Trump Won’t Condemn White Supremacists & Arlene Foster Feels Hurt When Called A Homophobe.

Today and over the past 24 hours we’ve witnessed the acceptance of racist hatred in Charlottesville Virginia. Last night in an open display of hatred white supremacists marched through a university campus with lit torches in a blatant act of intimidation towards anyone they consider unamerican. Today we seen another white supremacist March which was always going to end in violence, and ultimately ended in the loss of life.

The President has clearly refused to condemn white supremacist terror and even after his initial statement he refused to offer condolences to one of those killed and the many who were injured. His comments will be interpreted by the extreme right as tacit acceptance. He is very much aware and indeed was reminded by white supremacist leaders that he enjoys their support. This President is not known for tact or diplomacy when condemning anyone from North Korea, Muslims, Mexicans and even the media when he disagrees with them, yet he has refused to call white supremacists out on their actions. The fact he was elected says a lot about white America.

The burning torches last night were symbolic of the KKK. The car driving in to an anti racist protest a vivid reminder of the incident in Ardoyne when a young woman was injured in the same way for very similar reasons.

We also have hatred in this country on the grounds of national identity, sexuality, gender, racism  and women’s healthcare rights. It is no exaggeration to call this out as hatred, neither is it wrong to draw comparisons with the events in Charlottesville. The burning torches here are terrorist flags, bonfires, parades, attacks on people motivated by hate/ elitism/fear/ignorance and while not all bonfires or parades are wrong, or are designed to intimidate or cause trouble, those that are should be deemed unacceptable by government and the community. Racist attacks, obstructing and intimidating women/girls from accessing healthcare should also be unacceptable by any normal community or government. Homophobic hate crimes including incitement should  also be treated for what they are and should have no place in a normal society.

Unfortunately we too have political leaders  who have excused if not promoted discrimination and intimidation on all the grounds outlined above. We have our very own Trump in the form of Arlene Foster, who had the audacity to say she feels hurt when referred to as homophobic. She justified this comment by saying her opposition to marriage equality did not mean she hated Gay people. Arlenes comment may have had some credibility if as DUP party leader she took action against those members of her party who clearly are homophobic. To continue to allow Edwin Poots who illegally banned Gay men to donate blood, to remain in the party she leads, she is endorsing his views. By allowing Sammy Wilson to refer to Gay People as Poofs & Queers without any sanction, she endorses his views. By refusing to expel Jim Wells who has made so many hate speeches against the LGBT+ Community she endorses his views. She is there party leader and these are not comments of the distant past, though they’ve changed little. They are bang up to date views still being expressed by recently elected senior politicians and they promote hate and misplaced moral superiority.

Most of us are outraged at what happened and is happening in America today. Most of us are equally outraged by the hatred and discrimination that takes place here and many people are challenging it on a daily basis. More of us need too, just because we’ve got used to it, we should never miss an opportunity to challenge it. We have supremacists of our own and they have support for political expediency.

 

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Will The Loyalist Community Council seek DUP Commitments For The Loyalist Community?

While political euphoria shifts from huge gains for Sinn Fein & the DUP to concerned  but almost amusing interest from the British public on the politics of the north, can we return our focus to the Six Counties/the north/N. Ireland/Ulster.

The Loyalist Communities Council issued a statement in support of Pro Union candidates and encouraged the Loyalist/Unionist community to vote in numbers across the board. There is no doubt that this statement had a massive impact and that the main beneficiaries were the DUP. Anyone who thinks the huge turnout of voters, even in the safest of Unionist constituencies was unrelated is, well, probably English.

I don’t want to misrepresent the LCC statement, it was about the Union and it succeeded. I do know more than a few Loyalists though and I’m aware of some of they’re concerns at the lack of support in working class Loyalist/Unionist areas. I would also guess they have more progressive views on a lot of the social issues than the DUP, but I suspect they’re primary concern is investment in areas they feel have been forgotten.

