Room for a unionist elephant or two?

When it comes to unionism, there are numerous elephants that follow them into the debate around violence on the political stage. Invoking morality as a counter argument to the deployment of violence in the political arena jars considerably with the history of unionism.

Once ‘Irish’ unionism became a failed political entity (as it didn’t find sufficient electoral support in Ireland), ‘Ulster’ unionism rose on the back of overt and implied threats of violence if a Home Rule Bill was passed (gun-running, drilling, army mutinies etc). As ‘Irish’ unionism had not succeeded and there was no prior democratic (or historical) basis for the partitioned state unionism ultimately acquired, to deny the validity of violence as a means to attaining political ends is to deny the origins of ‘Ulster’ unionism. Without even rehearsing accounts of post-partition history up to 1972 and beyond, several recurring themes render unionist critiques of politically-motivated violence as inordinately hypocritical. Whilst publicly adopting moral positions on violence many unionist politicians saw no contradiction in mixing with those invovled in ‘terrorism’ during parades and in the field, and, on a regular basis, offered character references in court or appeared ambivalent when choosing which violent actions required public condemnation or comment. This is/was an issue that unionism is still unwilling to confront, even today.

A further underlying paradox in the unionist position is a persistent intransigence on the possibility that a united Ireland may come about democractically and that, in that event (however likely or unlikely), they would retain some vague right to violent resistance. Thus whilst holding a moral objection to their opponents deploying violence on the political stage, some unionists would, in the same breath, suggest that aversion to violence is conditional upon them getting their own way (a rough measure of this is to honestly appraise your personal response to the theoretical idea of nationalism attaining an electoral majority).

That’s hardly an argument to persuade the ‘dissident’ republicans onto a solely political stage. As if to illustrate this point, here’s Malachi O’Doherty’s comments from last weekend:

History is letting the Provos off lightly in not plunging them into their own civil war.

Is there not still some ambivalence there?

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  • socaire

    John, you have laid out a reasonable, truthful and factual argument. Be prepared to be ignored, side stepped and vilified.

  • Mick Fealty

    I realise things have gone a little feral socaire since I’ve been spending a little more time in the real world than usual.

    But keep this kind of off topic trolling and you will very quickly find yourself unable to comment.

  • The Word

    This is the kind of self-justifying argument of masculine Ireland.

    The trouble is that the Unionists have a good reason for fearing about being left with you in a united Ireland, that is your present ascendency over the more meaningful Ireland that seeks accomodation and agreement rather than assertion of the same rights that they’re asserting.

    So you can’t justify your position without justifying theirs.

    Ultimately they can’t trust your advances without fearing consequences.

    So you have stalemate, which can be resolved the good way or the other way.

    I would assert that there is a way. By building trust, not sending messages with the corpses of policemen.

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    John — a few points:

    Many would say that NI should never have existed. That it was founded on threats of violence and irrational fears.

    Unionists feared that Home Rule would lead to a state effectively governed by the RC Church. On this they were proved correct.
    They feared that their culture and identity would be eroded. Given the steady decline in 26 county protestant numbers they weren’t far off the mark here either.

    Add to this the corrupt politics, the streaming emigration and the more recent boom and spectacular bust, and it’s hard to argue that staying out of the republic was actually the smart thing to do.

    The difference however between loyalist and republican paramilitaries is that one group are overwhelmingly percieved in ‘their’ community as an embaressment, a bunch of sectarian killers who achieved absolutely nothing and are given a derisory electoral mandate, while the other group are lauded as heroes by their political wing, who command a major chunk of the popular vote.

    The truth is that both sides achieved nothing, carried out a long series of sadistic and pointless murders and should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions.

    Anyone who seriously thinks that a border poll going against Unionism would result in anything more than a stampede for the Larne ferry is deluded. Such an event is decades away if at all.

    I can’t pretend to know the minds of dissident republicans but I’d be very surprised if some vague far distant threat of Unionist violence gives them even a minutes thought, much less a reason for staying out of the political arena.

  • Pete Baker

    John

    You do realise that Malachi’s article was linked on Slugger at the time…

    “Is there not still some ambivalence there?”

    Probably… But not, necessarily, where you might suggest…

  • roadnottaken

    Gerry Lvs Castro

    I think you’ve missed the point of John’s argument?
    It’s not so much about the support that paramilitaries received from their communities. Rather, that Unionism has, in the midst of arguments of IRA decommissioning and dissident activity, simply ignored it’s own repeated entry into the violent arena of it’s own brand of nationalism.
    John’s article is not a critique of Loyalist activity, instead it draws attention to the moral deficiency and hypocrisy in the arguments presented by modern and historical Unionist leaders.

  • Mac

    “I can’t pretend to know the minds of dissident republicans but I’d be very surprised if some vague far distant threat of Unionist violence gives them even a minutes thought, much less a reason for staying out of the political arena.”

    I would imagine that they stay out of the ‘democratic’ arena, because the inception of NI has taught them one valuable lesson, violence and the threat of violence count for much more than something as ackward as the wishes of the majority.
    They don’t have to imagine a future, like you suggest Unionists did to threaten civil war and cause partition, they simply have to view the past.

    It’s easy to be a ‘democrat’ once violence and threats of violence give you the type of mandate you want rather than the one that actually exists.
    It is however, a little more difficult to convince anyone other than yourself there’s no hypocrisy in your new found fervour for upholding the wishes of the majority.

    “Anyone who seriously thinks that a border poll going against Unionism would result in anything more than a stampede for the Larne ferry is deluded.”

    I do recall Gregory Campbell in a TV interview some years back state he would grab a gun and join his fellow protestants on the street when it happened.

  • John Ó Néill

    Pete – I did but I didn’t want to sully your good name by including it. I’ve been thinking about that the line that I quoted and I still think it stands out in a piece supposedly criticising violence – there is more than a studied hint that violence is bad and then maybe some is useful or convenient.

