Monthly Archives: December 2013

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



Twaddell-Is This The End Game Staring Us In The Face?: William Ennis

Twaddell- Is the end game staring us in the face?

In this Loyalists opinion the complete revamp of Unionist representation at political level is not only achievable, but necessary.  This (small r) revolution within the PUL community would also be a fitting victory to what have been long, admirable and inspiring protests at both Twaddell and Belfast city hall.

I have learned many things from this past year of PUL resistance.

I have always suspected that Loyalist women were our backbone and that the Loyalist community was a deeply matriarchal one, now I know this to be true.  The devotion and deep pride of the women of our protests have, and continue to be an overwhelming phenomenon.    From tending to the problems of the young members of their community, to making Stephen Nolan’s panellists wish they had never been born, to reminding us all of our responsibilities, to having those much needed sandwiches at the ready this most grounded of grass-roots activism can’t help but inspire those who observe it.

I have learned that there is much to be done with regard to coaxing many of our younger people from bad habits.  The bitterness which often escapes the lips of many is not surprising given what the PIRA put our community through for so long, but the effort should be made by us all to remember that the most advantageous standpoint from which to win a debate is that of the high ground.  The low level of bigotry to be found at the protests is a tonic of course, but this also serves to make those rare instances all the more noticeable.

I have learned the stereotype peddled by our opponents who would paint us a cold individualistic bunch to be complete claptrap.  On many an occasion I posted on my twitter account that “this pedestrian Loyalist requires a lift to twaddell” only to be peppered with kind offers of assistance from Loyalists of every politic and background, it was extremely heart-warming and brought home to me the degree to which the expression ‘Loyalist family’ is no accident.  This feeling extends far into the spectatorship of the protest parades, every face greeting you with the smile of a favourite old cousin; a family.

This also draws my thoughts to what might be.  We are a protest community, seasoned, experienced and mobilised.  I’m thinking of opposition to the poverty deepening water charges which are hanging over the heads of our community as well as that of the CNR (catholic-nationalist-republican) community.  Once the actual shared future is achieved with everyone’s culture(s) left inviolate and the bitterness has had a chance to die its death imagine the political force our community could become with regard to other issues.  Water charges, insultingly huge MLA wages, bankers’ bonuses, extortionate VAT rates, appalling educational facilities, poor public services, shortage of third level educational opportunities for young people from poorer backgrounds, widespread media scape-goating of the unemployed and single parents…  I could go on.

All of which draws me back to my initial thought.  Where are we headed?  Do we have an end game?  The answer is yes.  In this Loyalist scribbler’s opinion the end game comes in May.

The Unionist politicians have let us down.  They roll up their sleeves with rabid enthusiasm at the mere sniff of a pending election only to re-attach the sparkling cuff-links once their office is re-secured.

I’ve had enough.

Have you?

The end game lies in our politically mobilised Loyalist community making our voice the loudest it has ever been, in local government councils, at Stormont, at the Westminster Parliament, and in Europe.  Let no-one tell us we aren’t good enough.

I recall a BBC Question Time just before the last general election when George Galloway encouraged the audience to make a point of voting for someone other than the incumbent candidate.  He exclaimed to an appreciative audience that they (the voters) must “take a large broom, and sweep out the whole chamber!  Sweep them out I say, SWEEP THEM OUT!”

I believe the PUL community should take hold of that broom next May, and with your pencil, commence that clear out!

But replace them with whom?

Not an unfair question…

It is of course no secret that the writer has a favourite party, one of which he is a member.  I have been a member of the PUP for three years now, but this wont devalue the point I’m about to make to any non-PUP reader, I hope.

What ever a loyalists politics, there is an alternative party to vote for, arguably the first election of which this may be said.  For the reasons mentioned above I no longer consider the incumbent Unionists (DUP and UUP) worthy of the Loyalist people’s support, and NI21’s flagrant anti-Loyalism places that party also beyond consideration.  So here is my recommendation.

If you are a Loyalist whose politics lie between the centre and the centre-left (in favour of state support for the vulnerable), if you are proud of your working-class roots and place a lot of stock in the value of community then the Progressive Unionist Party seeks to represent you.  However, if you are a more right-leaning, free-market orientated Unionist then Jim Allister’s TUV, whilst they aren’t my cup of tea, should more than float your boat.  Gone are the days of being resigned to the cocky incumbent whom you haven’t seen or heard of since the last election.

A complete shake up of PUL representation will provide the victory those long-suffering and unshakable ladies at Twaddell deserve.  To come out of the other side of the upcoming elections with representation no more engaged with our grass-roots than is currently the case would truly spell defeat.

But I don’t think that will happen.

I’m now off for one of those sandwiches.

William Ennis


Jesus: He Was Actually The First Communist…Dr. John Coulter

He was actually the first communist

Written by John Coulter
Published: December 24, 2013 Last modified: December 23, 2013

First Published in The Tribune Magazine. 

I have been a Christian socialist politically since I became a “born again” Christian in January 1972.

While the Bible has been a core text in my life, it is the inspiration of the New Testament’s Jesus Christ who is my greatest hero.

Unfortunately, over the centuries, especially in Ireland, mention Christianity and politics in the same breath and the stereotype image of the street corner hell-fire preacher, bellowing out extreme Protestant fundamentalism springs to mind.

The Crusades of the Middle Ages do nothing to advance the Christian socialist cause, and the weird ideological concoction of Identity Christianity spewed out by the Ku Klux Klan in America does equal damage to the notion of Christian Socialism.

The biblical Jesus Christ is the central pillar of a new ideology which I have spent the past year working on, and herein lies my hero of Jesus and the relationship to Christian socialism. Jesus Christ has inspired me to compose the ideology of National Republicanism.

A recent opinion poll in Ireland by Millward Brown clearly showed that almost half of Irish voters would like to see a new political party being formed.

Now is the chance for Christian socialism under the banner of my National Republicanism to strike. National Republicanism is seeking a return of biblical Christianity as a central core of republican thinking by getting republicans to focus on the New Testament account of the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ, as told in St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter Five.

It has been this Sermon by Jesus which has been the foundation stone of my political thinking since 12, and why Christ is my hero.

In this aspect, Christ outlines a series of attributes, commonly known as The Beatitudes. There is a school of ideological thinking – to which I personally belong – which maintains that Marx based Das Capital on The Beatitudes, and his overt criticism of religion was merely a ploy to disguise the fact that he had pinched his ideas from the Bible, and the words of Jesus.

In reality, Jesus Christ was the first real communist – not Karl Marx. National Republicanism’s Christ and state ideology is, therefore, based on St Matthew’s Gospel Chapter Five, verses one to 12. Many of the Beatitudes begin (using the Authorised King James translation): “Blessed are …”

However, when the words of Jesus are taken in a modern context, they make the basis for a realistic political agenda for National Republicanism.

Here are the key points which the Beatitudes highlight. The poor in spirit (verse three) – the need to restore national pride in society; those who mourn (verse four) – the need to remember and help the victims of the conflict in Ireland; the meek (verse five) – the need to help the working class, and for the rich to invest their wealth in helping those less well off in society; they which do hunger (verse six) – the need to combat growing poverty in society, and also provide a sound educational and health system for all; the merciful (verse seven) – the need for a fair and accountable justice system; the pure in heart (verse eight) – the need to restore the moral fabric of society, to encourage family values and implement the concept of society’s conscience; peacemakers (verse nine) – the need for compromise and respect of people’s views based on the concept of accommodation, not capitulation; the persecuted (verse 10) – the need for National Republicans to have the courage to stand up for their beliefs; when men shall revile you (verse 11) – the need for a free press with responsible regulation.

National Republicanism is about the creation of the concept of

Christian citizenship. Under this concept, compulsory voting – as exists in Australia – would be introduced to Ireland.

Tragically, Christian socialism has become bogged down in recent years over theological debates about women clerics, translations of the Bible, abortion, gay marriage, relations with Islam, and even petty issues such as should women wear hats to church, and how “loud’ in colour should men’s ties be before they can enter a church building.

Christians have even “gone to theological war” with each other over the type of worship coming from the pews, with traditionalists favouring the old fashioned hymns and psalms from the 19th century, with modernisers (especially the Pentecostalist factions) opting for the 21st century lively tunes, often referred to as Hill Songs.

Ironically, extreme Christian fundamentalists – particularly from the militant pro-life lobby – have coined the perfect rallying call which can see a rebirth of Christian Socialism.

It is based on the abbreviation WWJD? –What Would Jesus Do? Where Marxism can be accused of trying to remove religion from politics, Christian socialism seeks to put the teachings of Jesus back into political thinking.

The big problem that I have long faced as a Christian socialist, trying to implement the teachings of Jesus Christ, is to find a political vehicle to expound those views.

Being a Christian Socialist in Ireland is a tough challenge, given that the island of Ireland has been at war with itself for the past eight centuries, as two of the largest Christian denominations, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, battle for supremacy.



Coulter’s Coveted Cock-Up Cups for 2013


The Executive parties, peace guru Ricky Haass, Irish bloggers, and a couple of drop dead gorgeous MLAs have swept the boards in this year’s Coulter’s Coveted Cock-Up Cups.

   Robbo’s Dupes win the Mandela Memorial for the most historic U-turn. Just as Mandela converted from anti-apartheid terrorist to global peace ambassador, so too, has the DUP backtracked over its support for the Maze Shrine.

   The Shinners collect the Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak Cup for making their president Louth TD Gerry Adams ‘disappear’ in the wake of his brother Liam’s sex abuse conviction and the Sinn Fein boss’s alleged role with the Disappeared.

The election battered Ulster Unionists collect the ‘Head Stuck Up Their Asses’ award for believing they will still be relevant after next year’s super council poll.

The Stoops win two major titles, which is just about all they will win as they prepare to join the UUP and the old Nationalist Party in the dustbin of Irish history.

