”, CAIN is just a repository of information and articles about the Troubles – it doesn’t “agree” with anyone’s view, it’s not a person or an organisation capable of having a view. I was just referring you to the research data, statistic etc that CAIN offers. On your timeline, the point is, if not starting the Troubles in 69, why start in 66, rather than 65, 64, 63, 62 etc …

    If you’re starting with the onset of enduring inter-communal violence, that points to August 1969 which is why it’s the most used start date for most commentators; if you want to include the run-up to the start of the violence though, why just go 3 years back? If you go 7 years back you have the previous failed IRA campaign which equally influenced events; or you could go 10 or 20 or 30 years back. The choice of 66 seems designed purely to suggest “Loyalists started it”. Well, if you pick a start date immediately before a Loyalist act of violence, you can make it seem Loyalists cast the first stone. If you pick an earlier or later date, that Republicans did. It’s a silly enterprise.

    Surely a better analysis is to observe that in the decade leading up to the Troubles, indeed several decades, there were alternating, symbiotic acts of pro-Union and a Republican violence. It didn’t lead to a full-scale breakdown of law and order and widespread violence across NI until Aug 69. If you want to explain why the violence kicked off then, you have to also look at the fact it didn’t kick off earlier. You have to ask surely, what was different in Aug 69 to make it explode and become more general then.

    Talking about Loyalist actions in 1966 (to the exclusion of Republican ones) as if they “caused” what happened in 1969 and 1970 seems to me to miss out an awful lot; and to pretend 1966 wasn’t also affected by the years before it. As with all history, events affect later events, do they not? Not to mention that Republican ideology doesn’t seem to feature much in your explanation of Republican actions, which does seem a big omission.

    I’m not for a minute suggesting Loyalists didn’t have a big role in the start of the Troubles; but you seem to be denying that Republicans played a big part also. For all your accusations that I paint my ‘own side’ in glowing terms and blame Republicans solely for everything, it’s clearly not true from what you’ve just read here. I’m just asking that you acknowledge that Republicans played a major role in the start of the Troubles and can’t be portrayed as passive victims or people who merely reacted proportionately to wrongs against them. Militants on both sides of the ethnic divide were spoiling for a scrap; and the violence when it erupted in 1969 and subsequently was at least as significant on the nationalist side as in unionist areas. Surely you can’t disagree with that modest statement? I am interested to see how far you go in air-brushing Republican violence out of the picture. Luckily it doesn’t matter as we have a good record of contemporary accounts to go on. There is only so much spin you can do on them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    please do

  • MainlandUlsterman

    didn’t say I agreed with you

  • MainlandUlsterman

    what needs to end is sneaking regard-ism towards the PIRA within nationalist discourse. It has improved a lot but Ferriter is a throw-back to that. The rise of Trump should remind liberals that sometimes we need to be muscular in our defence of peaceful and democratic values – hence my anger at Ferriter for lowering his standards on what is respectable in politics. The self-regarding gestures, no matter how suicidal, of committed terrorists should be simply called out for what they are. Ferriter plays along instead with Republican self-mythologising with his sickening acceptance of the premise behind the hunger strikes, i.e. that these were people who deserved respect and sympathy for their “sacrifice”. Just wrong – and I don’t care how eminent he is, there is no excuse for it. Silly lad.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    But nothing to say about the rest of the post? Again – what IS the problem from your point of view with a united Ireland, (and with the added advantages of staying within the EU).

  • Anglo-Irish

    Scarman was a typical product of his age who could be relied upon to side with the establishment and its efforts to turn a blind eye to any wrong doing on the States side.

    Despite which, his 250 page report into the Troubles in Belfast and Derry in 1969 concluded that there was no evidence of any planned armed insurrection.

    Which gives the lie to Gusty Spence and the UVF claim that they were acting because there was a threat from the IRA, doesn’t it?

    They carried out their actions in an attempt to blame the IRA and damage the chances of nationalists receiving equal and fair treatment from the state.

    Even if your claim that it all started in August 1969 were to be accepted it would still be the case that the UVF were the first to use violence, wouldn’t it?

    The UVF bombed the RTE TV Centre in Dublin on the 5th of August.

    So even if you ignore the UVF bombing Water and Electricity Installations in March and April of 69 ‘loyalists’ were still the first to use violence weren’t they?

    They went on to become the first to murder a RUC police man and also the first to murder a RUC police woman.

    No matter how you look at it ‘loyalists’ were the original instigators of violence in the Troubles.

    Initially Republican violence was self defence, it then became retaliatory and when the PIRA was formed it became offensive, in both meanings of the word.

    But the ‘ loyalists’ started it off and they wound up getting more than they bargained for in return. When you push people beyond breaking point the backlash can be fearsome.

    The claim by many unionists that it was all ‘themuns’ fault is arrant nonsense and should be discontinued if someone is looking for the truth of the matter.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Indeed as I said, Scarman didn’t give a one-sided report, as you seem to concede, while still slagging him off for reasons unclear. Despite the 1965-66 IRA plan for an armed insurrection, the events of 69 weren’t planned by them and I wasn’t claiming they were. Nor, Scarman found, were they planned by the UVF, which he found barely existed on the ground in August 69. Indeed to the extent Loyalism was organised, it was local district defence associations that were active, not the UVF. Events kicked off with a non-organised Republican attack on the Apprentice Boys’ parade in Derry, which spiralled into largely nationalist v police rioting; and Prof English and others have established the Belfast rioting was started by Republicans after communication with their counterparts in Derry, in a deliberate attempt to over-stretch and overwhelm the police. The trouble in Belfast started with a Republican-orchestrated attack on a police station, to which loyalists then responded with a massive attack on nationalists and off it went from there.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The problem is unionists love their own country, the U.K., and like all other peoples the world over, have no desire to change their national allegiance.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Can you provide some proof of this 1965-66 IRA plan for insurrection?

    Other than the damage to Nelsons column in Dublin there is no reference to any IRA insurrection plans. The main cause for concern in 66 was the formation of the ‘loyalist’ UVF which tried to excuse its actions by lying about an IRA threat.

    When you have to blow up stuff yourself in order to try to blame it on non existent republican activity it proves who was the aggressor in the situation.

    Scarman stated that there were no IRA insurgency plans in 1969.

    This was after the UVF bombing and the killing of innocent Catholics. So what do you suppose happened there then?

    The IRA had plans in 65-66 but after ‘loyalist’ attacks they decided to shelve them in 69?

    You claim that the start of the Trouble was in Derry on the 12th of August?

