ON Sunday, I was in Belfast city centre while the Hunger Strike commemoration parade/anti-collusion rally was happening. While I wasn’t able to hang around for Gerry Adams’ speech, this was the first time I observed the rally at first hand, so I took a few pics and made a few observations.This was the third parade I’ve seen this summer, after the Twelfth and Gay Pride. While unionists might not appreciate it, the similarities between republican and loyal order marches are startlingly similar in many ways. In fact, if you had closed your eyes on Sunday in Wellington Place, you’d be hard pushed to tell if it was a loyalist or republican band passing you by.
Another thing that struck me was how relatively little tension there seemed to be between the participants and the police. This was, after all, a rally to highlight the collaboration between loyalist terrorists and security forces – and there were an awful lot of police along the route. Both sides largely ignored each other, at least as far as I could tell. The only thing I spotted was one of the ‘Eire Nua’ drummers deliberately trying to wind a female cop up by nearly blattering her with his drumsticks, which she just pretended not to notice.
One clear difference between the parade and loyal order marches is that republicans made great use of theatre during their march, for example, a float done up as a dirty protest jail cell and some fellas carrying a coffin, representing another collusion victim. Some participants were dressed as hunger strikers, others as members of the security forces or loyalist terrorists (though how you could tell the difference between that guy and a republican one is anyone’s guess). The replica guns looked very convincing, but fazed neither participants nor cops.
Unlike loyalists, republicans don’t seem as bothered about someone crossing the road during the parade – a good job, as the many tourists seemed clueless about parade etiquette. While some clearly just wanted to get to the shops, other visitors had other priorities, and I watched with amusement as a young French guy wearing an IRA T-shirt kneeled to pose for a photo in front of a line of PSNI officers. Trés bien, sucker.
It’s difficult to understand why so many republicans got upset by loyalists carrying banners celebrating UVF or UDA killers this year. For example, republicans – rightly – highlighted how offensive it was for loyalists to carry banners commemorating Joe Bratty (UDA) and Brian Robinson (UVF). But these were isolated incidents, whereas on Sunday, hundreds of people were carrying images, placards and posters of republican killers. One Dublin band chanted ‘IRA’ as it approached City Hall, prompting my Falls Road companion to remark: “Bloody Mexicans.”
I missed Adams’ speech because I had to be somewhere else and events were running late, and this was disappointing, as I was wondering if he could demand the truth about the Troubles while keeping a straight face. I read many of his comments later, although there wasn’t as much coverage as I had expected – perhaps because the double standard, so painfully laboured by Jim Gibney last week, was so obvious. Oddly, my feelings were largely in line with the nationalist commentator Brian Feeney’s in the Irish News:
[Gerry Adams] told the rally that “we are determined to pursue the truth” about collusion between loyalist death squads and the British state. He called on the British government to acknowledge its role in state violence and collusion.
Worthy sentiments but he is the very worst person to express them since he refuses to tell the truth about his own role in the IRA or even to admit he was a member despite compelling contemporary evidence that he was.
Whatever the reason he would like us to accept for his unexplained prominence in republicanism, the fact remains that he must think people are awful stupid if he believes he can be taken seriously standing on a platform demanding the British tell the truth while keeping decades of his own past secret and unbelievable.
Adams also knows that were the British to reveal all, it would include stacks of shelving containing intelligence and other reports of his IRA activities as well as his meetings and dealings with the British.
The only reason he risks making such a demand is that he knows the British will not reveal their dirty deeds of the past 40 years until we are all dead. Remember, they revealed official attempts to smear Parnell a mere century after his death.
Therefore, Adams can urge them to come clean certain in the knowledge it will not happen in his lifetime.
I’ve no doubt there was collusion and that this was wrong, but I don’t think that it makes other things automatically right…