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Should Adams and McGuinness retire? April 12, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North.
56 comments

Norman Tebbit’s remark during the week — the he hoped Martin McGuinness would be shot in the back — prompted a thought. Should McGuinness and Gerry Adams consider retiring from activie politics at this stage? They are the only leaders to have remained in place as leaders from the start of the peace process through the signing of the Belfast Agreement, and the first years of the operation of the Assembly and Executive. Tebbit’s comment show that despite the huge changes they led Sinn Fein and the IRA through, they are still lightning rods for hatred and distrust. Would it be better for the stability of the process and politics in the North if they were to hand over the rein of Sinn Fein to a new generation?

Flags and political loyalism January 31, 2013

Posted by smiffy in Loyalism, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, The North, Ulster, Uncategorized, Unionism.
20 comments

Regular readers may be interested in a newly-published book on political loyalism by U.S. academic, Tony Novosel, entitled Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism. published by Pluto books.

Over at the Pluto website, Novosel has published an interesting and timely article, situating the current protests around flags within the context of an historical pattern of the exploitation of working-class loyalist political mobilization by mainstream Unionist parties. While not uncritical of loyalist communities and their political expression, he does give the current situation an important added dimension, going beyond the sometimes easy stereotyping of #flegs.

Flags, Churches, Politicians, Sectarianism and Ordinary People December 11, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in Sectarianism, The North.
93 comments

The events in the north in the last week serve as yet another reminder of how great the problem of sectarianism remains. They highlight the failure by the Executive parties to move beyond hollow rhetoric about a shared future, and the fact that the dynamic on which these parties thrive is inherently sectarian. While working together hand in glove, they also need to be seen to be confronting each other, to be standing up for our ones against themmuns. In the internal competition within the two sectarian blocs, that is the means to thrive. The major failure of the GFA is that it was only ever designed to manage and not remove that conflict.

So we get the sectarian shadow boxing over what the parties themselves see as side-issues that are guaranteed to raise emotions and solidify people into communal camps but won’t get in the way of the actual management of the place. Or at least that’s the theory. The Irish Language Act was a good example. Another example is October’s spat about reconciliation. Following Declan Kearney’s comments on reconciliation and his criticisms of unionist attitudes towards it, Peter Robinson responded like this

If Mr Kearney has the temerity to describe his speech as reconciliation then I suspect he would regard a knee capping as physiotherapy

Cue a round of sniping at one another in the press, leaving all sides emotionally satisfied while simultaneously able to point to comments desiring a shared future etc. This is what passes for the politics of reconciliation at a central level. Window dressing, like yesterday’s motion in the Assembly condemning violence and threats, is not enough.

Things are worse at a local level. Rows break out over the allocation of funds for Twelfth bonfires. The DUP refuses to share power in many local councils despite the arrangement at Stormont and in other local councils. GAA grounds being used for events or competitions associated with paramilitaries is a perennial favourite (in its more exotic version, this can extend as far as complaints to supermarkets for allowing schoolchildren to pack shopping for charity in GAA tops). In Newry, with a massive nationalist majority, last week saw the culmination of a row over the proposed renaming of a children’s playground after Raymond McCreesh, one of the hunger strikers. When arrested, McCreesh was in possession of one of the weapons used in the Kingsmill massacre. A new memorial to the massacre had sectarian graffiti scratched into it. The day after, the park was renamed after McCreesh with the support of independent nationalist and SDLP councillors as well as those of PSF. This was the same week that nationalist councillors in Belfast secured Alliance support for their plan to cut the number of days the union flag flies from City Hall on the grounds that flying it alienated those citizens who don’t feel British. The question of how Newry’s unionists feel about the council now seems of less importance to the two big nationalist parties.

