I Was Only Kidding………..: Mea Culpa

I was only kidding.

 

 The place is the middle hut of Compound 21 in the Kesh prison. It is 1981. We are 90 odd loyalist paramilitary prisoners.  We have special category status.  We live as prisoners of war.  Each hut has an officer in charge and overall is Gusty. Our OC. It is a life of tedium,  conflict and uncertainty. Studying, the gym, weekly visit, locked up at 9pm, card schools, TV, football and so. Same old pattern every week. Some of us are life sentence prisoners. I am a lifer. We are going nowhere. The long termers have a mix of fixed sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years. They know their release dates. Some are serving short prison sentences like 8 and 10 years.  So anything to relieve the boredom and tension is to be welcomed. The odd ‘stand to’ with the screws. Well nearly every summer something happens. They just can’t do their time the way we can.  The odd prank to get tongues wagging and some poor sod humiliated.  Daily slagging about football,  girlfriends, mates and so on.

One stunt I pulled concerned the old style Belfast Telegraph. Only one copy came in that night and the screw shouted on me from the compound gate to bring it in. Before leaving it out for reading I went to the study hut where my typewriter was. It was an old Remington with black and red  typewriter ribbon and keys that flew up and down as you typed.  The typeface and size just matched in nicely. The Tele usually had, in those days, a blank column- ‘Stop Press’ -on the back page,  bottom right hand column. It usually was filled with details of the latest atrocity in N.Ireland.  It was blank tonight and I proceeded to type that the NIO had granted two thirds remission to all prisoners in NI. (This was the situation in England at that time) Fixed term prisoners in N.I.  had half of their sentence knocked off,  ‘for good behaviour’.

I left the Tele  on a table in the end hut and said nothing.  No one was about. Thank heavens as it turned out. It wasn’t long before the buzz started.  For any lifers this was not relevant or important news so they didn’t join in. However for any fixed term man this was electric news. For some it would mean they effectively had served out their term and could be released in days. For the 20 year men it meant years knocked off their sentence. The place was alive with speculation. People asked for radios to hear what the local stations would say. The 9 o clock news was on every TV to see what commentators would make of this audacious move.  The brass were puzzled as they usually had a sneak warning of important stuff coming back the track.  They had been speculation in the media but nothing serious. But here it was. In black and white. In the papers. And the Belfast Telegraph no less. It had to be true.

Well,  talk about throwing petrol on a fire. Very earnest conversations took place between the short termers as calculations unfolded about possible new release dates. I knew I was in the shit when I heard someone  talking about spending Xmas at home. Whoops.  Some were bursting to get a message to their family as soon as possible.  Someone asked me if I had heard anything about the two thirds being introduced.  ( I had a reputation of being a news junkie)  I said ‘no’.  Which in a way was the truth. I certainly had not heard that the two thirds was coming in. But I had doctored the paper to say that. No one asked had I done this and I didn’t feel like enlightening them just at that time.  I did spend some time thinking I should own up and say it was a prank. And maybe we would all have a good laugh and a chuckle. hmmm. Maybe not.  The local news came and went. Nothing. The morning papers, Newsletter and Daily Mirror came. There was a bloody queue to read those papers. Scoured back to front.  Nothing.

Theories  abounded. Maybe the paper leaked the story but it was so politically sensitive that it is being kept under wraps? Or. Maybe the screws had done this to wind the prisoners up?  The usual nutters muttered about mind games, British intelligence and black operations working on the loyalist prisoners.  As time went on, peace and quiet returned slowly.  I never did own up to any of the fixed term lads. Of all whom were released in due course. Some of them were good friends.  So now, after 30 odd years,  a belated apology to all. Sorry.  I was only kidding.  Better late than never.

Mea Culpa

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Republic Would be EU’s Whipping Boy: Dr. John Coulter

They’ve ‘Scot’ no chance! Republic would be EU’s whipping boy

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

An independent Scotland will not result in Irish unity.

The Achilles’ Heel in Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s dream of a Yes victory in September’s independence referendum is that a Scottish republic would be part of the rapidly failing European Union.

