Letter of Protest – Bush House Separated

Recently, there has been a steady increase in Loyalist prisoners being refused access to Bush House Separated landings by the Northern Ireland Office – NIO.  We believe these Loyalist prisoners have a right to be located in Bush House either through being associated with or supporters of an organization or due to the fact they are incarcerated for political action in support of Loyalism. Read more »

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There Is Nothing Loyal About Racism: William Ennis

There is nothing Loyal about racism

The first letter I ever had published was in the Newsletter.  In it I questioned the need to burn the flags of other countries on our 11th night bonfire celebrations.  I questioned whether or not the time had come to phase out practices which where much more understandable during the violent conflict than in the more politicised current one.  In all honesty, I would still like to see that happen, but another development has alarmed me since.  One I consider to be much more serious.  Racist attacks against the immigrant community are by no means exclusive to Loyalist areas of Ulster, but they do happen here and there is no excuse for leaving them unchallenged.

The Loyalist protest movement, (which retains an impressive head of steam even yet) mobilised with gusto in the wake of the SF/APNI/SDLP attack on the Union flag of Belfast city hall.  Like most Loyalists I attended these protests.  What alarmed me was the flagrant political aggression of the far right.  In many ways, when leadership was not apparent, the BNP and like minded groups had no compunction about trying to claim this movement as its own, if only in a superficial way.

Fascism makes my skin crawl.  Racism does too, and it does so not despite my Loyalism, but because of it.

The degree to which Republicans leap gleefully into spinning this problem to its full propagandistic value is one of my buttons, but it is not the only reason I have decided to write this article.  I have decided to write this article because racism is as harmful a social cancer to my community as it would be to any other.

I would like to address the unfortunate (perceived) association between Ulster Loyalism and British Nationalism.  Put bluntly, I believe it to be misleading at best and outright absurd at worst. I think it happens due to the fact that the two movements share symbols such as the Union flag.  I don’t do Nationalism.  Not Irish, British, white, Scottish, Ulster or any other kind.  Nationalism to me is a tool for those who wish to divide.  I can’t bring myself to apportion value to a human being on the basis of which lump of rock they may or may not have been born upon.  I prefer citizenship, political union, tolerance, equality, and the resolve to help others where these things are denied because these are the values which the Principles of Loyalism encourages us to embrace.  When those on the (far) right behave in an ultra-nationalist way under the impression that it is Loyalist behaviour, they are mistaken.

“Civil and religious liberty are natural and fundamental rights that must be promoted and defended by all who claim the title of Loyalist” (From Principle 2 of Billy Mitchell’s Principles of Loyalism Document)

Nationalism is about drawing a line around a group of people and saying ‘this is us!  Everyone else is them’.  This is inconsistent with cultural Loyalism and political Unionism as ours is a United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the clue is in the title.  It’s a political Union with multiple nations, countless cultures and a rainbow of peoples.  It is a Democracy which does not blandly conscript its citizens into one single identity, nationality or stereotype.  To claim a person is not British or is some how less British on the grounds of their skin colour or first language is a vile wrongdoing.  If you consider the immigration or political systems to be wrong, then address this as you see fit with your vote and your right to campaign politically.

Politics is now the battlefield, and every vote will count as we endeavour to bring representation to our people and security to the Loyalist culture (and every other).  Acts of racism claimed falsely as acts of Loyalism is manna from heaven for those who would have our country expelled from the United Kingdom.  How could a Chinese person with an emerging interest in Ulster’s history pursue her studies of Carson and Craig toward a Loyalist path when her community is being hounded with racial slurs by those who claim affection for Northern Irelands Britishness?  Why should such a voter be pushed away from learning of David Ervine’s journey from prison to politics?  Why should an African student, in Northern Ireland to study, be denied full participation in the song, dance and craic of the mini-twelfth?  Why should a young couple from Eastern Europe just settling in Belfast not be invited to bring their children to watch the 11th night Bonfire?  Why should a person from Pakistan not receive an invite from his neighbours to hear the remarkable passion of the Lambeg drums on the 12th of July?

If you allow the ill-conceived mindset that every Loyalist must be Christian, White, heterosexual, and born in Ulster to stagnate your mind, then you are surrendering Northern Ireland by ignorance as these potential Unionists just may hold the votes to secure your grand-children’s British citizenship.