With that in mind will the LCC now issue another statement outlining their priorities  and listing some specific demands on how to address the deficits in representation of the Loyalist community. The LCC  have delivered, will they now ask the DUP to deliver, and will they share their expectations.

Investment in programmes to address lack of educational programmes, youth services, cultural programmes, LGBT+ , gender inequality, drug & alcohol addiction services, crime, illegal drug use and policing. I’m aware these issues are not confined to the Loyalist/Unionist community but I’m also aware that people working to address those issues in Loyalist areas feel they are being shortchanged and even demonised. I assume from the name Loyalist Communities Council that these issues are just some that you are passionate about and would suggest you get your list in ahead of the Tories. As you well know from experience, secret promises aren’t worth much.

There are legit people working in Loyalist areas and they’ll be looking to you. There are many who will say your just gangsters and hoods and while I know there are elements formerly under your control, who can’t/won’t move on, I also know you’ll need support to either challenge these people or isolate them and develop a confident Loyalist community who can get on with tackling disadvantage.

Again I’ll state, these issues are by no means confined to Loyalist communities but I’m not saying anything you haven’t said yourselves. Political Unionism has abandoned you repeatedly, don’t let them do it again. good luck.

Anti Brexit, Anti Tory, Anti Austerity, Anti Bigotry Pacts & Abstentionist Myths.

It’s sad and unfortunate but all the talk of  pacts in the past few weeks was really only a fraudulent attempt by the various parties to appear reasonable to voters. For a day or two it actually sounded genuine and there was a naïve hope that Politicians would sacrifice power in the interests of the people. Even when it became clear that the pacts had no chance, the parties still insisted they were exhausting all avenues in  an attempt to strengthen the remain cause. This of course has since been revealed as complete nonsense.

The sdlp decision to stand Martin McAuley in North Belfast and Mary Garrity in Fermanagh/South Tyrone shows that they would rather see pro brexit, pro Tory austerity, homophobic bigots elected (in fact, anyone but Sinn Fein). It shows a total disregard for the people who live in both constituencies. A disregard for the overall remain( special status) campaign, and a disregard for those who will suffer most under Tory austerity.  The LGBT+ community yet again must feel abandoned, women seeking at least some progress on reproductive rights must feel abandoned ( though a pact would not have guaranteed women the full reproductive rights they’re entitled too), and all of this potential progress denied for what. I have no idea who either sdlp candidate is and will not criticise them personally. They could indeed be excellent candidates but the point is, they have absolutely no chance of winning either seat. The only logical explanation is to stop Sinn Fein.

Ironically Alban Maginness said on BBC talkback this week that he didn’t know the Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane, and pointed out that the Human Rights Solicitor had no experience. Seriously Alban, it’s a good job the interview was on radio as you must have struggled to keep a straight face. John Finucane and the Finucane name is very well known in North Belfast and indeed right across Ireland. It’s also well known in Westminster, Europe and is globally recognised by Human Rights campaigners. He has represented people from all backgrounds on a multitude of Human Rights issues and has a better understanding of the struggle faced by victims and they’re families than most.

During the pact charade it was rumoured that a neutral unity candidate, that all parties could get behind was a possibility. I suspect the strongest unity candidate suggested was John Finucane and while I accept I’m no expert on some of the local difficulties in North Belfast, I would challenge the other anti brexit parties to come up with a better candidate. Apart from the attributes already mentioned, John is part of the North Belfast community, he is involved with the local schools, sports and aware of the issues on the ground. He is involved locally, nationally and legally in the fight for marriage equality, gender equality, cultural equality and victims equality. He comes from a mixed family with both Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist relatives, and we need people with that awareness of the different perspectives.

While the sdlp and others  have every right to ask for your vote in these areas, it is up to the voters to decide wether to waste it on someone who has no chance, or someone who stands against progress,or simply vote for the candidate who best reflects your views, and has a very credible chance of winning.

The story in Fermanagh/South Tyrone is pretty much the same except that Sinn Fein has already proved it can win the seat, even with the sdlp standing a candidate. Again I don’t know Mary Garrity, but I’ve no doubt she is a good person and good candidate, but reality tells us that every vote for her increases the risk of Tom Elliot being returned to Westminster. The same Tom Elliot who campaigned to remain (quietly) and has changed to Brexit because he’s a democrat. A brexit candidate representing Fermanagh/South Tyrone of all places is worse than insane.

South Belfast is another constituency where an anti brexit candidate could almost certainly have won and it needn’t have been orange and green. It would break my heart but the best placed pact candidate would probably have been Alasdair McDonald and Sinn Fein could and maybe should have stood aside regardless of the sdlp actions in other constituencies. There was also an opportunity for a unity candidate and if managed properly by the other parties, Claire Bailey or Paula Bradshaw could have taken the seat. South Belfast voters could well take matters in to they’re own hands anyway. We can only hope.

Naomi Long could have made life a lot easier for herself by accepting support from the sdlp, Sinn Fein and the Greens in East Belfast , but again voters including many unionist remain supporters may take matters in to they’re own hands and vote against fear.

As for abstentionist candidates being unrepresentative during these crucial Brexit negotiations, further austerity measures etc, I would point out that to date the MPs in the Westminster chamber have had zero influence. Any special status for Ireland, north or south in the aftermath of brexit, will be negotiated and delivered by Europe and Dublin. There are actual opportunities to avoid a hard border at least in terms of the movement of people. The border would be at the northern airports but we need more than what’s been hinted at so far. To get more we need politicians who will fight for more. Michelle Gildernew is well versed on the agriculture brief and well versed on the difficulties a newly formed border would create.

Remaining on the abstentionist point it’s important to note that any MP would admit the majority of their work is done outside the chamber. In fact the bulk of the work is done in the constituency either representing constituents on localised issues, meeting with other elected bodies (EU, Dublin, Stormont, Councils, Health Trusts), Meeting with both local and international investors and meeting with a multitude of interest groups who are struggling under extreme Tory cuts.

The abstentionist argument against Sinn Fein falls flat when voters are aware that there is a full Sinn Fein team working round the clock in Westminster. I have personal experience of this as I accompanied a number of the Loughinisland families to Westminster, to meet with representatives of all the main parties. Sinn Fein facilitated the meetings and further meetings in Dublin, Belfast, Brussels and Washington. It was the abstentionist Sinn Fein who opened the doors for these meetings and significant progress has been made as a result. It is crucial that this work continues, particularly with the ECHR. Loughinisland is in South Down which has a sitting sdlp MP, yet for all their talk of taking their seats, not once did they show any practical support for the families.

So for all the talk of a unionist pact with parties who don’t even agree on brexit, and all the talk of a progressive pact with parties who agree on many of the outstanding issues, including brexit, it is down to us the voters to make the final decision. To the bigots – do your worst. To those of us who like to think of ourselves as progressive, wether we’re unionist, nationalist or other, forget the disagreements and vote for the progressive party who has a chance of winning in your area.

Civil Rights 2016 – The Issues Remain. Can We Put People Before Profit.

mickbhinch

I read a post on Facebook today by one of the leaders of the original Civil Rights Movement – Eamonn McCann MLA.  The post was intended to highlight discrimination against Eamonn and his People Before Profit colleague Gerry Carroll by the Assembly Speaker. Both Assembly members were refused speaking rights on a motion on of all things Transparency & Accountability.

You know your doing something right when the system is afraid to let you speak, but I couldn’t help but wonder what sanction they could impose if you refused to be silenced. A few days out of the chamber or better still an apology, because at least with an apology you would have the opportunity to explain why. Just a thought that stems from the old civil disobedience days.

Eamonns article however went on to explain that he had wanted to raise the issue of the continued destruction of the…

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Bigots, Homophobes & Opportunists. Liars Unite?

DUP MP Nigel Dodds has just announced in Parliament that the DUP, SDLP, UUP & Alliance are ready to form an Executive today and exclude Sinn Fein.