The rise of Nigel Farage’s anti-EU Ukip suggests the majority of Brits will vote to leave the EU in the planned 2017 In/Out referendum.

Given traditional Euro-skeptic support in Ireland, north and south, the Brits will want a nation to team up with when what’s left of the UK dumps the EU.

A Scottish republic will become the EU whipping boy. Scots must vote to leave all the Unions, both the UK and EU.

Otherwise, by the end of this decade, Scotland will be going bonnet in hand to Brussels asking for bailout money in the same way the Dáil had to plead for euro millions to keep the Irish economy afloat.

Even if Scotland votes to remain in the Union, London will make those naughty Scottish nationalists pay heavily in new taxes for daring to defy Westminster rule.

The race is tight in the polls – around 10% dividing Yes and No camps – so the Old Firm voters of Rangers and Celtic could decide the outcome.

Unless, of course, the Brits are planning a series of regional English parliaments as part of an ‘England Alone’ policy.

The Scotland referendum comes slap bang in the middle of commemorations to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War in 1914.

The pro-Union camp will counter the memories of previous Scottish victories at Stirling and Bannockburn with images of the role and sacrifice of Scots at the Somme, Ypres and Cambrai – some of the bloodiest battles of World War One.

This same pro-Commonwealth lobby in the London Establishment will be using identical tactics with the Irish Republic by reminding Southerners of the sacrifice which thousands of Irish nationalists made in the Great War, too.

It will be a case of ‘Okay, you can remember those who died in the failed Easter Rising, but a lasting tribute to the dead, wounded and those from Ireland who served in the Great War would be for the Republic to rejoin the Commonwealth!’.

From now until 2018 and the centenary of World War One ending, stand by for a palace-load of English royals invading the South to ram this Commonwealth message home.

With Sinn Féin on the rise again, many non-Shinner Southern nationalists may be taking the political view – better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven! Or, better to rule in Commonwealth Hell than serve with Shinners in Dáil Heaven!

Shinner guns can be spiked if the Dáil joins forces with Westminster to push a Commonwealth solution, especially if England faces the threat of Islamic radicals setting up Sharia law communities in Britain.

With the Anglican Communion losing ground in numbers to radical Islam in England, could the long-term plan be for a future King Billy to relocate the Blue Bloods in Ireland?

Dump the Scots and EU, keep the Northern Unionists and Welsh in check, and set up a new Christian home in Ireland.

Sounds to me like the foundations of the Empire Mark Two have already been laid!

July 29, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the July 28, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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Flashbacks: Turas

FLASHBACKS.

The huge metal gate is for vehicle access only. The screws crack if you, a prisoner,  try to walk through the gate when it opens for a prison mini bus. Each gate has a smaller wicket gate for people to go through.  The Kesh, a hard world of barbed wire, walls and gates. The gate is rusting. We don’t see it. Each gate has a screw that opens and shuts as needed. We will spend over a decade and more of our lives behind these metal barriers.  We go through the metal monsters to see our loved ones. To go play football, talk to a solicitor or to go to the hospital.

My first impressions of this world famous gate is that it does not look much like a gate. But a trip to Berlin isn’t complete with a trip to the Brandenburg gate. I get a photograph taken along with many others doing exactly the same.  The Berlin wall is long gone but reminders remain in the city. A concrete wall. A metal gate.  For tourists. It prompts a memory. There are people from everywhere here. Asians, Italians, English, Americans.  It’s a long way from the Kesh to the Brandenburg.

I am in a punishment cell.  Solitary. For refusing to strip on a screws order.  It is a 10 feet by 6 feet concrete box. A living coffin for bad boys. The window is covered over and daylight filters in. the air is fetid and the heat turned up even though it is summer. I ask for the heat to be turned down. ‘We cant do that’,  even know we know they can. It is quiet. The bed is a concrete slab topped by hardwood. The mattress is taken out through the day. There is no chair. No radio. Nothing. I start by doing press ups and sit ups. Then some yoga.  I think back to my days on the farm. My memories secure me. I walk back and forth for hours. I can never look at a zoo animal in the same way again.  The day drags in. Meals come and go. I check for spit in the food. The sunlight is replaced by the lights of the Kesh.  I turn in for a fitful sleep and get another day over. I will be back here.

