Fintan O’Toole considers (subs needed) Gerry Adams’ remarks on what he claimed to be the Apartheid like conditions suffered by Northern Irish Catholics before 1969.He begins by laying out the premise:
This could be dismissed as waffle, but it is deadly serious. It has a point. The denial of basic political and social rights to the majority of the South African population was so complete that it forced the African National Congress into an armed struggle. What Gerry Adams wants us to conclude is that the same is true of the situation of Catholics north of the Border. They were left with no choice but to engage in extreme violence and thus the IRA’s campaign was inevitable and justified.
He accepts there were problems:
There was a thick strain of outright bigotry in the unionist ruling class, underpinned by a popular culture of sectarianism. Professional and managerial jobs were filled almost entirely by Protestants. Catholics had the most insecure of footholds on the shipbuilding and engineering industries, and were subject to sporadic bouts of vicious intimidation.
But he goes on to point out that discrimination in South Africa was required by law. Indeed he points out that “the Government of Ireland Act, explicitly prohibited discrimination on religious grounds”.
He goes on to look at other aspects of South African Apartheid:
Were Catholics and Protestants prohibited from having sex with or marrying one another as blacks and whites were in South Africa? No. Twenty-five per cent of marriages in the Catholic diocese of Down and Connor (which includes Belfast) in 1971 were mixed.
Were Catholics denied proper schooling? No. The British taxpayer funded schools controlled by the Catholic church and free second-level schooling was provided for Catholics 20 years before it arrived in the Republic.
Were Catholics prohibited from attending university, as blacks were in South Africa? No. Even in 1959, there were 700 Catholics at Queen’s , and working-class Catholics in Northern Ireland had far better access to third-level colleges than their counterparts in the Republic.
In total, he finds the comparison demeaning to the sufferings of black South Africa:
Putting the suffering of Catholics in Northern Ireland on the same level as that of blacks in South Africa is a hideous insult to the victims of apartheid. But it is also an eloquent expression of a pathological mentality that continues to stymie the peace process.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty