Monthly Archives: September 2013

Newtowncunningham 1063: Dr. Anthony McIntyre

This article was originally posted on 27th September on www.thepensivequill.am

Anthony McIntyre is a former IRA life sentence prisoner who currently works as a journalist and researcher.  Upon release from Long Kesh in the early 1990′s he studeid at Queens University eventually gaining a PhD in History.  He is highly critical of the modern Sinn Fein and is the author of the book The Good Friday Agreement: The Death of Irish Republicanism published in 2008.
Anthony is the moderator of the blog The Pensive Quill.

 

 

I don’t recall having been inside an Orange Hall before. Unless somebody surprises me with something I have completely forgotten about childhood jumble sales or the like being held in these places, NewtownCunningham would, I am certain, be my first visit to one.

I had been invited there to speak at a seminar as part of the Creating Space for Learning and Sharing Programme, put together by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, and financed by the International Fund for Ireland. These days I try to speak at public events as little as possible, much the same for TV appearances. Unfortunately the Boston College affair intervened, compelling me to rise from my self-imposed torpor and go and bat at the crease. I have been told I have a good face for radio so I don’t mind doing that so much.

Since moving South the value of anonymity has made itself felt. There is much to be said for a quiet life, free from rows and controversy: a setting where children can walk the streets or go to school and not be made to feel uncomfortable because their parents don’t vote Sinn Fein.

Seeing no future for the republican project as an answer to the question of partition – and having grown disenchanted by the amount of energy and resources expended by so many in flogging a single dead horse – the need to further comment on republicanism just never seemed as pressing. Even post-Blanket blog writing was rarely carried out with the same enthusiasm or rigour: a certain lackadaisical property had embedded itself in the psyche, and in my mind my own writing had gone off the boil.   These days it is a rare occasion that I put in an appearance at much: my dubious logic for being an inveterate funeral evader is that as I won’t be going to theirs because they won’t be going to mine.

But yesterday I did turn up at Newtowncunningham Orange Hall, having been invited to speak there on the topic of independent republicanism.  I arrived after a four hour bus journey the previous evening from Dublin to Letterkenny during which I finished off Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft and then immediately started a review copy of You are Mine Now by Hans Koppel. On the blurb the husband of the central character is called Lukas, whereas in the book he is Magnus. Unproofed but hardly unread.  My passion for Scandinavian crime fiction remains unbounded. The thought of meeting Donegal Orangemen was not going to prevent me from going down my traditional reading route.

That evening in the Donegal home of a friend he and I drank whiskey and chewed the fat on all manner of things, even theology. I told him I hadn’t seen him in years to which he responded I had seen him in Belfast in January. Memory and its vagaries! I no longer trust it as I once did.

I had no sense of trepidation about speaking in an Orange Hall. If they listened, they did; if they hooted and tooted, they would do that too. Either way I would deal with it. Ultimately I anticipated no hostility and was not proved wrong. The hosts were graciously hospitable, brimming with rural charm and bonhomie. They served up a scrumptious breakfast before the business of the day began.

After a brief introduction to the history of Orange Lodge 1063 by two of its members, I took the podium. I gave a 20 minute talk which I had prepared in advance. It was a collection of ideas that I had given expression to over the years but had not pulled together in one piece. I sought to address what I considered to be the redundancy of the republican meta narrative and to outline one, inter alia, independent republican position. It seemed to go down well enough if the question and answer session that followed was anything to go by. I sensed that the Orange Order in Donegal felt it was tolerated rather than accepted as part of the community; that discrimination was insidious.

I was followed by Quincey Dougan, a marching bandsman from Armagh’s Markethill. He explained something of the culture of these bands of which he had been a member for 27 years. He readily acknowledged that he was a loyalist, even an extreme one, although what he had to say was delivered without any of the venom we have come to associate with extreme loyalism. Here was an articulate advocate of loyalism making arguments that republicans and nationalists at least need to hear before they decide to deconstruct and dismiss.

While listening to Quincey I got a phone call from the Irish News, which sort of surprised me as I thought they were not talking to me these days. While I might have problems with policy and procedures at the paper I would never snub its journalists and remain prepared to talk to all at the paper if they talk to me but not down at me. The journalist in question wanted to talk about Priory Hall. While not expecting to be treated fairly by the paper these days, I still spoke to her.  I see no reason not to talk to any particular journalist if they are news gathering. Later I was told I should have given it a miss as they would stitch me up. That remains to be seen. I am more than capable of battling my corner. But I didn’t feel I could stand speaking in an Orange Hall and get all high and mighty when asked to speak to a journalist from a paper I have some as yet unresolved difficulties with.