I have travelled to Knoydart. They call it the last great wilderness in Europe. It is amazing.  It is a three hour drive for me. I canoe along the long loch for easier access.  I have climbed to the top of a mountain and there is nothing but rolling hills.  They go on forever. There are no houses. No pylons. No walls. There are billions of midges. It is a world of purple heather , green ferns and hillside brown. Herds of red deer roam wild. One stag stops to stare at me. The loch below sparkles diamond white in the July sunshine.  A gentle breeze cools me from my exertions. The sky is the brightest blue with wisps of white cloud. It is July. Warm and sunny. To the west is the restless sea and the Atlantic.  North is the highlands of Scotland. This is a place apart. A long way from the Kesh to Knoydart. .

 

Day after day I walk round the wire wall that hems us in. We jog round the compound. 7 laps to the mile. Some have run marathons here. A lot of laps. In the evening before we are locked up for the night we walk and talk along the wire. It is heavy gauge metal, 10 feet tall topped with razor wire. Wooden posts every 12 feet have small lights that stay on all the time. Behind the wire wall is the concrete wall. Over 20 feet high and covered by the stalags look outs. A film producer could use this as set of a prisoner of war film. If we weren’t here.  Today it is raining. The grey ground merges with the grey wire and wall into a grey expanse of cloud. We are in a grey hell.  There is no colour. Only in our huts is there bright colours. Our identity.  Our resistance to a world devoid of sensation. We have painted our walls ourselves.

I stand in front of the grave. He was my grannies big brother. He died in 1915. His headstone is grey like millions of other Commonwealth war graves here in France.  I have a picture of him on my wall at home.  I look up. It is summer time. It is quiet and beautiful in this small cemetery.  I place our family tribute on his grave. I bought the flowers  in Albert. They are a mix of orange, red and purple.  They look great. Other graves have their small bunches of flowers. There are small plants growing by the graves. Outside the cemetery wall is a sea of red. Poppies are everywhere.  The rolling fields are a mix of green;  some dark, some yellow hued.  They stretch on to the sky topped by a cloudless brilliant blue sky. It is a long way from the Kesh to Albert.

 

There are over 30 men in the half round Nissan hut. It is home for over a decade of my life. It is warm in the summer and freezing in the winter. There is always life in the hut. You can never escape from the others. In the Kesh you can never be on your own unless you go to solitary punishment. As soon as you wake till you sleep there are people. Lots of people. You share a cube (room),  you train with others, eat with others,  walk and talk with others.  You go to see your family and a screw is in tow at every point. You see the doctor and a screw is there.  The TV is on in the hut, a radio is blaring. Someone wants a record on the old Dansette record player. A group is playing cards and shouting. Someone is telling a joke. The hut is jumping.  It is alive. At night the lights are out. The TV is off. But there are sounds. A man snores. A man grapples with his dreams. Or nightmares.  I hear the pages turning as someone reads the night away.  A tin pressure cooker full of people going nowhere.  You are never alone.

I sit on a cold stone slab. The roof rises way above my head. There is quietness in the vast space. It is summer and the bright light invades the interior.  The building is hundreds of years old and legend has it that St Columba came here to start his church.  Each stone put up by hand. A building that seen past glories, went into decline and was raised again. I am relaxed. There is no one else in the abbey.  It has power in its history and stones. In the distance I faintly hear the birds as they wheel about the graveyard.  I can hear my own breathing. There is peace here. A place on the very edge of Europe.  I am finally on my own. I am happy. It is a long way from the Kesh to Iona.