    Take a look at what happened prior to that.

    Your inability to accept straightforward facts should be astonishing, but given your background it isn’t in the slightest.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I already quoted my source for the 1965-66 plot, it’s Prof Richard English’s “Armed Struggle”. He had good access to the Republican Movement. The figures on the increasing recruitment by the IRA are accepted by him and in the short but excellent McGrattan and Edwards book.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The quote you’ve used from me on the subject of the McMahon murders is taken completely out of context. Took me ages to find it again but as it looked fishy I went back and checked. That paragraph was talking about what it would have taken for the state to have become illegitimate. I was saying you might have had an argument if incidents like that had been a regular occurrence. You quote it as if I were not taking it seriously as a crime, but that isn’t true at all. I was just saying it takes a lot for a whole state to be rendered illegitimate and awful though the injustice over those killings was, it’s hard to argue the whole Anglo-Irish Treaty had to go in the bin as a result, any more than the UK government should have fallen over Stephen Lawrence. Maybe it should, but it seems not the right consequence.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, you quote Richard English abive (with reservations as to his criticisms of what Campbell Bannerman once called “Ulsteria”) as proof that the NICRA was the inceptive force in the troubles;

    “There was … an intentional and personal link between old IRA anti-unionism and the creation of the civil rights movement; and it was the agitation of the latter which (with admittedly idealistic intentions) spiralled Ulster into the sectarian violence from which the Provisional IRA emerged.”

    We have had this discussion on and off for two years now, where your conviction that the IRA were a serious danger during the 1960s uses this “link” to suggest that Unionism was justfiied in its scandelious opposition to NICRA. But only a year ago you posted:

    “I wasn’t suggesting it was as simple as NICRA being an IRA stalking horse, of course it wasn’t. Paul Bew among others were in NICRA! And I hope I would have supported it myself had I been around at the time.”

    I could pick holes in English’s assessment. The dramatic failure of the border campaign had seriously reduced support for the IRA itself, and the emphasis, under the influence of member academics such as Johnston . The very douciment which English is drawing on for evidence of a renewal of violence in teh 1960s, Sean Garland’s document published in the Scarman Report clearly states that:

    “The present form of recruit training will be changed. This change will replace the emphasis now placed on arms and battle tactics to a secondary position and be replaced by an emphasis on Social and Economic objectives .”

    It was on this very strategic issue, the shift away from violence, that the PIRA was split of from Cathal Golding’s organisation. The document also speaks of:

    “A dwindling of public support both North and South making it virtually impossible for men to operate on Guerrilla lines – one of the basic ingredients for a successful guerrilla campaign is the support of wide sections of the people.”

    Even the figures of 1000 members does not note that this was North AND South and that the policy of moving away from “arms and battle tactics” to less exciting political education and social issues ensured a very high turnover of membership. No, nowhere as straightforward as your selectivity in quotes suggests.

    The informed perception of those of us involved in civil rights at that time was that the IRA was pretty much a spent force, involved in re-configuring itself as a socialist organisation, which was only pushed into prominance again with the events of 1969 when Unionist mobs began to reopeat the intimidatory violence on 1920-22 with the burining out of Catholic families. I believe that most objective historians back this perception up.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, of course you suggested that for you to accept that the state was de-legitimised it would have required what amounts to mounds of corpses, but I’d read this at the time as a most shocking suggestion. Your constant stream of such qualifications set against your claimed personal outrage against such actions brings such protestations into question for anyone genuinely shocked by such atrocities. For men directly recruited, paid and controlled by the then new NI state to carry out such actions against one third of the population without any challenge or enquiry is something which to my mind entirely discredited the administration at its inception. This unchallenged violence against Catholic communities by Unionist mobs, at times even encouraged by Carson, Craig and others, was during these two years “a regular occurance” and the McMahon killings was simply a most terrible instance in a general situation where, on example, a Catholic youth could be kicked unconscious by a mob and shot in the head publically in Ravenscroft Street on 14th February 1922. There could be no democratic redress because of an inbuilt Unionist majority. This made it all the more imperitive for the new governmemt to have acted quickly to protect the minority under their governance. This failure to act, which your “quantity” comments serve to justify in my thinking, was one of the core reasons why one third of the population remained utterly alienated from the state throughout the first decades of its existence.

    This is an entirely different issue to Stephen Lawrence, where rule of law applied and recourse to accountability existed, which did not even begin to be the case during teh fisrt yaers of NI’s existence. It is perheps most telling that in August 1969 the very same actions that marked these first two years of the NI state were repeated, with burnings out of Catholic families and the uncontrolled discharge of weapons into Catholic areas by mobile “B” Special units. The refusal of the new administration in 1920 to act was because of the clear usefulness of such terror as a control device. The simmering threat to unleash sectarian violence against the minority population since 1922, and the deterent to any political dissidence implicit in such violence, was an unspoken thread of policy, not simply a private action by rogue elements. If that does not raise serious questions about the state’s legitimacy, I simply cannot imagine what does.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I had never taken you for a hard-liner MU, but your response to Ferriter reluctantly brings me to that conclusion. You cannot seemingly distinguish here between someone describing (“representing”) opinions and personally endorsing them, as in your insistence that “Ferriter plays along instead with Republican self-mythologising with his sickening acceptance of the premise behind the hunger strikes” where for most of us reading waht he has written he is simply recording the widespread public representation which has been current for most people even in the British media. I imagine that the absence of balance in interpretation may possibly come from a lack of familiarity with comtemporary theories of discourse and representation.

    I keep repeating Brian Walker’s important comment “These are civilised people. We should debate to reach a better outcome.” That you should carefully construct some rather stretched reasons to simply dismiss an historian widely respected in the profession for his impartiality, an historian so (as his reviewers say) “even handed” “neutral and polite in tone” and a writer of “‘layered and nuanced’ history” possibly suggests a worrying streak of hard intransegence.