    Gerry Lvs castro – if you read the piece again – the embarassment you talk of was seasonal (and your reaction is to justify unionist violence, or the threat of, which is kind of pointing up the problem).

  • Driftwood

    Thus whilst holding a moral objection to their opponents deploying violence on the political stage, some unionists would, in the same breath, suggest that aversion to violence is conditional upon them getting their own way (a rough measure of this is to honestly appraise your personal response to the theoretical idea of nationalism attaining an electoral majority).

    Nope, not an option.
    The ‘common travel area’ means all of ‘the British Isles’ are free to travel anyway. And airport competition shows the absurdity of ‘nation states’. We’re all europeans now. Belfast, Dublin or Glasgow for your flight to Val D’ Isere, all the same to Justin and Tamara, with their delightful kids Mercedes and Chardonnay.
    Some people may feel excluded from the new NI, but not it’s politicians, that’s fer sure

  • Taoiseach

    GerrylsCastro – bit ridiculous to say unionists were proved correct re Rome rule and position of protestants. By excluding themselves from the state they effectively created an almost totally Catholic state. Who knows what the position of protestants would have been under Home Rule with an ongoing British connection maintained.

  • Alias

    That’s a clever twist of emphasis, John. It seems obvious that if republicans are being asked to disown the use of violence for political ends – past and present – in a bid to discourage those who will still use it for political ends, then unionism should disown the use of violence for political ends – past and present – too.

    The key difference between unionist violence and republican violence in is that unionist violence achieved its aims (that a part of the island of Ireland should remain as a part of the UK with a quasi right to self-determination), whereas republican violence failed to achieve its aim.

    Without the use of violence and the threat of it, that part of the island of Ireland would not have remained as a part of the UK. It should be remembered that unionist terror groups were ‘winning’ in the run up to the ceasefire, with more of NI’s citizens being murdered by them than were murdered by the so-called republican terror groups.

    The clear lesson is that the use of violence, post-conflict, is only to be condemned if it is used by the losing side. The side that successfully uses violence has no obligation to give up what it has gained by its use or to pointlessly argue against the evidence that nothing is gained by its use.

    I don’t think there is a match between the use of violence in 1916 and in 1969. It is morally, legally and politically acceptable to use violence for political aims – such as asserting the right to national self-determination or repelling an occupier – if it is used in the absence of alternative non-violent means. To that end, the old IRA asserted the right to national self-determination but were bound by that principle once they had acheived it, whereas the Provos and ilk acted against the the principle to national self-determination and could not by defualt have been acting to obtain a right that had already been obtained by the Irish nation.

    Likewise, the British nation already had its nation-state so the British nation in Ireland had no right to use violence in Ireland to acheive a right that had already been granted to that nation. Were the British nation to lose that right within Ireland, their nation would not have lost it since Great Britian would have continued to exist. Ergo, unionist violence was always illegitimate.

  • Alias

    “Were the British nation to lose that right within Ireland, their nation would not have lost it since Great Britian would have continued to exist.”

    To point out, if needs must, that the right to self-determination is a collective right, and never an individual right.

  • RedTurtle

    The context is key. Punching someone in the face because you don’t like their dress sense is different from punching someone in the face because they are trying to rape you.

    Also this sacrosanct border precedent thing or the whole an island = a natural nation thing is not really a matter most Irish nationalists adhere to in the abstract. I don’t see Sinn Fein organising marches to protest that Kosovo is ancient Serbian soil and the Serbs where there first, or to protest the recent “artificial” creation of South Sudan. Nor do I see them campaigning for New Zealand to be split into two countries and Japan four. Nor do I see them calling into question either the nationhood of the USA or the nationhood of Canada when they were defined entirely by disloyalty or loyalty to Britain and the borders arrived at merely by being that territory which either the rebels or the loyalists could defend.

    The justice of the unionists’ case is that Dublin rule was to be forced onto them, and they never made a contract with any all-Ireland state of which they could have broken that contract, and as with the founding fathers of the US a nation IS a social contract. The social contract comes first, the land borders come later. Hence they were in their own minds the woman punching the rapist in the face when fighting the IRA. This moral position confirmed and affirmed by the fact that the IRA were fighting for a united Ireland, not a fairer repartition. The IRA were fighting to rule over people who didn’t want their rule, on the basis of dead history and dead geography. The equivalent of a rapist with a penchant for genealogy who sets out to rape your daughter on the basis that she deserves it because your great grandfather murdered his great grandfather for insurance money.

    In a sense though you are right in that unionists are rarely pacifists.

  • Kevin Barry

    Red Turtle, I await someone expanding on and using your awful and poorly thought out woman being raped analogy to justify the PIRA’s campaign from 1969 on.

    This thread is going to get a huge amount of whataboutery and trolling very soon.

  • RedTurtle

    @roadnottaken

    I think you’ve missed the point of John’s argument?
    It’s not so much about the support that paramilitaries received from their communities. Rather, that Unionism has, in the midst of arguments of IRA decommissioning and dissident activity, simply ignored it’s own repeated entry into the violent arena of it’s own brand of nationalism.
    John’s article is not a critique of Loyalist activity, instead it draws attention to the moral deficiency and hypocrisy in the arguments presented by modern and historical Unionist leaders.

    But it’s not the same at all.

    Most unionists are not pacifists. If during the seventies some nutty Taoiseach had decided to do a Galtieri, unionists would have cheered as RAF bombers hit Irish Defence Force armoured vehicles. So no, unionists are not the Quakers or the Amish (except those who are but lets not complicate matters). On the other hand though, most unionists never supported the random Catholic killing of the UDA or the UVF. They really genuinely didn’t. So requiring unionists to atone for the UVF is like demanding that Richard Dawkins not criticise Islamic schools without constantly apologising for the EDL.