Many of our community’s problems stem from isolation, but this is not entirely our fault.  The conflict drove Ulster’s peoples into isolationist positions, particularly the working class.  But this need not be the case any longer.  Tolerance of racism will create and perpetuate a cycle of isolationism.  Streets of people adjacent to streets of other people with all the same problems yet no predilection to strategise together.  It is not because of the Polish family down the street that you have to wait on medical treatment, it is because funding is diverted from hospitals to maintain huge salaries in the financial sector.  It is not because of the Chinese community that there is insufficient housing; it is because the Tory Government have promised private landlords they won’t build social housing in order to keep private rents inflated.  It is not a disgrace that foreign born workers work in Northern Ireland for low wages, it’s a disgrace any of us do!

Our blaming those who live nearby because they look or sound different is a key strategy of those in charge who couldn’t care less about any of us.  Every minute a young Loyalist blames the Polish population in Northern Ireland for his inability to find employment is a minute that young Loyalist lets those who really are responsible off the hook.  Businesses can now quite easily gain free labour through government “work experience” programmes and so have no incentive to employ people on a living wage.  Our government and others turn a blind eye to barbaric working conditions in third world countries and so mass manufacturing operations now don’t exist in countries such as ours.  Even the brightest children who succeed in school will be culled by huge tuition fees unless their parents can afford to support them well into adulthood, and if they can they are unlikely to also be able to support them through a no-pay internship which is par for the course toward a high flying professional career.   There are obvious reasons for our lack of employment opportunities, but none that will be solved by participation in, or tolerance of racism.

 

“An equal society is one in which all members have access to similar resources and opportunities and in which they all value each other for their common humanity.” (From Principle 4 of Billy Mitchell’s Principles of Loyalism Document)

 

In a recent debate with a Republican twitter friend I raised issue with his persistent use of the word “Brit”.  To me, it is a piece of conflict rhetoric with no place in this juncture of our history.  For the record, I know this man not to be a bigot of any kind, but I do consider this term to be a bigoted one.  How is “Brits out” for example not bigoted, I am British, and I was born here!  Why would anyone else who was born here want me thrown out?  I consider it a racist term, but the fact is that the racism of the British far right and specifically its apparent partnership with strands of individuals who claim to be Loyalists greatly inhibits my freedom to attack the bigoted behaviour of others.  We need to address this.  The sooner Loyalism challenges bigotry in a comprehensive way, the sooner we can challenge the bigotry of others.

I frequently say that non-Loyalists have nothing to fear from genuine Loyalism.  Let’s together set out to prove it.

Let’s be British.

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All Political Careers End In Failure: Dr. John Coulter

John Coulter

Written By: John Coulter
Published: January 26, 2014 Last modified: January 22, 2014

“All political careers end in failure” may have been a maxim attributed to Enoch Powell, the leader Unionism never had, but it may be that ex-Stormont First Minister Ian Paisley senior, now Lord Bannside, is an exception.

The firebrand former leader of the party he founded, the Democratic Unionists, used two interviews on BBC Northern Ireland to fire broadsides at those within his own ranks he has accused of forcing him to quit the posts of First Minister, DUP boss, and Moderator – or leader – of the Protestant fundamentalist denomination he founded in 1951, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

Now in his 80s, plagued by health problems in recent years and confined to the backbenches of the House of Lords, ironically Paisley has committed the cardinal sin on which he had frowned throughout his political career – airing the party’s dirty linen in public. Like any political movement, his DUP has had its share of splits, rows and factions. But, to the media, the DUP was always united.

The fall of Paisley, to be replaced by his long-time deputy Peter Robinson, the current First Minister and former East Belfast MP, has seen the modernising wing of the party take over from the once dominant Christian fundamentalist faction.

Even Paisley’s brand of Free Presbyterianism was seen as the DUP at prayer. Although it had only around 16,000 followers out of an Ulster population of one million Protestants, its influence within the DUP was substantial. Under Paisley, discipline within the DUP was Stalin-like. The same had been true of the party under Robinson – until now. The fallout from the two Paisley interviews could see a revival for the fundamentalist faction.

While Paisley himself may never be back at the helm of either his party or church, exposing and attacking those who forced him from office will have massive repercussions for the DUP – and Unionism – with European and council elections looming in May.

