Gregory Campbell on the Battle of the Bogside

Gregory Campbell has never been a man to taylor his message to please an audience: His latest speech on the city side to mark the 40th anniversary of the “Battle of the Bogside” is no different. It is here on the DUP website but I will reproduce it below the fold:Usually in a debate like this there is an issue about the title. I have been to this Centre on two previous occasions, after indicating to the Nationalist / Republican community that I was prepared to tell them why we in the Unionist community feel the way we do and having been rebuffed throughout the 1980’s I eventually received an invite in 1995 to tell it as it is, and I did. For far too long there was lack of clarity, too much ambiguity and uncertainty because of people not being forthright in their explanations, my view is that people can deal with positions provided they know exactly what they are.
In this case what does it mean was it worth it? What was it that happened that we are supposed to evaluate if it was worth what occurred both then and subsequently?

I know what Nationalist and Republican commentators and politicos would like the world to believe. That here was a compact self contained area the Bogside in Londonderry where thousands of Roman Catholics felt so disenfranchised, discriminated against and disadvantaged that as a last resort they had decided to confront and defy the State. The State of course being the so called Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People meant that I was supposedly part of the “State.”

I was sixteen in August 1969, it was my first parade as an Apprentice Boy, I had just joined and was looking forward to the day for some time. I was walking near the end of the parade and as we came through Waterloo Place the first of many stones and bottles rained down on us as we passed. As a non political teenager I didn’t know the background of what this was about even with the build up that had been emerging. But I soon got the message.

From my “place in the sun” in the terrace house at 22 York Street with it’s outside toilet, no hot running water and scullery for a kitchen in the Waterside I had just started work in my position as a shop assistant earning the princely sum of £3 per week in premises in Shipquay Street in the City Centre. It meant that I had a pretty good view of the disadvantaged as they paraded past during the protests. The strange thing was the disadvantaged didn’t seem to be any worse off than me. When the heat really came on after the parade and the news came through that the police were being attacked by the stone throwers and rioters in William Street and Rossville Street I made it my business to see what was going on. I had no political baggage, coming from a non political family none of us holding membership of the Unionist Party or having any other strong political views but the events here for a 1960’s Ulster teenager were more interesting than the tedium that there was in not going to investigate.

When I made my way to William Street seeing Police Officers sitting propped up against the wall many of them exhausted as both the riot and their duty had been going on for probably a day and a half at this stage. I was angry, angry at the rioters and those who seemed intent on creating mayhem and insurrection. As soon as I and a few others arrived I clearly recall a rioter hurling abuse at us as well as missiles. The attacks went on as I walked around the edge of the Bog to see what was going on. It had all the hallmarks of an open ended rebellion against the rule of law. At night I came back, this time to Great James Street to see the Presbyterian Church coming under attack. As I stood among a crowd of Loyalists just outside the Church there was a crowd of Republicans much further up the Street sending burning tyres down the roadway towards us. Over those few days I was witnessing the start of what few of us could have foreseen was a 30 year onslaught of murder. Back then the West Bank as a whole had thousands of Protestant residents. Some of my own extended family lived in Windmill Terrace on the edge of the Bogside, during this time they got the message as well. Our relatives arrived at our home in the Waterside for temporary accommodation after being on the receiving end of petrol thrown on their front door and the threats that the perpetrators would return to finish the job.

All the poetic licence, all the romantic balladry, all the attempts to present what happened then as a struggle for freedom cannot disguise the outcome.
You might prefer to hear some polite cleric or mild mannered historian relate how the Unionist community did not really understand what was going on in the Nationalist psyche. WE UNDERSTOOD WHAT WAS GOING ON. What took place here on these streets 40 years ago and what followed wasn’t the death knell of a Unionist State rather it was the strangulation of any prospect of Londonderry constructing a community where both Protestant and Roman Catholic could share in a brighter future. Whether it is out of a Nationalist/Republican guilt complex or not I cannot be sure but it is only since the almost complete decimation of the Unionist population on the Cityside that we hear of the need for cross community partnership although the present attempt to ram through the name change debacle ONCE AGAIN shows that even the slowest of learners are at the back of the class when the prizes for consensus building are being handed out.

You demanded equal treatment: some of you rioted for it. 40 years later and with some of the most stringent equality legislation in Europe Protestants are less likely to become Housing Officers than Catholics are to become Police Officers. Roman Catholics get an artificially contrived and discriminatory so called 50/50 recruitment policy to the Police while we Protestants are told that the massive under representation in Protestants being recruited to the Housing Executive is difficult to change but is being kept “under review.”
In conclusion, you set out your stall in 1969 and three and a half thousand are dead as a result of the aftermath. I just hope it doesn’t take us another 30 years to undo the damage that was done in the first 30 as we move forward to a better place than the Battle of the Bogside brought us to.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.