SDLP boss Big Al McDonnell wins the Sunglasses Special for the best performance at a conference on TV (mind the lights!), and the party also clinches the Conall McDevitt award for Expertise in Getting Expenses.

Alliance collects the ‘No Political Brains’ trophy for winding up the loyalist working class over the Union ‘fleg’ dispute.

And speaking of flags, Ricky Haass win the ‘When in doubt, bung up a flag’ cup for suggesting that the Irish tricolour flies alongside the Union Jack at Stormont.

Let’s hope Unionists are clever enough to demand equality and we can see the Union Jack also fluttering over Leinster House, Dublin Castle, the Garden of Remembrance, Croke Park and the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown.

The Puke-Up Prize for making people vomit with its blunt presentation goes to pro-life fundamentalist organisation, We Shall Not Be Silent.

The Top Tit Trophy is won jointly by ex-UUP MLAs Bazza McCrea and wee Johnny McCallister for launching a new political party, NI21, which sounds more like a strain of bird flu.

The tightest battle in 2013 was for the Gobshite Cup, awarded to the social media folk for their comments about my Fearless Flying Column in the Irish Daily Star.

Three bloggers tie for this, known as ‘Tain Bo’, ‘Anonymous’ and ‘dan Breen’. For legal reasons, I cannot name them, but my source in MI5 assures me of their identities.

The Miss Stormont political babe prize is shared by the two glamour gals of Parliament Hill, namely the super sexy MLAs Jo-Ann Dobson of the UUP and Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon.

‘Pie in the Sky’ Politician of the Year goes to ex-GAA president, Sean Kelly, from Kerry, now a Fine Gael MEP.

Sean revealed how Ireland wanted to bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup with some matches being played at GAA’s Casement Park. Aye, right, Sean!

The Supporters of the Year Gong goes to the fan-tastic Ulster Rugby lot.

I can never understand how Ulster Rugby manages to bring so many folk together at Belfast’s Ravenhill, with plenty of booze, no segregation, and no chanting at the ref – just polite clapping and sober singing throughout!

And the Side-Splitting Trophy goes to independent republican councillor Paudie McShane, for his crackpot press statements on the Palestinian crisis.

There’s already a fine line-up of assholes … I mean, intelligent politicians, queuing up for 2014’s nominations.

This post first appeared in the John Coulter column of the Irish Daily Star.



Xmas Day in the Middle Hut.


A feature of the Special Category huts of the Long Kesh was that the tables for eating sat in the middle of the hut. Cubes or rooms set off this central area. Only once a year would everyone in the hut, all 32 of us, come together for  joint meal. This was Xmas day.  Most people ate at 5ish but today the meal was sent up at around 1pm. Generally it was a good time of the year but one overshadowed by the knowledge that your family had that empty chair for another year. However as the turkey was eaten and the banter started there was one little bit of compound culture that was still to come at the end of the meal.

It was accepted by all that on this day, and only this day, a game of cards would be played and the loser would wash ALL the dishes associated with the meal. At this time there were 3 huts. The end hut, like ours, had over 30 men. The half hut had about 12 men. As soon as the meal was over the pile of dishes would be cleared to one end of the row of tables. One deck of cards would be produced. The highest ‘hand’ would be out. And the cards would be dealt again round the table. For those good at maths this meant a few people got 2 cards while some only got one card. So to get a pair, or Ace, King etc. would pretty much see you out and safe.

At this point I start to worry. I never have been able to play cards right.  But the odds are with me. Surely in 30 hands of cards I will get a good enough hand to get out? There is genuine excitement around the table. My first few hands are terrible. Those who play cards use what I can only describe as a gambling term, namely crap.  Various people have pairs and are soon out. When the number of men reduces to 26 then we get 2 cards each from the pack.  Someone shows a pair of Jacks with a smug smile. Until someone waits his turn and shows a pair of Kings. I’m still OK until the banter starts about who is the favourite.  Over the racket I hear my name bandied about as the ‘bookies’ favourite to be making the long walk.

There are no washing up facilities in each hut. One wash hand basin and two toilets accommodate 32 men (and more at times) all though the night. The toilet and shower block is at the end of the compound. It has 2 large Belfast jaw boxes and 8 normal sized washing sinks. However, the problem is not to be carrying over 200 items of various plates, bowls, cutlery, etc. round to the sink. The problem is hot water.  There is one large tank of water. Once the tank  is empty it takes ages for it to reheat. And when men are constantly trying to wash, shower, etc. it can take all day. So speed is of the essence to get in while the water is hot.

My luck is not in.  I cannot get a pair and this is taking for ages.  Only for bad luck I’ve have no luck at all. At this point a person gets to know his real friends. They are the ones giving me the most grief and slagging. One offers to go round and get me a good fresh scouring pad because he says, ” I’ll need it”. There are 17 of us left, that means 3 cards each. Maybe now I will get a decent pair. I get a 3 of clubs, 2 diamonds and 4 of spades. I hate the guy who pulls out 3 Queens. Is this fixed? We keep going. It is like a knockout football completion. The closer it gets to the final the more pressure there is. The deal goes from person to person around the table so when I deal I know I’m not cheating but I deal myself an even crappier hand.  Im hoping against hope here but it’s not working.  There now is 13 of us left at the table. Four cards each. Its getting more like a proper card game. I still haven’t  a pair. Maybe I should just get up now. More people from the other huts come in, just for the laugh, to see what sucker is sweating. My friends are very supportive now. One drapes a drying cloth around my shoulders just in case I need it.

Down to 10 people and 5 cards each. Surely this time?  If there were prizes for terrible hands I would be unbeatable.   There are 5 of us left. Funny enough I recognise that each of us would not be the regular card players of the hut.  By now we get 5 cards each and get 3 more cards if we require. If you show an Ace you can get 4 new cards. But I just knew I would, on the law of probability,  get a good hand. I have 2 tens and an Ace. I ask for 2 cards and get a ten and an ace. I feel the relief spreading over me. I wait my turn to show.  I try to keep a poker face but someone asks me why Im grinning. I throw in my ‘house’. The guy opposite throws in his straight flush.  Just to add to the atmosphere I can hear the rain bouncing off the tin roof.  Everyone not playing is laughing. Suddenly it is the final. Myself and Bastardface (not his real name). Half the hut is with me, half are backing him. However I am a bit unclear at present if my friends want me to lose or to win. I get a flash back to watching Cool Hand Luke when he was trying to eat all the eggs and the crowd where getting in a minor frenzy.  This crowd just need to see a sucker (aka loser) to do the long walk. (While also carrying loads of dirty dishes). The absolute worst part of this is that, if you lose, it is a full year before someone else takes on this mantle. No one, as far as I know, has lost two years in a row.

It is a straight contest. One hand. Losing hand will be doing the dishes.  The only comfort I can take is that my discomfort is giving so much pleasure to so many on this special day. I am dealt a very strong hand. Like hell I was.  I have to take in 3 cards. Usually a sign of a weak hand. He takes in 3 cards. Some hope still flickers.  I look at my cards. I have the ace of Hearts and that is it. And there is no bluffing here.  We have to show our hands. I do what a mature person should do. I lie. Two aces, I say. He says, ‘Let’s see’.  I throw the hand in. He lets out a big whoop and throws in two pairs. The hut erupts into one loud roar.  The crowd then rapidly disappears to relax, watch TV or whatever.  A good friend brings more good cheer by saying I should take my time. The water is already freezing.  I start ferrying all the dirty dishes round to the toilet block.  There is one guy there finishing the ‘end hut’  dishes.  ‘You caught too’ he says ? I want to say ‘No, Im doing this for fun’. Instead I say, ’ Yeah’.  There is a hot water boiler in each hut. I get a bucket and take some boiling water round to the wash block. At least I can start until the water heats up again. It is a long afternoon.

My mind strays to next year as I scrub the grease from the plastic plates. If I was on the boards i.e the punishment cell,  I wouldn’t have to clean one plate. Hmmm.




Forgive and Remember.

‘Without forgiveness there is no future’. Desmond Tutu.



Forgiveness is a staple of the Christian faith from the first mention in Genesis right through to 1st John. There is no mention of forgiveness in Revelation (maybe its too late by then?)  I didn’t become a ‘Born again’ during my time in prison but I did get to read the Bible a lot. (Especially in the punishment cells)  I did attend church before going to prison and I still attend on the odd occasion. I have also been to chapel on numerous occasions to attend funerals, christenings and weddings.  I also got to read the Roman Catholic version of the Christian Bible.  Since then I have also read the Koran completely and spent a lot of time on Judaism, the Talmud and Torah.  

The Lords Prayer I was taught at Sunday School (and home) includes the phrase and ‘forgive those who trespass against us’. I read in Matthew Ch.6,  verse 12 in the King James version that ‘. .forgive us our debts,  as we forgive our debtors.’ Allowing for this article that debts and trespasses are anything that is hurtful to us, then the argument is, we should at some point, forgive others.

So where is forgiveness today in Northern Ireland, that Christian country with its high rate of church and  chapel attendance? The reaction to Larkins proposal concerning drawing a line and then the death of one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela,  prompts important and significant questions for this country and its future.  Was there  a populist grass roots reaction to these events or one from vested interests,  magnified by the local media?  And now the DUP talk of a limited immunity?

Can we do a South Africa and draw a line and move forward together?  First, a confession.  No, I didn’t have forgiveness, love and understanding when I was young and feeling afraid and angry.  I had no forgiveness while the bombs went off daily in the middle of my city. I didn’t forgive those that took away the lives of people I knew that fuelled my hatred. Enough hatred to join up and seek out revenge.   I have had friends and colleagues killed by republicans,  loyalists and security forces.  Sadly I have also had friends who ended their lives at their own hands.  So can I forgive now after serving out my life sentence?  And do I seek the forgiveness of my victims?