    Personally, I have found Unionism just as lacking in moral worth across its entire history as violent Republicanism, and any state which can permit “the murder of its citizens to protect its citizens”, or use what occured at Kincora in an entrapment policy, as occured during the recent troubles, makes it difficult for those of us outside of hard-line committment to a single thread political solution to justify the actions of such a state any more than we would those of PIRA. That you elect to ignore or dismiss any possible appreciation of the possibility other civilised standpoints in these issues while insisting on a singular Unionist credibility is of some concern.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Really not following the logic of your criticism. My argument was that you can’t delegitimise an entire state every time one of its servants does something horrible. There isn’t a natural sequitur from such crimes into the transfer of sovereignty for a whole region to another state. Sorry but making that point is in no way saying such wrongdoing is OK, just that the concept of the legitimacy of the state has a different basis. It was a deeply troubling, horrific incident and the failure to prosecute very poor, but it’s another thing entirely to overturn the sovereignty of the people on the basis of it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The violence by state forces was also in the context of serious armed attacks on the new state, at its inception. With the war of independence then civil war in the south, and a time of epochal change, violent confrontation was happening all over the island. None of it was great. You isolate unionist violence at the birth of NI as if it were uniquely extreme and somehow less excusable than nationalist violence at the time. That seems a rather one-sided view of those events.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Again you miss my point on NICRA. I said they had fair points I would have supported myself at the time. And they were mainly unwitting or naive about how some armed force Republicans were using them. I’m not making any different point from English. He wasn’t suggesting NICRA was a pure stalking horse for the IRA or that the IRA had engineered the Troubles through NICRA and nor was I. I only mentioned NICRA here in passing, my actual point was about the Wolfe Tone Societies as part of a refutation of the assertion of AI that the IRA was moribund in the 60s. That has been the belief until recently, as the story suited Republicans and indeed nationalists. But not only English but McGrattan and Edwards have now changed the understanding of that period. Republicanism’s attempts to suggest it was minding its own business, sitting around being oppressed, until lumpen Prods started clattering them out of thin air was always bogus. In truth there was a dance of the extremists on both sides and each egged the other on. Your attempts to portray the lead in to the Troubles as purely the fault of unionists doesn’t convince and seems an example of what you complain of – politically skewed history.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, but such tacit complicity can de-legitimise a current administration which did not only fail to act on these single instances, but which failed to act at all against any of the atrocities committed by its Special forces, or against the mayhem and murder enacted by Unionist mobs. In a situation where the state will not protect a sizable minority of its citizens or where it is complicit with actual atrocity, a responsible Westminster administration should have suspended the new administartion of NI and resumed direct rule. It was clear that an administration which had crafted its powerbase to ensure a 2/1 majority at this time and would not act to protect the minority was not in any meaningful sense fit to govern, and their culpability could not be viewed as something that could be addressed by those normal democratic methods their built in majority made mock of.

    And, as I’ve ponted out, it was not “one incident” but a two year pattern of threat and atrocity with a complicit administration setting a pattern of open or implicit violence which would underpin their political control over the next four decades. That you can dismiss what this period says about Unionism and its legacy is to me entirely unacceptable, especially in the light of your (quite justified) severity to PIRAs later emulation of such cynical violence.

  • Anglo-Irish

    There was no ‘plot’ , the IRA at that time was a socialist talking shop with no capability of armed insurrection.

    If that wasn’t so how do you explain the unpreparedness in the face of ‘loyalist’ actions?

    The IRA was so incapable of carrying out any armed response that the nationalist community used the jibe that IRA stood for ‘I Ran Away’.

    There was no real organized response until the PIRA formed in December 69.

    The whole IRA being a threat was cobblers, dreamed up by Gusty Spence as an excuse for ‘loyalist’ actions.

    As I said, when you have to carry out bombings in order to try to blame it on the IRA then the IRA couldn’t have been doing much could it?

    1966 was the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. A certain amount of remembrance and rhetoric was to be expected. Trying to use that as ‘proof’ that ‘ something was afoot ‘ is pathetic.

    Seeing as how the ‘loyalist’ community celebrate a 326 year old battle every single year and go completely over the top doing so they can hardly object to the nationalist community celebrating every 25 years or so can they?

    What am I saying? Of course they can, it’s what they do, dish it out and then whine like little girls if any comes back.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “The violence by state forces was also in the context of serious armed attacks on the new state, at its inception.”

    This is almost laughable. The IRA in the north in 1920 was a marginalised and tiny body in a situation where most nationalists were constitutionalist supporters of the IPP and Joe devlin,. I have had Devlin dsecribed to me as a “west Brit” who extended all his influence to supress growth of the IRA in the north by some Republicans. When on eraeds any of the accounts at the time, and any of the current historcal research, the overwhelming sense is of Unionist pre-emptive mob action against almost defenceless Cathlic communities. By 1922 the IRA had a presence, but one built up in rseponse to tremendious Unionist threat.

    You generalise the situation in broad sweeps, “violent confrontation was happening all over the island” but the actions in the south developed against the backdrop of the scandelious doings of a northern administration which irresponsibly employed terror to supress even legitimate opposition. Such things require some serious unpacking if one is to follow the development of those patterns which reveal the genuine meaning of the events. On ehas only to watch the rapid disappearance of sympathy for the new northern state which is evident in the British Press reporst to chart just how this was viewed by intelelgent people at the time. “You isolate unionist violence at the birth of NI as if it were uniquely extreme”, which, had you studied the period to any degree you would have seen it actually was in context.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Again you elide nationalist violence and the very real threat against the nascent state from the IRA. As a result you mis-characterise the violence of 1920-22. Most of it wasn’t by the state at all. The state wasn’t as hostile to the nationalist population as you suggest.

    Violence by the Free State forces against its own people – what was the impact there on state legitimacy?

    Your account lacks the global perspective – many new borders have been formed amid violence, whether war or insurrection; and nationalist guerillas in the South were hardly choirboys when it came to violence around the formation of their new state. You are applying double standards here, it seems out of a personal crusade to portray unionists as uniquely the problem in Ireland. That can’t be a serious view surely.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What percentage of the killing in 1920-22 was by nationalists? From your account it sounds like 10 per cent or less …
    And how much was by state forces?
    My understanding is that non-state Loyalist groups were the biggest purveyors of violence, followed by nationalists, followed by state forces. Is that wrong? Puts your account in some perspective.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Take up your argument with the historians, AI, I’m not professing any greater knowledge.