    This is a very different thing than demanding that the IRA disarm before Sinn Fein be let into government, for example.

  • Alias

    “The justice of the unionists’ case is that Dublin rule was to be forced onto them, and they never made a contract with any all-Ireland state of which they could have broken that contract, and as with the founding fathers of the US a nation IS a social contract.”

    That’s just pulling self-serving ‘principles’ out of a hat. Personally, I’ve always liked the concept of the social contract (particularly Locke’s version of it) but that is a matter of individual conscience since it isn’t a matter of international law as set down by the UN. The social contract would justify the creation of the Irish state and the rejection of British rule but doesn’t lend any legitimacy to unionist actions in the early part of the last century or to its actions since.

    What they require is some legal device to show that they, as part of the British nation, are entitled to a homeland that is additional to the homeland already accorded to the British nation. Since no nation is entitled to two homelands under international law they might find that a tad difficult. But some of them are working around that by engineering the ‘Ulster-Scots’ nation, complete with its own language (a ridiculous state-funded dialect that any English speaker with a lisp can speak fluently without the need for study) and a seperatist culture and identity. It is hoped that this invented nation can be used to argue that it is a nation with a distinct culture that is entitled to a nation-state should the British nation in NI ever be out-voted in a constituional poll.

    Incidentally, Ireland is closest to the ideas of the social contract out of all of the states in Europe. It is the only state that invests sovereignty in its people and not in the institutions of the state. Since the people own their sovereignty, the institutions of the state cannot give their sovereignty away to foreign power without their consent. That is why we get to vote on referendums on the issue and you do not. Adittedly, while we own our sovereignty and you do not – contrary to the US Founding Fathers’ social contract -, we do tend to have the pififul habit of voting to give it away to foreign powers when instructed to do so by the state. Sadly, we’re not as smart as our founding father (De Valera) was.

  • RedTurtle

    @Alias

    “The justice of the unionists’ case is that Dublin rule was to be forced onto them, and they never made a contract with any all-Ireland state of which they could have broken that contract, and as with the founding fathers of the US a nation IS a social contract.”

    “That’s just pulling self-serving ‘principles’ out of a hat. Personally, I’ve always liked the concept of the social contract (particularly Locke’s version of it) but that is a matter of individual conscience since it isn’t a matter of international law as set down by the UN.”

    In 1920 the UN didn’t exist. For so long as the UN has existed it has supported Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom. I don’t consider the UN my lord and master but if you do then I’m not sure what point you’re making.

    “The social contract would justify the creation of the Irish state and the rejection of British rule but doesn’t lend any legitimacy to unionist actions in the early part of the last century or to its actions since.”

    This is obviously an ad hominem to distract, but I’ll face it head on. Germany invaded most of Europe, executed the disabled and the mentally ill and murdered six million Jews in an attempt at total genocide of the Jewish people. Japan invaded China, treated civilians as dummies for bayonet practice and performed live chemical and biological warfare experiments on allied prisoners of war. Northern Ireland abandoned an initial policy of positive discrimination for the RUC in favour of Catholics, gerrymandered three or arguably four local council districts and delayed the abolition of ratepayer franchise on the basis of “he who pays the piper calls the tune” but with a sneaking intention on the part of some that unionists would have more representation. Yet nobody is questioning Germany or Japan’s right to exist, while you are questioning Northern Ireland’s right to exist. Be honest about what you are really about please. You are not about changing borders because of 40 year old civil rights claims. One does not argue that Australia should annex Papua New Guinea because Australia gave women the vote first.

    What they require is some legal device to show that they, as part of the British nation, are entitled to a homeland that is additional to the homeland already accorded to the British nation. Since no nation is entitled to two homelands under international law they might find that a tad difficult. But some of them are working around that by engineering the ‘Ulster-Scots’ nation, complete with its own language (a ridiculous state-funded dialect that any English speaker with a lisp can speak fluently without the need for study) and a seperatist culture and identity. It is hoped that this invented nation can be used to argue that it is a nation with a distinct culture that is entitled to a nation-state should the British nation in NI ever be out-voted in a constitutional poll.

    You don’t get this nation business do you? It’s about consent. It doesn’t make a bit of difference if Canada wants to call it’s tongue and non-USian spelling conventions a language or not in terms of whether it should be independent of the USA. It doesn’t make a pick of difference if the Macedonian national dress looks just like that of Greece. It’s about consent. It’s based on a contract. The same as a limited company or a marriage.

  • Alanbrooke

    Irish people in trying have their cake and eat it shock.

    Wow imagine that, faults on both sides, who’d have thought it ?

  • Alanbrooke

    Alias

    “That’s just pulling self-serving ‘principles’ out of a hat”

    LOL

    isn’t that what Irish politics is all about ?

  • Kadfoomsa

    Would they fight?

    Not sure, not many denials here.

    But surely the unionist middle classes would be concerned at the ecomonic cost?

    I have no doubt however that they would go for repartition in the event of a lost border poll, violence could well be part of that game plan.

  • Cynic2

    “Who knows what the position of protestants would have been under Home Rule with an ongoing British connection maintained.”

    … well the position of the 20%-25% who were in the Republic at its formation sort of gives us a clue.

    Add to that:

    * the dominance of a political party founded on the racist ideal of being the inheritors of Ireland a mythical Irish Celtic nation

    * the vetting of all laws by the Archbishop of Dublin before they were even passed to the Dail

    * the ideal of ‘a Catholic state for a Catholic people’

    and you get the idea.

    Ireland in the 20’s to 50’s – just like many other in Europe – was a dark, narrow-minded, racist place where other beliefs or views or people just weren’t welcome. Thank God most of that is now far behind it, but difference (ie not Catholic) just want welcome

  • John Ó Néill

    RedTurtle
    @ 12.49 am “The justice of the unionists’ case is that Dublin rule was to be forced onto them, and they never made a contract with any all-Ireland state…”
    @ 4:46 am ” It’s about consent.”