But first, a quick look at what has gone before.  In 1916 in this country and during a great war there was enough pain, poverty and hurt for everyone. One section of the country said,  ‘we had enough of britishness’ and they gained a nation. The Irish Nation.  They used violence along the way.  A chunk of the island wanted to stay British. They used violence also.  So after the brits pulled out of Dublin harbour what happened? Enquiries and tribunals set up to catch people 30 years on? Recrimination and allegations? Not really because greater circumstances overrode those considerations. Very quickly Irish Republicans had their more immediate worries- a civil war. When the dust settled on that conflict, which was as ugly as anything preceding it, was there a truth commission? Were the victims voices listened to? Was there a Historical Team set up to look at past deeds? None, that I can read about.  During the Second World War there was  IRA activity and in 1942 young Mc Williams was hung in Belfast for killing a policeman. Often forgot about for Unionists is that the other 5 charged men were quietly released through time. No enquires or tribunals after the war.

During the ‘50s, the IRA started a Border campaign. After it petered out, what happened? A truth commission? No. Actually that hard line Unionist monolith decided to let IRA life sentence prisoners, who had killed policemen, out of jail early.  Not an amnesty you understand but let out anyway.

Was there forgiveness? Or understanding? Or a pragmatic approach? But what of further afield? There were no mass hangings after World War 1. But Germany was made to pay heavily and set up one of the necessary conditions for the Second World War. After World War 2 and with the obscenity of Nazism and the holocaust ,there was an appetite for justice and revenge and hence Nuremberg.  But both Japan and Germany have been forgiven, in a way, and life has moved on. But it is harder for an individual who has lost a dear one. So what about Algeria with the French trying to fight the OAS? (There  is an informative book, ‘Wolves in the City’ by  Paul Henissart,  about that conflict. ) After the French left, was there a Truth Commission, an HET type body? No.  What of Bosnia and Rwanda? Literally millions of victims and what is happening there? The various conflicts in Central America. What happened after the end of the communist terrorist campaign in Malaysia in the 1950s?  Truth recovery processes are not inevitable.  Indeed it seems a modern phenomenon.

Forgiveness is not a thing to be taken for granted.  True forgiveness is an amazing thing and through the Troubles I have seen giants walking among us. I will take two just as examples.   I listened to Mr Mc Goldrick after his son had been shot dead in 1996 for no better reason than he was a Catholic.  I was humbled and amazed by his talk at a time of the greatest hardship and heartache in a parent’s life.  I am a father. How would I feel in that man’s shoes?  Similarly in 1987 I listened to Mr Wilson who lost his daughter in the Enniskillen bombing.  Such strength and understanding.  Was this the Christianity as outlined in our Bible?  I respect the wishes of the victims who do not wish to go to that place. To forgive publicly.  But I do distinguish between those who cannot forgive and those who will not forgive. The worst of the latter, being opportunistic politicians, who use anybody and any issue,  to further their own beliefs and goals.

And what of me? Because I killed, am I allowed to have victim’s feelings when my friends are killed? I have met, on the street, one of the men, a Provo, who killed my friend and shot another two people I knew.  We knew each other and what we had done. I had harmed members of his small community This was not an old mates reunion. But neither was it hostile. We spoke like civil people. I plan no harm to him or anyone else for that matter.  I understand why he done what he done.

The policeman who executed my friend on a Belfast street is 30 years older. Possibly I have met him somewhere through my life. Neither of us may know about the other ones background.  But what was done 30 years ago is done. No one can undo it. It took me time to learn how to forgive but first I needed to understand. I already knew how to hate. And I have seen where hate leads.  And yes, to answer my own question,  I would like the forgiveness of all my victims. And that includes my family.

I am never going back to where I once was.  I work and hope for a better and peaceful society. I have no magic formula for sorting out the victim situation. But I will do my best, and have done, to try and ensure there are fewer victims in the present and the future. We all need to become giants if we can emulate South Africa. Otherwise we are staying where we are. Is that good enough? The quote I started with is worrying.  If we can’t forgive, what future lies ahead of our children and grandchildren? Will there be a never ending cycle? Or can we be the generation that finally starts the process of living together with our differences?







I have been meaning to get this out of my system for some time now. My reluctance has been how to do it without it being interpreted and used as justification for further actions detrimental to working class unionists.

 Every unionist reacts when Sinn Fein presume to lecture them on democracy and how the vote to only fly the union flag over the City hall on designated days was a democratic vote.

This from a party whose members were responsible for bombing and shooting their way through four decades because they did not accept the will of the democratic majority to govern us.


As for the Alliance party. It was their former leader, John Alderdice in his guise as chairman of the IMC who recommended that PUP funding be removed. This recommendation was being made because of the alleged actions of the UVF – actions that have since been attributed to UVF members that were acting as agents of the state. This can only lead to the conclusion that the state did not want the PUP to develop and in fact was instrumental in its demise. Working class unionists were denied a voice and future development as a result.


The decision to change when the flag flies over the City Hall was undoubtedly part of a message that Sinn Fein wanted to send to its constituents and detractors, that it was another step closer to its primary objective of uniting Ireland. Bear in mind that the initial proposal was the flag not be flown at all.