    Your last comment is revealing. The casual sexism aside, you’re suggesting that those peaceful unionists who endured 30 years of violence without retaliating – that is most of us – should be admonished as whingers for complaining about it? Your moral judgment seems shot if so. Everyone who was against the terrorism but endured it should surely be spared such pathetic playground name-calling. The source of both the error and your unfairness seem to be your lumping of non-violent people in with the violent. If you’re not alive to the distinction, no wonder you’re struggling so much to find your moral bearings.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Unfortunately for you though, the love is reciprocated only by a very small minority. Probably half of the rest of the UK would dearly love to see NI just go away, and the remainder do not care if it exists or not. Also, the UK is not a country, it is a dysfunctional Union (soon to be dissolved, I hope). Not much to be loyal to there. Surely the country you live in is part of the island of Ireland? Why continue with this outdated colonialism?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You’re not reading carefully, Seaan. I gave a detailed explanation of the precise bits of Ferriter’s article that indicated an acceptance of certain Republican premises about the hunger strikes. I notice you haven’t referred to those directly but resort instead to a generalised defence of Ferriter’s supposed reputation for even-handedness. Your big problem, with respect, is you do exactly what you accuse me of – only you actually do it, while you only imagine I do. That is, you put up wall and refuse any criticism of the nationalist perspective, to the point where you won’t even concede that a writer with well-known Irish nationalist leanings could be possibly anything other than a paragon of academic neutrality. That could be because your own views are so obsessively anti-unionist – not just anti violent-unionist, like my focus on violent-nationalism, but anti ANY form of unionist at all. Where you think the middle is depends on where you draw the boundaries and for you, any unionism is already outside them, so that you’re left regarding obviously nationalist voices as somehow neutral.

    You have me as a hardliner but in reality I’m not – I’m an Alliance supporter and a Labour/LibDem swing voter. What you mistake for hardline is actually someone being robust and consistent in defence of moderation. Political violence is the defining disease of NI society and as a non-violent person, I regard any sign of sympathy with political violence on either side as the one thing we should show zero tolerance to. You can’t accuse me of applying that in a one-sided way and if a unionist writer said something admiring about unrepentant Loyalist terrorists bugging themselves up, I would be equally critical. But Ferriter has form and his academic status only makes articles like the one I cited more hard to justify.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Which historians? The ones that agree with you or the ones that agree with me?

    I notice you haven’t attempted to answer the question as to why there was no immediate response by the IRA to ‘loyalist’ violence if they were considered to be a viable threat at the time.

    I have little to no sympathy for unionists for extremely logical reasons.

    The unionists had a gerrymandered little fiefdom provided for them. They then set about further gerrymandering in order to ensure that they were in total control of the province.

    That meant that what happened was their responsibility and theirs alone.

    They could have chosen to handle the situation by being seen to be as fair as possible to both communities. Had they done so that would have removed any genuine complaint from the nationalist community and prevented what took place.

    Instead of which they chose to take every advantage and give full vent to their sectarian bias.

    A civil rights movement in the UK in the 1960s?

    Unionists are on a par with US Southern rednecks and ‘loyalists’ on a par with the KKK.

    As for casual sexism, how old are you? Grow up.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Have you read any of the books or articles to which I’ve posted reference, MU? The threat north and south grew over 1919/20 but was a developing thing, while the violent expulsion of 5000 Catholics from H & W shipyard (over 1000 of them ex-servie men) and the burnings and attacks in the north were pace setters in the violence.

    “The state wasn’t as hostile to the nationalist population as you suggest.”

    While a great deal of the violence was carried out by Unionist mob the state stood by without acting or at times actively encouraged the mobs. “The Times”, on July 13th 1920, reported a speech by Carson the previous day at the “Field” where he told his audience to “take the matter [acting against Catholics] into our own hands.” The speech was so inflamatory that the Times editorial censoriously described its sectarian theme as a “parade of anachronistic intolerance.” Craig too pressed for action against the Catholic community and openly expressed his approval of the shipyard and other expulsions against Catholics and Socialists. The inceptive event for the Shipyard expulsions, the assassination of Col Smyth in Cork, needs to be seen in context of his own approach to public order:

    “Now, men, Sinn Féin has had all the sport up to the present, and we are going to have the sport now you may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right participants sometime The more you shoot the better I will like you, and I assure you, no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.”

    Much of the later violence in 1921/2 in the north was carried out under the strictest of curfews where only uniformed security forcse could pass through the streets. This is one of the strongest factors in implicating the Specials with these sectarian murders.

    “Violence by the Free State forces against its own people – what was the impact there on state legitimacy?”

    The new Free State acted against a strong organised Republican threat, in the course of which it acted to defend to the best of its ability its own minority. The Unionists acted against a very weak IRA, and frequently against non-violent constitutionalist opposition. They targeted their minority for sectarian attack, and virtually ignored public terrorism against Catholics, even against the murders of the RIC and the British Army’s in their efforts to defend the minority.

    “You are applying double standards here”,

    No, simply stating the unpacked facts instead of making sweeping generalisations about the need to deefnd the new statelet (by ignoring atrocity by men in Uniform?) a psoition which implicitly “justifies” actions such as the Arnon Street and McMahon killings. When you are regularly commenting with unremitting severity on PIRA while regularly evading the moral issues of the 1920-22 period and what followed, this, to my thinking is more likely to be the double standard.

    The “global perspective” is general background, but how does it qualify to any degree the failure of the new Unionist administration to in any sense protect its minority from sectarian Protestant attack? All situations have general characteristics, and localised particular aspects, and in this situation it is the particularities of Belfast and its inheritance of a century of bitter sectarian anti-Catholic riot which was not duplicated anywhere else in Ireland which marks what occured, and which was the very strongest argument against partition amongst Liberal Protestants.

    Had you read current historical research focused on the Belfast Pogroms such as the Wilson article I’ve several times referenced, or Alan Parkenson’s excellent “Belfast’s Unholy War” you would have noticed taht far from being some personal crusade, I am simply reflecting what is currently understood. I am of course sconcerned taht our modern expereince si rooted in these eevnts, and in teh UUC response to teh third Hom eRule Bill, which instigated a recourse to general violence, and comment on this only against teh Unionist sentimentalising of these events and their encoded efforts to view this culpability for violence as lying in one portion of teh communiyty rather than being a shared engegement through an habitual of recourse to force which poisons every effort at possible reconciliation. As the old saw puts it, “its what you don’t know that hurts you” and the steady tenor of response from as able and intellegent a commentator as yourself to excuse or diminish the importance of these inceptive things simply shows me just how very, very important it is for Unionism to actually finally look in the mirror of history instead of regularly projecting all blame outwards.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ha! Classic nationalist misunderstanding of unionists. We don’t generally expect to be loved. Is mutual ‘love’ the new standard of citizenship these days? I’m not sure many countries’ peoples would survive that test. What a weird view of nationality you have. Is this self-love affair an Irish thing maybe?