The success of the present Stormont Executive is reliant on the DUP and Sinn Fein working together and holding the so-called middle ground of Ulster politics. If Paisley’s fundamentalist fans seize the initiative, the impact will be to force the DUP to the radical right, thereby putting an intolerable strain on its working relationship with Sinn Fein.

While Sinn Fein has been able to contain political opposition from dissident republicans, and a revival of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party, the DUP has been unable to control the growing tide of working-class Loyalism away from the power-sharing Executive.

The DUP had no option but to declare the recent talks hosted by American diplomat Richard Haass a failure. While Sinn Fein has adopted the Haass proposals, Robinson’s DUP has had to reject them to maintain party unity and discipline.

In May’s elections, all Sinn Fein has to worry about is republican voter apathy. The DUP has to contend with a range of rival pro-Union parties. Unionism currently holds two of the three Ulster Euro seats. Protestant disillusion and a split Unionist vote could put one of those seats in jeopardy.

The DUP rose to power by playing up the fear factor. Since 2003, it has won Stormont and Westminster elections by campaigning on a “Stop Sinn Fein” platform. So what will be the DUP’s focus in May?

The Robinson clique will champion saving MEP Diane Dodds’ seat by branding the other parties as splitters. But Paisley’s double whammy has put Robinson’s leadership under tremendous stress. And his outbursts have DUP grassroots members to ask privately question if Robinson is still the right leader to win elections.

Paisley loyalists think they have a strong hand because even though there is a wide range of pro-Union parties, none of them is in a strong enough position to replace the DUP as the lead Unionist party. If the pro-Paisley camp succeeds in replacing Robinson, could that encourage rival hardliners in Sinn Fein to view Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the architects of the republican peace agenda, as approaching their sell-by date? The focus is on the revival of the religious fundamentalists in the DUP. Is anyone watching the Young Turks emerging in Sinn Fein?

This post first appeared in www.tribunemagazine.org

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LETHAL ALLIES: ANNE CADWALLADER…A REVIEW by MENIN

Lethal Allies:  Anne Cadwallader (Mercier Press)

 

Seen all the media hype and ‘who-ha’ around the book but as usual I won’t know what’s its really like until I read it for myself.  It doesn’t  take very long to get into the slant of the book which in fairness the author makes explicit early on.  So the author must take on board that this will sound like Republican propaganda dragging up the old, old stories. Everyone in the early 70s knew dirty tricks where going on. The recent fuss over the MRF is puzzling to a person, like myself,  who was involved in the troubles,  went to prison,  had friends killed,  seen buildings blew apart, etc, etc.

I read the book with a rather untypical slant. I was a UVF life sentence prisoner, I grew up in central Belfast  (admittedly a long way away from most of the events in the book) but I had one friend executed by the police on a  Belfast street and another friend shot and seriously wounded by the police.  It is a given, that my wounded friend was to be executed also only for the intervention of a bystander. I had friends killed by loyalists and British soldiers. I had friends killed by Republicans. I may be a Prod but am no stranger to dirty tricks, beatings by the police, harassment by the army, etc.  For many people the ‘70s in N.Ireland was a semi-war zone.

The basis of the facts are taken for granted. The shootings,  bombings and events are well documented and now supplemented by the HET. But, as noted in a previous book review on this site there is a distinct lack of context.  The early ‘70s in this country were ferocious and horrible. What of the continued IRA violence, which we as young loyalists, responded to,  especially after 1972? The emotional aspects to the killings and the suffering of the families are powerful testimony in this book. I just hope that the many readers will consider the anguish and pain that took place in thousands of homes here and in England, Scotland and Wales. Mother losing sons and never really getting over it.

There are some details I am puzzled over. Given the nature of the book with so many names flying about why was the author coy about not naming the two people convicted of killing young Duffy? (see page 72) I know the two men well and they were regarded as different,  namely in that they were innocent compared to the rest of us. So maybe this fact does not fit in well with the thrust of the book namely that the UVF and security forces were in cahoots, slaughtering innocent Catholics. In this case 2 UVF men were set up by the very security forces that were in collusion with them? The two men served out 15 years each for something they did not do.

On page 80 there is reference to a named source. Given nearly everyone else (except 2 ) are named why not reveal this? This is a form of censorship by the author?