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Songs That Made Life In The Cages Easier: Sultans of Swing

SONGS THAT MADE LIFE IN THE CAGES EASIER

SULTANS OF SWING

                                                                    

 

Around mid 1978 we in Compound 21 were in the formative stages of a kind of perestroika—well—at the least the UVF version.  The special category system had been granted nigh on 6 years and the loyalist side of the jail was probably at its fullest.  Apart from 21, 19 and 18 were also in existence to house sentenced prisoners.  A large percentage was life sentence men and there were many serving very long sentences.  We still got the odd trickle of men coming through who had been sentenced after the cut off date of March 1976, but by and large, it was the same old gubs we looked at each day.  The militaristic regime was starting to give way to a more relaxed environment..something welcomed by most..although we still had our inspections and parades, the obligatory lectures and classes had gone.  Education had taken over and by the next year the Open University would see a new dawn in the edification of many of the men.
On the whole the body of prisoners relied heavily on the television..And to a lesser extent the radio..To provide the bulk of the entertainment.  There were those who had their favourites..documentaries..wild life programmes..avid news watchers..those who watched anything..including The Dot…and contrary to popular belief I don’t remember anyone standing for the Queen at the end of the night…..Well…not outside their cubicles anyway.   Football of course was the thing that assured most seats on bums although thinking back now it’s a wonder we were able to differentiate between two teams who looked like they were playing in slightly different shades of grey kits.  Such were the delights of black and white televisions.  Music played a major part in everyday life behind the wire and the whole array could be heard during a 24 hour period.  There were only a few music programmes on TV around this time and of course Top of the Pops would have been the most popular.  Thinking back to those days and to the drivel that adorned the charts I firmly believe that the only motivation for watching TOTP could have been to see Pans people..or perhaps they were Legs and Co by that stage.  For those who had an alternative genre to sugar coated pop there was always The Old Grey and the dulcet tones of Whispering Bob.
In July 1978—in between Argentina winning the World Cup and us preparing..bulling and shining for the 12th day..a new—short lived programme appeared on ITV.  A late night “progressive and asthetic” show..seen as an alternative to the TOTP generation.  Revolver aired on a Sunday evening and had the comedian Peter Cook as a co-presenter.  Great things were predicted but sadly the plug was pulled after only 8 shows.  During that short run though we were lucky enough to catch acts like Ian Dury…replete with Blockheads…a new and exciting Jam…Elvis Costello….Siouxsie…..Kate Bush and many others who previously we had only caught a glimpse of.  The acerbic Cook may well have been the reason for the brief run as I recall he could be very disparaging towards some of the acts.
In our hut ..the middle one..Messines..there was quite a few of us who considered ourselves to be music aficionados.  We exchanged NME’s and Melody makers and lent each other the new albums..to be played during your allotted time on the record player which sat in the study hut.  If memory serves me the most played albums around July 1978 were Bat out of Hell and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours which had came out the year before.  Street Legal by Dylan had only came out and it’s fair to say that it became another one that “done the rounds”.
On one of the first shows..it may well have been the first in fact…a dozen of us sitting watching..had our ears well and truly pricked with the introduction of a “new” band.  Dire Straits.  Even the most knowledgeable amongst us drew a blank here, so didn’t know what to expect.  Being late at night the television was turned down to a very low level of volume..to placate those who went to bed early.  Even still, when Mark Knopfler starting picking and strumming his was through Sultans of Swing we collectively knew we were hearing something different…a new rawness..a departure..and something that heralded a vibrant, burgeoning talent.  The lyrics, on first hearing were a divergence from the saccharin sweetness of what was being served up in the Top Forty…after all John Travolta and Olivia Newton John were firmly planted at the top of the pile at this time with Rod Stewart on their coat tails with the Scottish World Cup anthem.  The lyrics delivered in a sexy gravelly tone, were street wise and immediate.  There were instant comparisons to Dylan and other memorable singer songwriters of the time.  Those who weren’t seated with us for Revolver, soon appeared.  The peeked out through their cubicle curtains…they shuffled in behind us clad only in Y Fronts .  Before the song ended most of the guys in the hut had gathered.  Save those who were sleeping or the ones that couldn’t see past Jim Reeves and Charlie Pride.  The rest of Revolver that night was tendered inconsequential and was lost in a babble of approval and a chorus of intent..to buy the album..of the same name..at the earliest opportunity.  Bobby Hat—the hut OC—poked his head out the curtain…not to join in the revelry..but rather to tell us all to “turn that TV and get into bloody bed.
It being a Sunday many of us wouldn’t have visits for 6 or 7 days.  And being a time before mobile phones the done thing was to write a letter to inform your folks to have the album in your next parcel.  This was done as a matter of urgency—many writing letters that night—for fear of being the tube that didn’t get the album.
Frankie C went one better.  He put his name down in the welfare book and got a phone call out to his Mum..who was able to get the album on Monday morning and have it brought up with the papers the same day.  How we were tortured that night..when he refused to let any of us hear it….Get Yer Own!!  One by one as we got our visits and parcels we got the album..LP’s they were called in those days.  And one by one we trooped out to the study hut to take our turn on the ancient Danzette…we even carried our own needle too…so we couldn’t accuse the previous participant of gathering a fur coat on the end of the communal needle.  Sultans of Swing was an anthem that summer.  It inspired those hitherto guitar buffs to go back to the drawing board..or in some cases the Bert Weedon manual.  First thing in the mornings the ablutions echoed to the refrains of the chorus..hummed and sang.  Today it is as relevant as ever…at least to me.  It still retains that immediacy that made me shift in my hard plastic sheet all those years ago, and sagely nod my head in recognition of something special.