    And how is NI in 2016 an example of “colonialism”? We have been part of the UK since it was formed 2 centuries ago, NI is in the UK by choice and we have regional self-government. Growing up in Newtownabbey, I don’t recall seeing Syd James in a white uniform and hat with ostrich feather anywhere near us … Maybe you should visit more and meet a few people, you’ll find it’s not that hard to fathom. It looks harder on the page, to be honest. In real life it’s a really quite easy to grasp.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Pogrom”, come on. What nonsense. Have you read Niall Cunningham’s (Univ of Manchester, CRESC) detailed work on the patterns of killings and deaths in the 1920-22 Troubles? If not, you should –
    He says:

    “The notion of the period 1920 to 1922 as a pogrom against the Catholic population has been seriously challenged in revisionist scholarship. However, perhaps the clearest means of debunking this idea comes not from the reinterpretation of documentary evidence or the uncovering of new material, but rather through assessing the quantitative effect of this violence, for if it was a pogrom, then it was a failed one at most.”

    The idea of a straight Prod-on-Catholic ‘pogrom’ doesn’t fit either with the death statistics that have been identifiable (95 per cent of deaths): Catholics made up 56 percent of victims while Protestants totalled 39 percent. He also shows how events in NI were also not unrelated to Ireland-wide violence, so that for example massacres of Protestants by the IRA in Cork angered Protestants in Belfast and played into anti-Catholic violence there.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    You are the one who brought up “love”! as in: “unionists love their own country”

    “We don’t generally expect to be loved.” – Just as well!

    The unionists in NI are like an abused wife who has lost the courage to leave the abuser.

    Where’s your pride? Don’t stay where you’re not wanted.

    NB The colonialism came in with the import of protestant settlers by the English/UK government. Don’t tell me you don’t know that.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    An interesting choice of article with which to attempt to “confound” me, MU. Certainly, it critiques the use of the term “Pogrom”, but to my mind then goes on to confirm the correctness on the term in some respects.

    In other aspects, despite being primarily a figure crunching exercise, much of what Niall Cunningham states bears out much of what I’ve said myself.

    Now what is a “Pogrom”? Wikipedia suggests: “A pogrom is a violent riot aimed at the massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group.” That certainly fits for a start. Near our period, “During the 1911 Tredegar riot in Wales, Jewish homes and businesses were looted and burned over the period of a week”, and Winston Churchill, the Home secretary, described this as a “pogrom”. The burnings out and looting of Catholic communities in Belfast continued over much of the three year period. Historian Werner Bergmann described it use in scholarly literature and proposed that pogroms should be “defined as a unilateral, nongovernmental form of collective violence initiated by the majority population against a largely defenseless ethnic group, and he states that pogroms occur when the majority expects the state to provide them with no assistance in overcoming a (perceived) threat from the minority.” This is problematic as agents of the state were directly involved in the Belfast Pogroms, but as similar involvement in Russia did not disqualify use of the term, I’d stretch this. “David Engel states that the majority of the incidents ‘habitually’ described as pogroms took place in societies significantly divided by ethnicity and/or religion where the violence was committed by the higher-ranking group against a stereotyped lower-ranking group against whom they expressed some complaint, and with the belief that the law of the land would not be used to stop them.” Well, yes.

    The employment of the word “Pogrom” fell quite naturally to people a century ago, as Churchill’s comment shows. This is how the Troubles were described at the time by those experiencing the murders and burnings, by British and Irish Liberals, and even by the press. It has commonly been used since and to my mind, while it will always be an emotive term, it fits the events well enough to defy any realistic challenge.

    Niall Cunningham certainly states what you quote, but then rather paradoxically goes on to show later in his essay just how Catholics, many of whom had been spread across the intermixed community of 1920, were forced into tight ghettos by the Pogroms. As one of the prime features of any Pogrom is to “ethnically cleanse” a community, in this the actions to remove their presence from mixed communities were hardly “failures”.

    I’m very familiar with the late Peter Hart’s excellent work, as quoted by Niall Cunningham, and to my mind his research bears out the manner in which southern atrocities usually followed the northern examples. Cunningham makes another interesting observation quoting his work:

    “It should be noted that the area of greatest intensity for Catholics is larger than that for Protestants, and this is logical because, despite being demographically inferior within the city as a whole, making up only about one quarter of the population, they accounted for 56 percent of all victims. Hart has argued that it was simply this outnumbering which largely explained why Catholics died in such a proportion during the conflict.”

    Thus comparatively speaking, the effect on the general Catholic community was also far, far more pronounced proportionately than the bald numbers suggest. Cunningham himself also squarely places the blame for escalating atrocity on the composition of the Special Constabulary:

    “it was also a clear product of the highly sectarian nature of the newly-formed civilian police force, the Ulster Reserve Constabulary, which was almost completely Protestant in composition. Members of this body were responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the entire period, which included the aforementioned retaliatory attack on the Catholics of Arnon Street which claimed the lives of five, including that of a man bludgeoned to death in front of his own children, as well as the massacre of the Antrim Road publican Owen MacMahon and four other members of his family.”

    To my mind, the tacit support of non-intervention from the new Unionist administration for pogrom and atrocity by its servants is by far the most shocking thing about the entire period. As the first responsibility of any state is always to protect its citizens under law, this gross failure of the new administration discredited all claim to legitimacy as a government for any but their own faction, and is one of the strongest contributory factors for the state’s steady failure thereafter.

    I’d strongly advise reading much more work on this, MU. I will repeat that should you wish to examine the political dimensions of these events and certainly to properly examine the supine response of Unionism to the anti-Catholic riots, murders and burnings of hits followers, Tim Wilson’s piece in IHS Vol XXXVII/145 (pp83-106) outlines important evidence. Cunningham himself states, “Alan Parkinson’s ‘Belfast’s Unholy War’ has been the single most invaluable source of information on fatalities during the early Troubles, conveying circumstantial and spatial details as well as how these deaths related to the conflict as whole, not simply within Belfast alone, but also well beyond.” I would fully agree, though my own researches would suggest that Parkinson’s “carefulness” regarding the attribution of direct Unionist government culpability needs some serious re-examination in the light of their self-conscious inaction to any atrocity perpetrated by their own people, something that is very clear from what evidence we do possess.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not trying to confound you, just confound the rather one-sided narrative you seemed to be suggesting before, which maybe wasn’t your meaning. Though I note you’re still clinging to the term “pogrom”, though it’s clearly an extreme one to use in this context; and you take issue with the one detailed study of the violence by Parkinson for not blaming the government enough. Sorry but what you were previously presenting as academic unanimity on unionist government culpability for the one-sided slaughter actually looks a bit different when one gets into the detail of what happened.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “One sided”, MU, only if you are attempting to exonerate Unionism, which even that source you drew on simply does not do. Regarding “academic unanimity”, while I’ve read the research and undertaken a degree of primary source research myself, you clearly have not. I think I’ve given you quite enough in numerious posts to show what occured. Before you attempt to draw comfort from any of this, actually read Parkinson, and you’ll see just how fully he, too, supports what I’m saying. That his evaluation of Unionism’s role differs slightly (slightly, note) from mine reflects a more insider status for some of those sources I’m drawing on in my own work.