A bigger question that arose while reading this book was, given the power of the security forces, why did they not target the real activists, operators, players?  It appears from every case here  (bar Green who could not be easily denied as an activist) that each and every victim was innocent.  (The majority of people killed by Republicans were innocent.)  The question is;  why would these trained soldiers and policemen,  presumably with an agenda to halt IRA violence,  not target the IRA men they knew where involved?  As a reader of the book I have to assume from the author that the police and army were so stupid they had not the foggiest idea who the IRA activists were?  This also do not sound reasonable when one considers today just how infiltrated the IRA had become.  There appears to be no IRA supporters in south Armagh, no usual haunts or pubs they frequent. I think we all accept now that the British Army and more so its intelligence branch took time but riddled the PIRA from the inside. (The RUC/Special branch riddled the loyalists from the inside.) I suspect there were deeper moles in the IRA long before Stakeknife and Callaghan.  Why would the security forces target innocents and drive people towards the IRA?

The author is asking us to believe that the police, the courts, the Lord Chief Justice and senior civil servants all are in cahoots here. I leave out the army because they were fighting a terrorist movement using all means at their disposal for a political end.

This is a well-researched book with a clear agenda but that does not mean we have to take it to be the entire truth.   Finally, what does this book mean in the larger context of N.Irealnd, its future and dealing with the legacy of the conflict? Does it help and heal? Given the way the story is delivered it will not be seen as helpful within the  loyalist community.  It has the feel of continuing the ‘struggle’ in a different guise. All of us have to agree on something about the past otherwise we are all going to limp on to an uncertain future.

Menin.

 

 

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LEVIATHAN: Billy Joe

LEVIATHAN

 

Colossus like—head and shoulders—stands out from the crowd
Bellows—a frank acerbic stream—a torrent clear and loud
A  steadfast Giant—articulate–in his calculated prose
A new—and rising—reprising star—and the one the masses chose.

Charismatic and engaging—rhetoric skilled and finely honed
Representative of those who formerly felt alone
Talismanic—his astute charms did woo the common man
And lead the way– in disarray— to a distant promised land.

HE reached that shore-of a Province torn-and with disciples cast aside
HE gained his crown—did not look down—took censure in his stride
HE claimed his throne-and stood alone—and cast his gaze below
Contemptuous then-up to the end—still basking in the glow.

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He Was A Friend Of Mine: Jeff

He Was A Friend Of Mine.

Freddie S.

     I remember Freddie standing in the dock of the Crumlin Road number 1 court. There was uproar in the court when the sentences got handed down.  I was with the wives and families of the 6 men as they were given sentences of 7 years,  5 years and other periods of imprisonment. Not one of them had in trouble with the law before the Troubles broke out.

But Freddie and thousands of others felt in these times sometime had to be done. Freddie reacted to his sentence as I would have expected. A wry smile on the face.  Freddie had a face that truly said that butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Having met thousands of prisoners during my stays in the Crum and the Kesh Freddie was one of those that always puzzled me. The young turks could easily use violence when needed but others like Freddie had a quietness and gentleness that belied his belief and determination.

Freddie was unassuming but he was easily one of the best artists I have ever seen at work.  He was a natural. You could ask Freddie to draw something and he would do it from memory in front of while you watched. Many of the wall paintings you see will see in associated photographs of the Kesh compounds will have been done by Freddie.  He also had a wonderful dry sense of humour. One time I had seen him before his health went down and we had the usual banter. ‘You’re looking well’ I says to him. ‘What’s your secret?’  “Breathing”, he says back with a smile. He would often walk past my father’s house and I would go out and chat. But the years rolled on and the Donegall Road got longer and longer for him to walk. I seen less of Freddie.

Freddie was one of the Border 6. A group of volunteers caught by the army in South Armagh.  Sadly 2 of the other South Belfast men have already gone. The Kesh had its fair share of characters but Freddie along with Tommy and Billy made for fun in the face of adversity.  They were 3 characters all right.  C Wing in 1974 was loyalist and it was a madhouse. A Belfast version of ‘Stir Crazy’ with more zany characters threw in.