The violent response to the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall was in many senses predictable. A clue was offered by the riots that followed the parades commission’s determination following the sectarian playing of the famine song by the YCV band from the Shankill outside St Patrick’s church in north Belfast (and which saw weasel words from several unionist politicians refusing to fully condemn the initial incident and the rioting). The two major unionist parties, especially the DUP, made a serious issue of this, particularly in east Belfast, in the run-up to the vote. There can be little doubt that the DUP’s aim was to use the issue to damage the Alliance Party in the eyes of unionist voters who had switched to Alliance’s Naomi Long at the last Westminster election in the context of the sexual and financial allegations then swirling around the Robinsons. If that desire to take back the East Belfast Westminster seat was the main context, there was also the standard sham fight element. The sham fight dynamic has been accentuated by the pressure on both the UUP and the SDLP, who have both been swinging between becoming more hardline and becoming more moderate as they try to reclaim some lost ground. Mike Nesbitt in particular has floundered badly in all this.

Less predictable than some disorder in Belfast was the way the protests have spread, as far away as Derry city. The virulence of the reaction has also taken many by surprise. Certainly the DUP politician in Newtownabbey stoned by protestors he was trying to address because they didn’t recognise him got a shock. So too did the Belfast councillor who supported the protest the night of the vote only to find his car windscreen smashed by the protestors as they sought to force entrance to the council chamber. There were also nastier surprises. The fascistic attacks on the offices and homes of Alliance Party representatives in several areas (and the death threats issued to them and others such as Gerry Kelly) were, I suspect, totally unexpected by those who wanted to use this issue for political gain. It was interesting to see Billy Hutchinson blame those who put the focus on Alliance for inciting violence. Last night, an attempt was made to murder a policeman who was protecting Naomi Long’s constituency office by throwing a petrol bomb in a car while he was still inside it. How then to explain the nature of the reaction?

It’s tempting to suggest that the violence and protests orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries are as much about ensuring that community development funds continue to flow as it is about anger over the lowering of the Union Jack most of the year in Belfast. The attacks on the Alliance Party may also be influenced by resentment at David Ford’s role as Justice Minister and the widespread feeling among loyalists that the historical crimes team spends more time looking at them than anyone else; the dispute offers an opportunity to settle a few scores. Mike Nesbitt reckons that the reason people have been out in such force is that they feel that they are losing. The idea that they are being stripped of their identity has been voiced in comments in the press and online, and it is common to see the issue linked to restrictions on loyal order marches as part of that argument.

This sense of losing at times seems somewhat remarkable. At bottom, the peace process secured overwhelming support for the principle of consent, and saw the Provisional IRA dissolved. In this flag dispute, Belfast’s nationalist councillors voted to have the union flag flying over City Hall for nearly 20 days a year. This could just as easily have been spun as a victory as a defeat. I have no idea whether this was actually said or not, but I’ve seen loyalist claims that one of the nationalist councillors presented this as a step to a United Ireland. It could equally be presented as a recognition of the Union Jack. But – and this has been something true throughout the process – unionists have failed to see the glass as half-empty, although the DUP does this at its annual conferences when patting itself on the back for taming the opposition. Why is that? The sectarianism of our politics. When you view politics as a competition between us and them, then anything which the opposition welcomes is by definition bad for you. It looked at the time of the GFA that we might be able to break out of that mentality, particularly with the development of the loyalist parties. However, that proved a false dawn.

Some of those charged with rioting were not born when the GFA was signed. This is one of the things that makes the sham fighting so dangerous. It continues the perverted mindset so important to sustaining the Troubles, and perpetuates it among new generations. Coupled with the communalism built into the structures of the GFA, social problems, structural unemployment and hopelessness, you have a recipe for continued outbreaks of low-level sectarian rioting and possibly worse. Reconciliation – the unity of those of all religions and none – is the last thing that will result. And the nationalist and unionist parties depend on this dynamic, whatever about the well-intentioned people within them.