    Northern nationalists didn’t make a contract with a partitioned state, so, at what level do we keep reducing this down to, individual electoral wards where violent dissent is permissible due to historical contingency? The issue isn’t consent – the issue has been around acceptable mechanisms for dealing with a lack of consent.

    ps – tone down the rape/genocide analogies, they aren’t appropriate or helpful.

  • armoy observer

    I think it is necessary for nationalists/republicans [especially those who indulge in farcical revisionism] when wanting to have a clearer understanding of ulster unionism, to consider that the state of Northern Ireland was born into a climate of fear for both nationalists and unionists.

    Nationalist fears are well documented and the new state did fail in their duty to these citizens in some cases. However, unionism was also deeply fearful in this new 6-county state –

    1. The IRA were a threat along the border
    2. The new Free state govt was a hostile neighbour
    3. The British govt had no faith in, or cared if, the new Northern Ireland surviving as a state

    Unionism struggled to cope with all this. It has served to institutionalise itself in the psyche of unionism – fear and distrust.

    To understand and accept these facts is to have a more rounded view of ulster unionism and it’s complex rationale.

  • Taoiseach

    Cynic2 – I think you’ll find the protestant population in the Free State in 1922 was about 7%. I think you missed my point – the things you mentioned, the dominance of FF, role of the Catholic Church etc – those things were only possible because a million protestants were missing from the State. What would the make up of the Dail have been like in 20s and 30s had they been there? What coalitions would have been formed and developed? What sort of constitution would there have been with a million protestants voting?

  • “Is there not still some ambivalence there?”

    John, AFAIK Malachi is referring back to the struggle between the Regulars and the Irregulars following the formation of the ‘Free State’ when Ulster Unionists were left on the sidelines. The potential civil war between Ulster Volunteers and Irish Volunteers was ‘interrupted’ by the onset of the ‘Great War’ in 1914.

    If you’d like to get some background understanding of the growth of Ulster Unionism in the 19th century I’d recommend Gordon Lucy’s “The Great Convention (of 1892)”. The appendices include short chapters on ‘Southern Unionism’ and ‘Passive and Armed Resistance’.

    Here’s a short snippet from 1841:

    “At the gangplank O’Connell attempted polite conversation with an old fisherman, saying ‘You have very pretty girls here’. The old man replied: ‘Yes, but none of them are Repealers.'”

  • What is the point being made in this post? The author doth project too much?

  • John O’Neill. Unionists are shameless in their claims about being democratic, as the presdent campaign and Robinson’s justification for playing the FM card, is showing. Jim, Allister goes on with his broken record about democratic deficit in the current set up, implying there was ever democracy in the six counties. Terrorism is defined by politicians as ‘using violence and murder to achieve a political end’ Well in that case the original invasion and occupation of Ireland was itself terrorism, but unionists insist on ignoring THAT elephant in the room.,

  • between the bridges

    ‘they would retain some vague right to violent resistance’…. i would like the modern republican’s view on this…in the glorious reunited fc will the oppressed minority be justified in shooting postmen because they drive a green van?

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    ‘I do recall Gregory Campbell in a TV interview some years back state he would grab a gun and join his fellow protestants on the street when it happened.’

    To what end? Gregory and his party signed up to the GFA. If a majority of the NI electorate vote for a UI, he has the choice to stay and adapt or leave from a port of his choosing.
    ‘Grabbing a gun’ and joining ‘others on the streets’ would be to achieve what? Some kind of perverse martyrdom? Some kind of two day micro-state? It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Gregory was talking out of his arse.

    As for Unionist violence, the contention that few Unionists are pacifists is largely self evident, otherwise NI would no longer exist. For at least a third of it’s history, NI has been a state under sustained armed attack, whether from IRA campaigns in the 50s or the 25 year provo campaign. Barring the state’s inception through largely implied violence, none of the armed actions from either side succeeded.
    If there ever was any clear strategy for loyalist paramilitarism, it was a complete failure. The roman catholic population grew steadily, the provo campaign was not halted and the unionist version of Stormont was never reinstated. There was never any popular support for the loyalist murder gangs. The sole department where they might have been of some use — ‘taking out’ PIRA members was likewise a dismal failure. According to the figures, loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for all of 13 republican paramilitary deaths.

    Yes some Unionist leaders unwisely chose to have contact with paramilitaries — the 1974 UWC strike and McCrea’s infamous audience with Billy Wright immediately spring to mind. They don’t however compare with the huge overlap of PIRA and SF, many of whom are former ‘combatants’ or with the constant glorification of the provo campaign by a party aspiring to some form of high moral stance.

    ”the dominance of FF, role of the Catholic Church etc – those things were only possible because a million protestants were missing from the State. What would the make up of the Dail have been like in 20s and 30s had they been there? What coalitions would have been formed and developed? What sort of constitution would there have been with a million protestants voting?”

    Assuming those million protestants had all stayed, they would have made up perhaps 20% of the Irish state. Enough to be a temporary nuisance but certainly not enough to block the overwhelming Catholicism of the state.

    We are where we are. All the mainstream parties have signed up to indefinite partition. SF are in the bizarre position of condemning violent republicans for doing exactly what the provos did in an almost identical political landscape. They’re compounding that anomaly by glorifying those who did in the 70s, 80s and 90s what the dissidents are doing in 2011.
    Provo violence can no more be justified than Loyalist violence. Or does anyone here think it can?

  • Big Maggie

    Gerry Lvs castro,

    Excellent analysis. Hard, if not impossible, to fault.

  • Dewi

    “All the mainstream parties have signed up to indefinite partition”

    No, without the referendum clause no nationalists would have signed up I doubt.