After feasting on some tasty Orange cuisine for lunch I wondered how it was possible that there could be any slim Orangemen. I was tempted to ask facetiously if we were simply the papists being fattened up for the kill that afternoon by a blood curdling mob screaming ‘for God and Ulster.’ The staff for the day were the essence of hearth and home.

Tommy McKearney took to the podium immediately after lunch addressing from a different angle the theme of independent republicanism that I had tried to cover in the first session of the morning. His argument while not altogether dissimilar to my own was more upbeat, stressing the plurality of key strands within republicanism; that it was not partition fixated. His emphasis was shaped by his strong affinity with the Left. I wondered to what extent some people were eager to speak rather than listen, if they even followed the news or simply wallowed in their own prejudices. Tommy was told that his party, to which he has never actually belonged, had only 2% of the vote. Some people might not always go back as far as 1690 but they seem to prefer the past to the present.

The last speaker of the day was Gary Moore, a former UDA prisoner. A somewhat pronounced Ballymena accent and an affected shambling demeanour did not disguise a very astute intellect that outlined the work he was doing in the loyalist community, much of it in the area of Ulster Scots. It was easy to detect a disdain in him for big house unionism as he narrated his impoverished upbringing.  One point that struck me was when he spoke of the killing of Robert Bradford and how that had impacted on perceptions. He fully understood how republicans viewed Bradford and his death but 2 elderly women, one of whom was his granny, if I am right, said that ‘if they will kill a pastor they will kill us all.’

The impact of that on a child growing up can only be formative. From that moment on life in an armed loyalist body was the pathway he felt destined to tread along. Republicanism will be enhanced by trying to understand the multiplicity of factors that feed into the motivation behind people embracing loyalism.

Time to leave, when it came, was hopefully only a temporary parting of the ways. I had met too many unionists in my day to think they were all monsters impervious to reason. I am as easy in their company as I am in the company of others I disagree with politically. There are many from the unionist community who happen to be much more liberal in outlook than some I have come across on the nationalist side. No side can claim a monopoly on tolerance and intellectual pluralism.

Apart from the virgin territory of an Orange Hall there was nothing new in it to me. I have been exchanging views with loyalists and unionists for two decades and have spoken to unionist audiences. The Orange were probably less familiar with it than ourselves. They had agreed to welcome two former IRA prisoners into their hall, and then found they got two atheists as well. If it was a bit much for god fearing, devil dodging Ulster Protestants they didn’t show it, bantering and joking with the rest of us. What did strike me perhaps more than anything else was the sense of humble pride they took in their own history: proud of their family and proud of their lodge. Neither brash nor boastful, they were people I could feel absolutely no enmity towards.

On departure, rather than spend four hours on the bus from Donegal I took a lift over to Monaghan Town where I could catch the Letterkenny bus on its return leg to Dublin later in the evening. On our way there I asked Tommy to show me the Omagh street where the effects of armed republicanism were all too poignantly felt in 1998.  I had visited many republican graves in Tyrone with Tommy shortly after my release from prison and curiosity rather than any sense of balance prompted my request on this occasion. Yet, visiting the street where republicans had wreaked so much devastation, I felt that if ever there was a spot to anchor the never again sentiment it was surely there. Perhaps the greatest besmirchment to the memory of the dead of Omagh was that physical force republicanism did not die the very same afternoon.

The events of Newtowncunningham Orange Hall reminded me not to mistake the margins for the centre. Northern society is a wide ocean where each side looks across at the other, seeing the turbulent waters that separate them as being of either an orange or a green hue with each trying to dilute the colour not to its liking. Yesterday’s seminar sends only a small ripple into the vast turbulence, and one that might as easily be forced back to shore come the next tide carrying a surfing flag waver of whatever colour.  Peace there might well be, but it is far from tranquil.

Still, I thought it worth a shot … of a different type.

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We’ll Mourn If Labour Doesn’t Organise Over Here: Dr. John Coulter

John Coulter

We’ll mourn if Labour doesn’t organise over here

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Memo to Ed Miliband: please contest elections in Northern Ireland because the centre is split, the right is in disarray and Labour has the chance to score a remarkable success.

It took generations for Northern Ireland socialists to convince the British Labour leadership to organise in Ulster. We were fobbed off, with our membership cheques returned, and told to join the soft republican, inappropriately named Social Democratic and Labour Party.

The Southern Irish Labour Party – one of the oldest socialist movements on the island and now part of the partnership government in Dublin – has consistently refused to organise in Northern Ireland.

The most successful attempt at establishing a socialist movement in Ulster was the now defunct Northern Ireland Labour Party, eventually swallowed up in the 1970s by the centrist Alliance Party.