“They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band-
It aint what they call Rock and Roll……..”

 

Beano

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Capital Idea For Unionist Leaders: Loyalists Need Dublin Input: Dr. John Coulter

Capital idea for Unionist leaders: Loyalists need Dublin input

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Take the Dublin road and set up a Unionist Embassy in the Dáil and in no time King Kenny will be begging Dandy Dave Cameron to let loyalists tramp where they like!

That’s the graduated response Unionists should be taking if they have any titter of wit.

Walkouts did not work in 1985/86 against the Anglo-Irish Agreement – and it won’t work now.

Unionists need to start thinking with their heads, not tramping with their feet. As for the Orange Order and the other Loyal Orders, they need to return to their religious roots.

Rather than focus on trying to get along contentious parade routes, they should concentrate on getting as many of their members back into Christian churches.

Unionists need a reality check that this is not 1974 when Sunningdale could be toppled by massive street protests.

It’s 2014 and the PSNI has a new top cop in Geordie Hamilton, who takes a no-nonsense approach to people who breach any Parades Commission rulings.

The Brits have learned from their mistakes in ’74 when they caved in to the loyalist paramilitary muscle of the Ulster Workers’ Council.

And the Unionist leaderships need to finally wise up and realise they don’t possess the same discipline over loyalists on the streets as republicans have mastered.

Republicans have the skills to fully control the tap of violence which they can turn on and off at will.

When Unionists call loyalists onto the streets, uncontrolled mayhem always follows. And it’s equally clear that Big Hammy has converted his PSNI riot units into well-trained carbon copies of the Garda Siochana’s elite riot cops.

Republicans took major leaps ahead of marching Unionism in the late 1980s when they used the Belfast Accord to set up the Maryfield Secretariat.

That gave Dublin its first major say in the running of the North since partition.

A Maryfield-style Unionist Embassy in Leinster House is the only graduated response loyalists should implement.

It should be manned by all the Unionist parties plus the Loyal Orders and should bombard King Kenny with a whinge list of all that is wrong with the South, republicanism, and the Catholic Church.

Phase Two would be use the North South Ministerial Council to demand loyalist representation in the Dublin Senate.

Unionism needs radical Right-wingers in the Senate; not liberal token Prods.

Kenny is crapping himself at the advance of the Southern Shinners. His nightmare scenario of having Gerry Adams as his Tanaiste after next year’s Dáil poll is now a big reality.

The last thing Kenny needs is Unionists moaning about Southern ills and chirping daily about the political dangers posed by Sinn Féin.

Cameron also knows his Lib Dem partners will also be screwed after next year’s Westminster poll. Dave needs a new Commons buddy to stay in Downing Street – so enter the DUP!

My Unionist Embassy solution is a workable graduated response for loyalists – provided they are smart enough to stay off the streets.

As for Sinn Féin, how can it stop the Unionist Embassy buggering up its agenda?

Simple, ‘retire’ Gerry and Marty and fill the party with draft dodgers who have never served their Shinner apprenticeships in the IRA.

