“What you should not do is expose Joe Bloggs who might have been buried as a hero but was in fact an informant for the Brits.”

With this attempted distraction in mind, the latest comments by Denis Bradley make even more interesting reading.

Bradley also expressed concern about the fate of thousands of one-time informers if there was “full disclosure” of all sensitive Troubles-related security files.

“What Robin Eames and I found out in our investigations leading to the Consultative Group on the Past report was that at any given time there were at least 800 informers working within the ranks not only of the loyalist paramilitaries but also the IRA. Others have said that figure was closer to 1,000.

“If there was full disclosure of files you would be going around saying that your sons, daughters, friends were all informers. Full disclosure would mean that and our society needs that no more than a hole in the head. Do we want every name brought out there? I don’t think so. Maybe in a thematic sense there can be full disclosure but leaving individual names out of this, yes. It would be far worse than the actual reality.

“What you should not do is expose Joe Bloggs who might have been buried as a hero but was in fact an informant for the Brits. That is what would happen countless times. Republicans and nationalists used to believe that all the informers were on the loyalist side when in fact as we found out in having limited access to security file was it was nearly as big as on the republican side.”

Bradley added that an already traumatised society such as Northern Ireland was being further traumatised by the political disagreements over how to deal with its violent past.

“I honestly don’t know how the politicians and the two governments in London and Dublin are going to get around this mess but it keeps each other at our throats and maintains a low level of pain. It is intensifying the collective PTSD this society is suffering.”

[The ‘price of velvet? – Ed]  Btw, how are those foundations?

Adds Personally I’m in favour of Tim Garton Ash’s previous conclusion.

On balance, I remain convinced that the sooner you can do it the better. “It” should mean a rapid, scrupulous, individually appealable lustration of those in genuinely important positions in public life and, even more vital, some form of public reckoning with the larger issues of the difficult past. The necessary complement to a velvet revolution is something along the lines of a truth commission, which also gives people a sense of historical catharsis – otherwise often lacking in peaceful, negotiated transitions – and draws a clear line between dark past and better future.

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    wise. I think I’ll do that now myself 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, elsewhere you have suggested that your support for Unionism here is not the whole picture of your views, which you suggest are liberal, something I fully understand and can believe fro some of what you say. But much of your polemic here is simply oppositional, an attempt to “do down” republicanism (and the rather more complex issue of “nationalism” which you sometimes conflate with it) rather than presenting a full gestalt of where you actually stand.

    The problem is that one can only respond to what is said in the threads. You demand “respect” as a liberal/socialist, but often post in clear support of views which are regressive and reactionary, with the opt out of supporting freedom of speech.

    You claim you do not see causation, but I’m afraid its clearly there for those who have suffered at the receiving end of Unionist arrogance in the past, as anyone who has not been in some way sheltered from the realities of political life in NI might have rapidly discovered. In your responses you put much emphasis on figures, on broad historical generalisations (which I usually challenge with genuine historical patterns) and on citing sources which usually rely on secondary experience of what they describe. I recognise this as politically motivated polemic each time I encounter it, and find its employment by either political camp an entirely sterile response. Simply repeating the mistakes of a century and demanding a simple Unionist solution to what the Belfast Agreement recognises to be the problems of a very mixed society is to reaffirm the redundant discourse of single interest dominance which has marked failure of NI to effectively govern this entire community at any point in it existence. Culpabilities need to be addressed, and simply arguing Unionism’s case requires sweeping these under the carpet. They need to be faced up to, especially if you credibly wish to call Republican violence to account. “Third way……”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, what “justification”? As I’ve said elsewhere, the issue of violence since Unionism popularised its use after 1910 is the issue of someone else seeing an illegal action rewarded with success, and following the example, just as most people will do, other than those with a pronounced moral compass. This does not “justify”, but it does explain just how dangerous the resort to extreme measures will always be, and just how fragile constitutionalism and law is when someone challenges it, without any consideration of the long term consequences of their actions. The causality of these instances is clear and well attested both at the time (“The Report on the 1916 Easter Rising”, for one thing) and by many historians ever since. My use of the term “encoded” which you’ve taken exception to at times does not in any sense seek to “justify” anything, but to refer to patterns of semantic perceptions developing into habitual ways of seeing things, something which the associative nature of memory itself renders an inevitable process in assimilating social narratives.