If you want to be truly depressed, take a look at the comments in the coverage of these issues on Sluggerotoole. Not only do you have people ranting about the impossibility of tolerating treason (i.e. advocating peaceful constitutional change and not having the flag flying every day), you have a tendency to blame instances of sectarian attacks on protestants as the secret work of loyalists and/or the Brits. Mick Fealty has for years been tracking low-level sectarian attacks on protestant churches and orange halls, especially in rural areas. He has consistently raised the challenge this poses for people who claim to be republican (although he is more inclined to think people are more genuine about the reconciliation stuff than I am). Some of the comments on his thread on sectarian graffiti daubed on a protestant church last week in Glenavy would make you wonder what goes on in some people’s heads.

Part of the problem of course is the ability of a remarkable number of people to see only the sectarian actions of themmuns. Instances suggesting that it is a problem across the divide are often ignored or explained away. This is inevitable while politics in Northern Ireland is built on the idea that there are two communities. To quote a statement on these events by WP General Secretary John Lowry

The pitiful sight of thousands of people protesting outside Belfast City Hall about flags is matched only by a chamber full of councillors debating it inside.

The real questions that must be asked about this tribal debacle are the ones that Sinn Fein and DUP voters in particular must ask of themselves.

While jobs are being lost, prices rising, homes being repossessed, child poverty increasing and thousands of people across the city facing a daily ‘eat or heat’ dilemma, Councillors in Belfast are using flags and emblems as a smokescreen for their failure to even address these issues.

Sinn Fein and DUP supporters must now ask themselves “Do I really want to vote for a party that is happy to ignore social and economic realities to secure their own tribal positions”?

And there’s the rub. The sectarian problems of Northern Ireland are not due to the politicians nor a small minority. They are due to the persistence of a sectarian mindset among the majority of people. Until people ask themselves the hard questions, until they are prepared to look for an alternative to both unionism and nationalism, things will not change. There’s no point deploring the excesses of a political and social system of virtual religious apartheid if you embrace the system yourself. This is why the sectarian sham fighting of the parties works. The problems of Northern Ireland’s society haven’t gone away you know. The only people that benefit are the middle classes who make a nice living, with their kids going to grammar schools and university and then getting professional jobs while working class children are sacrificed from the age of 11 onwards. Neither unionism nor nationalism can address the problems of the working class. But, paradoxically, while the trade union movement is relative strong, class consciousness is very low. The sectarian mindset dominates virtually unchallenged across most of the north. This is the reality which socialists and progressives must combat through raising genuinely secular, anti-sectarian and progressive politics.

Slugger Interviews with Small Parties May 3, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in The Left, The North.
4 comments

Alan in Belfast has been doing some sterling work interviewing representatives of the smaller parties and independents in the run up to Thursday’s Assembly elections (of which more tomorrow I hope). All posts include fairly in-depth video interviews. I don’t think everyone he wrote to replied, but many of the parties dear to the hearts of people who read CLR are included, including The Workers’ Party, Socialist Party, Green Party, éirígí, and IRSP, and there are also interviews with Brian Ervine and his predecessor as leader of the PUP, Dawn Purvis.

The interviews can be seen here.

Trade Union TV Footage of Belfast Anti-Cuts March March 30, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in The Left, The North.
1 comment so far

UPDATE

I’ve been looking for left responses to the UK budget but might have missed some. Please add more in the comments if you have them.

The 2011 Con-Dem budget is an escalation of the Class-War announced by Osborne in Budget 2010. It is a blatant attempt to use the present crisis of capitalism to attack workers and their families, the unemployed, pensioners, and other weaker sections of society. Once again the majority in society suffer to consolidate the privilege of the few”

From the budget analysis of The Workers’ Party

Remembering the Shankill Butchers March 29, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in media, The North.
19 comments

Stephen Nolan may be an unfamiliar name to many readers here, but he is pretty much the star name in BBC Radio Ulster’s line-up, doing a daily morning phone-in show (obviously Gerry Anderson’s show is much better). He also does work for BBC Radio 5 Live, and some television work. He’s something akin to Northern Ireland’s version of a populist shock jock (although he has a very different persona for 5 Live). His show is very popular and award-winning, but he rubs a hell of a lot of people up the wrong way. I’m one of them. But credit where it is due. Last night, he presented a documentary about the Shankill Butchers (iplayer link so may not work outside the UK and may be time-limited, while a search for Shankill Butchers on youtube turned up a band of that name and some tribute videos to the likes of Lenny Murphy that I didn’t watch). He then followed it up this morning with an edition of the radio show dedicated to talking about the Shankill Butchers (may not work outside the UK, and is time-limited). The radio show in particular was fascinating.

