‘Them’uns get away with everything’ … by Brian John Spencer

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RUC constable Victor Arbuckle (29), shot dead by the UVF during street disturbances on the Shankill Road

In 2011 a study at Harvard and Tufts found that white people in America, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

Perception is different from reality. Further research showed that this perception, of black privilege, was bogus. The reality is that the white community still enjoy many privileges and opportunities beyond the reach of minority communities.

For example, young black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in prison than employed.
In Northern Ireland how many times have you met someone who says, “I’m not into any of that old political nonsense. I’m not like that.” Many times, I would guess.

When, if ever, have you ever met someone who says, “I hate them, they’re persecuting us, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is the PNS-IRA/PSNI-RUC.”

You might have heard it on the radio, but in person, I would guess never. Do we live with a mad minority?

On the Ormeau Road on Easter Tuesday loyalism was sent into a spin by policing and by the dissident republican parade in Lurgan.

Most of the country was on holiday or leisuring themselves, but the concerns of two swaggering minorities gripped the whole body populace.

The march in Lurgan happened, and if it is unlawful it will be pursued. It is not for loyalism or anyone to prejudge and do the job of the police and prosecution services.

As for the Ormeau Road, I was dismayed that scuffles between marchers and forces of law and order broke out. I was doubly dismayed to hear loyalism attack the PSNI as partisan and politically motivated, as opposed to being the most accountable service on the continent.

My dismay redoubled when I heard loyalist and unionist politicians, including the First Minister Arlene Foster, undergird the wild and outlandish claims of loyalist bandsmen.

The inflamed passions and jealousies of loyalism, totally misplaced, reminded me of what happened in 1969 when British troops arrived on the streets of Belfast.

In 1969 soldiers were welcomed warmly and with open arms by the Catholic community. Somehow some loyalists perceived this as a threat to their community, their standing and to the Union. This led to a riot on the Shankill Road, the death of an RUC officer, and a clamp down on catholics to please loyalists, thus eventually throwing Catholics into the arms of what would emerge as the Provisional IRA and into the resolutely anti-Union camp.

Speaking with Robert Kee of the BBC, a number of key personalities remembered this phase of history – Old IRA man Joe Cahill, independent Labour republican politician Paddy Kennedy and John Cushnahan of the Alliance Party.
Cahill speaking with Kee of (circa 1980) said:

“It is a fact that when the British troops first came in in 1969 that they were received with open arms by the people, the majority of the people. I felt as a republican at that time that we didn’t have any great opportunity of striking against them the Brits. But it is fair to say or right to say that the British developed the situation themselves. Whilst they claim to have come in as the peace keepers in 1969, they were seen by the ordinary people to become the aggressor.”

Paddy Kennedy, independent Labour republican politician said:

“When British troops were welcomed on Catholic-Nationalist-Republican areas (using these terms interchangeably) it set off a counter-reaction in Protestant areas, and if you remember there was sporadic rioting that broke out in the Shankill Road where an RUC man was killed and I think that the British government looked at the situation and they wanted to maintain a balance between the two communities. They were virtually embarrassed by he reception the British troops got, so they had to lean on the Catholic side. So British troops then started what’s called cordon-and-search, of condoning-off an area and searching houses and this gave rise to resentment and it later grew and it was greatly heightened by the Falls curfew (1970).”

John Cushnahan said:

“The curfew on the Falls in 1970 was a crucial period in Northern Ireland’s history in relation to the growth of the PIRA. There had been a belief that there were a small number of IRA men operating in the lower Falls and they chose a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And I remember coming out of that area that particular night, I managed to get out before the curfew was imposed, while there was saturation of the area with tear-gas and total surrounding of the area in a cordon of steel by the army. That action on that particular night alienated the entire Catholic community, which I would stress before that had not been anti-army. But so alienated the Catholic community to the extent the provisionals were able to represent themselves as the defence of the Catholic community.”

Paddy Kennedy also said:

“I think that if the British had not been so clumsy in their dealing with the situation in areas like West Belfast, the IRA would not have gone on the offensive.”

I look at what happened the years in 1969 and 1970 with amazement and disbelief. Loyalists managed to turn catholics from being pro-British to fervently anti-British.

This is the conduct we have seen again and again in recent years. Hysteria and outlandish behaviour that purports to serve the Union but that is immensely damaging to it.

As I highlighted at the start, there is a difference between perception and reality. Paul nolan has shown repeatedly, fears and perceptions of the loyalist community are misplaced and out of step with reality and research.

As the former British Prime Minister John Major said more bluntly, fears of persecution are “phantom”.

The story of loyalism for the last decade and more has been that of Jeremiah, “Woe is me, a man of strife and contention.” Where is the positivity?

What kind of Northern Ireland do we want? A happy and respected place or a place torn apart by hysterics and the squalling of an outlandish minority?

Everyday of the week we meet someone who says “I’m not into that kind of thing” or “not into dinosaur politics”, young and old. Perhaps it is time we heard more these people and less from those who are “into that kind of thing.”

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Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.

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