If Nigel has this right and I didn’t hear anyone disagree, then we have to ask the smaller parties to outline what progress has been made on the many issues they campaigned for in their manifestos. Have the DUP secretly agreed to implement an Irish Language Act, Marriage Equality, Gender Equality, Truth for Victims and to accept the majority view of the north to remain in the EU.

I suspect they haven’t but would be delighted to be wrong. That leaves questions of these alleged Executive partners. Even without Nigel’s claims we have all heard the above mentioned parties demanding Sinn Fein stop holding up Government and nominate to an Executive.

The questions are really straightforward- what has instilled confidence in the DUP since you all supported a motion of no confidence in December? Do you really support Marriage Equality or is it aspirational? Do you really support an Irish Language Act or were you tapping in to the anger invoked by DUP comments? Do you really support the Truth for Victims? Do you really support Gender Equality & a Woman’s Right to Reproductive Rights? Do you really support Remaining in the EU or Special Status? If the DUP take a future Health Ministry will you support their ban on Gay Men donating blood?

The people who voted for you based on your manifestos have a right to answers on these questions. Only two parties I’m aware of have not been blaming Sinn Fein for the failure to form an Executive, at least not exclusively, and that’s The Green Party and People Before Profit. I voted for the Greens with a second preference for Alliance ( knowing it would transfer if needed) in the last election. Living in Strangford & with no PBP candidate my choices were limited. I seen both parties as progressive but I’m disappointed that Alliance are hammering Sinn Fein for the DUPs sins.

All parties need to clarify if Nigel Dodds statement is accurate and if so how they came to this agreement. If his statement is inaccurate I presume Parties will clarify their position.

More Talks: Will Smaller Parties Stand Firm Against DUP Bigotry?

Yet again we have new talks at Stormont and for the most part they are on the same issues. The media and some of the smaller parties are not unusually blaming Sinn Fein for the stalemate. Well some are blaming Sinn Fein and the DUP while ignoring the failures of the British Government, and ignoring the Irish Government altogether.

I say the same issues because for the most part they are and for the most part they were already agreed, but the DUP have refused to implement them and been provided the cover of silence by the Governments. New issues have also emerged but they are issues that require urgency and it’s only sensible to try and find a consensus on a way forward. Brexitt to be specific but I’ll come back to that.

Since the collapse of last weeks talks and Sinn Feins refusal to nominate, they have been criticised by the smaller parties for decisions made by Civil Servants. I would ask those parties what exactly they are suggesting? Should Sinn Fein nominate and go back into an Executive without any of the outstanding issues being resolved? To do so they would be reneging on their election commitments and coincidentally so would the other parties.

lets not forget the cause of the election and the background behind it. All parties with the exception of Sinn Fein called for the First Minister to resign over her handling of the RHI scheme. Sinn Fein tried to keep the Assembly up and running by firstly approaching the First Minister privately and then through an amendment which in real terms offered the DUP an escape route. When both were rejected they had no choice but to accede to the demands for elections by their own base, the wider public and indeed some of the other parties. At that point Martin McGuinness shut the shop and in doing so outlined the many examples of DUP bigotry, political mismanagement, arrogance and alleged corruption.

Martin by no means mentioned all of the various examples but he did make it clear there had to be a new approach to governing, that was inclusive and that deals made  were expected to be upheld.

So far Sinn Fein have maintained this position and I believe rightly so. I can see no logic at all in returning to the Assembly without a deal that resolves the outstanding issues. To do so would only guarantee another collapse and probably pretty quickly.

Just to outline some of the issues that Sinn Fein and most if not all of the other parties have taken issue with.

Edwin Poots held up the first attempt at Council mergers at considerable cost to all of us by interfering in the boundary process while he was a Councillor and the Minister responsible for the mergers. In any other jurisdiction that is a breach of the Ministerial Code and a clear conflict of interest.  All Parties opposed.

Edwin Poots as Health Minister imposed a ban on Gay Men donating blood in breach of Section 75 of the Equality Legislation and a court ruling. All Parties opposed.