The publicity for the documentary made great claims to having unique access to the evidence from the cases involved, and also exclusive interviews with victims’ families and with the RUC CID detective who caught them, as well as others such as the pathologist and journalists. It’s a long time since I read Martin Dillon’s Shankill Butchers, but as far as I can remember it drew on much of the same material he did. There is something much more immediate and affecting, however, in seeing the daughter of a victim talk about noticing that her father’s nose had not been sewn back on properly, and that it took a metal brace to hold his head in position because he had nearly been decapitated than reading about it in a book. The documentary itself was fairly straightforward, telling the tale of the gang from its earliest days to its capture to Lenny Murphy’s death at the hands of the Provisionals. Importantly, it stressed just how small the area the butchers operated in was, crusing in a black taxi to abduct victims, and later in other cars. It also included footage of the quite large funerals of some of the Butchers, and the awful experience of a victim’s daughter who was stuck in the traffic jam caused by one of their funerals for two hours, forced to watch what was going on around her.

In terms of the Butchers themselves, it raised a number of issues. The first was whether, and for how long before they were caught, their identities were known: (a) to the UVF leadership (b) to the security forces, and in particular the CID team seeking to catch them and (c) more generally to the local population of the Shankill. There was no statement from the UVF leadership, or quoting of sources active then, but the line has tended to be they did not know, and certainly weren’t certain if they had suspicions, with Murphy’s unit protrayed as a rogue outfit. This was roughly the line taken by a former loyalist internee on the radio show this morning. The fact that the gang was responsible on leadership orders for the Easter Sunday bomb in 1977 that killed a ten-year old watching the Republican Clubs parade undermines that argument somewhat, as does the fact that they killed a number of other loyalists. I suspect they were seen as a good group to have to intimidate rivals. There are some parallels perhaps from the 1990s with the unit based in the Mount Vernon estate (and riddled with informers) that was responsible not only for vicious sectarian murders, but also for beating Raymond McCord Jr. to death and for taking an active role in feuds with other loyalist groups. The Sunday World’s Jim Campbell was adamant that the identity of the butchers was known early on to his sources in the UVF on the Shankill. Surprisingly, the detective in charge stated his belief that the UVF leadership did not know who was responsible when Nolan asked him.

(more…)

Orange Grand Master Loses the Bap October 5, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Unionism.
38 comments

The Orange Standard is, I am sure, a fine publication. The voice of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (which, in an almost pleasing display of petty symbolism that belies its own name, has deliberately plumped for a .co.uk web address), it seems that the current edition has an article in which the Grand Master, Robert Saulters, who previously distinguished himself by blaming the police for loyalists shooting at them over a disputed march in 2005, has lost the bap. The Belfast Telegraph reports that Saulters has gone on the attack over a number of issues that he obviously believes are a threat to the Ulster Protestant way of life. These include the fact that the ESB is probably going to take over NIE (from its middle eastern owners) via some “dirty dealing”, and he claims that the Public Prosecution Service should be known as the Protestant Prosecution Service. On a less amusing note, there is also this:

Surely we have learned something from the Claudy bombing, the Omagh bombing and all the other atrocities, these fancy names of dissident, real, eirigi, they are all the Roman Catholic IRA and let us not forget that.

Charming. Well, outrageous actually, and something you’d expect to hear from the likes of Johnny Adair. It makes you wonder just how paranoid the Orange Order has become. See what happens to you when the DUP lets you down?