    You have yourself deplored the recourse to force by Unionism at times, but at other times justified it as something which brought about a “self-determination” which would certainly not have come about without it, but is this not the self same argument republicanism uses to justify its own recourse to violence? My own concern is for some consistency, some real history, rather than a “pick and mix” approach, with quite subjective historical cut off points to bolster a sense of particularism and uniqueness to events actually rooted in earlier various patterns of action and response.

    The issue of scale you set store by also requires looking at. Do you think that anyone actually will sit down, evaluate the 1920/23 troubles and exactly demand recompense, the gist of what you are seemingly suggesting? No, the aggrieved response for earlier wrongs does not run logically or mathematically, but is a deeply irrational and emotional community response. This is not an excuse, simply a description of how humans act as people, rather than as how one might wish them to act.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    If I “often post in clear support of views which are regressive and reactionary”, can you cite an example? Because I really don’t think I have done that. Unless you’re just tarring any pro-Union views as innately reactionary …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “at other times justified it as something which brought about a “self-determination” which would certainly not have come about without it”
    When have I done that – can you quote anything?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Back to you properly after checking some earlier postings. I clearly remember your affirmation of Unionist “self determination” on threads where you had at other times deplored the Unionist recourse to violence, so this may be simply an unconscious inconsistency on your part.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Twadell? Just one instance, and dressed up as a freedom of speech issue, but as I remember it clearly supportive in sue threads three years back with the “seriously, we must listen to these people” suggestion strongly evident. Again back to you after a google search.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    what about Twadell? I support the general right to parade along traditional routes as long as it’s done respectfully, yes – and I think it’s important to encourage live and let live, and discourage taking offence at the other side’s culture. I would make exceptions for the glorification of terrorism and I would be up for banning any band that projects support for illegal groups – I’ve seen a few and they have no place, in my view. I don’t see that as an illiberal or intolerant line, quite the opposite. There is a balance to be struck though. I would support resident protests against genuine bad behaviour by bands and OO people. I won’t support them if they’re getting up at 6am in order to take offence just to make a sectarian point that they “own the street” – they don’t.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you seem to see some inconsistency between supporting NI self-determination (which all parties now do, including SF) and being against all political violence. Sorry, I really don’t see those as in any way inconsistent. Those views are shared by most people. They are perfectly ordinary and uncontroversial.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A remember a bit of general support during the “Famine Song” issue also. The problem is in questioning any critique of Unionist bad behaviour and suggesting that this is motivated by a general distaste for Unionism (when it is clearly directed against very particular bad behaviour) a general support for Unionist bad behaviour is implied. Let me drum up a few instances……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The reality is, that NI would have been included in Home Rule without the threat of violence, and has developed as the product of successful threat against a constitutionalist arrangement which its very existence discredited. To support a state which actually owed its entire existence to arming up and the later violent suppression of its minority seems to me to be in no way different to those in SF who may now publicly deplore violence, but have only become a significant voice in any part of Irelands politics because of earlier violence. “Self determination” as an abstract theory is uncontroversial, yes, but how it is achieved is the point at issue and you yourself are most vociferous against others who may seek to repeat this successful pattern and demand their own self determination through similar violence since that date. This is what I mean by “inconsistency”.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    please do … I really don’t know what you’re referring to

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you put all the weight on the threat of force element; but surely the carve out for NI was the right thing to do anyway? That is my point. It is quite possible to support a rational drawing of the border without supporting the threat of violence. I get that the threat of violence did play a role in NI getting its carve out; but then the threat of violence and actual use of violence played a role too in the Free State gaining independence. In both cases, we can both deplore the bringing of arms into the argument and support the underlying arguments of both areas of the island for self-determination. I really can’t see the problem with that position.

    Sometimes people, like the civil rights campaign among nationalists in the 60s, have a good cause despite some of the methods being wrong. There is nothing wrong with separating out the violence and saying you think their goals should be granted for their intrinsic merits. For example, I don’t reject the GFA for ‘rewarding violence’, though one party in particular did use violence as a political tactic in the run up to it. The deal was right and fair despite SF’s indefensible behaviour.