Jim Wells claimed children in same sex marriages were more likely to be abused. All parties outraged.

Nelson McCausland as DSD Minister overseen the Red Sky corruption fiasco and again no sanction while in breach of Ministerial Code and conflict of interest. All parties outraged.

NAMA – Both the then First Minister Peter Robinson and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson nominate business men to the NAMA board, giving them a direct influence on decisions which were of no benefit to the Public (US) and the only beneficiaries were Cerberus. All parties outraged.

Misuse of the Petition of Concern on numerous occasions but most flagrantly in relation to Marriage Equality. Again denying the democratic process and opposed by almost all parties.

Blocking changes in Women’s Reproductive rights in relation to proposals by the Justice Minister on FFA. Again most parties supporting the change.

Blocking and announcing there would never be an Acht na Gaeilge despite previous agreements. Arlene Fosters refusal to follow EU legislation on the language while DETI Minister and Paul Givan announcing funding block on Irish Bursaries Scheme. Important to include here the blatant ignorance of elected representatives, not exclusively Gregory Campbell who repeatedly insulted the Irish language community. Again most of the other parties claim to support progress on this issue.

The RHI scheme overseen and managed/mismanaged by the then DETI Minister Arlene Foster, and continued interference in the scheme when she assumed the position of First Minister. This was a £480 million scandal and while we have heard from the DUP that they will cap this to reduce the impact, as we speak the cost remains the same. Indeed the costs may well increase with inspections, investigations, court cases, elections etc, all with no evidence to say the original estimate of £480 million can be reduced. All parties outraged and opposed and no change.

Then we have the DUP support for Brexitt which all other parties opposed, with the exception of People Before Profit who supported Brexitt for entirely different reasons. By extension the DUP have supported leaving the single market and the customs union. This will, no matter what anyone tells you mean a hard border which will cripple cross border business and agriculture in particular. Well it will unless the parties reach a consensus here for special designated status which the DUP are against and the other parties support.

As for the urgency to get Stormont up and running again, I agree. All the more reason for parties who hold common ground positions to speak with one voice. To simply lay blame on Sinn Fein for refusing to nominate can undermine the integrity of the smaller parties who on most of these issues, share the same view. It calls in to question the support they’ve shown on the common ground issues such as Marriage Equality.

Also on the urgency issue, we are hearing criticism of Sinn Fein for creating a funding crisis and decisions being made around youth funding, health etc. The civil service are not supposed to make political decisions, but don’t be fooled that decisions taken this week are anything other than political interference and self protectionism within the civil service. Policy decisions and priorities put in place should continue to be funded until the Locally elected politicians decide otherwise. This mad rush by senior civil servants to cut funding, cut jobs etc is not necessary. At least not yet, and if you think you’ve trust issues with politicians you’ll get your eyes opened when the back room boys (intentionally gender specific) go to town.

 

 

Irish Unity Advocates Need To Urgently Plan For The Practicalities Of Unity – Together.

On a day when the Uk Government has officially started the process of leaving the European Union, seemingly blind to the multitude of implications for its citizens I can’t help but wonder if we will be anywhere near ready to provide answers if a border poll debate was happening now.

I also believe recent events both externally and internally have accelerated the need for discussion.  The U.K. decision on Brexitt will have a huge influence on a border poll, the march towards Scottish independence will also have a huge influence, the recent election results again bring a sense of urgency to the discussion.

looking at the scale of work involved for the UK  in leaving Europe it is enormous. So enormous that all of the resources of Whitehall can’t give credible answers, or anything better than guess work to the government who are selling this.

If we are to promote unity as an attractive, viable choice we must be able to produce evidence based data that is better than guess work. If we are to win a border poll we need to be able to answer the questions of what a unified Ireland will look like, how it will work and how we will merge two completely different forms of government. We need to know how we will merge health, education, welfare, justice, policing, public services, infrastructure and the economies. That’s just for starters but it’s an indication of the job of work that needs to be done.