Elected unionists, particularly the DUP chose to try and exploit the Sinn Fein proposal to remove the union flag when the alliance indicated that they would propose the alternative to fly the flag only on designated days.


Peter Robinson saw this as an opportunity to win his Westminster seat back from the Alliance’s Naomi Long by exploiting working class unionist emotions. Instead of negotiating for a different outcome to the vote, or accepting the likely outcome and preparing his constituency for it; he chose to whip up emotions and create a monster he could not control. This is not a new scenario for us, many people found themselves in Long Kesh after emotions had been heightened by unionist politicians throughout the four decades of violence from Irish nationalists masquerading as republicans.


Unfortunately all kinds of nefarious cretins have chosen to crawl out of the woodwork to exploit working class unionists’ emotions over what is now known as the ‘flag issue’, from anti-agreement unionists to the BNP and National Front. Mysterious and anonymous loyalists materialised on social websites on the internet, organising all kinds of confrontational protests to the detriment of working class unionists; to the degree that I was convinced the source might be Connolly House or Sevastopol Street. Given the locations and some of the characters, I am more inclined to be of the view it may be the work of the state or its sinister elements which damaged the PUP.


The PUP’s demise revisited this time with the intent to discredit and demonise all of the unionist working class.


Our opinion, when the PIRA ceasefire was called, was one of having Sinn Fein appear as reasonable statesmen-like ‘pursuers of peace’ whilst loyalist paramilitaries embarked on sectarian violence, appears to be re-emerging in a different guise.

Someone somewhere is being facilitated in projecting working class unionists in the most negative light.


All the elected unionists had to do was predict the outcome of the vote. Prepare their constituents for it by turning it completely around.


I for one could never have seen the day that Sinn Fein would vote for the union flag to be flying over the City Hall, bringing us in to line with the rest of the United Kingdom. That might justify giving Sinn Fein recognition. A notice could be raised along with the flag acknowledging that it flies with their consent.


A respectful dignified rally could be organised to witness each raising and removal of the flag and commemorate the event it is being raised for.  Perhaps Sinn Fein could be persuaded to extend this vote to all councils including Newry.


Most of these would make life difficult for Sinn Fein with their own constituents and dissidents but rather than pursue those who pose a threat, the DUP opted for what they saw as the easy target, the Alliance party.


If any of them were genuine about the Good Friday agreement then instead of the DUP and Sinn Fein carving the place along their respective power lines they would seek to help ease each other’s constituents into the shared future envisaged in the Agreement that was voted for. Perhaps we need a reminder that the DUP don’t acknowledge the GFA – they refer to the Hillsborough Agreement. An agreement at which, they, the UUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP opted to breach the GFA by ending the Civic Forum and introducing bodies like the HET and IMC etc.


Until the referendums North and South to support the GFA, Sinn Fein never recognised Northern Ireland as a democratic state or the republic for that matter. Post referendums they appear to give the impression that they now do or at least are prepared to work within them to achieve their ultimate objective.

Unionists need to remind themselves that Sinn Fein have always considered Northern Ireland as a failed state. Whilst Sinn Fein want the rest of the world to see them as peaceful statesmen trying to accommodate their fellow deluded Irish Unionists. They are happy and content to see those Unionists pilloried internationally as sectarian intransigent dinosaurs.

Sinn Fein would be quite happy to see the collapse of the Stormont Assembly especially at the hands of Unionists. It re-enforces their position of a failed state where they come out of it with the credibility that they appear to have tried to make it work, but for those intransigent Unionists.

Unionist need to get wise to this and to Sinn Fein’s antagonisms. Instead of carving everything up between Sinn Fein and the DUP re-enforcing division, they need to resist the temptation to appease their own supporters. It is their opponents supporters that they actually need to appease. Unfortunately in the current scenario, the DUP decided that their opponents were Alliance and put party and votes ahead of country.


The Civic Forum was intended to act as an advisory body to the Assembly particularly on divisive issues. It was never allowed to function as envisaged and there appears to be recognition and acknowledgement that it was a mistake to dismantle it. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have made noises about re-establishing it. Unionists have made sounds of opposition to its return and there is a good chance that it will re-emerge as a result of the Richard Haas talks. Will it re-emerge as it was initially constituted and intended or will it be re-established as an object of abuse to be used as an excuse for not finding agreement on those issues that the DUP and Sinn Fein have already established they cannot carve up between themselves?


As it stands in this country, if democracy exists, it exists within selective parameters and interpretations that vary with time and interpretation.


I first remember questioning democracy here when Peter Robinson first won his seat to become MP for east Belfast. Peter, Bill Craig and Oliver Napier all obtained around 15000 votes each. From what I can remember Robinson had something like 10 votes more than either Craig or Napier. By my calculations though Peter Robinson may have had 10 votes more than Craig or Napier but there were at least 30000 voters in East Belfast who didn’t want Peter Robinson representing them, almost double those who had voted for him.


That for me told me that the first past the post system is inherently undemocratic.


I often heard Gusty and Davy refer to micro and macro politics but I  was too wrapped up in the local micro politics of conflict transformation that was taking place here to appreciate what they were talking about.