    I think those involved in importing weapons in 1912 should have been arrested and jailed. But I also think the NI solution was the fairest one for the island on the table in 1921 and it was right that it went ahead. To stop it and give Ulster over to Dublin on the basis that unionists had weapons would have been a bizarre decision, given nationalists themselves were no less up to their eyes in materiel at that time.

    You also seem to forget that the UVF threatened force but did not use it; you often write as if the episode had been actual unionist violence. And somehow this holding of arms in Ulster caused an otherwise entirely pacific group of nationalists to try an armed rebellion in Dublin, having we are led to believe rejected violence until the UVF put the idea in their heads … hmmm.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    Well as a champion of the “rhetoric of insult” I will take your point. That is something at least you do know a little about. Even though when called out on it, as MU did two days ago on this very thread, you ignore that mirror when it is held up for you. One of the very few posts in the exchange with MU that you avoided responding to.

    On face value there is nothing factually wrong with many of the incidents you select to mention, even though those facts are heavily edited. It is your partial examination of the evidence and analysis that shows extreme bias. For example the McMahon murders in Belfast. A truly reprehensible and shocking sectarian crime.

    It is probable that police officers were involved, but as the historian Eamon Phoenix has written the evidence is circumstantial. There is no evidence whatsoever that the murders were sanctioned by the northern state. You however also fail, as any real historian would not do, to say something, anything, about the general circumstances in the city at that time. The fact that two police officers had been murdered in Belfast hours before the McMahons were killed and therefore that the motive may have been reprisal. Unacceptable certainly, but again it would somewhat demolish the suggestion that alleged police violence occurred in a vacuum.

    It appears that you wish to portray the murders of the McMahons as something of an exception to a generally benign environment. This is not to excuse the murders, nothing can, but it would provide some context and would deprive those who seek to do so of the opportunity to promote the implicit falsehood that the murders occurred in an otherwise settled atmosphere.

    You also choose not to mention the fact that the IRA was very active in the north in the period (the main driver for the foundation of the special police service in the north). Robert Lynch has written of this in his publication ‘The Northern IRA and the Early Years of Partition’.

    Your bias suggests you have taken on the findings of the ‘investigation’ by the Free State Defence Department that in 1924 reported the names of a number of police officers it found guilty of the McMahon crimes – a report based on an investigation in Dublin looking at a crime that had occurred in what was by then a different state.

    You have, belatedly, said something of the intimidation and violence directed at the minority in the Free State. Indeed you cite family connections to victims. How many of the crimes you are personally aware of were investigated by the state? How many went to Mountjoy Prison as a result? How did the state protect its minority in those circumstances?

    I may have become jaded by this exchange but I have a feeling that I will not move you one millimetre off your rock of nationalist righteousness.

  • Hugh Davison

    ‘Sometimes people, like the civil rights campaign among nationalists in the 60s, have a good cause despite some of the methods being wrong.’
    There you go again. The civil rights campaign was not nationalist but cross-community. I take it the ‘wrong’ methods you refer to were those used by the police and specials, and the Paisleyite mobs, to suppress it.

  • grumpy oul man

    Certainly, if you would be good enough to show where you got this from,

    “The working class prod bore the brunt of “housing discrimination”
    I would like to see it in context !

  • john millar

    “I would like to see it in context !


    Percentage of households
    All households Households in local authority dwellings
    Catholic 26.1 versus 30.7
    Other Denominations 65.2 versus 60.8
    Not Known 8.7 versus 8.5
    Total 100.0 100.0
    Source: Northern Ireland Census of Population, 1971

    “The survey included a section on housing conditions, and Professor Rose discovered what was later confirmed by the 1971 census, that is, that Catholics had a disproportionately large share of local authority houses. The advantage to Catholics was very marked in Belfast, which had a unionist council (19% of Catholics were in local authority houses compared with 9% of Protestants), and in areas with nationalist councils (39% of Catholics compared with 15% of Protestants). Elsewhere, Catholics and Protestants got an equal share of local authority houses. Professor Rose’s conclusion was that there was:
    …no evidence of systematic discrimination against Catholics. The greatest bias appears to favour Catholics in areas controlled by Catholic councillors.12

    “ one recent book does describe the difficulties in an open way. This is the autobiography of Maurice Hayes, formerly town clerk in Downpatrick and later permanent secretary in the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Dr. Hayes’ account of the difficulties faced by the nationalist council in Downpatrick are worth repeating.