Other attempts by the left to establish political movements were too closely linked to terrorist groups. These included the Workers’ Party (Official IRA, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (INLA), Progressive Unionist Party (UVF and Red Hand Commando) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDA).

With a series of elections in Ulster in the coming three years, British Labour has been presented with the best opportunity in years to establish an effective electoral presence in Northern Ireland.

Ironically, the peace process has had a devastating effect on the loyalist working class. Its traditional voice, the Democratic Unionists have remodelled themselves as a middle-class Unionist movement and have been accused of shunning the Protestant working class.

The left-leaning Progressive Unionists have seen an increase in support, but their paramilitary past makes to attract the pro-Union middle classes.

In the nationalist camp, to remain ahead of its main rival, the SDLP, Sinn Fein may concentrate on the Catholic middle class, perhaps at the expense of its traditional working class heartlands.

On the centre-right, there is a four-way split between Alliance, the DUP, Northern Irish Tories and the new kids on the block – NI21, formed by two former Ulster Unionist Assembly members.

Alliance, often seen as a “soft U” unionist party and dubbed the “wine and cheese brigade” could go into electoral free-fall because of its role in the Union flag debacle at Belfast City Hall.

Many Alliance politicians relied on transfer votes from mainly Unionist parties to get elected. If those same Unionists snub Alliance, it would effectively put the party out of business.

The Tories, trying to present themselves as a pluralist, movement endorsed gay marriage. But Northern Ireland has a huge Christian population who oppose to it.

In an increasingly secular mainland Britain, gay marriage may be a vote winner, in Northern Ireland it is not. If the Tories contest the 2014 European elections here, they will be lucky to save their deposit.

The NI21 party was spawned from the civil war which has been raging in the Ulster Unionist Party since the then leader David Trimble signed up to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Launched with much media hype, it has yet to be tested at the polls, but is expected to crash and burn, and is already being written off as little more than a two-fingered salute to the current UUP leadership.

The Democratic Unionist Party, led by First Minister Peter Robinson, is on the receiving end of backlash from working-class Protestants who feel republicans have benefited more from the peace process than they have.

Such is the disillusionment among working-class loyalists that they have formed their own hardline party, the Protestant Coalition. A few years ago, similar disillusionment led to the creation of Traditional Unionist Voice.

In spite of being battered at elections since 2003, the Ulster Unionists could still rebrand themselves as a solid right-wing Unionist organisation, although the UK Independence Party is lurking on the wings.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Ulster socialists have a dream that at this Labour conference Ed Miliband will announce his party will contest elections in Northern Ireland.

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Down Capacity Building Initiative:New Offices

 MP Mike Penning Minister of State for Northern Ireland recently visited the Down Capacity Building Initiative offices at Railway Court Bangor. The group welcomed the Minister to their newly established office along with MP’s Lady Sylvia Hermon and Jim Shannon, MLA’s, local Councillors  and other invited guests.
Those gathered where welcomed and  addressed by David Mahaffey a member of the DCBI who explained the on going work and planning for the future the group has engaged in and having produced a report on Renewing Communities Building a positive future with Professor Peter Shirlow are now developing the Renewing Communities II Communities in Transition Plan 2013 – 2016, the audience also heard praise of the groups activities from guest speakers Martin Snodden from Northern Spring and Catherine Mallon Good Relations Officer of North Down Borough Council.
The two local MPs also said a few words before the Minister spoke to the room and thanked the group for their invitation to visit  Ards and North Down and gave the DCBI encouragement to continue the good work they are doing for the local communities.

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Martin McGuinness: Ex Chief of Staff-or just Northern Commander?

On the day when Martin McGuinness–Deputy First Minister–is asked to speak at a ceremony in Warrington remembering thos killed by an IRA bomb we post a revealing interview given some years back to reporter Tom Mangold.
This article first appeared in www.thebrokenelbow.com .

 

 

New post on The Broken Elbow

 

 

“As The Officer Commanding The Derry Part Of The         IRA…?” – That Tom Mangold Interview With Martin McGuinness Now         On YouTube

by The Broken Elbow

Many thanks to       “Wicklow” for this tip that the famous Tom Mangold interview       with a young Martin McGuinness is now on YouTube, the one which begins       with the celebrated question: “As the officer commanding the Derry       part of the IRA Provisionals….?

It was, allegedly,       the threat that this interview would be used against him that persuaded       him both to give evidence to the Saville Tribunal confirming his IRA       membership at the time of Bloody Sunday and to refine the description of       his IRA career so that he supposedly left the organisation back in 1974.

