What Catholics don’t know about Protestants…

David Adams was good enough to post his Talkback piece yesterday in the middle of a thread where, strangely, it seemed to have been completely ignored by his most trenchant critics. It’s worth posting at the top of the blog, since, in many ways, what it claims is easy enough to read in the threads here at Slugger and on the airwaves each weekday between 12noon and 1.30, but is rarely explicitly stated. Namely that everything in Northern Ireland would be okay if Ulster Protestants just admitted they were/are wrong about everything, and Ulster Catholics are right. From Davy Adams

I’ll be speaking about Catholics and Protestants today, so that’s what I’m going to be calling them – none of this politically correct, shorthand stuff. None of this coded language nonsense, about “the nationalist community” and “the unionist community”, when everyone knows precisely who I mean.

Something else, I’ll be talking in general terms – I know fine well that what I have to say doesn’t apply to all Catholics or all Protestants – however, it does apply to enough people on either side to make it a major problem.

If Talk Back is anything to go by, Catholics are forever wondering why Protestants just can’t get with the new programme.

Well, I’ll tell you exactly why that is.

I heard somebody on here the other week talking about “the fear” that exists within the Protestant community. That’s nonsense – there is no fear.

What there is, though, is a deep anger and resentment.

And, no, this anger isn’t about the fact that the DUP is sitting with Sinn Fein in an Executive – deeply distasteful as that was for them, by and large, and except for a few people on the fringe, the Protestant community has come to terms with sharing power with Sinn Fein.

The last assembly election results were proof enough of that.

No, there are two interrelated issues that have Protestants so resentful – and I suspect many Catholics know exactly what they are.

One is this constant rewriting of history and highly selective revisiting of past events that is slowly but surely creating a historical narrative that has Catholics as virtually the only people who suffered during the Troubles.

If Protestants try to raise incidents of mass murder, ethnic cleansing or any of the countless atrocities they were subjected to, they’re accused of living in the past and not being able to accept the new dispensation.

Catholics, on the other hand, seem to be forever raking over the ashes of the Troubles – but, when they do it, well, it’s all to do with a search for justice isn’t it.

In this narrative, Catholics are the innocents and Protestants are always the bad guys.

What Protestants are hearing from Catholics is this: “Of course, it was terrible what happened to some of you and it certainly wasn’t done in our name, but you know you did bring it upon yourselves a wee bit, because you discriminated against us Catholics”.

Well, I wouldn’t try to underplay in the slightest long-ago Unionist Party discrimination in housing allocation and council representation, but let’s be honest here, despite what the Shinners and others have claimed, this place was never anything remotely like a South Africa or a Nazi Germany.

And the truth is, most of the main Civil Rights demands had been met by 1973 – but the wholesale murder of Protestants under all sorts of pretexts, continued for another 20-plus years.

And besides that, just how many Protestant lives was unionist discrimination worth?

The other issue that angers Protestants and something that’s being propagated at every opportunity is the notion that, bar the odd exception that proves the rule, they’re the only people here who are guilty of sectarianism.

Protestants are guilty of sectarianism – but they’re certainly not exclusively guilty of it.

As anybody who was raised in a mixed community or works between the two communities will tell you, it might manifest itself in different, sometimes more subtle ways, but sectarianism is something that blights all of society here.

Catholics seem eager to show Protestants that they forgive them – but only on their own terms.

That is, as long as Protestants accept most of the blame for the Troubles and are willing to be reminded at every turn of all the wrongs they committed, then Catholics are only too happy to forgive them.

Well, this might come as a bit of a surprise, but Protestants don’t want or need that kind of forgiveness. What they do want is a recognition that both sides suffered terribly and that both sides were guilty of inflicting hurt on the other.

Despite what Gerry Adams might claim, the Protestant community has continually held its hands up and admitted its part in the Troubles – which, incidentally, is more than he has ever done – so they feel it isn’t they who need to “get with the programme”.

They feel it’s time that Catholics dropped the condescending attitude, faced up to the truth, acknowledged their share of the blame, and allowed us all to move on – on an equal footing.

Who knows, in those circumstances, Protestants might even accept the idea of a genuine Truth Commission – but only if Gerry Adams is prepared to lead the way, by example.

First broadcast on Talkback, Wednesday, 8th August 2007

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