One story about Freddie which borders on the unbelievable concerned his last day in Compound 21. A release date was eagerly awaited but always seemed to take ages to arrive. In the meantime men would give as much stuff as possible to those remaining.  I recall seeing Freddie sitting on his bed waiting for the bus to freedom. His room was bare. All his possession in a single brown bag. All the goodbyes were said and promises of writing letters made. Later I was in his hut and he was still there. He had to return from the gate as his release date was a day later. As good friends we done what good friends do. And slagged him all day. Finally he got away with that wee smile on his face. It would be over 10 years before I would see Freddie again.  No funeral is a nice occasion but it was good to see friends young and old behind his coffin.  It is nearly 40 years since I stood and watched Freddie in the Number 1 court.

Jeff.

 

 

 

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Why there will not be a Truth Recovery process: Jeff

Why there will not be a truth recovery process.

 

 

“Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth”. Marcus Aurelius

 

Much has been made recently about the Haass talks.  I had no such expectations this time in contrast to the Good Friday agreement. The politicians cannot agree. I am with some of the Unionists in not letting the Union flag be debased or devalued. One element that still has to be resolved is ‘the Past’. I was convicted in the ‘70s of numerous terrorist offences and I was given Special Category status recognising the particular context and background to the serious violence that was happening in our country.  

I think there will not be a truth commission/recovery process for the following reasons. Firstly such a process cannot operate in N.Ireland because there has been no clear winner. The situations where truth recovery has worked has been where there was a clear winner, such as South Africa.

Secondly, there is no immunity for ex combatants.(Does that include British soldiers and RUC men?) What good is limited immunity? What rational person would say ‘I will go and tell what I know  only to have that later come back and convict me  in a court of law?  Trust is  major element of the truth process and  I think its fair to say that that isn’t there. And could anyone envisage the day when an British Intelligence member would publically say , yes we were involved in bombing the capital of a neighbouring country that resulted in men, women and children being killed?

Thirdly there has been the most acute discrimination and vilification of loyalist ex-prisoners both from the statutory bodies and sadly the unionist community.  Republican ex-prisoners have the political power of Sinn Fein to protect them and their families. Disrespect and disdain has been actively shown from some unionist politicians to loyalist ex-prisoners who have cut their links with their respective groups, have raised families and tried to lead normal constructive lives. Time and time again there are those who will never let the past be the past.

Fourthly and more worryingly are the unaccountable agencies who agitate and character assassinate- the gutter press. I can imagine certain so called journalists rubbing their hands with glee as a truth commission would unearth facts that they would take and use, manipulate, sensationalise and exaggerate without redress. The process would be a farce.  If our gutter press can show suicide victims hanging on their front page and interview paramilitary touts who then turn up dead,  then they will think what they would  when honest  disclosures are made to a truth process. And on the same line if loyalists where honest in such a process would they then become targets for the dissidents?

Fifthly and most important would be the families of any ex combatant and I include security forces. If a truth recovery names people,  then what about protection for their current wives, partners,  children and in many cases grandchildren.   Would such innocent people become collateral damage? How their lives would be impacted?

If a truth recovery process did take place, what about the people who set up the circumstances that led to the Troubles? The politicians who did carry out prejudice and discrimination in a blatant way? Would they be called to account? Whoever asks about the ‘great and the powerful’   before the Troubles came?  What of their actions and behaviour?  I was a teenager in 1970 caught up in a melee of violence, fear and hate. I could have had a far better life without the Troubles. Will anyone hold their hand up to such a drastic failure to build a decent life for us? And by us I mean ALL the children of that time. Or is this a grand PR exercise to heap all the blame on the bad paramilitaries and divert attention from certain other sectors.

Finally and possibly the biggest stumbling block—-Would  elements of our society (both sides) accept the fact that some paramilitaries were also victims of the Troubles. Not all paramilitaries where victims. Many young Prods and Catholics joined because something happened to their family members. Will this be recognised?

At the minute I think there will be no truth recovery process because of the complexity of the issue. Because of party politics that will be played out.   Because of the spotlight that would be put on the security forces.  Could the public, both here and mainland, really cope with the truth? There won’t be a truth process because to many want to see the world from their perspective rather than get at the truth.

 

Jeff

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He was a friend of mine – Alec Smyth

It is with regret that we mourn the sad passing of our friend and comrade Alec Smyth.  Alec passed away in hospital in the early hours of December 18th.