  • Taoiseach

    Well you could call a million people a temporary nuisance – but remember, the 1937 Constitution was passed by about 160,000 votes (with 130,000 spoilt votes). Those million people would have had a decent say in things, particularly under PR. But my original point anyway was that partitition lead to those things – created a Catholic and a Protestant State which confirmed the worst prejudices of the subsequent minorities. Who knows?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I agree with Gerry Lvs Castro, put it very well.

    John, the attempt to make a case for some kind of equivalence between unionist and nationalist use of violence doesn’t wash.

    Firstly, the electoral triumph of a Loyalist terrorist movement in the manner of the Republican movement’s is inconceivable.

    Secondly, support among the unionist populace for the police and security forces cannot simply be interpreted as the equivalent of supporting terrorism because:
    (1) who was going to police the place against terrorism? Someone had to do it and it was always going to be the state and it was always going to be messy, not to excuse deliberate criminality that did happen by rogue officers or those who snapped under pressure. To pretend otherwise is to expect a country to tolerate terror and respond with a rap across the knuckles – where in the world has that happened? Supporting the security forces in these circumstances was wholly reasonable for people to do.
    (2) as for the criminal actions that can be laid at the door of the security forces during the Troubles, supporting those security forces did not mean the public supported those actions. People wanted them to win fairly – or as fairly as possible when dealing with terrorists.
    (3) the criminal actions of the police and security forces were not of the same nature or scale as that of the terrorists. 10 per cent of Troubles deaths, for example, as opposed to the 60 per cent by Republicans.

    On the historical stuff, yes unionism used the threat of force in the Home Rule Crisis, as did nationalism – indeed nationalism went further in carrying out those threats – for many years before it. As I’ve said on other posts, that is regrettable and the unionist case was poorly argued on the whole through that period. There were then violent threats to the NI state from its inception, which were wrong in both motivation (we all now accept the legitimacy of the border, since the GFA, even Sinn Fein) and in how they were carried out. The state was more than robust in its own defence and this had unfortunate long-term consequences for its attachment to bodies like the B Specials. But the idea that Republican political violence is somehow legitimated by the fact that the state tries to stop them doing it is frankly ridiculous.

    As O’Docherty says, Republicans got off very lightly from the Troubles. They should count themselves lucky, rather than seeking to drag peaceful and democratic people into their moral mire purely because we oppose them. I speak for the vast majority of ordinary unionists here, not the minority of idiots who supported or flirted with Loyalism.

  • John Ó Néill

    MU @ some kind of equivalence

    If you look at this thread and the previous one, there is no attempt to measure off one against the other or provide anyone the fig leaf of supposed legitimacy. The overall point is that many players on the stage have deployed violence as a tactic in political engagement and that, if people are serious about how to bring any *dissidents* into the process, the fact that both side have done so has to be acknowledged. Trying to qualify the use of violence by either side undermines the argument that only electoral democratic means are valid.

  • Munsterview

    “…..The truth is that both sides achieved nothing, carried out a long series of sadistic and pointless murders and should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions…..”

    To broaden the thread from the thrust of John’s contention but yet staying totally relevant : there cannot be an examination of ‘violence’ in the recent conflict without placing this ‘violence’ in the context of British/Irish relations and in particular the historically continuing British establishment attitude to total Irish independence.

    The Unionist have no shortage of spokespersons to put their case, here in slugger they range from the totally erudite and polished literary polemics of Turgon to the more instinctive emotional reactions of defending the indefensible as with that 12th, sectarian face panting exercise. However as important as the Unionist may consider themselves to be, they were but a sideshow !

    ‘Unionism’ to the British establishment was always a means of protecting and achieving certain political objectives in Ireland. This naked opportunism can be clearly seen in the ‘Act Of Union’ itself where the establishment had to make repeated attempts to have the Union voted through against the wishes of the majority of ‘protestant Ireland’. Every time the British failed they just created a few more ‘Peers Of The Realm’ bought, paid for and locked behind the Government until such time as they had the numbers to ‘pass the Union’.

    This episode stands not only as one of the most corrupt acts in the history of these Islands; it must also be up there as one of the most cynical and corrupt exercises of political power in Europe during the last millennia. Even protestant Ireland still acknowledged this, in that to current times day the nomenclature of ‘Union Peer’ still carry a baggage of shame for the descendants of these political creatures.

    In examining the ‘acts of violence’ connected with Ireland, the British establishment have been very good at propagating the public fiction of ‘one side as bad as the other’ with the unfortunate British ‘peace keeper’ soldier standing between these two ‘extremist’ forces. To examine Unionist related political violence in isolation is to buy into this fiction.

    I have continually pointed out here that anyone can google Insurgency, Counter Insurgency, Low Intensity Wars, Small Wars Journal etc for information as to what Leading members of the British Officer Class, many who would later become part of the ruling political class, said of their aims and objectives while serving in Northern Ireland.

    These people concerned with the mechanics of applied warfare as a Counter Insurgency science have made no secret of their methodologies behind closed doors when lecturing to the their own ‘security establishment’ at international conferences. Indeed I have not only regularly provided written references to some of these conferences in various postings over the last two years to illustrate my arguments in this respect, I have even provided audio references where leading militarists like General Mike Jackstone could be heard speak for themselves on these Counter Insurgency matters in Northern Ireland..

    It is pointless, it is even a distraction to examine ‘Unionist violence’ out of context. Examined in context and as part of the total situation a far different picture emerges.

    Unionist violence whether inflicted on the Nationalist community by the ‘good guys’ like Tom Elliot in a uniform operating in a regular armed force or by the ‘bad guys’ Shankhill Butchers acting under directions of unseen, unaccountable directors of terrorism in the true sense of the word, is not ‘Unionist Violence’ per se, it all was planned and implemented inside the same Whitehall matrix. Unionist political sympathytisers while the perpetrators are but the cats paw! While elements like the UDR and the Shankhill Butchers inflicted this violence on the ground, the policy and control ran all the way back, as it always have done to the polished tables in Whitehall.