Up until then the       report in the London Independent       below was how he normally dealt with the matter, which       more or less accorded with the traditional stance of IRA members when       confronted by the membership question, i.e. a non-denial denial. Given       his conviction in a Dublin court for IRA offences and his courtroom boast       of his pride at being an IRA activist he could hardly do anything else.       Unencumbered by such baggage, Gerry Adams is on the other hand able to       issue flat denials of IRA associations.

Wearing a moustache, Martin McGuinness in Garda custody       prior to one of his court appearances in Dublin

The report, which was       published in August 1993, appeared after a screening of the Cook Report       on ITV which claimed that he was “the man in charge of the       IRA”. McGuinness’ assertion that he was not the Chief of Staff was       actually correct. Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy held that job. But his claim that he       was not a member of the IRA was untrue. He was Northern Commander in 1993,       or just had been, and since the IRA’s war was fought largely in the North       one could argue that he was a very important member of the IRA at least,       if not the man actually in charge. Here is the relevant part of The Independent       report:

Mr McGuinness did not       appear on the programme, but yesterday gave a series of interviews in       which he denied its claims. He told a BBC interviewer that as a young man       he ‘took up a particular stance which I’m not prepared to elaborate on in       this programme’.

Asked if he had ever       been a member of the IRA, he replied: ‘I’m not stating any opinion at all       about what I was in the past. What I’m saying is I’m not a member of the       IRA. I’m not chief of staff of the IRA and I’m not Britain’s number one       terrorist.’

After his appearance       at the Saville Tribunal, McGuinness’ narrative was polished so that while       he was not denying IRA membership in the early 1970′s, he insisted he had       left the organisation in 1974 or thereabouts. For reasons that defy       understanding his half-lie is paraded by some in the media as evidence of       his ethical superiority to Gerry Adams when in fact it is qualitatively       no different and arguably is worse.

Anyway here is the       YouTube video. The Mangold part is about half way through and starts at 4       minutes 30 seconds. Enjoy:

The Broken Elbow | September 12,       2013 at 10:59 am | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p1iwpM-Da

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The Extermination of Innocence: Charlie Freel

It is difficult to see what benefits the Haass talks could possibly hold for working class Loyalist’s or the genuinely innocent victims of the conflict, all of whom will be totally unrepresented at these meaningless talks.

 

The Extermination of Innocence

 

Was there ever a Cause worth the life of a child?
Could conscience ever justify such a price?
Is the innocence laid bare, by a child’s helpless stare,
Not more precious than all selfish rights?

If we had to shovel the remains of that child
Whose young body was scattered by hate.
Would we still be so sure that our motives were pure?
Or would we just slink away in the night?

What excuse have we left for a cause that is deaf?
To the anguish of innocence slaughtered
What excuse to be blind, to that sad endless line
Of young lives that our causes have ended.

So to hell with your cause, false religion and laws
To hell with false patriots and martyr’s
We have all broke God’s Laws, for the sake of a cause
That has nothing but death left to barter.

Charlie Freel

 

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Review of “Meeting at Menin Gate”: Primo

The Road to Menin Gate.

 

I went to see this play, and as I have seen many of Martin Lynch’s plays, had a rough idea of what would happen. Victim’s daughter meets her father’s killer.  Angst, anger, resolution.  I was slightly out there and I didn’t see what was coming, which when it did was excruciating at times to watch (or endure).  It was a play of two halves.  It was dichotomous, which reflects nicely, I suppose, the situation in our ‘wee country’.

The play was well acted, but poorly attended.  I would recommend seeing it – unless torture is not your thing.  The first half of the play is pretty standard and concentrates on developing the backgrounds of the two main characters.  At the break you are left wondering how the policeman’s daughter is going to react.  She does react and not half. She obviously has problems and issues from the loss of her father some 30 years prior and I suppose Lynch gives vent to how some people feel but can’t express those feelings in ‘proper’ society.

I see the play on a number of levels with different themes.  First of all victims.  An unsolvable issue for our society with our attitudes and history.  True forgiveness is so great because it is so rare. Here a victim can give vent to their pain and hurt on a target.  But this is victimhood verging or toppling into psychosis and becoming as bad as the perpetrator?  There is also a release. A violent catharsis? I think Lynch is extremely brave to cast the victim as dancing, singing and nearly in rapture at the realisation she has captured her father’s killer.  And inflicted a lot of directed pain and suffering. Two wrongs making a right?  Maybe in our wee country.  The social narrative is that victims are nice, long suffering and sombre.  The problem with N.I is that there are 3 social narratives going on as regards victims hence the confusion and intractability.