We’re all anti-capitalists now. Honest. September 15, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in The North.
39 comments

Interesting collection of stories in the Observer centred on a written list of answers to questions from the Guardian provided to Henry McDonald by the Real IRA. The Real IRA and its associated grouping have never shown much interest in politics, asserting that national sovereignty is the sole question to which they address themselves. This interview from February 2008 makes it clear that the position is pretty much Brits Out. Since then, they have stepped up their campaign, resulting in several deaths and a large number of “punishment” attacks on those supposedly involved in the drugs trade and other anti-social activities. At the same time, agitation on the issue of conditions within the prisons has intensified. Despite the assertion in Febrary 2008 that they were not simple militarists, there has been little sign of any interest in politics. So far, so traditional nationalism.

Which makes the following from the statement issued to the Guardian all the more interesting.

“We have a track record of attacking high-profile economic targets and financial institutions such as the City of London. The role of bankers and the institutions they serve in financing Britain’s colonial and capitalist system has not gone unnoticed.

“Let’s not forget that the bankers are the next-door neighbours of the politicians. Most people can see the picture: the bankers grease the politicians’ palms, the politicians bail out the bankers with public funds, the bankers pay themselves fat bonuses and loan the money back to the public with interest. It’s essentially a crime spree that benefits a social elite at the expense of many millions of victims.”

The colonial stuff is obviously nothing new, especially in relation to the police force. However the stuff about the capitalist system is a different matter. McDonald thinks this is an attempt to cash in on the unpopularity of bankers and the banking system north and south, and points out that ultra-leftist terrorism targetting the banking sector has proven to be a miserable failure in other places it has been tried.

The adoption of this type of rhetoric is baffling. Not only because it goes against the whole approach of putting the sole focus on the right of the Irish nation to independence – and an anti-colonial/imperial rhetoric can gel with this type of nationalism as we’ve seen in the past – but also because it seems to risk needlessly alienating people they have attracted through their traditional nationalism. They have grown and re-organised on the basis of a traditional militarist nationalist programme cloaked in the rhetorical of national sovereignty and occasionally anti-colonialism, plus action against anti-social elements. Despite the involvement of people associated with the 32 CSM in some left protests, it’s hard to see that this statement is signalling a move to the left. More likely it is pure opportunism, possibly combined with the concerns of a small element within them, mirroring at some level what happened with the provisionals before them. It’s worth noting that there is nothing quoted about the southern banking crisis, although there may have been something in the original statement. I doubt though that a reference to the British colonial and capitalist system is intended to suggest that the directors of Anglo-Irish Bank have been added to pizza delivery men as legitimate targets.

So a strange interview, not least for how it was handled. Maybe an interesting sign of an attempt within this organisation to develop a more political approach. But I’d be surprised it there is a change in the way they operate on the ground.

Troubled Images at the Linenhall Library September 1, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Art, Culture, The North.
3 comments

We are grateful to GoodHardRant for the following…

The Linen Hall Library, Belfast, is currently showing a selection of its collection of political posters from the 30 years of conflict and peace process in Northern Ireland. Troubled Images showed briefly in 2001 and has since been a traveling exhibition, in the United States and elsewhere. Having begun with a civil rights flyer given to librarian Jimmy Vitty in the 1960s, the Linen Hall’s collection of political material is an invaluable historical archive of the ‘Troubles’. It is also, however, a record of the way in which politics spawned varieties of visual polemic, as the conflict’s escalation occasioned more visceral means of persuasion and politicization than subtle argument. Belfast is depressingly famous for its murals, graffiti and use of graphics in expressing varieties of tribal politics, and given recent attempts to repackage the city’s history of violence as a kind of kitsch, the exhibition might seem a somewhat more respectable supplement to bus tours of the Falls, Shankill and ‘Peace Line’. A few tourists were indeed browsing the exhibit with a mixture of curiosity and incomprehension when I visited, though not too many given recent events as reflected in Australia’s recommendations to tourists.