All of this needs to begin now and that’s before we even consider how we seriously accommodate the culture and views of those who identify as British. I believe that’s a separate job of work that is every bit as crucial and can only be done with the inclusion of all the complex versions of unionism.

I know many of the big parties will say we’re already doing this and I know from experience that some are. Well they’re doing some of it but they must realise they can’t do this alone.

What I’d propose is that if each of the various advocates are seriously prioritising Irish Unity then they need to consider a coalition. Not electoral pacts or party mergers but a coalition of people. Politicians, academics from various fields, community and social activists, legal experts on constitutional law – north & south, legal experts who specialise on various issues. We also need to reach out and include all forms of nationalism/republicanism – from the moderates to the militants. Catholic conservatives to  liberals, socialists.

The people who claim to want Irish Unity come from all walks of life. To name the obvious is a starting point – Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, Workers Party, IRSP, RNU, SDLP, Fianna Fáil & Fianna Gael. It is impossible to bring these people under one coalition in terms of ideology or the day to day running of the country, it would be equally impossible to be ready for the transition to Unity without all being involved.

The militants may say they won’t involve themselves in constitutional politics, Sinn Fein and other parties have they’re own agendas but they all have a common cause in seeking unity. Like I said if the real priority is unity then who wants to be the first to say no to such a coalition. Who is putting politics or ego above the bigger objective. There are loads of reasons not to do this and only one reason to do it, but despite our differences there is common ground on the objective and on many of the social factors. The common ground on social factors extends to unionism and the work needs to begin sooner rather than later.

AE17B: A Deal For All

Sinn Fein walked away from this particular talks process yesterday claiming there was clearly no point. The DUP hadn’t even shown up which in itself vindicates the Sinn Fein position. More importantly Sinn Fein stood on an electoral manifesto of refusing to return to the status quo because as Martin McGuinness said when he closed down Stormont, it had become impossible to work with the intransigent attitude of the DUP.

Lets not forget the other parties had all filed a motion calling on the DUP first minister to resign.  All of the parties outside of unionism claimed to support an Acht na Gaeilge, Marriage Equality, Legacy resolutions for Victims, a Bill of Rights etc. A lot of these issues had been subject to prior agreements but the DUP refused to implement them. Another issue was the misuse of the  petition of concern and seemingly during these negotiations no agreement was reached.

With that in mind I think it’s important the media ask for clarity from all parties on they’re current position. Is it only Sinn Fein who are refusing to go back to more of the same, is it only Sinn Fein who are holding their position on Acht na Gaeilge, Marriage Equality, Legacy Issues etc. Are the other parties actually saying they wanted to, or were prepared to re-establish stormont without any of these matters being resolved.

We are now going to hear a lot about Sinn Fein being to blame for the lack of a budget, job losses etc and it’s already happening. Also we’ll hear a lot about the Civil Service being able to operate independently, and insanely some people think that’s fine. The DUP have been the main obstacle to progress on the issues listed above and the DUP FM is still under investigation on RHI, so it’s reasonable to say, we are where we are because of them.

Anyone who thinks the Civil Service delivering services without local accountability is an acceptable option, or that it is any less a political budget is misguided. Left to their own devices the Civil Service will mutilate vital services in favour of self protectionism. They try their best to do that anyway, even with accountability.

All parties stood on a manifesto, including Sinn Fein. Will Sinn Fein be the only party to honour their manifesto. I believe they were right to demand pre existing agreements are implemented and they would have been seeking votes under false pretences if they went back in without agreement.

Prior to the last election it appeared that all parties were speaking with one voice on issues around DUP arrogance, alleged corruption, homophobia etc. Can all parties stand up and be counted with One Voice now. To do otherwise stinks of opportunism.

 

The Myth of State Neutrality: Daily Life In a Normal/Abnormal Society.

The recent media coverage of the life and death of Martin McGuinness has been thought provoking. I can’t write on his behalf and wouldn’t attempt to but I would have viewed him as a Republican Leader, and not just since he entered constitutional politics.