    Where did I ever say that Protestants were not killed? What I was describing was the effect of an entire polity organised to act violently against one third of its citizens, and those discriminatory measures by which the new state privilidged its own faction. This had the effect of entirely alienating the minority and set an example for the sucessful application of terror which others later picked up on in our later troubles. The culpability of Unionism on many counts at this time and after is quite evident in all of this. In any situation where you and others are representing the new Unionist state as somehow legitimately protecting its existence by blindsiding the ugly sectarian violence in which it was born, a great deal of “qualification” is needed to correct the balance of fact.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As I’ve mentioned to you before, it is always an amusing expereince to be told chatagorically “what happened” by someone who was not there, whether they are a fellow historian or someone cherry picking to support their case!

    The reason that people believed “that the IRA was moribund in the 60s” is because this is what they were experiencing. Of course these historians and yourself can take the “documents” the IRA and others produced at face value, this is after all what all propaganda hopes from those reading it, but you are engaging with this yourself through the historians representation of documents which were themselves attempting to put particular messages over (including those frequently inaccurate Special Branch reports!) which in turn were concocted representations of what was actually happening between real people, what Jaques Derrida speaks of as “differance”or variation over a long chain of signification. The reason Derrida always highly credited direct conversation over text was that the ineviatble misunderstandings that naturally develop within any chain of understanding through text (“Chinese whispers”) could be quickly noted and responded to. Similarly actual direct experience, the very thing all communication stands upon, simply trumps derived text every time. Have you encountered the tale of the virgin giving sex advice in the school dorm? No?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Looking back this morning at our exchanges yesterday MU, it appears to me that we are both pretty enraged at how NI has turned out. You seemingly date the problem to 1968 and source it in the PIRA campaign, I see it as the product of an unfolding pattern of cause and effect between polarised political positions over two centuries and more, but we are both reacting to the illiberality and hypocrisy of political life in NI. I am not wishing to tell you what you think, and if I’m being inaccurate, please let me know.

    Derrida is very good on just how very impossible serious and precise communication actually is. Even when we “understand” one another loose ends qualify and re-qualify like a hall of mirrors (“differance”), which is why I’d invoked “post-modernism” recently, all too aware of how nothing is ever an “exact fit” and misunderstandings inevitably proliferate.

    Without writing a book here (and yes, three on the go and others published) I’d not be able to seriously unpack the pattern of Unionist culpability satisfactorily, or interweave it with those endless “chinese balls” of action/reaction in regard to non-Unionists. Rather than a see-saw “one up/one down” politically, I’d see the political interchange within Irish communities over the last two hundred years as a three dimensional polyhedron of interplay from numerous points projecting through numerous angles of influence, something any liner narrative is very, very poor at articulating. On Slugger I work one thread, the Unionist culpability (at this moment), quite differently to how I, or Diarmaid Ferriter, for example, does within actual historical work where the utter relativeness of things requires something which takes far longer than a five minute reactive burst to achieve.

    That said, it is the effect on both Catholic and Unionist populations which these pogroms initiated, which I’m attempting to explain, not some sterile exercise in shifting blame. We are living today with the working out of a pattern through events which you are seemingly as angry about as myself, but that liberal/socialist thread in an older northern community had been targeted and virtually effaced from our cultural life by political Unionism well before PIRA came along in a manner I both saw myself and heard from an older radical generation. This thwarted radical tradition is not my only influence, however. As well as having a direct Liberal tradition, my family has also had (usually through marriage) strong links within Unionism and one ancestor was even a very close associate of Robert Routledge Kane, himself one of the inceptive factors in late nineteenth century Unionism in the north. This view from “inside the tent” has done little for me regarding any possible idealisation of Unionist motive, as the tune of “the Vicar of Bray” is impossible to avoid when so placed. I think we are both concerned that NI as it is requires serious rethinking. This will come from constitutionalism, and its to that tradition, disrupted cynically in 1910, that I’m looking for any revitalisation, not to any current party.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, I can see that the simple core reality (so evident to me that I’ve been unpacking detail rather than simply saying it), is that Diarmaid is writing as a Phenomenolocical Historian describing political attitudes and you are interpreting him as a political commentator.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It was a piece of journalism and as such gives a window into his political assumptions which can often be more masked in a historian’s professional work. If you read my detailed post where I quote several parts of the article, you’ll see I was specifically commenting on what Ferriter revealed through the article of his own attitudes to the hunger strikes. The issue of the hunger strikes does seem to be a useful one for revealing the Republican sympathies of some who otherwise play the game of ritual condemnation convincingly enough. Sorry, but if they really were as appalled as they should have been by the IRA campaign, they wouldn’t slip quite so readily into such inappropriately respectful treatment of its hunger strikers.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Your response here is exactly why I’d suggested that more familiarity might be needed with how modern historians in general (and Diarmaid in particular)approach what they write. Often what is presented is not in any sense personal opinion but a representation of how something is generally thought about (“phenomonology”), especially in a journalistic piece such as this, where as I’ve pointed out he is reacting to a popular media representation over and above the actual events themselves, and in a manner that any but Unionists would find quite unremarkable. You would not perhaps have casually marked Diarmaid as a nationalist historian if you had read more of his work, perhaps even glanced at his devastating deconstruction of both Republican and Unionist Nationalisms in the introduction to his recent “A Nation not a Rabble”, but then I’m always surprised at the ability of committed Unionists to find (“Princess and the pea”) offense in something quite innocuous, as with your own “detailed response” to Dairmaid’s article.