July 15, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the July 14, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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A Critique of the Caring Profession in Northern Ireland: William Ennis

The following essay was part of an assignment I submitted toward my Open University studies.

I believe the provision of care for those in society, old and young alike, as well as the treatment of those who provide that care, are issues in which Loyalist communities, along with others, have a huge stake. 

 

 

Why are low wages a feature of the caring profession, and what are the implications of low wages for the provision of care in a modern society?

To undertake this essay I shall create two sub-headings to deal with the two main questions within the title.  In both sub-headings of this essay I have identified more avenues for potential explanation than can be explored given the mandatory word limit.  The few selected are the ones I consider most prominent.

Why are low wages a feature of the caring profession?

Females have consistently been over-represented in the caring profession.  It is also the case that females are paid lower wages than men.  With the above two factors considered it is clear that the combined effect will be a poor wages in the caring profession.

“The main differences are a gender wage differential of about 20% in favour of male employees, a wage premium of around 30% for full time over part time workers, and a wide variation in wage rates between employees according to their level of qualifications (an analysis of data by the UK Labour force survey, Slater, 2011).”

 

 

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Bring Direct Rule Back For Summer: Dr. John Coulter

Bring back Direct Rule for summer

 

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

 

 

Suspend Stormont until September to get the North through the marching season and kick-start the Haass peace agenda.

Even the most enthusiastic supporter of the peace process must recognise that the Assembly is in serious trouble and in urgent need of repair.

Gone are the famous ‘Chuckle Brothers’ days when Paisley senior and McGuinness could settle any crisis with a simple, cordial chat.

Stormont has now descended into a battle a day between Robbo’s Dupes and Marty’s Shinners.

The only workable solution is suspension with London coming back with temporary Direct Rule to ensure the welfare reform bill is implemented.

The sticking point is that the DUP wants it; the Shinners don’t!

Unionists remain puzzled as to why Sinn Féin wants to put the brakes on welfare reform given the benefits it will bring to hundreds of thousands of Northern citizens – and that includes republicans!

Is it a case of the Shinners just being pig-headed and wanting to prove a point?

Maybe the Shinners just want to mark the DUP’s cards by letting Robbo’s party know Sinn Féin is still an important a cog in the Executive.

The real truth is that Sinn Féin is scared of the impact which agreeing to welfare reform will have on its chances of becoming a Dáil partner in the next coalition government in Dublin.

The Shinners have the North sewn up. If Unionist voter apathy and splits continue, Sinn Féin will be the largest party at Stormont by 2016 and ex-IRA commander Marty will be First Minister.

While the Shinners now stress that the posts of First and Deputy First Minister are equal, you can rest assured if Sinn Féin wins the 2016 Assembly poll, the rules will be changed to ensure that the First Minister’s throne is the main seat of power.

Sinn Féin will aim to be in power on both sides of the Irish border by the time republicans are commemorating the centenary of the doomed Easter Rising in two years’ time.

To pull off this stunt, it must purge the party of the influence of all ex-IRA jailbirds. Sinn Féin must rebrand itself as a sensible centre Left movement which believes passionately in the concept of ‘The Caring Republicans’.

Speaking of ‘caring’, the Shinners don’t give a crap what happens to the election-battered Stoops.

If the European and super council bandwagon can be maintained, Sinn Féin could emerge from next year’s Westminster General Election with eight MPs, adding Foyle, South Down and East Derry to its current tally of five.

The Stoops are supporting the Shinners over welfare reform as the former badly needs the latter’s transfers to remain a force at Stormont.

Stoops boss Big Al McDonnell may soon be facing a leadership coup after the party’s disastrous European outing.

Marty recently met Queen Bess for a private chit-chat. Is a deal underway to get the Shinners to agree an oath wording and their Commons seats?

The DUP and Stoops have representatives who take seats at Stormont and Westminster. With a hung Commons on the cards for 2015, Sinn Féin should be at the heart of the action.

July 1, 2014________________

 

This article appeared in the June 30, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.