Alec was a character and never changed.  He died the way he lived – challenging authority with his swift remarks and biting wit.  I can remember one day the governor coming to Alec to ask him did he want a job in the aviary to get him out of his cell and some fresh air, to which Alec retorted “If I want some fresh air I’ll open a window, now take yourself off”.

Most of the lads in here can remember a similar story or two about Alec.  We can all recall New Year’s Eve (2012) when we were in dispute with the prison authorities and refusing to lock up.  The SO with his staff team came in to individually call us for lock up and subsequent charge when we refused.  Not waiting to be addressed, instead Alec accosted the SO, grabbed him by the elbow, ushered him to one side and says “would you mind being our hostage?”.  With an adamant “No” from the officer Alec quipped “I’ll take that as a refusal shall I!”.  With all of us ‘in stitches’ he had successfully diffused the tension and matters were resolved peacefully.

Again, it is with sadness that we are even talking about the passing of Alec.  He certainly was a character and a ‘one off’ and is missed and fondly remembered by everyone in Loyalist Bush House.  We extend our sympathy to Ruby, Heather, Dougie and the family circle – our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

S. Brown

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Turn Maze Into A Museum: Dr. John Coulter

Time Haass come for real change … turn Maze into museum

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Don’t become a Haass-Been in 2014; instead, follow the Hungarian model and convert the Maze Shrine into a Museum of Terror.

Forget the blame game and the political spin. Every dog in the street knew that if the Executive parties could not reach an agreement on flags, parades and the past by last Halloween, the Ricky Haass talks were doomed.

What party in its right mind a matter of months before two major elections is going to agree to a series of concessions and compromises?

May’s European and new super council polls will be the most crucial since the 1998 Assembly election which gave the fledgling Stormont a distinctively pro-Agreement flavour.

The Shinners will go into the poll in a clearly better position than Robbo’s Dupes. Anyone who believes Big Al’s Stoops can overhaul Sinn Féin’s lead in the nationalist community is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Reality pill number one for the Stoops. Their Euro candidate wee Alex Attwood hasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of snatching back the current seat held by Shinner convicted ex-terrorist Martina Anderson.

To remain a party of significance, the SDLP should adopt the policy of popular Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone and focus on the rural middle class Catholic vote.

In the Unionist camp, Robbo needs to box clever to see off the range of assorted fringe parties all claiming to defend the Union.

Robbo certainly will not want to lead his party into the same electoral meltdown as befell former First Minister David Trimble in the 2003 Stormont and 2005 Westminster polls when the DUP under Big Paisley overthrew more than 70 years of Ulster Unionist domination.

Leaks coming out of the Haass talks confirm that present UUP boss Mikey Nesbitt was spot on when he said the Executive parties were at 80 to 90% at hammering out a workable Haass deal.

The final 10% which proved to be the ultimate stumbling block was how the overall package could be sold by the parties to their respective electorates. Which party would own up to blinking first and agreeing concessions?

Given the dramatic Maze jail U-turn, Robbo clearly does not want to hear the jibe that he leads the Doubtful Unionist Party because no one in Unionism knows where it stands.

So, bin the seven Haass documents and here’s the Coulter One document to consider. Let’s start with the Maze Shrine. It should be developed along the lines of the impressive Museum of Terror which has a prime location in the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

The Hungarians have the dubious honour of having lost every war they participated in during the 20th century, costing tens of thousands of lives.

Yet they have no fear of showing off a multi-storey building dedicated to the various conflicts which ravaged the country. Candles and photos of dead loved ones surround the building.

Having visited the Museum of Terror as part of a journalistic trip, I was taken on a highly emotional journey detailing the horrors of the Nazis, the slaughter of Stalin, and the turmoil of the failed 1956 Uprising.

Any visitor, of whatever nationality, is left in no doubt about the suffering of the Hungarian people. Such a Museum of Terror pulled no punches about the depth of that suffering and the real meaning of the word ‘victims’.

Budapest’s Museum of Terror even had cells where people were tortured, died or were executed during the nation’s bloody history, so a restored H Block or prison hospital wing at the Maze Shrine for Ireland is a Sunday School picnic project.

Just as the MLAs were shipped off to Nelson Mandela’s South Africa to kick-start the peace process, my Coulter One document recommends all Assembly members go to the Museum of Terror and let’s once again kick-start the Maze Shrine initiative.