    I would respectfully suggest that the biggest elephant in the room is not ‘Unionist Violence’ per se as this is dealing with the effect rather than the cause, it is British Establishment political violence and the mindsets that gave us the Bloody Sunday killings and the Dublin and Monagan bombings.

    When these mass killings are put in the context of what happened in Kenya, Malaya and other dirty last ditch efforts by the British in former Colonial countries to attempt to void or stymie freedom struggles in these same countries, then they are seen to be part of a very farmilar pattern indeed.

    I can well understand much of this passing above the heads of the ‘useful idiot’ element of Unionism but other elements of Unionism including some articulate, literate contributers to slugger are as aware of the real politic of the British Establishment as I am. However these people see themselves intellectually, emotionally and otherwise as part of this same British Establishment and support its actions and excesses such as the Bloody Sunday massacre and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings without qualification.

    Of course such people cannot directly advocate of defend such practices. However what they can do, is by concentrating on aspects of the Irish Political violence and of course the participants in the recent Insurgency, they can keep the spotlight off the Counter Insurgency warfare and the real instigators and perpetrators of most of the conflict violence.

    Well written or elegantly these polemic arguments may be presented, those who know better but yet deliberately concentrate on the effects of political violence rather than the root cause are guilty of not alone intellectual dishonesty, they are also guilty of rank hyprocicy.

    High moral ground indeed, they are in a foul ethical swamp that can only receive the damming inditement of enlighten history and what is more they themselves know this for a fact!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Mainland Ulsterman

    “Firstly, the electoral triumph of a Loyalist terrorist movement in the manner of the Republican movement’s is inconceivable.”

    Firstly, it’s not only conceivable, it actually happened. I’ll return to that point further down, but for argument’s sake I’ll pretend it is, as you say, “inconceivable”. If it is, it’s for a simple reason: unionism was the pro-state side in the conflict.

    For decades the ranks of the B Specials, UDR, RUC, British Army etc were swollen with (mostly) young Protestant, unionist men who wanted to fight the bad guys on behalf of their people. These people are today honoured within their community for their service. Given such a fantastic range of options, of course it was only the most easily-disowned sections of society that joined paramilitary groups. Why join the UDA when you can join the UDR and hound Catholics to your heart’s content, while remaining completely respectable and getting paid for it?

    Respectable unionists always supported violence against the nationalist community, via the forces of the state, while describing this violence as “supporting law and order” or somesuch. The hypocrisy of this rhetoric was obvious to the nationalist community but the rhetoric was never intended for that community. It was intended to reassure unionists that their violence was righteous and even now (despite revelations about how the loyalist paramilitary groups were basically franchises of the security forces, deniable only to those keen to accept such denials,) we see how effective that rhetoric was.

    Your post boils down to the Hobbesian principle that the state has a moral right to use violence to achieve its own ends, whatever those ends might be, and that in any dispute the pro-state side has a moral justification from which the anti-state side, by definition, is precluded. You insist there can be no moral equivalence between pro-state and anti-state actors. I say: Why not?

    If you’re serious about this, the question you have to address is, what would the average unionist, concerned about his community and its security, have done had there not been the option of joining legitimate state forces?

    The answer is obvious: they would have joined whatever organisation was there to be joined. Unionism itself was founded as an anti-state reaction to the success of a reform movement (Home Rule) to which Ulster’s Protestants were opposed. When they could no longer successfully resist the state peacefully and legally, they did so militarily and illegally. And the young, Protestant, unionist men flocked to the UVF, just as their grandchildren flocked to the RUC etc.

    And so, returning to my first point: you say “the electoral triumph of a Loyalist terrorist movement is inconceivable.” But quite obviously, the Ulster Unionist Party was just such a party, and it ruled the unionist roost for more than a century precisely because of its seminal role in the violent origins of the state.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    GLC

    “Provo violence can no more be justified than Loyalist violence. Or does anyone here think it can?”

    I don’t think it can, but nor do I think it’s necessarily illogical to say that what was justified in the 1980s is not justifiable today. I don’t think that Bomber Command’s incendiary campaign against German cities was justified, but I can accept there is a logic to the argument that firebombing Dresden in 1945 was justified, but firebombing Dresden in 1946 would not have been.

  • Kadfoomsa

    Historical debates are fine but surely ascertaining the unionist reaction to a defeat in a border poll, if such a thing would ever or could ever happen, is much more pertainent i’d say.

  • Brian Walker

    John,Yours is one reading of the history but I wonder where it takes us? The useful bit of Malachi I took to be his asking McGuinness to tell all he knows in order to help with dealing with the past ( under formal non-incrimination, I would say) and to set as example to others. It surely amounts to more than a debating point. Among rejectionists and other critics of McGuinness, it would somewhat undermine the accustion of hypocrisy and strengthen the climate.of unity against continuing violence. Of course the same applies to the unionist/loyalist side.

  • between the bridges

    Carlsberg don’t do irony but monsterview…

    Well written or elegantly these polemic arguments may be presented, those who know better but yet deliberately concentrate on the effects of political violence rather than the root cause are guilty of not alone intellectual dishonesty, they are also guilty of rank hyprocicy.

    High moral ground indeed, they are in a foul ethical swamp that can only receive the damming inditement of enlighten history and what is more they themselves know this for a fact!

  • Munsterview

    Brian W : “The useful bit of Malachi I took to be his asking McGuiness to tell all he knows in order to help with dealing with the past…..”

    To refer to my above post of 2.08 pm, given the part played in the Counter Insurgency War by Whitehall and the British Establishment, where are the calls for the main players to put their cards on the table ?