But I could view the two characters as two of the main ‘chunks’ of society today.  The woman as law abiding, middle upper class ‘decent’ core unionists.  The man  as, well,  violent republicanism, Sinn Fein, et al.  The play shows up one image of how things would be if those unionists could give vent to their hurt if only they could get the Shinners hamstrung the way poor Terry ends up.  And would the unionist victim’s gloat and rage over their captive?  Some would.  Of course that is not going to happen.  Terry does his best to explain what he went through and the very human feelings of guilt with ending two men’s lives. (Be they brits, peelers or whatever other label you wish to use).  I was left with a huge question.  Terry eventually– under torture– apologies and admits murder. But did he really kill/murder/execute her father?  I don’t know.  At some point she has lost the realisation that she isn’t after the truth. She is after plain old common revenge.  All in all this was a great play looking at some really complex issues.  I am left wondering  if one of the plays messages is  that, if we took all the killers and forced confessions out of them by torture that everything would be fine.  Is this the way to resolve the Troubles legacy issue?  I don’t think so.

Primo

 

 

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From Cage To Block: End of an Era: June 1988: Primo

The Leaving.

It is June 1988. A little part of prison history is taking place. Set inside the history of the troubles this event does not rank high. However we are the remnant of the men who conducted the violence of the early 1970s.

I am special category prisoner, a lifer who has served most of my time in Compound or Cage 21 of the Long Kesh prison camp. But today we are leaving that all behind.  We remaining lifers are going to H 2, across the wall. We have packed all our stuff in boxes that have been sent on ahead.  We are taken, a small group at a time, in the prison mini bus. The windows are covered over ‘for security reasons’. There are many mixed feelings.  Firstly there is fear.  We are placing ourselves in the hands of a prison regime that for years was hostile, vindictive and political in it treatment of us. We are now trusting them to honour an under the table deal that sees us go to a H Block in order to end the compound system and the reward is that we will get out sooner.

Another feeling is excitement. We are going somewhere new. Over the last decade we have walked every square inch of this space. We watched summers come and go, endured the winters which painted the wire white with hoar frost.  The rains that battered the round tin roofs. We seen 1000 sunrises and sunsets. And on a grey overcast day with the greys of concrete walls we were like in one giant grey foreboding box. This move is a step along the life sentence.

Another feeling in this strange mix, and one that puzzles me,  is one of sadness. How can I be sad to see the end of this? My dream was to get out of it? But this place has seen a full decade of my life. I came in as a teenager and now I’m leaving as a thirty something. I suppose its the memoires. God knows there was some dark times.  Days of fear. Fights, disputes. A furious rage as maturity takes hold and you know what you are missing. But it is the memories, the good ones, that outsiders won’t understand. We had good times. We had to make the best of our situation. And indeed there where many more good men here than bad. There was the joker s, the fools, the wise, the deep, the psychos and the rest. This is where you find true friends. I recall on night crying with laughter at the antics of some of men in the hut. Wee H from the Bay playing the waw waws. A from of music that will never reach the charts(I hope).  But this still is a hard place. Kindness and softness  aren’t in abundance here but they exist between friends. We were a small community bounded by our past deeds and beliefs. Our common purpose.  A meaning that will survive these walls.

During our time here, and through all our protests,  we seen the hunger strike pass by. Only 500 yards over a wall but a million miles from us. We watched and cheered in ‘85 as Mc Guigan took a world title. We watched the space shuttle burn and crash. We spent a Saturday watching Live Aid, first in London then New York. A great day. We had raised money for the charity by donating money from handicrafts.  We enjoyed the Boys from the Blackstuff. We watched in with disbelief as Stoner done his thing. Feeling and anger was stirred as we watched 2 men, 2 soldiers, being slaughtered. Supergrasses trials came and went. The screws strike. Stand offs with the screws. An attempted escape ending in death.  The Cup finals and Matches of the day.  Men released never to return.

I got a Degree and also learned how to fight properly. Met up with an American Kennedy and men from the International Red Cross. We learned about ourselves and the ‘other side’. The endless drilling now a memory. How many wallets and purses  where produced in those years? All the visits from family and friends. The many times we cleaned those toilets, the study hut, the canteen and our cubes. Painting the huts.  All those searches. The Christmases. Snowball fights and pushing weights. A unique jumble of memories. I leave this all behind.  I am sad. I am happy.  The mini bus door shuts. I will never be back here.

 

Primo.

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LOYALIST HAASS TALKS COULD BE BLUEPRINT FOR SYRIA: DR. JOHN COULTER

LOYALIST HAASS TALKS COULD BE BLUEPRINT FOR SYRIA

 

The forthcoming Haass talks to resolve the peace process crisis provide Loyalism with the perfect platform to become a template for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. Radical Unionist commentator and former Blanket columnist, DR JOHN COULTER, outlines his controversial thinking.