January 7, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the January 6, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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Novosel: My Thoughts by William Ennis.

 

 

William Ennis–who is becoming a frequent–and welcome contributor to these pages, is a mature student and a Progressive Unionist Party activist.

 

 

Novosel: My Thoughts

I first heard of Professor Tony Novosel in 2011 when he was invited to grace the lectern at the PUP’s annual conference.  He cut an intriguing figure.  A thoroughly polite gentleman with a softly spoken American accent, the speech he delivered that Saturday afternoon grabbed me.  It’s always pleasant to hear a Loyalist voice in an alternative accent to the Ulster twang, his enthusiasm for deep-rooted and genuine Loyalism was as heart felt as any other in the room. 

This was my first party conference and not having been able to trade shifts with any of my work colleagues I had arrived mid proceedings and in the distinctly un-classy  garb of my warehouse work clobber (‘well we are a working class party after all’, was my excuse, and I was sticking to it!).  After what had been a bruising year for the party with a disappointing election campaign Professor Novosel’s address proved to be quite the tonic.  What unfolded into a superb conference, complete with the unveiling of a new party leader, became a refreshing turning of the page.  Our new chapter had begun and the feeling from that afternoon was so positive I can still summon it.  We had embarked upon a new chapter, and it was time to get scribbling.

When a year or so later I heard that Professor Novosel had published a book on the history of the conflict through the perspective of Loyalist’s the anticipation was gripping. I then heard its title, Northern Irelands lost opportunity, the frustrated promise of political Loyalism and realised that reading this book was barely optional.

I am, of course, a civilian Loyalist.  I was not in the trenches, as it were, with men such as Ervine and Hutchinson, and so the desire to build an understanding of what these men went through was, and remains, a fundamental one.

I read Professor Novosel’s book, and here are my thoughts…

Have you ever been in a room during a fierce argument between two or more people?  Fingers pointing, blood pressures sky high, voices screaming at a level hazardous to the eardrums?  Does conflict not often resemble this?  The reason such arguments seldom get resolved is because neither, much less both sides of the argument get heard.  I understood this book from the very first paragraph as the author deploying a megaphone and exclaiming… “Everyone else, shut up!  Let’s hear what Loyalism has to say!”  The value of this alone is immeasurable.  To understand this merely walk into your local Waterstones or WH Smith and observe wall after wall devoted to the Easter rising, Dan Breen, Mick Collins, De Valera, Wolf Tone, Napper-Tandy, Joy-McCracken, Drennan, Gerry Adams, and that unspeakable work of Satan that is virtually anything British.  Those who are Pro-Union British barely exist, and those of us who are working-class and Pro-Union British simply do not.  We are a fly never to be allowed into the ointment that is the romantic Republican narrative.  With this in mind, the very undertaking of this project by Prof’ Novosel is significant and I don’t consider this to simplistic a point to make.  Much like the working-class Loyalist Hugh Smyth becoming Lord Mayor of Belfast the significance doesn’t lie in his excellent execution of the office, but in the fact that the appointment happened at all.

The book exposed me to viewpoints I had not been aware of.  Gusty Spence’s piercing 1977 Remembrance Day speech to his incarcerated troops in which Spence compared the abuse of the Loyalist working classes of that era with the abuse of the working classes by the upper classes at the Somme.  This was, for me, breathtaking insight given the impenetrably sacred British narrative of the Great War.  Such objectivity and leadership would certainly have been lost to history but for Novosel’s determination to scratch beneath the surface.  David Ervine’s scathing criticism of main-stream Unionism’s refusal to engage with what he saw as a perfectly reasonable civil rights agenda is another such insight that both main-stream Unionists and Republicans would no doubt like to bury.

Novosel interviews many ex-prisoners at great length and invites them to lay out exactly who they were (and are) as people.  Their loves, their lives, why they believed that had fallen into such a conflict, and exposes these men for the first time as, heaven forbid, human beings, human beings who didn’t wake up killers, but were products of their country’s history.