Recent coverage and comments from Politicians and victims have made much of the fact that he made the choice to join the IRA and use military force to obtain his objectives. Nobody asked why he made that choice, maybe it’s just taken as a given but  while I can’t speak for Martin, I think it raises a point that has never been given thorough consideration.

The point I’m referring to is the environment that people from a nationalist/republican background grew up in. Too many personal stories have went untold, too many people who have a story to tell have felt that in the scheme of things , their story is not significant because it wasn’t unusual at the time. In a way I think this almost enables the history writers to miss a key element of the conflict.

As a young lad my family had moved from Greenisland (not through choice) to squat in a house in the Lower Ormeau and I attended primary school at St. Colmans in Eliza St. I knew why we had moved but had no real understanding of the reasons behind it. Politics was not an issue in our family but it did become an issue as it was impossible to ignore what was happening around you.

From my own experience (I was 8 yrs old) I walked to school with friends. The walk took us past the gas works where there were three permanent army billets and regular patrols. It was not uncommon to be stopped and searched, questioned, verbally abused and even then sometimes physically abused. Granted it was minor by the standards of the time, mainly grabbed by the throat or pushed and shoved, but it was bullying and for some kids terrifying.

Our house and almost every house in our street was raided regularly and they didn’t knock doors in those days. As we got used to this, we had learned that a family member should try to follow the soldiers as they searched the house because they either stole items or we had to watch encase they planted something in the house. For the most part the process was aggressive but without major incident. When my brother reached 16 he was arrested regularly during these raids and it was purely to interrogate about known volunteers. My mother had MND and had a hospital bed downstairs. This didn’t deter soldiers from forcing a dying woman out of the bed during the house searches and on one occasion they tipped the bed. My father had not a political bone in his body and struggled to make sure we didn’t. Somehow he managed to hold that position to the day he died, which was I believe more to do with his faith than anything else.

Im trying to limit this as much as possible to my own experiences as I have family members who’s experience was much worse in later years and it’s not my story to tell. My brother joined the IRA and was jailed for membership along with a lot of other young lads when he was late 16 or 17. My mother died in 1978 while her son was in jail and my memory of it as a 10yr old was that every young lad of that age joined either the IRA or INLA and really then or now I don’t believe they had a choice. Politics was not a credible option, it did absolutely nothing to prevent the terrorisation of an entire community by both the British Army and as things progressed the RUC.

When I say terrorised, I mean terrorised. Even when my brother was in jail they raided the house on the pretext of looking for him. They stopped, searched, beat and abused men, women and children every day. As I moved to secondary school the harassment increased and when the hunger strikes began they swamped nationalist areas. From my first year in secondary, myself and most people my age (male & female) were crying out to the organisation to let us join and fight back. They were swamped with young ones demanding an opportunity to play a role and they struggled to keep young people running solo.

Throughout this period there was also sectarian assassinations, either by shootings or bombs. During my time there were three pubs left in the lower Ormeau and all had been bombed multiple times. They’d also come under gun attack multiple times and people had been killed and injured. Many more had died while fighting back and many more had been jailed (sometimes wrongly)  for a multitude of conflict related issues.  I know of very few families in that area alone that were not affected by the conflict.

During my young teenage years the RUC took primacy over the British Army and in many ways they were worse. Though I and most I knew viewed them as just another arm of the state who had one purpose – to continue the terrorisation of our community. They conducted the same raids in the same way and because we were slightly older, the stop, search and beatings increased. It was common practice to get stopped and searched by the same patrol on multiple occasions while walking to botanic gardens for example. They knew our names, knew we were kids heading up to meet girls or play football but they relentlessly harassed us.

The point I’m making is that this narrative of police and army being anything other than participants in the conflict is false. The state were active combatants and in many ways created and sustained the reasons for conflict. The other point I’m making is that many young people felt they had no choice but to fight fire with fire. Most would never have been involved in any form of armed conflict or violence of any form if they had not been under attack by the state.