    It took close to forty years to get a frank, unqualified admission from the British for Bloody Sunday massacre. The first enquiry can now be seen for what it was, a totally compromised and corrupt and perverted coverup. Where were the strident voices in the House of Commons to have this enquiry re examined as to how it got things so totally wrong ? After all it was a British Government mandated Public Enquiry that quite a bit of public money was expended on!

    Martin McGuiness played a significant and prominent part in the Republican struggle but at all times he was but part of a collective leadership. Martin still has a responsibility to that then collective leadership and more important, to the Vols that served under him to maintain the integrity and ethos of the Irish Republican Army as it then was.

    David Cameron on the other hand could deliver files to the Dublin Government that would lay bare the truth of the Dublin / Monaghan bombings and other such activity in Ireland. Why no calls for this ? The answer is simple : the British State has a way of ‘doing business’ in it’s own interest and it will not allow any interference with that.

    The British Government will no more allow the truth of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings to emerge no more than the Israeli Government will the truth of the Sabra and other refugee camp massacres of the period. What is the point in demanding a bit player like Martin McGuiness, however significant to ‘reveal all’ while the main Whitehall players keep their files firmly in their possession and closed unless pried apart by court action as is now happening with isolated incidents of Kenyan and Malaysian massacres.

    This is nothing other than another example of the intellectual dishonesty that I have already drawn attention to.

  • Munsterview

    Between ….”Carlsberg don’t do irony but monsterview…”

    There is a general guide book on law intended for the Garda Siochana but widely used by the legal and others with an interest in the law in the South as it has case laws and useful references on most Acts of Statute Law and procedures.

    Some months after his release when Martin Ferris was in Tralee Circuit Court appealing a set up conviction, the prosecution Solicitor for the State was reading from this book and advocation to the sitting Judge as to what the Law should be in the circumstances. Martin informed the Judge that the Prosecutor was reading form the wrong page and it was in fact page xxx, section x, sub section 3 that applied.

    The solicitor looked across horrified when he realized that Martin Ferris had the same book and blurted out “you are not supposed to be reading that” !

    It was O’K for the State to attempt to use this book and their interpretation of it to set up Ferris but quite another in their view that Martin should use the same book, correctly as it transpired, to prove his innocence. He came into court with a three month prison sentence imposed, he refused to bargain with the State and the case collapsed.

    Like the State prosecutor there is an assumption in some quarters here in slugger that a well argued polemic or factual delineation of history is the sole providence of some of the Unionist heavy weights to use pro Union only and the use of these same methodologies to advance the Republican cause or alternative views are ‘not quite cricket’ when used by someone like me.

    Well ‘bridges’ to continue the cricket anology, you can take that particular bat in one hand, a jar of Vaseline in the other, give the bat a good lubrication and I will leave it to your imagination as to where I think you and others like you can shove it afterwards!

  • between the bridges

    Monsterview.. if i state that loyalist paramilitaries set out to kill catholics. i doubt too many on here would disagree if however i state that republican paramilitaries set out to kill protestants, you and likeminded ilk stamp their tiny feet and chant ‘it was all the brits fault’…This is nothing other than another example of the intellectual dishonesty that I have already drawn attention to.

  • between the bridges

    Monsterview…lmao..i don’t like cricket….i like reggae…FYI keep them short and snappy then someone might read them..re topic there is lot of elephants in a lot of rooms.

  • Munsterview

    between : “….you and likeminded ilk stamp their tiny feet and …..”

    Wrong yet again…….. size 12 here actually !

  • between the bridges

    MV cheers for proving my point.

  • Munsterview

    between…..” if i state that loyalist paramilitaries set out to kill catholics. i doubt too many on here would disagree if however i state that republican paramilitaries set out to kill protestants, you and like minded ilk stamp their tiny feet and chant ‘it was all the brits fault’…

    Since the era of Henry the Eight and in particular post the Elizabethan Wars in Ireland, the Planter Stock and the ‘Queens Irish’ in Ireland were in the main of the protestant faith. The same applied to the bailiffs and the whole regime that supported the Established Church in the tithe wars. The same in the main applied to the bailiffs, land stewards and landlords agents that supported the ruling Landlord Ruling class and the same applied to the officer class of the RIC at the time of the War of Indapendence.

    Because of the naket sectarian make up of the State in Northern Ireland, those from the Six Occupied Counties defending the State were in the main protestant and consequently any armed conflict with the State, especially after the attempts to by the British to ‘Ulsterise ‘ the war, invarably meant that an attack on Crown Forces was ‘killing protestants’ just as inetivable that any killings carried out by Crown forces in the Nationalist areas meant ‘killing catholics’

    The same forces playing out in a past colonial country such as Rodesia meant that most Crown Forces killed were white while most natives killed by the Crown Forces were black. While there were probably ‘anti-white’ and ‘anti-black’ attidutes at work in both forces, the fact remains that Internationally that Rodesian conflict is now politically and academically recognised for what it then was, a colonial countrys liberation struggle.

    Whatever way the political situation in the North is presented by Unionists, the fact that most English people and the rest of Europe see it for what it really is a ‘fag end’ of a failed empire, both of which should have passed into history as they are well past their ‘sell by’ date in the modern community od nations !

  • between the bridges

    Monsterview..So you agree the low density genocide was sectarian

    ps Professor Patterson said: “No doubt many Provisionals then and now would sincerely and forcefully deny that their campaign in Fermanagh was a form of ethnic cleansing. As we have seen, most of the Protestants killed were in the security forces and Fermanagh did not experience the wholesale evacuation of Protestants that occurred in West Cork during the War of Independence.

    “Yet, that the killings struck at the Protestant community’s morale, sense of security and belonging in the area was undeniable.

    “It was being made clear to them that they could continue to live in Fermanagh but on terms defined by the Provisional IRA”, he added.

    Professor Patterson said the conflicting views of the conflict – was it a war of liberation or ethnic cleansing – has been one of the reasons for the widespread unease with the peace process among the Protestant/Unionist community in Northern Ireland.

