“the first step is to act with good authority by telling the truth to your own tribe”

Interesting piece in the Sunday Independent from newly appointed senator Eoghan Harris on his appearance at West Belfast Talks Back. He takes issue with his introduction by the BBC’s Martina Purdy but the point to note, I’d suggest, whilst others march for half-truth, is something picked up briefly in Malachi O’Doherty’s audio diary on Sunday Sequence. Namely his challenge to his own tribe for some self-examination.

Forty-one years ago, this weekend, I travelled to Maghera, Co Derry, with Dr Roy Johnston of the Republican movement’s think tank, the Wolfe Tone Society, and Cathal Goulding, chief of staff of the IRA, to attend a secret meeting of assorted academics, communists and IRA leaders, which was held at the fine farm of Kevin Agnew over the weekend of August 14-15 in the golden autumn of 1966.

Although I was not a member of the IRA, Eamon Maille’s book The Provisional IRA correctly records that at the Maghera meeting, I read out the comprehensive plan, drawn up by the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society, for setting up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), which Goulding hoped would both achieve civil rights and lead the Republican movement away from a narrow nationalist agenda.

While that peaceful project was thwarted by Unionist politicians like William Craig, and later by the equally bigoted nationalists like British-born Provo IRA intransigent Sean Mac Stiophain, there is no truth in the People’s Democracy claim that sectarian violence was inevitable. The Provisional IRA willed that worst scenario.

Back in August 1966, however, neither Roy Johnston nor myself dreamed that the noble dream of NICRA was doomed to be diverted into the sterile struggle of the Provisional IRA. Above all, as I told my audience, if I myself could have seen 12 years ahead, I doubt whether I would have continued to support even the civil rights struggle.

Because 12 years later, in Maghera, on February 28 1978, William Gordon, a part-time member of the UDR, together with his 10-year-old daughter Lesley, were blown to bits by a car bomb planted by Francis Hughes, who later died on hunger strike. And while Hughes, as I told the West Belfast meeting, might be one of their local heroes, to me, as a Wolfe Tone republican, he seemed a sectarian murderer.

In spite of this, and in spite of the sectarian mind-set of many Northern nationalists, the dream of Wolfe Tone’s benign Republic of minds and hearts never died in my heart of hearts. And, as I told the audience, far from changing my mind on this core issue, for the past 41 years I have consistently tried to show my tribe the two sides of that Wolfe Tone coin.

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  • The Dubliner

    “The blame isn’t on all sides. Unionists and Nationalists behaved with remarkable honour, dignity and restraint while a small number of self-serving sectarian murder gangs inflicted misery on their society.” – The Dubliner

    “are you sure? what conditions set up the conflict. was it the happy atmosphere of social equality and brotherly love provided the by a ‘protestant parlaiment for a protestant people’”- Fitzy

    Yes, I’m quite sure that a person of free will, sound mind, and understanding the difference between right and wrong, who chooses to murder another person, is both legally and morally responsible for his own actions. Attempting to defer that responsibility onto others, however, is common practice among the guilty. There are clearly defined mitigating circumstances in law that can render a killing to be legally and morally justifiable – suffice to say that such mitigation is, by default, absent from the activities of gangs that are dedicated to the practice of sectarian murder. Nope, I really don’t agree that running around the province shooting and decapitating people while playing pretend revolutionaries meets the defence criteria. Sorry.

    Let’s put this into perspective: the IRA averaged about 300 members at any one time out of a population of about 700,000 nationalists. That makes a whopping great total of .04% who were outrageously and, of course, justifiably provoked into going on a sectarian killing spree. How come the other 99.96% of nationalists weren’t provoked, hmmmm? Did they just have a greater level of human decency than those who joined the ‘hard men’ in the murder gangs or were they all meek quislings who cooperated with their vile British oppressors, eh? If only 1 nationalist in every 2333 joined the murder gangs, there can’t have been much of a spontaneous insurgency arising out of such awful and persistent state oppression of the nationalist community, can there? Even if you total up all of the members of PIRA during the life of its sectarian murder campaign, you won’t get above 1% adjusted. And you’ll find similar infinitesimal fractions on the Unionist side – tiny minorities of organised troublemakers who behaved like marauding bashi bazouks.

    That is why the Unionist and Nationalists are not to be held responsible for the actions of a tiny minority of self-serving psychopaths from their respective communities. And considering that PSF/PIRA tried their best to provoke the whole society into a bloody civil war, the Unionists, particularly, behaved with “remarkable honour, dignity and restraint.” The same can be said for the Nationalists in response to the murder campaign from loyalists.

    “I tend to look at it from a determiinistic perspective…” – Dewi

    I don’t see the murder as either spontaneous or justified. It was the opposite, so I don’t see it as deterministic in the slightest. In fact, the tiny percentage of those who engaged in it proves otherwise. Deterministic in the sense, perhaps, that the romanticism of historic Irish republicanism provided an ideal cover for the social agitation and power-grabbing of amateur Trotskyites.

    “And if the civil rights were all won in 1973, why did the IRA continue.” – DK

    Because they claimed to be fighting for Irish freedom? Silly me, I never guessed it was just about using violence to secure political and social reforms within the United Kingdom. That would classify their murder campaign as fascist and not republican.

  • The Dubliner

    “The latent sectarianism of Unionism should be undisputed. Many nationalists were so used to being on their knees and being glad for what they were given that it probably needed a new generation of young blood to push some of them to stop accepting the overt sectarianism of the Unionist state. I wouldn’t call their position honourable.” – Prince Eoghan

    I’m not denying that some Unionist politicians behaved appallingly at all. Who could defend Paisley and keep a straight face? The man even formed his own paramilitary organisation, not once but twice! However, there is no evidence whatsoever that he was involved in the organised murder of Catholics, so it’s silly to attempt to compare him to the likes of Adams, McGuinness, Kelly, et al – if that was your intent. As I’ve said before: give me a bigot over a murderer any day. What you don’t accept is that sectarianism was on both sides and that sectarianism isn’t the same thing as organised murder, even though the latter arises out of the latter. If PIRA didn’t start its utterly futile murder campaign, I’d hazard a guess that any deaths would have been in double figures only and that the North would have joined our Celtic Tiger by now. As it is, unity is a far distant prospect which, frankly, is unlikely to ever happen now. Adams and his ilk tarnished the republican ideal to the point where it is as dead and buried as The Disappeared. But I fail to see how any of that can be offered in mitigation for what “our own side” did.

    “When you have rabid Loyalists backing up your analysis, that should tell you how far you have gone.” – Prince Eoghan

    Not at all. I always had a soft spot for MR – as do you, really. And besides, I’m just an amatuer who is interested in the North. If others hold similiar views, that’s down to them. I’m not the first person who was disgusted by PSF, either – or to be angry about the harm they did to a country that I’m very patriotic about. I’ve made my mind up about them at this point: I detest them, see no good ever coming from them, hope folks don’t vote for them… and a whole lot of other negative vibes! But, yes, I get your e-drift and I agree with it: time to get over it and stop bashing them. 😉

  • Prince Eoghan

    The point is Dub there is probably not too much that we would disagree on regarding recent events. It is how you have taken this view and used it to go off on a tangent, reassessing a narrative that on many occasions I have found painful, and quite frankly offensive. Bash SF by all means! not much there worth defending.

    >>I always had a soft spot for MR – as do you, really.<