Not one drop of Ulster military blood must be spilt in Syria!

At first reading, this article may seem as going totally against my stance that the United Kingdom should have used tactical nuclear weapons against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and if the Western powers had needed – used nukes against North Korea.

I am completely against any Allied attack on Syria, not because I have become some kind of trendy, liberal peace campaign, but because it would be a huge tactical error and a complete waste of previous troops, many of whom will have Northern Ireland connections.

Just as the Irish conflict has been a sectarian was within Christianity – Protestants against Catholics – so, too, the Syrian crisis has become a vicious sectarian conflict within Islam, especially between the majority Sunni Muslim faction in Syria, and the Middle Eastern state’s minority Shia Muslim community.

Given this scenario, why would American President Barack Obama want the green light to send in his bombers against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, thereby embroiling some of the Allied powers in what is only a muslim civil war?

If Iraq and Afghanistan are benchmarks, air raids will soon be followed by ground troops and the Yanks will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War by invading yet another nation and butting their noses into a religious conflict.

‘Basher’ Assad is kicking the asses of the radical Muslim Brotherhood-run Free Syrian Army.

Okay, Shia Muslim ‘Basher’ may allegedly be using chemical weapons against the Sunni Muslim rebels, but if Obama’s planes begin bombing, the real people to suffer will be Syria’s 2.5 million Christians, who comprise 10 per cent of the country.

Ironically, ‘Basher’ Assad has a reputation of being more tolerant of Syrian Christians than the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood leaders of the anti-Assad rebels.

Many American and British troops are of Irish and Ulster decent. How many Irish and Ulster families lost loved ones in the needless conflicts in Iraq over Weapons of Mass Destruction which did not exist, and in Afghanistan to eliminate the heroin poppy industry?

We should not forget, that in many global conflicts, Ulster-born or Ulster-related troops have paid a key role. In 2016, the island of Ireland will commemorate the centenary of the opening day of the bloody Battle of the Somme on 1st July, 1916, when the British forces suffered some 56,000 casualties.

The 36th Ulster Division – formed from Lord Edward Carson’s Ulster Volunteer Force – suffered particularly horrific losses with some 5,500 casualties. Indeed, many Catholic nationalists who had signed up for the Crown and fought with the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions also suffered terrible casualties.

As the current Syrian crisis deepens on a daily basis, even with Obama struggling to compile a fledgling alliance to gain support for either bombing raids or missile strikes against Damascus, we should remember the words of the United Kingdom’s famous Second World War Prime Minister Winston Churchill – it is better to jaw jaw than war war.

If the Loyalist delegations at the Haass talks on issues affecting Northern Ireland can bring about an agreed solution which maintains the peace process, then the Loyalists’ Haass solution could become a major template for the Syrian crisis.

If the Haass talk run aground, the peace process will be in serious jeopardy, especially with discontentment in the Loyalist community running at an all-time high.

All the indications point towards the fact that a violent dissident loyalist terrorist network is emerging in the aftermath of the recent Marching Season and Union flag riots.

Indeed, a new dissident loyalist terror movement of three-man cells is being formed to attack the police, Sinn Fein, and Parades Commission members, according to a key loyalist strategist behind the new movement.

Speaking exclusively to me, the loyalist source revealed the cells also planned to attack a future republican parade – preferably a dissident one – with snipers.

In an equally chilling warning, the loyalist strategist behind the planned movement said that some DUP politicians “who have let the loyalist people down” would also be targets.

“Unionism needs strong leadership at this time from the top. We are not getting this from either the DUP or UUP. We need a traditional unionist from the old school of Unionism to lead us.

“We cannot see the point of attacking the Irish Republic as the battle will be in Northern Ireland. There is no point in adopting the republican view that one bomb in London is worth 100 in Belfast. We will get no support if we target places in Great Britain.

“The DUP is heading for a downfall because it has lost the discipline at grassroots level. The PSNI cannot live in Protestant areas without the support of the Unionist people.”

Referring to the recent riots around a contentious anti-internment rally in Belfast by republicans, the loyalist strategist said: “It seemed initially that loyalist tactics were working – flood the centre of Belfast with loyalists and bring the place to a literal standstill.

“But then the police began attacking our people with batons and water cannons. If our snipers have to shoot at the police, they will.

“This is not like the early Drumcree standoffs where many of the police officers were locals and known to people. Many of these riot cops used against the loyalists are from outside Northern Ireland, so we won’t be shooting our own.”

Another loyalist source not connected to this new dissident loyalist network had claimed that gunmen armed with M16 automatic weapons were among the loyalist crowd in Royal Avenue ready to shoot republicans if the anti-internment parade made it to the city centre.