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Thoughts of a GFA Convert: William Ennis

Thoughts of a GFA convert

 

It secured Northern Irelands self-determination, brought us almost completely out of a violent hell which had spanned multiple generations, convinced Republicans not only to accept  but to work in a Northern Ireland Government, and gave unprecedented global acknowledgement to Ulster-Scots traditions as well as a world stage to political Loyalism…  So why do so many Loyalists continue to hate the Good Friday Agreement?

The referendum of 1998 was my first vote and I had my decision made!  It would be a resounding NO!  No to  “terrorists in government!”  Because at the age of eighteen, this apprentice electrician from East Belfast didn’t care what the question was, Ian Paisley was the answer.  The huge bombs which had made my community’s life hell had been the alpha and omega of my politicisation and Paisley had been the one thunderous voice which consistently drowned out the oratory of the bomber’s apologists.  So in this, his brightest spotlight since ‘85, Paisley had my vote in the bag.

I voted no, and would one day grow to feel very foolish for having done so.

In this article, I will break down why I now firmly believe that the Belfast Agreement (BA)/Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was and remains a good deal for Unionists and Nationalists, Loyalists and Republicans alike.  I will rely quite heavily on direct quotation from both the BA as well as other relevant documents.

 

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Racism: The New Sectarianism?…Dr. John Coulter

John Coulter

Written By: John Coulter
Published: June 15, 2014 Last modified: June 11, 2014

Racism has become the new sectarianism in Ireland, judging by post-election fever. A furore was sparked when one of Northern Ireland’s most prominent Christian fundamentalist preachers, Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, preached a sermon condemning Islam. His filmed comments were beamed around the world and the Irish media was dominated by the fallout, which even dragged First Minister Peter Robinson into the row.

The storm became a hurricane when Northern Ireland’s sole ethnic Assembly member, Anna Lo of Alliance, dropped a tearful bombshell that she was quitting politics, partly due to racist abuse.

But let’s put some brakes on the situation. Ireland is not about to be engulfed in a Crusade-style race war between Christianity and Islam. Racism has existed on the island for generations.

It was the sectarian conflict in the north between Unionist and Republican which covered over the racist cracks in Irish society. The Irish travelling community has suffered racist abuse for decades. Fascist groups such as the National Front, British National Party and even the Ku Klux Klan have tried unsuccessfully to take advantage of the sectarian strife and gain a foothold in Northern Ireland.

In the north’s recent super council elections, the BNP was wiped out and UKIP only managed three councillors – hardly a major breakthrough for the hard right as has been witnessed by UKIP in England, the Front National in France and Golden Dawn in Greece.

So why does it appear that the Muslim community in Ireland is fair game for Christian fundamentalists? The answer is alarmingly simple:  the race is on to see who can succeed former firebrand the Reverend Ian Paisley as the island’s leading hellfire evangelist.

Earlier this year, the former DUP leader and Stormont First Minister announced his formal retirement from preaching. As well as being one of Ireland’s leading Unionist political figures, Paisley senior – now Lord Bannside – rapidly climbed to the top of the Bible Belt’s hellfire evangelists. He even formed his own denomination in 1951, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, of which he was Moderator – or leader – for more than 50 years before a hardline loyalist clique in the denomination decided he had to quit following his decision to share power with Sinn Fein at Stormont.

With Paisley retired, fundamentalists across Ireland – and especially in Ulster – began flicking through their Bibles to find topics which would trigger instant media fame. It could have easily been topics such as divorce, gay marriage, abortion, drug abuse, child abuse and witchcraft. But McConnell hit the ground running with his controversial filmed sermon on Islam.

McConnell comes from the Pentecostal tradition of Christianity. He was quickly followed by a less hard-hitting but equally contentious statement on Islam from a Free Presbyterian cleric.  It’s only a matter of time before others firebrands from fundamentalist denominations, such as Elim, the Brethren and Baptists, get in on the act. Fundamentalism is on the hunt for its new Christian martyr.

But such preachers need to be careful they do not provide a springboard for the far right in Ireland.

The far right has always found it difficult to gain an organisational foothold because of the loyalist and republican paramilitary groups. The existence of the UVF, UDA, IRA and INLA meant it was impossible for mainland racist groups such as Combat 18 or Column 88 to organise in Ireland. But all it takes is one racist rant from someone senior – such as a cleric – and the dar right has got the recruiting card it so badly needs.