Unfortunately whilst we bicker and fight over flags and culture, the cultural things of real value are being eroded and dismantled in the arena of macro politics.


The most disadvantaged are being pursued vigorously to reduce benefits, whilst the most advantaged receive tax cuts even though they have avoided and evaded paying taxes. Just how much of the UK is owned by the British people, likewise, how much of the republic is Irish?


The G8 and G20 may consist of elected heads of state but the interest they represent at these meetings is the interest of the rich and wealthy.


The multi-nationals who have big franchises sucking the wealth out of the country whilst avoiding paying taxes.


And why would they not, when those who govern that very country do exactly the same?










The news coming out of Northern Ireland over the last few weeks reads like something from the 1970s, minus the carnage (thankfully). However, in reading the papers, watching the TV, listening to the radio and reading all the online sources, is, to say the least, depressing and disheartening.
On the ground, we witness the proxy bomb attacks in Derry/Londonderry, the brutal kneecapping of a youth in the Creggan, an attempted car hijacking in Belfast. A paramilitary shooting of a young woman in East Belfast, as well as a paramilitary punishment shooting in Coleraine that took place while punishment beatings are supposed to have ended in both communities. A major split has taken place in the UDA with the fear of a violent feud amongst the competing factions.  The situation has deteriorated to the point that “The US government has warned its citizens the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland is severe and they should exercise vigilance.” (Belfast Telegraph, 27/11/2013)


While all this is happening in the streets, political parties and community groups on both sides constantly cite the issues of social, economic and educational deprivation and the marginalization that their respective communities suffer. The problems run even deeper within the Protestant working class where not only does that community experience all these problems, but also believes that its culture and its way of life are under attack from Sinn Fein.  In particular, the removal of the flag, as Winston Irvine, put it on the Nolan show (27/11/2013); was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” (Johnny Harvey had made the same point in December 2012.) This explains the emotional nature of the flag protests and the intense frustration of the Protestant working class with politics.


The interesting point above is that leaders and people within both communities realize that the social, economic, and educational factors are the most important issues facing them.  Yet, some within each of these communities continue to pursue policies that do not address those very real and important issues.  Instead, they find themselves locked in a battle with each other over symbolic issues, when the real fight lies in improving the quality of lives for all the people in Northern Ireland.


What does all this mean for Northern Ireland?  Four years ago, a good friend of mine, who did and continues to do significant and groundbreaking work on the conflict, told me that the life cycle of “peace” in societies coming out of conflict is approximately 15 years.  Ominously, it is now 15 years on from the Belfast Agreement.  Is my friend right?  Does everything that I have listed above indicate that Northern Ireland is on its way to a new round of sectarian violence?  I do not know.  However, the evidence from 3 December 2012 through today does not present us with a hopeful picture.


Having laid out my pessimistic view above, I would argue that Sean Brennan’s pieceCase for Sinn Fein/Progressive Unionist Party alliance (3/11/2013) points the way out of this stalemate and the way forward.  Alex Kane’s recent piece The Dissidents are not going to go way also is important to read in terms of looking for a new way out of this impasse.  Some may view both of their visions as unrealistic, and to a certain extent, I would agree with that criticism.  In particular, Kane’s call for ‘Sinn Fein—and particularly the IRA element of it . . . [to] disown this new generation’ and admit that ‘they themselves backed the wrong strategy’ is more than hopeful.   However, I would make the case that Brennan’s argument makes much more sense than, as David Ervine often put it, the continued “tribal dance” that has brought on this stalemate; the point where the US government is now warning its citizens not to travel to Northern Ireland.


Building on Brennan’s work, I would argue that in order to move forward and to avoid a return to the past, as well as address the issues important to both communities, leaders, parties and people from all sides must make tough and unpopular decisions.  Strong and fearless leadership from all parties, in particular those who represent the most disadvantaged in Northern Ireland, must fight the very real battles necessary to address the social and economic problems both working class communities face.


All the polls over the last few years strongly demonstrate that a united Ireland is not going to happen anytime soon. There is little immediate desire for it either north or south of the border. That being the case, as Brennan argues, then Sinn Fein, if it really cares about social, economic and educational issues of the working class, needs to spend its time building coalitions with the Protestant community and groups around issues important to them all rather than worrying about taking down symbols it finds offensive.  This would dovetail with the comments made by Dr. John Kyle at the PUP conference in October about the nature of poverty and other social problems in Northern Ireland; that they are not simply ‘Protestant’ or ‘Catholic.’


Sinn Fein and the Provisional Republican leadership must also overcome its own “tone-deafness” when dealing with the loyalist and unionist community. This “tone-deafness” only further alienates those that Sinn Fein has to persuade to join them in a United Ireland.  One significant example of this occurred on the 20th anniversary of the Shankill bomb when republicans unveiled a plaque to Thomas Begley, the IRA man who died carrying the bomb in to Frizzel’s fish shop. Gerry Kelly attended the ceremony in Ardoyne and Sean Kelly, the bomber who survived spoke at this commemoration.