    “The war has, in part, been transferred into a clash of conflicting narratives of who was to blame for the Troubles and, in particular, for its thousands of victims.

    “There remains a major research agenda for contemporary historians to try and provide a factual and more objective truth without which this dreadful period will largely remain the province of ethnic entrepreneurs ransacking it for their conflicting political projects”.

    pps re the history lesson remind me when ireland was united and by who? too give you a clue it wasn’t emain macha

  • Alias

    Anti-state terror groups had an advantage in that they could target forces of the state, whereas the pro-state terror groups, rather obviously, couldn’t. That meant that pro-state terror groups targetted civilians, being sectarian by default. More accurately, they targetted civilians by their ethno-religious identity, excluding civilians that matched their own ethno-religious identity.

    Given the advantage, the anti-state terror groups killed more than enough civilians to be classifed as sectarian. They were a bit more clever about it in that they used bogus justifications (such as the phone lines were down or a device malfunction) when a bomb that they had planted in a predominantly protestant civilian areas exploded and kiled, unsurprisingly, large numbers of protestant civilians. As with outright denials, it was a means of pretending that their was no intention to kill protestant civilians.

    At any rate, violence has always been the key to the existence of NI. It doesn’t exist on the basis of any principle, and without violence or the threat of it then it would not exist at all. From the perspective of the Irish state, the aim has always been not to integrate NI but to contain the threat of a sectarian civil war within its borders. In other words, it recognises that unionist see the use of violence for political aims as a core principle that they will not relinguish.

    If they ever renounce violence and mature to the point where they don’t consider that they have a right to reserve its use for their exclusive political aims then it might e possible to make some progress towards unity, but that is something that unionists – as much as nationalists – will have to learn is fundamentally counterproductive and unjustifiable in their circumstances. So it isn’t just dissidents who reserve violence for political use or who need discouragement in that realm.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    Irish Republicans make the same mistake today as they did in the early part of the last century. They believe their fight is with the ‘British Establishment’ and chose to ignore the fact that the majority in Northern Ireland do not see themselves as misguided Irish Nationalists awaiting a Michael or a Gerry to point them in the right direction.

    Those supporting Home Rule ignored unionists and looked to London to make their case. When they received a sympatheic ear there they still did not question if they were bringing the whole country with them. Partition was always a second-best option for unionists and they were forced to make that decision by the Nationalists refusal to consider unionists very different view of the future. A simple majority rule was to be ok. Ironic considering Nationalists’ attitude to its outworking in Northern Ireland.

    Today words such as ‘planter’ and ‘colonial’ are still employed as coda to look over the heads of unionists to produce a narrative of the croppies versus the English overlords at the fag-end of empire. This suits modern Irish Republicans, that’s if ‘modern’ and ‘Irish Republican’ can ever be effectively linked, as it allows them to explain their violence as ‘armed struggle to liberate the occupied six counties’ rather than a sectarian terrorist campaign against their fellow Northern Irishmen.

  • Munsterview

    between….: ” So you agree the low density genocide was sectarian…..”

    No I do not !

    On the republican side the targets were by in large serving members of or those assisting British Occupation Forces. They were targeted in that capacity in the first instance and the fact that they may have been of protestant, catholic or jewish religion or possible members of the militant league of atheists was immaterial.

    There were several instances all during the conflict where individuals who were Loyalists/ Unionists and protestant were spying on Nationalist militants and actively assisting the security forces. Because these people while hostile to the Republican Movement, were not technically under arms against Republicans, most were not targeted despite their activities, as it would have appeared sectarian.

    When the activities of the UDR and RUC against the Nationalist population are examined ‘ the sectarian attack’ label is far more appropriate and warranted.

  • between the bridges

    monsterview.. oh dear you do try and the harder you try the more funnier it gets…you really should apply your own high/low standards to yourself old bean…lmao..ttfn

  • Alf

    “I don’t think it can, but nor do I think it’s necessarily illogical to say that what was justified in the 1980s is not justifiable today. I don’t think that Bomber Command’s incendiary campaign against German cities was justified, but I can accept there is a logic to the argument that firebombing Dresden in 1945 was justified, but firebombing Dresden in 1946 would not have been.”

    Billy,

    Surely a more apt analogy would be to say that whilst Germans might have felt that the London Blitz in 1940 was justified bombing London in 1945 would not have been.

  • Alf

    “Irish Republicans make the same mistake today as they did in the early part of the last century. They believe their fight is with the ‘British Establishment’ and chose to ignore the fact that the majority in Northern Ireland do not see themselves as misguided Irish Nationalists awaiting a Michael or a Gerry to point them in the right direction.

    Those supporting Home Rule ignored unionists and looked to London to make their case. When they received a sympatheic ear there they still did not question if they were bringing the whole country with them. ”

    27th,

    Exactly correct. Irish nationalists have always treated unionist with contempt and told them that they are irrelevant. A huge mistake which they continue to make to this very day.

  • Alf

    “Respectable unionists always supported violence against the nationalist community, via the forces of the state, while describing this violence as “supporting law and order” or somesuch.”

    Billy,

    Absolute nonsense. Respectable unionists have always supported violence against terrorist organisations. Simply because they wanted to see the end of terrorism. Just as respectable people in New York would support police violence carried out against drug gangs or the Mafia. A perfectly reasonable position to take.

  • Alf

    “On the republican side the targets were by in large serving members of or those assisting British Occupation Forces. They were targeted in that capacity in the first instance and the fact that they may have been of protestant, catholic or jewish religion or possible members of the militant league of atheists was immaterial.”

    Munster,

    There is an ancient saying here which some say dates back to our days in Ulster before we moved to Scotland and then came back to Ulster again. “Don’t piss down my back and tell me that it is raining.”