The big danger from the far right will come on Irish streets. Already in the north, the police are reporting a rise in the number of hate crimes. Hardly a week passes in that the media are not reporting on an attack on a migrant worker’s home.

While thousands recently attended a rally in Belfast city centre to protest against racist attacks, there could equally be many who would conclude that McConnell was stating in public what many believe in private about Islam.

One question remains unanswered: how racist is Ireland really?

 

This article first appeared in the Tribune Magazine June 2014.

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Hurdles on the Road to Irish Unity: Dr. John Coulter.

John Coulter

Written By: John Coulter
Published: June 1, 2014 Last modified: May 28, 2014

Former Sinn Fein leader Eamon de Valera must be spinning in his grave with laughter at the thought of his party laying the foundations for another 1918 election landslide. Yes, you read correct. I said 1918. World War One had just ended the previous month and the United Kingdom went from war footing to election mode.

Sinn Fein was only 13 years old and the Irish Volunteers had really messed up the Rising of two years previous. Founded in 1905, Sinn Fein had been one of the main organisations along with the Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army which instigated the militarily doomed Easter Rising of 1916.

The republicans were really naive if they thought they could sneak a united Ireland in by the military back door while Britain was at war in Europe. Ireland was one nation under the British Empire and had 105 seats in Westminster.

De Valera had survived the executions and arrests of British general “Bloody” Maxwell, who crushed the Rising with alarming force.

It was those executions which propelled many of the Rising organisers into republican martyrdom status instead of being written off as “those silly Irish”.

Initially, as the Volunteers were marched into captivity to await sentencing, they were even spat upon by Dublin working-class Catholics.  Those arrests also catapulted Sinn Fein from the butt of this Dublin Catholic venom in 1916 to the largest political movement in Ireland two years later. That 1918 election saw Sinn Fein capture a massive 47 per cent of the entire vote across the island, giving it 73 of those 105 seats.

Until then, Irish nationalism was represented for decades by the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, but 1918 saw it all but wiped out by the Sinn Fein bandwagon, winning only six seats.

The British and Irish governments have created another de Valera with the arrest, questioning and release of Sinn Fein president and Louth TD Gerry Adams.

When Sinn Fein entered the Stormont power-sharing Executive with Ian Paisley’s DUP in 2007, it must have realised the Northern Assembly would be a very unstable institution.

A united Ireland will not be achieved through victory at Stormont; it will be brought about by being part of a Dail government.

Look at the Scottish lesson. Scottish nationalists did not gain their referendum on independence by winning seats in London. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s SNP is one step away from quitting the Union by winning seats – and becoming the majority party – in the Scottish devolved government in Edinburgh.

Likewise, Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister at Stormont in 2016 with Sinn Fein as the largest Assembly party will not guarantee Irish unity.

Sinn Fein must win Dail seats. The Adams arrest debacle could well position the party to at least becoming a minority government partner in the next Dail.  That could never happen, you sneer. Leinster House currently has a right-wing Fine Gael coalition with a left-wing Labour partner.

In Britain, the Tories share power with the Liberal Democrats, so why not a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition as the next Dail, with Adams as Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister)?

But the scars of the Irish Civil War in the 1920s run deep. There are many nationalists across Ireland who never want the Shinners to be in power again, especially in the south. For this brand of southern nationalism, it’s all very well Sinn Fein winning Stormont and Westminster seats. This makes Sinn Fein an English problem. But when the TDs start stacking up in Leinster House, the alarm bells begin ringings. If the Irish and British grey suits thought attacking Adams would derail the Shinners, they badly miscalculated.

If Salmond can lead the SNP from the political fringes to government at Holyrood, Adams can take Sinn Fein to becoming the majority partner in a Dail coalition.

In the meantime, McGuinness must become Stormont First Minister and the Shinners need to take their Westminster seats.What will block Irish unity is the Tories and UKIP merging with Nigel Farage as Prime Minister.

Don’t laugh – politics is now the art of the totally weird.

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