    Down council attempted a fair allocation of local authority housing in the 1960s and was in Dr. Hayes’ view one of the first councils to introduce a points system. This system favoured larger families and hence Catholics received most houses. To avoid this over-representation the council subsequently introduced two separate lists, one for Catholics and one for Protestants. This in turn had the undesirable consequence that single Protestants were allocated houses while large Catholic families remained on the waiting list. This in turn was viewed as unacceptable and the council reverted to its earlier points system.14 Similar problems may have been responsible for large disproportion in the allocation of council houses in Newry in 1963 where all but 22 of the 765 houses were allocated to Catholics.15”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it was largely among nationalists. I know some unionists were involved and all credit to them for their idealism, I hope I would have lent it guarded support too had I been around. Some of the methods being wrong were things like having members of extremist Republican groups involved for example in stewarding marches – the Republican origins of the campaign (through the Wolfe Tone Societies) were unfortunate but could have been overcome – but to do that, ties should have been firmly cut. There were also some marches that, as NICRA progressed, aroused opposition even within NICRA as certain more politically nationalist parts of the organisation seemed to want to want to use it as a stick to beat Unionists more than actual reform.So it’s not a straightforward one with NICRA. It did some good and its aims were good at least on the surface but at times it was a bull in a china shop.

  • John Collins

    I do not think imperialism has a whole going for it either. Proof thiof this is that over the centuries all the great empires have collapsed and even the EU is now under pressure, with nationalists all
    over Europe recognizing the benefits of rule closer to home.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    I’d agree with you. The question is then what is meant by “closer to home”? Is, for example 300 miles away ‘better’ than 600 miles away?

    Personally I’d prefer something along the lines of an empowered parish council to ‘rule’ on day to day issues. You’d then have real local people involved. The council could be loosely aligned with governance at the macro level for those elements of government that are less about daily lives of people.

    That flexibility would be mirrored on a wider scale too. We live in an increasingly interconnected world. The concept of the ‘nation state’ is stale and meaningless, unless that is you subscribe to the (romantic nonsense) that people born in a particular human-defined geography have some mythical bond that can only be fully lived out if they join together and put in place divisions between’their’ people and ‘the others’.

    Living in the west do I think that the eastern seaboard power base ‘represents’ me? I honestly can’t say that I do. True I have a local man, or two, in the fray but I believe their loyalty lies with their political party.

    I read somewhere about the human scale of things is local, based on how far our ancestors could walk in a day. Once you start going beyond that distance things become abstract. I don’t see what the same rule does not apply to governance.

    The Swiss canton system seems to work well. Now if the Swiss border faded away and cantonisation spread across the continent that would be a good thing. The cantons would not be insular, how could they be? Trade and cooperation would be essential for everyone. They would naturally exist in the future, as they do now (if the rise in nationalism and identity politics across the continent is stemmed) in what is the European political norm, liberal democracy.

  • grumpy oul man
  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Cináed, “Well as a champion of the “rhetoric of insult” I will take your point.” Thank you for the honesty of your admission that you “champion” insult. I’m reasonably used to it, but the point I was making would be that actual argument is required, something you may have accepted with your serious effort above to build an argument. However, I’m still trying to discover what and who you may be arguing against. You seem to be suggesting that I’m presenting a one sided case, but a few times before on other threads I’ve explained that I’m drawing attention to particular instances, in chain of causation, not writing some general history of the north in the twentieth century, something well beyond the range of a posting on Slugger. Alan Parkinson and Tim Wilson’s excellent work might be of some use if you seriously wish to examine this.

    I’m fully on record, should you wish to check, with critiques of Republicanism, of violence in general and especially of Adams. But in this particular instance I’m pointing to the historical weakness of any case currently made for Unionism as somehow a repository of constitutionalist virtue, a category of Unionist response in which MU is simply one of many on the site, although arguably its most able and eloquent exponent.