The 70 posters hung in the narrow stairwell of the Library’s Fountain Street entrance certainly provide an interesting cross-section of the politics of Northern Ireland. The exhibition is wide-ranging, with posters from a range of parties, including the Alliance Party, UDP, IRSP, UUP, RSF, SDLP, and Women’s Coalition. Some posters rely on their image to do the talking. Sean O’Toole’s Remember Derry (1974), for instance, uses the stark white of 13 skulls on a pure black background to recall Bloody Sunday. In one 1960s poster Ian Paisley looks every bit the charismatic preacher, orating under the holy cross of a Union Jack bearing the legend ‘For God and Ulster’. Image and politics merge in such figures. The exhibition nicely represents the overlap between murals and poster politics in Danny Devenny’s iconic outline of a gun-toting, faceless RUC officer wearing an orange sash. Originally a mural in South Derry, Sinn Féin quickly redeployed the image in their campaign to have the RUC disbanded. There are some audaciously inventive images here. Robert Ballagh’s 1989 poster for the Irish National Congress celebrates the centenary of the French Revolution by reworking Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People with a tricolor, and an Easter Lily – thus linking the Irish republican movement to the European tradition of democratic struggle. Cedric Wilson’s Unionist Solidarity (1986) poster brazenly mimics the Polish mass movement, with interesting (and weird and not entirely clear) political parallels resulting. A Workers’ Party poster (The Workers’ Party Says No to Mass Unemployment, 1986) echoes the mass protest against the Anti-Anglo Irish Agreement outside Belfast City Hall (where Paisley delivered the Never, Never, Never, Never speech) but with a hell of a lot less people!

Photographs are also deployed, mostly to make graphic statements about the human cost of the conflict. Most horrifying is a 1978 Northern Ireland Office poster following the La Mon House Hotel bombing. Accompanying a photograph of charred, limbless remains the word ‘murder’ is repeated 12 times, once for each fatality. The poster does not request information. Instead, the image asserts the criminality of the offence and its horror, refusing any ideological content. This is, of course, a deliberate, artful strategy. The exhibition allows the viewer to see images such as these in context with other, competing political images; each side’s accusations of atrocity out on show. In this way, Troubled Images confirms that brutality has been a near constant in much of the visual and verbal rhetoric of Northern Irish politics. On the first floor of the Linen Hall show is a militarily precise heraldic illustration of Long Kesh, with Orange lodge-style blazons and bunting, celebrating the UFF loyalist ‘POWs’ held there. Easily overlooked, this piece is by loyalist murderer Michael Stone. That chilling fact, if nothing else, shows how politicized images have underpinned much of the politics of the last thirty years. Whatever your individual political convictions, these posters show the way in which polemical images intervened in the daily mental life of people, shaping (or warping) language and perspective for good and ill.

See here for exhibit times and duration. It’s free. Some of the images can be viewed here.

Gort na Móna CLG & Glór na Móna present Community Lecture Series 2010: Bernadette McAliskey – ‘Civil Rights to Bill of Rights – Where to now?’ July 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left, The North.
3 comments

Gort na Móna CLG & Glór na Móna present
Community Lecture Series 2010

August – Tuesday 3rd, 7.30pm

Bernadette McAliskey – ‘Civil Rights to Bill of Rights – Where to now?’

Bernadette is prominent socialist and human rights activist of some forty years standing. As a leading Civil Rights activist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she was elected as the youngest ever MP at just 21 years of age. She was also very prominent in the Anti–H-Block campaign during the Irish Hunger Strikes of 1980-81 and subsequently survived an attempt on her life when she was shot by Loyalist gunmen during this period. She continues to work tirelessly as a community activist and political analyst and currently directs the South Tyrone Empowerment Project (STEP).

The talk will take place in Gort na Móna CLG, Springfield Road, Belfast.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this.

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