    So the “Hunger Strikes” are a litmus test of “moral probity” for you. Ho humm…..what you seemingly cannot see is how those of us utterly appalled at, say, the Le Mon bombing, can still see complex layers of victimhood in how the hunger strikers were treated by both the authorities and by their own organisation, and to separate the particular human experience and motivation of individuals from any knee jerk response on general principals. That much of Unionism will simply see such things as yet another opportunity to “block vote down” the other side with that generalised contempt has marked those approaching the matter thus as callous and ideologically driven for anyone who attempts to approach our history with a fair even handed objectivity. Your own one dimensional blanket condemnation approach clearly fails to evaluate why those people whose impressions of these things are represented in the article think and feel as they do about Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikers. You appear to feel that it is simply a given that such opinions can simply be dismissed as “Republican sympathies” on an “if you are not with me you are against me” principal! In the failure to even begin to more fully analyse or engage with the reasons why a whole group of our fellow citizens were and are sincerely moved by the Hunger Strikers, Unionism in general displays why it has required the “apartheid” response of “two communities in one place” since 1920 to survive with its own fragile superiority myths intact. But for some of us who have been concerned to look at these things within historical and social patterns, It has never been a matter of either side winning against the other as the task of anyone searching for a serious solution to our ingrained problems comes from the recognition that ideologies and spurious ethnicity simply do not help and as Brian Walker says above, it is dialogue rather than invective which is needed.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Just ask yourself whether you’d be giving such a sympathetic exploration of motivations to a terrorist for a less fashionable cause. When we look at the Old Compton St nail bomber for example, do we really go into his sincerity and passion? If he were to write poetry would we even read it? Taking terrorists seriously, even when disagreeing with them, flatters them. We can examine them, to better understand the pathology and better guide others in future away from that course, and there is value in that – as we should examine Hyndley, the Nazis, Baader Meinhoff etc – we need to understand how potentially good people people get seduced into acts of evil and into a firm belief they were right. But alarm bells ring when you see someone engaged in that starting to themselves accept the killers’ ideas of their own victimhood and forgetting the actual victims.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “But alarm bells ring when you see someone engaged in that starting to themselves accept the killers’ ideas of their own victimhood and forgetting the actual victims, there is a problem.”

    As I’ve stated above, “victims” is scarcely a simple matter in this situation. I’d suggested that it is necessary to seriously examine why this was not a simple matter to many thinking people across the world,and significantly when those themselves critical of Republican violence, such as Sean O’Faolain and Seamus Heaney, whom Paul Bew describes as men who “had refused to accept many nationalist pieties”, had a troubled response to the Hunger Strike it should at the very least raise questions for anyone who is attempting objectivity. Simply accepting the Thatcher definition of straightforward “criminalisation” and seemingly considering the deaths as acceptable (as many of your comments, such as the one I’m answering, suggests) is only possible when one entirely ignores the far from unthinking approach to the 1981 Hunger Strike of such people. This “hard line” of one dimensional reductionism, as such perfunctory dismissal was perceived by much of the world both then and since, suggests a serious lack of any humanity to direct and evident human suffering. As with the executions of 1916, no matter how logical they may be to those supporting them, such pragmatic “hard headedness” and Thatcher’s similar handling of the hunger strikes, were serious miscalculations which gifted a massive propaganda victory to their opponents. No amount of claiming that the sufferers had direct association with terrorism can dilute the effect of callousness for any but committed Unionists, and while it is easy to dismiss Bobby Sands’ amateur poetry, it is much, much harder to ignore the work of poets of the stature of John Montague (“Sands”) and Medbh McGuckian (“The Sands of Saint Cyprien”) whose response to the Hunger Strike gave a compelling voice to what you are attempting to dismiss. For such people any attempt at straightforward “Marlboro Man” black and white moral categorisations of “Terrorist” and “Authority” were clearly eroded beyond there creative sensitivity.

    One of those interesting themes within “A Nation not a Rabble” actually is an exploration of just how easily most of us categorise others into blocks and smooth out any uncomfortable features to generalise them into something which can permit love or hate politically. If you are familiar with Foucault’s “Les mots et les choses”, it might perhaps be useful to consider his analysis of the contingent nature of any categorisation and the need to “excavate” the constructed pattern of thinking which has contributed to it from ones cultural encoding. As Sean O’Faolain says in his “Letter to Brazil”, “History is never neat,” and the Hunger Strike is certainly no exception to the rule. For myself as someone who is unable to endorse the violence of either political camp, any person editing their experience to simple black and white interpretations politically (for either side) from all that complexity which the event clearly had for most people across the world is going to be highly suspect.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’ve felt the same conflict myself at times towards Loyalism, where I can closely relate to the motivations but am appalled by the methods some use. But I worked out when still a teenager that I couldn’t have it both ways and one can’t duck the moral choices; and that universal human values have to trump one’s ethnic loyalty and sympathies. Writers like Heaney came to the same conclusion and I wouldn’t see him as an apologist for the likes of Sands. I worry though that there is a part of nationalist culture, intelligent nationalist culture, which uses the complexities of human motivation and human experience as an excuse for proferring a morally ambivalent take on episodes like the hunger strikes. It’s not that they are going too far into the human level individual experience of the hunger strikes, but not far enough – because they tend to forget the people left behind: the bereaved, the wounded, the dead themselves, or the simply terrified. All the people damaged, trampled on and forgotten by the pious hunger strikers, striking for *their* rights.

    Artistically I am interested in work that explores the mind of the ‘monster’ – Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List is a good example – and of course the artist usually comes to the universal truth that evil exists in what we do and not necessarily all that we are, that the ‘monster’ is a myth. Beria cracked jokes with Stalin, Heydrich appreciated Schubert, Charles Manson knocked out the odd tune. I don’t see people that have committed evil acts as irretrievably evil at all. But the wrongness, the evil if you like, of the deeds is real. For the wrongdoer seeking to escape the clutches of his/her past misdeeds, there is the process of coming to terms with your actions, starting to question them and then renouncing them. I’m not religious but Christianity it seems to me has done a thorough job in mapping out what the path to redemption involves. But the wrong-doer must have some ownership, too, of what they have done.

    The artist does not want to sit in moral judgment of course; but at some level they cannot avoid it. Everything we do, everything we write, has a moral underpinning, whether we acknowledge it or not. All good art has a moral position – not overtly, not worn on its sleeve and not hectoring, but it is there.

    And the artist is not above moral reproach. Often the artist has not thought through the moral implications (as with Steve McQueen in ‘The Hunger’) or has written from a simply morally vacant standpoint (as some hip-hop that glorifies gang violence does). It can still be work with artistic merit – I admired Wu Tang Clan a lot for example for other aspects of their work; I enjoyed the artistry of some scenes in The Hunger.