    Employing broad generalisations and without actual detailed evidence, you are certainly overplaying the tit-for tat nature of the 1920-23 troubles in Belfast. In 1920, certainly at the time of the July shipyard expulsions, the IRA was little serious threat here, and it is of note that their first assassination was (interestingly) supported by two men sent north from Munster. The principal attacks of 1920/21 were carried out by Unionist mobs and while the Specials were instigated to handle the violent degeneration of the north, this violence was primarily a “Protestant” led problem over these first years and notably it was the first intent of Westminster to authorise a mixed force to defend both communities, reflecting the old RIC, to which this force was intended to provide auxiliary assistance.

    I did not suggest that the murders of 1922 were directly organised by Craig and Dawson Bates in person, but that their failure to investigate the allegations of Special Constabulary involvement suggested a distinct central “approval” of such actions which was frequently also suggested by the public utterances of Unionist grandees at this time. That Specials or police were involved in the McMahon killings was evident from the strictness of the curfew, where any “unapproved” presence on the streets would have been noted and apprehended. The Arnon Street rampage, which was not subject of any reprimand, was unquestionably the action of Special Constables. As you quite correctly say, none of this activity may be justified in any way, a sentiment you rather let down by suggesting that they were reprisals to the assassinations being carried out by an IRA which had experienced conspicuous growth by 1922 in reaction to the sectarian killings and burnings of the previous years. But my point was not to suggest that this “authorised” later violence across the century, but that the maintenance of a state controlled body who had directly carried out atrocities without reprimand as a sponsored ” Paramilitary” body to protect Unionist rule was inevitably going to make it far more difficult for any constitutionalist within the Catholic third of the community to trust and co-operate with Unionist rule.

    As a pacifist, I’m not at any point suggesting even a smidgen of approval for any violence from any side here, I simply seek to show through what was a very clear chain of causation where those normal areas of trust which any democratic state requires to debate and function were fatally eroded by what occurred in the north between 1910-23, and that the suggestion that Catholics simply had to co-operate from 1920 onwards is a grossly ahistorical misrepresentation of the situation. With an Ireland riven with a bitterness and mistrust which had grown and developed out of the successful employment of both force and threat to create partition and the encoded memory of this affecting both political camps in the north democracy was simply impossible, as many in the old NI Labour party (my own early “thread” of politics) were tragically forced to admit during the 1960s. In all of this, separatists were very far from blameless, but can be shown by close ttention to historical causation to have been pretty much reactively following the examples set by Unionism’s intransigence during the all important years 1910-23.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “I think those involved in importing weapons in 1912 should have been. But I also think the NI solution was the fairest one for the island on the table in 1921 and it was right that it went ahead.”

    The important question might more accurately be, what would have been the fairest solution before Unionism had destroyed Constitutionalist solutions. The safeguards suggested for the north in any future Dublin parliament during 1914 were far reaching. Their own committee, with full veto, on any legislation affecting the north. Was partition, with its inevitable sectarian overtones clearly established across the nineteenth century, really in any sense “fairer” than the secularist non-confessional Home Rule on offer in 1911-14? All of this depends (like the 1966/69 inceptive “Troubles” date) on where you jump into the history. But I’d still consider 1910 /11 to be far more of a “start” date for consideration of the issue than 1921, when the far more reasonable, liberal options of 1910 had been seriously reduced by the rampant growth of an anti-Constitutionalist culture of force illegality instigated by the beneficiary of partition, Unionism itself.

    Of course those importing weapons in 1914 (1912???) were almost “arrested and jailed” in March 1914. Sir James Ferguson’s “The Curragh Incident” offers something of an insiders analysis of this with his description of the aborted attempt by Churchill to send Sir Nevil Mcready to arrest the UUC’s proposed provisional government over a weekend. Should this have occurred, partition would certainly never have happened. Most history is dependant on such twists, and for a very reasonable analysis of probabilities I’d recommend Alvin Jackson’s essay “What if Home Rule had been enacted in 1912?” in Niall Ferguson’s excellent “Virtual History, Alternatives and Counterfactuals” where Alvin offers a first rate analysis of the issue, something I’d highly recommend while mentioning that it’s one neither of us would entirely agree with.