The address by Declan Kearney to St. Andrews University on 16 October 2013 is another stark example of this.  Speaking a week before the anniversary of the Shankill bomb Kearney stated that “The legacy of the Shankill Bomb will stay with each bereaved family and our entire community for many years. It is a legacy all republicans will share with deep regret and sorrow.” Then he immediately shifted the attention away from the actions of the IRA when he stated that, “In the subsequent days unionist paramilitaries engaged in multiple killings of Catholic civilians.”  Here, Kearney offers no genuine apology and no real acknowledgement of the pain and suffering the IRA caused that day.  Yet, at the same time, Kearney made the point, when talking about this period “that the only solution [to the violence] would be found through dialogue. There was no military solution to the political conflict.”

If dialogue was the way forward then, it is most certainly the only way forward now in this era of political stalemate.  Again, echoing Brennan’s work, I would argue that Sinn Fein, instead of pushing through its agenda of removing symbols of Britishness and focusing only on its goal of a united Ireland, should begin to engage in positive dialogue with the PUP, the UPRG, the Orange Order and the many Protestant community groups.  Why?  Well, as I stated above, if Sinn Fein’s goal is a united Ireland, it is not going to get it through attacking the symbols of the unionist/loyalist community.  The only way for Sinn Fein to achieve a united Ireland is through convincing the unionist/loyalist community it has a future in a united Ireland. The constant attacks on the symbols of Britishness actually push the unionist community further away from any collaboration and into the entrenched positions of “No surrender” and “No compromise”.  In other words, confrontation is counter-productive to the project of a united Ireland unless Sinn Fein’s goal is to marginalize the UPRG, PUP, and the Protestant working class and leave them out of that project.


As it was, and to a certain extent still is, the loyalist community is “reactive” in that it responds to provocations from Sinn Fein and/or other parties/groups that it believes is attacking it.  The flag protests are a clear illustration of this.  However, if the Protestant working class wants to have an impact on the future of Northern Ireland then it must move beyond fighting only for its symbols and focus instead on the important issues that it faces every day.  As I argued in Where Do We Go From Here?”  the road of “populism” around the “nation”, “symbols” and tying their future to right wing politics and groups leads nowhere for the Protestant working class.


So, what should the Protestant working class do in this situation?  Whenever I think of this question, I go back to the 1977 Combat document called Think or Perish”, written in response to Gusty Spence’s famous 12th July 1977 speech .  In this speech, Spence laid down the strongest challenge yet to unionists, loyalists and republicans to find a way to end the violence and create a peaceful Northern Ireland, stating, “Eventually loyalist and republican must sit down together for the good of our country if we claim to be patriots.  There is no obstacle that is insurmountable.” (Spence Oration, 12/07/2013)


Spence’s speech was so powerful that it made those who wrote, “Think or Perish realize that “’Populism’ is no substitute for the truth.” (“Think or Perish”, July 1977)  Taking their cue from Spence, the authors argued that,
It is essential that we cease to cling to old cherished myths and traditions in the face of new realities.  The human intellect must now be employed for the salvation of our fair Province.  We must think our way out of our present critical dilemma.  To continue in meaningless violence is far too dangerous. It is think or die.  Since there will obviously be no victor in the war of attrition the only possible battleground left to reasonable and patriotic men is in the mind and around the conference table.


One may well ask what does this have to do with the present situation.  My answer would be everything.  The reality here, as it was in 1977, is that Northern Ireland has once again reached a stalemate, this time a political stalemate.  In getting out of this deadlock, the lessons from Spence’s 1977 speech and “Think or Perish” are absolutely crucial for the future of the loyalist community. Dialogue has to take place and loyalists must participate in that dialogue. Real politics, focusing on social, economic and educational issues as well as a better quality of life for everyone has to replace or at least take precedence over the battle surrounding symbols and parades. Spence recognized this in 1977 when he stated that,


We can never go back to the society that once was, even if we had a wish to.  We want employment and decent homes like all human beings, and loyalists will no longer suffer their deprivation stoically lest their outcries be interpreted as disloyalty. (12 July 1977 speech)


In other words, for both communities, politics must replace populism.


Even while defending the flag and the protestors at Twaddell, Billy Hutchinson said much the same in a Belfast Telegraph interview on the 29/11/2013:


There are social problems in working-class communities and until they try to deal with creating jobs and tackling educational underachievement we have a problem.

Those at the Assembly have had quite some time to do it, but we haven’t seen anything.

We need unionists to recognise we need to deal with the past.

Everybody’s views need to be heard. Republicans can’t be allowed to tell us how to deal with the past. Parades and the past are connected to flags and parades. If we don’t, we will continue to talk about parades and the past for 50 years.


I know that many will reject some if not all of what Brennan and I have argued and I welcome any and all criticisms.  However, the reality on the ground is that both sides, whether they like it or not, will eventually have to engage with each other in dialogue on the real issues that are important to both communities.  The only other alternative is the current stalemate, along with the political vacuum that breeds extremism on both sides and threatens the peace process.