One of the greatest revelations for me is actually quite embarrassing.  It was one of those moments when upon having something explained to you the answer was so obvious all along you slap yourself squarely across the forehead with teeth gritted in shame.  It’s only fair I divulge so here goes.  For many years I had heard of the legends of Spence University, of how men would become exposed to political ideas and look inward for answers.  These men in Spence University would come to reject sectarianism and begin plotting for peace and so on and so forth.  For the longest time I would ponder, “What was wrong with the rest of them?  How come the rest didn’t have these revelations sooner?”  Of course the book deals at length with the reality that those incarcerated men had the facility to question, debate, read, learn, strategise, where as the poor sods on the outside were trapped in a vicious conflict with no such opportunity!  My goodness, how silly was I not to have realised that?! But that is what this book became as I read- a reality check.

The book is not without flaw, and it is noteworthy that I retain only one complaint.  The damaging notion that one is a Loyalist or a Unionist is one I simply can’t abide.  I find it positively insulting for anyone to deny me my Unionism on the grounds that I am a Loyalist.  Loyalism is a cultural concept.  It means my parents afforded me the opportunity to win a goldfish on the 12th of July field.  It means I enjoy the marching bands and meeting friends and family on the kerb as the procession passes.  It means I have immense respect for the service men and women in her Majesties Armed Services.  It means Christmas dinner gets interrupted to watch the Queen.  I enjoy and take comfort in my community’s traditions.  However, I believe in the political maintenance of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so I am a Unionist too. The idea that one must choose between one and the other is a ploy by middle-class unionists to distance themselves from the working-classes and is often used tactically.  It is patronising drivel.  This Loyalism Vs Unionism trend is one I detest, and is one which I believe, sadly, Professor Novosel has fed with the narrative of his book as it is a distinction he seems to use frequently, an unfortunate laziness in his writing style perhaps.

This book is by no means a loyalist propaganda piece.  Novosel makes no bones about venturing into the darker side of Loyalist history.  Through interviews with ex-combatants he explores the coup which occurred in 1974/75 within the UVF following the electoral failure of the Volunteer Political Party (VPP) which led to the organisation taking a frightening lunge to the far right of the political spectrum.  Novosel turns over many uncomfortable stones and writes frankly about the savagery often committed in Loyalism’s name.  Subject matter such as the Shankill Butchers and Loyalist flirtations with overtly racist groups such as the National Front (NF) is in no way airbrushed.

But the highlight of the entire book for me lay in the exposure of some of the most revolutionary and progressive thinking to have been committed to paper.  This thinking culminated in the Shared Responsibility document which was published and polished in many redrafts throughout the 1970’s with the final draft presented in 1985. The Shared Responsibility Document proposed shared government, an empowered assembly and essentially everything which would eventually come to pass, everything which over twenty years later Big-House Unionism, Republicans and no fewer that three Governments would claim credit for (whilst side-lining Loyalism).  The exploration into the fields of education and employment, the mechanisms of government show the most remarkable foresight and lays waste to the lazy Republican narrative of the knuckle dragging prod.

In conclusion this book is of massive significance not only to those of us who are of the Loyalist culture, but to anyone who genuinely wants to understand Northern Irelands past.  One thought which has not left my head since reading the book is this…  With propaganda having played such a supporting role in the Irish Republican movement, do they have the benefit of such frank analysis?  The Irish Republican narrative places such emphasis in the romantic story that it has evolved through propaganda coated richly with further propaganda, with a side order of propaganda with some additional propaganda thrown on for good measure.  We Loyalists look at our flaws, we have no choice! Every one else looks at them for us!  Somewhere along the way I believe we lost sight of how truly noble we are as a people.  Novosel remedies this.  Somewhere along the way we may have even started to believe what others have said of us.  Novosel counters this.  Unlike the Official IRA, the PIRA flatly refused to consider a compromise peace with the authors of Shared Responsibility.  Novosel writes frankly of a window in our history when things were at their most bleak, and when Loyalism made a courageous attempt to draw up potential answers, but failed due to want of a peace-partner.

Northern Irelands Lost Opportunity induced in me all the same spine-tingles the Principles of Loyalism did.  When a person is used to an environment in which his/her community is habitually blamed for every ill a clear and frank glance into the (very different) reality is a remarkable experience.  Made all the more important when one considers we are once again at a juncture where those in Government find it much easier to blame Loyalism than to Govern.

Before my final read-through and submission of this essay I visited one of the said book shops in Belfast.  Professor Novosel’s book was not on any of its shelves.

William Ennis

 

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