I could say more about how this evolved and progressed but the purpose of this piece is to show how state violence contributed to the growth of the conflict. How ordinary young people grew up in what they perceived as a normal environment when it was really far from it.  I can understand anger from unionist victims, some of our experiences are not that different. Some of the motivations for young loyalist to become involved in conflict are not that different.

What really disgusts me to this day, is that the state have never acknowledged their role in the conflict. This insanely arrogant position that they were impartial or not actively engaged is a myth. They killed and imprisoned innocents, they trained others to do the killing for them, they provided intelligence to their proxy agents to carry out assassinations for them, they to this day are still covering up the murder of innocents. They are not now and never have been neutral and until they are gone they will continue to hinder progress towards reconciliation here. The great bastion of British democracy are the biggest obstacle to finding truth for victims, they’ve admitted as much by using national security as a justification for refusing to provide evidence.

Some may say that Republicans aren’t forthcoming with the truth and in some cases they might be right, but they have acknowledged they’re role. They have accepted responsibility for actions and most have been convicted and served time for their actions. The State have not and will not even acknowledge their role.

My contribution here is just that, a contribution that shows a different slant. There are thousands more with memories of the past and they should be recorded. I have left out a lot because it involves other people and I don’t have that right.

The Disenfranchised Unionists.

I read a tweet yesterday by Sophie Long who I suspect is now a former member of the Progressive Unionist Party. Ms Long offered her condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Martin McGuinness. In this country such a small act of decency is brave but to keep it where it belongs, it is as I said just decency.

The subsequent abuse directed at Sophie was no great shock to me and I suspect to her  but I read through a few hundred responses and strangely most of the abuse was because she included the word comrades. The fact that she had expressed condolences  to a former IRA commander appeared to be irrelevant and I suppose in the world of not an inch, that is a form of progress.

There were also the usual references to “silly girl” , “stupid women” , “Marxist” and other derogatory comments that seem to be acceptable within some quarters. The South Belfast PUP felt the need to disassociate itself from Sophie’s comment, perhaps in fear of losing some of their huge support base.

Anyway it brought me back to a line of thinking I’ve had for sometime, and it’s based on direct interaction with Loyalists. Are Loyalists who led from the front, did the dirty work as they see it, of not only defending their communities but took the fight to Republicans, content to be led by political representatives who even they acknowledge, used loyalism for they’re own ends. Are they content to be led by people who view them as terrorists, and who look down they’re noses  at them as at best a necessary evil. Remember one of the points of contention in the current talks is victims and the unionist elites are not just saying the families of republican combatants aren’t victims, that opinion extends to the families of loyalist combatants.

I’ve engaged in conversation with Sophie Long for a while now and find it refreshing to see how she has moved the debate on to serious social issues which impact all sections of the community. Open minded debate on these issues is required by the community as a whole. Ignorance on issues around social injustice, LGBT+ rights, feminism, poverty, educational disparity and cultural diversity is not exclusive to loyalism, it applies to the C/N/R community too.

I can’t help but wonder though, who is the voice/advocate for unionists/loyalists who are Gay, Feminist, socially deprived, educationally abandoned or culturally frowned upon. I see hope for loyalism and for the multitude of diverse groups that are part of the loyalist unionist community in the views expressed by Sophie Long and I seen courage in her comments relating to Martin McGuinness yesterday.

You see that type of courage requires a response, it requires reciprocation and it challenges Republicans to think differently. We have common ground on all of the above issues and many republicans, particularly former combatants would gladly work with all in the community to address them. I suspect also that many former combatants from all sides are more determined than most politicians to have no return to the past.

Just a finishing piece of food for thought – Sophie Long showed a level of humanity yesterday that a lot of Republicans wouldn’t and I include a lot of Martins former comrades. This woman knew she was taking a leap in a country where more leaps of faith are required. David Ervine was very similar and it made republicans sit up and listen. Maybe he didn’t face the same level of abuse because he had time served loyalist credentials or maybe it was because he was a man.