The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there #spotlightNI

If you have not watched last night’s Spotlight programme I would strongly urge you to do so. In our drive to project a modern and peaceful Northern Ireland, we sometimes forget about some of the criminality that still plagues our province.

Stephen Dempster’s report leaves a lot of questions for the PSNI, politicians and the rest of civic society to answer. 15 years on from the Good Friday Agreement we still have not fully taken the gun out of our political system.

When I was doing my research, I covered the emergence of the UVF in 1966. The shock that came from the death of Peter Ward provoked the then Unionist government into banning the organisation. That murder was like some of our recent deaths simply written off as the exceptions rather than the rule. However, an editorial in the Newsletter on 27th June 1966 urging people to take these attacks more seriously is something that I feel is worth repeating today.

Recent armed attacks in Belfast have led, with a tragic inevitability, to a killing. The gun in the hands of private citizens can lead nowhere else. It is a truth which must be learned anew in Northern Ireland and acted upon. The time has come for the government and the people to call a halt to a drift of events that, unchecked, can only take the city and Province back to a period that lingers like a nightmare.

Perhaps our past really isn’t another country, rather it still lingers as a nightmare that we have yet to wake up from.

Update-here is a very interesting interview that Kerri Dunn did with Winston Irvine  for Lisburns98FM just a few weeks ago

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  • Perhaps a read of today’s Newsletter editorial and Jude Collins response to it would illustrate how things have developed in the intervening 47 years.

  • Mick Fealty

    Dub, and the relevant point is…?

  • Coll Ciotach

    its back to the future – we are in sixties mode – inadequate housing provision, unionism using the gun, nationalists bending over backwards to keep a semblance of normality in which change to a modern society can emerge. Guess what will happen next?

  • I recall the killing of Peter Ward vividly (the SECOND killing of the Troubles).
    We have missed the Post-Conflict bus. talk of Truth, Reconciliation and the rest …simply too late.
    There are only three phases. Pre Conflict, Conflict and Post Conflict.
    Notwithstanding Operation Harvest, the first twelve or fourteen years of my life were in a post Conflict time.
    Somewhere…the killings of Mr Scullion and Mr Ward, Terence O’Neill,the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, Civil Rights marches etc…we slipped into the Pre Conflict mode that became full blown Conflict in Sugust 1969.

    Everything I see today…Spotlight, Castlederg, Twaddell Avenue, Parades, Dissident Republicans, Outreach, liberal unionists etc…..everything has Pre-Conflict written all over it.
    It is not a question of “IF”. It is a question of “WHEN”.

  • Charles_Gould

    Another excellent blog post David.

  • Republic of Connaught


    “Everything I see today…Spotlight, Castlederg, Twaddell Avenue, Parades, Dissident Republicans, Outreach, liberal unionists etc…..everything has Pre-Conflict written all over it. It is not a question of “IF”. It is a question of “WHEN”.”

    I don’t agree with this, FJH. The two governments are much closer now than in the past and they won’t allow things to erupt again like that again. It’s a different world now to the late ’60s early ’70s and any violence will be small scale.

  • Well I was teenager in the 1960s.
    Everything I see today makes me think it will all start again.
    Of course back then, I heard people say that it (1920s 1930s) wouldn’t happen again and other pessimists say “the guns will come out”.

    Then…I was too young to agree with one view or the other.
    This time, Im a pessimist.

  • Charles_Gould

    FJH the IRA in the 2005 statement ruled out a return.

  • Yes they also went political in 1962.
    And they are not the only player in this.

  • Charles_Gould

    fitzjameshorse1745 the Real IRA and the CIRA are the other players but they are not attractive to nationalists.

  • Neither was the IRA in 1963, 1964, 1965 etc.
    You are missing the point.
    I am not a soothsayer …if I was one Id do the Lottery more often.
    I merely say the ingredients are all there so that in a few years…unwittingly we will stumble back into violence.
    I cant say who the players will be…in terms of what they call themselves.
    What I say….without hesitation …is that the Big Lie of Creative Ambiguity is falling apart and is insustainable.
    I think most reasonable people will say that the farce cant go on forever.

    Its entirely reasonable of you to say that whatever happens we wont slip into violence.
    And I suggest entirely reasonable that I reach a different conclusion.

  • Charles_Gould


    Some things are similar, other things are different.

    Perhaps my main thought is that it is “hard work” to take a campaign of violence to the level of the 1970s. It’s hard to motivate people in a materialistic cynical era when people are basically rather comfortable, discrimination is not obviously one way or the other, and power is diffused rather than concentrated.

  • Coll Ciotach

    FJH – you are absolutely 100% correct – it is back to the sixties, one wonders what will set it all off again, perhaps the UVF will start murdering catholics again when the see another fenian plot or gain too many just as they did in the sixties. Anyone wanting to take a bet?

  • Charles_Gould

    There could be another Omagh that is for sure.

  • Charles_Gould

    The victims – Charlie Butler (relative killed in Shankill bomb) Mark Rodgers (father killed by UDA) and those in Greysteel are showing just how much society is able to unite.

    Those victims – and the many others – we need to hear more from them.

  • Charles_Gould
  • wild turkey

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

    ― William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

  • fjh,

    The Troubles were set off by the Paisleyites trying with the passive support of the authorities to block the civil rights marches of 1968-69. This was followed by the ethnic cleansing of Catholics from mixed neighborhoods in Belfast by tarter gangs and the retaliatory cleansing of Protestants from Catholic neighborhoods. Then the deployment of the British army in Belfast and Derry, followed by the IRA split and the Provisional IRA’s decision to go to war.

    While there are the human makings for the equivalent of the tarter gangs and the Provisionals, there is no need for a civil rights campaign as the reforms have been in place for decades and there has been on-and-off power sharing since December 1999. The B Specials and their successor UDR have both been disbanded and the PSNI is not about to permit a campaign of ethnic cleansing against either community even if there were the neighborhoods in which to enact it. Thanks to the ethnic cleansing of 1969, decades of terrorism, and the UDA terror attacks of the post-GFA period there are very few working-class neighborhoods that are mixed from which people could be forced out. Instead if loyalist gangs murder nationalists in the name of killing republicans they will be imprisoned as Gerry Spence and some of his colleagues were in 1966. The dissident republicans are finding no more support for their campaign than the IRA did after 1956.

  • Seamuscamp

    I witnessed the “ethnic cleansing” of a small Protestant enclave at Suffolk shortly after the introduction of internment. The “cleansers” were Tartan Army, guarded by army and RUC. No apparent IRA or SF presence. Those being “cleansed” did not wish to leave their homes; their neighbours did not want them to leave. Both the “cleansed” and the “unclean” appealed to the RUC for help. They were ignored. The stage was set; the fuse was lit.