There have been unsubstantiated claimed these gunmen were from the banned UVF. During disturbances following that anti-internment parade, more than 50 officers were injured according to PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

The loyalist strategist’s chilling warning sparked memories that the first police officer to die in the past Troubles was 29-year-old Protestant Victor Arbuckle who was shot dead by the UVF in the loyalist Shankill during serious rioting.

My source claimed the key pulses of the new loyalist dissident movement would be East Belfast, the Shankill, Whiterock, Carrickfergus and Coleraine.

“Sinn Fein is trying to create a situation whereby dissident republicans fall into line behind the mainstream republican movement. The effect of our campaign will be to bring British troops back onto the streets of Ulster – which is what Sinn Fein certainly doesn’t want.

“But the gamble we are taking is that if the Army does come back, would they start shooting at us loyalists?

“Loyalism is facing new threats from republicans. Take their Tyrone Volunteers parade. It was always held in a solidly republican area. Now they want to push the barriers that wee bit further by bringing the parade to a Protestant area.

“We have to be very careful how we organise as loyalism – like the dissident republicans – has been totally infiltrated by MI5 and MI6. There are people in loyalism who would sell themselves for a pint of beer.

“The lone wolf tactic of a single terrorist acting alone, which is favour by the extreme Right, is no use as people are not fully trained.

“The dissident republicans use cells of five members, but these can be infiltrated by the security forces, so we will use cells of three. MI5 and MI6 are now so sophisticated that you can no longer use conventional electronic devices.

“We want to base our network on the Greek terrorist structure – teams of three not known to each other. Even if one cell is taken out, it does not mean the end of the organisation.”

This was a reference to the Greek Cypriot terrorist group, EOKA, formed in the 1970s against British rule in Cyprus. EOKA stood for Ethniki Organosis Kipriakou Agnonos, which is Greek for the National Organisation of Cypriot Struggle.

“It’s like the honeycomb effect – just because you empty one comb, doesn’t mean the whole honeycomb is emptied. The smaller the cell, the more effective we become. The weakness will always be on how we train a cell.

“Once an overall training network is set up, that’s when it becomes infiltrated by MI5 and MI6.”

This is not the first time a dissident loyalist terrorist group has been established. In the aftermath of the original loyalist ceasefire in 1994, the leading Mid Ulster UVF terrorist Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright split from the Belfast-controlled terror group to set up his own Loyalist Volunteer Force.

After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, other dissident loyalist groups emerged including the revamped Orange Volunteers, the Red Hand Defenders, and the Real UFF.

While mainstream loyalists rallied to the banner of the Combined Loyalist Military Command which called the 1994 ceasefires, dissident loyalists formed their own umbrella group called the Protestant Military Alliance.

The challenge, therefore, facing any Loyalist delegations at the Haass talks is to ensure that this emerging dissident Loyalist genie is returned to its bottle and the lid on that bottle firmly sealed.

Even if the Loyalists succeed in restoring peace in Northern Ireland as a result of the Haass initiative, it may not be enough to be a successful negotiated blueprint for the Syrian – and indeed, the wider – Middle Eastern crisis.

The influential Egyptian Society of Northern Ireland has its finger on the pulse of the crisis. In July 2012, there was a cautious welcome for the then Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi, who had overthrown the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

But Morsi is out of power and the remnants of the Brotherhood have resorted to a vile terror campaign against the police and army in Egypt. As the Brotherhood has lost its street support, its more militant members have formed a brutally violent dissident Islamic faction, with some linked to the al-Qaeda terror network formed by the late Osama bin Laden.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in Egypt in 1928 by an influential religious leader, Hassan al-Banna. Rather than a political movement, al-Banna wanted the Brotherhood to become an Islamic religious organisation which would spread a militant Muslim message well beyond the boundaries of Egypt.

Ironically, just as in 1928, the modern-day Brotherhood aims to put in place an agenda which is attractive to young Muslims. Its leadership wanted the Brotherhood to spread globally under the banner that it was a radical religious movement to combat the spread of atheistic communism.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood was blamed for an unsuccessful assassination bid on one president and the successful murder of another. Under Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power for the first time after years of persecution, but quickly began to mishandle the situation in the country.

Morsi’s major problems stemmed from the fact that he began to release Muslim Brotherhood prisoners similar to the way in which in Northern Ireland, Loyalist and republican inmates were given early release under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. As with Northern Ireland, this created a lot of concern in Egypt.

Morsi was also hit with a petition signed by 22 million Egyptians calling for him to call a referendum if he should serve his full term as President, or should be call elections and step aside immediately. Morsi’s refusal to grant a referendum sparked the second student-dominated revolution which overthrew both Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood would never accept offers of talks, demanding that Morsi be re-installed as President before any negotiations for a new Egyptian constitution could begin – a demand the majority of Egyptian people rejected.