    I know you want to paint me as some kind of dunderhead for being insistent on the importance of terrorist guilt. But you seem to equate the recognition of complexity and multi-perspective empathy with the impossibility of moral reasoning. That’s a mistaken connection. I know things get complicated, but moral reasoning is still important. I worry you give up too easily, throw your hands up in the air and slump back into a rather easy moral relativist position, in which nothing is really wrong (unless your enemy does it) and no one is in a position to ‘judge’ anyone or anything else. It’s tempting to write the whole of human life off as meaningless mush – and in one sense it is. But it is an inadequate response to human suffering, if we care about such things. Nor can it address the difficult questions of what kind of society we want, what types of behaviour we think are OK, what victimhood is and how we should think about and treat people who commit the worst crimes against their fellow people. To get to these, you can’t duck the moral choices.

    So I make no apology for taking the position I do on the Provisional IRA campaign and on the hunger strikes. At a human level, you don’t want anyone to suffer. But where it’s someone in a leadership position in an organisation mired in such evil, their self-inflicted plight does not so much cry out for sympathy as for bitter reflection on how bad ideas corrupt. The real personal tragedy for Sands was that he apparently died in a state of continuing un-selfawareness. There is a sad poetry to be made of that, perhaps. But he deserves little sympathy.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you MU for a most thoughtful response. We’re still in disagreement, but simply over different areas of grey to my mind. Heaney did not support Republican violence, I know, but he was certainly very, very far from condemning the hunger strikers as some of Danny Morrison’s recollections of their discussion suggests:

    “I know you want to paint me as some kind of dunderhead for being insistent on the importance of terrorist guilt.”

    Not so! I’m appalled by the recourse to violence myself, as we have sometimes discussed, but cannot accept that simply “being the state” offers any moral cover for breaking the law simply in order to be able to compete effectively with “terrorism”. The state’s only justification to my mind is the upholding of law and the consequent protection of its citizens, something which Britain conspicuously failed to do both in 1920/22 and during the more recent troubles. When the state itself becomes in Yeats’ term “the mob that howls at the door” it is its actions which create such porous boundaries with that “terrorism” it claims to oppose, not simply me being somehow relativist.

    But even if one holds any firm moral line the whole issue of any blanket condemnation of each and every participant as simply generalised “terrorists” and nothing else is still seriously problematic. During the last world war the Germans reacted to the atrocity of carpet bombing of civilians by designating the bombing crews as Terrorists. While Britain had failed to ratify agreements during the 1930s which would have designated such actions as war crimes, such actions have since been clearly designated in this way. As Wikipedia puts it “Carpet bombing of cities, towns, villages, or other areas containing a concentration of civilians is considered a war crime as of the 1977 Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.” My own sense of this follows the beliefs people such as Vera Brittain and others (including a member of my own family engaged in the anti-aircraft defence of Belfast) in fully agreeing with this description, and that although Britian was technically “innocent” according to international law at the time, they were committing war crimes in the eyes of any moral person. But I can still recognise the courage and sacrifice of the young men who manned the aircraft while fully recognising the mendacious nature of that policy which sent them to kill civilians and (usually) to their own deaths. It is not necessary to consider all moral positions as so absolute that it is necessary to damn all participants as terrorists or even as dupes pure and simple, and dismiss their courage and sacrifice, or even, as in the case of the Hunger Strikers and the men of bomber command, their own particular victimhood in the situation. One may discriminate between the actions of an organisation, and those forming its policy, and the actions of the “foot soldiers” who enact this. And having morals in such matters does not necessitate the failure of natural human empathy for those suffering under those abstractions which and ideology or state must default to.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t regard crimes by people supposed to be working for the state as any better than anyone else’s. And around the world state forces do a lot of violence on their own people. Some observers have tended to assume the state must have been mainly to blame in N Ireland in the Troubles, but of course things didn’t follow that pattern – and it’s important not to forget what actually happened in the Troubles, where state wrongdoing was a very small proportion of the picture. I haven’t done all the figures but an estimate would be the state was responsible in no more than 5 per cent of Troubles murders. State forces took about 10 per cent of the lives lost in the Troubles but the bulk of those involved legitimate use of force with no hint of the (usually soldiers) exceeding their legal rules of operation (e.g. a lot of deaths were from legally returning fire on paramilitaries when fired upon).

    You rightly observe “the state’s only justification to my mind is the upholding of law and the consequent protection of its citizens” – it is quite a major justification and it’s the whole reason that, in the Troubles, the state was so embroiled in the dirty business of trying to stop the paramilitaries.

    So I don’t seek to whitewash away incidents where soldiers went rogue or exceeded their authority or just plain went out and murdered people, but I would ask for Operation Banner to be evaluated overall in the context of what we were asking the security forces to tackle. I find it hard to believe any state anywhere on Earth would have come out of such a 30 year terror campaign with a lower number of mistakes or a lower death toll, grim though that sounds. It is quite right to pick up on where people went wrong, but if we do so without acknowledging the context of a remarkably positive overall effort, we do both the people involved and the truth a major injustice.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    We will simply have to disagree over this. MU. I’m unable to accept that the state could connive at the deaths of its citizens in order “to protect them”. Or that simply saying this was a “dirty war” could make acceptable in any way those actions outside of the law (and with Kincora, of common decency) simply under the claim that this was the only way to protect its citizens. And while numbers are significant in some things, as ay historian will tell you, they distort or conceal a great deal also, as with the bald figures of the 1920-22 troubles where the balance is seriously tilted in apparently even numbers when the far lower proportion of Catholics in some areas is taken into account. Simply suggesting that the state was responsible for far fewer deaths does not take into consideration many other important factors at work.

    While I hold no truck with Republican violence, this in no way encourages me to even begin to justify similar things when enacted by the state, either a century ago or in our more recent history.

  • Roger

    No to your first two questions.
    Citizens of Macedonia certainly are Macedonian though. That’s their nationality. Their state isn’t called Paeonia. They live in 2016 AD.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Our media is unfortunately extremely binary thinking on these issues.

    I have seen reasons for why some unionists support the EU and why some Irish nationalists have opposed it. It’s more Stars vs Stripes, than Orange vs. Green.

    As far as I’m concerned Europe should be a Strand 4 for both communities, we need more than ever to be reaching out and not limited and not merely imprisoned by two extreme forms of isolationist insularity that neither community actually fully agrees with.

  • Roger

    Alas most people who were alive in the 1940a have one thing in common: They are dead now and don’t vote. Those Macedonian citizens alive and well today have voted and continue to vote to uphold their state’s constitutional name. If they willingly, not through any compulsion, chose a different identity that would be their prerogative. They haven’t done so. What people in historic states did in the 1940s is entirely irrelevant. As is what people in what’s now Macedonia used to be called. It’s 2016 and Macedonia have made their choice like any other state. You don’t need to like their choice. Only to accept it.