The Muslim Brotherhood still see Morsi as the rightful President. Initially, the Brotherhood’s sit-ins were peaceful, but soon guns were produced at the ensuing riots. The Egyptian army took decisive action to dissolve the Brotherhood sit-ins, but the Brotherhood began arson attacks against police stations in retaliation.

With the arrests of the Brotherhood leaders, the organisation is becoming more hard core and more violent. Essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to convert the political situation into a religious crisis.

In Syria, the people of the Free Syrian Army don’t want to talk politics – they want to talk about the situation as if it is a religious conflict among Muslims.

Two Cairo university students, brother and sister Bassem and Nouran Fawzy, told me how they risked their lives to take part in the two Egyptian revolutions, firstly against Mubarak and then against Morsi.

They want the liberal politician Mustafha Hegezy to become president as he is a big hit with Egypt’s youth. Just as we have the scourge of the ‘brain drain’ in Ireland where thousands are leaving the island, so the common chant of many Egyptian young people is – ‘happiness is leaving Egypt’.

While the Egyptian and Syrian conflicts are internal, Northern Ireland should not tumble into the pitfall of dismissing them as a Middle Eastern problem. Like both world wars of the 20th century, there is the real danger Syria could escalate into a global conflict.

Many in the anti-Morsi camp suspect the Brotherhood has been funded to the tune of eight BILLION dollars by Obama, who basically wants to use the Brotherhood to control as many states around Iran as possible.

Obama has been left with egg on his face because the Brotherhood has lost power in Egypt.

Many Egyptians draw a comparison with the Americans trying to run the Brotherhood with the way in which the British manipulated Sinn Fein through agents, informers and funding to eventually run a partitionist parliament at Stormont.

Allied involvement in Syria is only a springboard for the real offensive – the invasion of Iran. The US wants to use its manipulation of the Muslim Brotherhood to control the Middle East.

The Brotherhood now has significant grip in Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, with links to the al-Qaeda movement.

Obama’s billions were to be used by the Brotherhood to placate Israel by expanding Gaza and the Sinai area for the Palestinians.

The Syrian conflict is an inter-muslim civil war between the Yank-funded Brotherhood and its pals in Hamas, and ‘Basher’ Assad with his Shia mates in Iran and the radical Hezbollah terror group.

To bring real peace to Syria, if the Assad regime is toppled, it would be best if a moderate Sunni Muslim became the new democratically elected President. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – because it is closely aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Free Syrian Army – wants the US to strike in Syria.

Liberal Egyptians activists who do not support the Muslim Brotherhood warn that the Brotherhood has been attacking Christian churches, cathedrals, shops and homes when it was in power in Egypt. The same fate awaits Syria’s Christian population if the US and UK backed Free Army wins in Syria.

Throw into this mix that the US can use Syria to attack Iran. American forces may even use its NATO bases in Turkey to attack Syria.

Iraq is already descending into an Islamic civil war, and Afghanistan is going the same way. While an Egyptian royal family exists in exile, young anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists insist any return of the monarchy is a non-starter.

Clearly, too, some of the Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, are worried by the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood and especially at Obama’s perceived support for this radical Islamic movement.

Let’s hope Obama has a Biblical-style Road to Damascus conversion about bombing Syria, because like many wars over past centuries, it will be people from Northern Ireland who will do the fighting and dying.

Could hope be on the horizon? If the Loyalists can use the Haass initiative to bring an end to the sectarian strife in Northern Ireland around parades, flags and emblems and the street protest, then just maybe more Ulster lives can be saved if that template can be applied to Syria.

It does seem very strange, however, that supposedly Christian Western leaders are backing the vehemently anti-Christian Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian crisis. The bottom line is, Syria is really only a training exercise for the real agenda – the full-scale invasion of Iran. Then again, at what point does Israel decide to enter the conflict?

And just because the Haass talks yield results in Northern Ireland, does not mean success in Syria.

Our caption shows Radical Unionist commentator, Dr John Coulter, (centre) with Cairo university student activists who took part in both Egyptian revolutions, brother and sister Bassem (left) and Nouran Fawzy.

 

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The ACT Initiative – Greater Shankill

Three years ago the Springmartin community in West Belfast decided to build a small garden of reflection to remember the sacrifice of those who fought at the Battle of the Somme. The stunning 3 column monument was the work of local artist Ross Wilson, the columns remembered the men of the 10th and 16th Irish Division, the West Belfast Volunteers and the 36th Ulster Division.
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Interesting Report from the Mid Eighties.

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