Monday, September 26, 2005

A clip with a hurley isn’t going to stop a loyalist pogrom

Robin Livingstone:

Can’t say I’m over the moon about the IRA getting rid of its weapons. Not because I want them to go back to shooting elderly UDR milkmen up country lanes, or because I think it’s a good idea for them to resume lobbing barrackbusters into PSNI stations or anything.

No, it’s a purely selfish concern – more a self-preservation instinct than anything else. Perhaps I should explain...

The last major loyalist pogrom in the North took place in August 1969 – I should know, my Beano collection and my Matchbox cars went up in the flames.

What happened was that a huge crowd of baying Prods came flooding down our street burning houses as they went. Think of the mob with flaming torches in the Frankenstein movie making their way up the mountain to the castle and you’ve got the picture.

The loyalists burnt what they wanted to burn for the simple reasons that there was nobody there to stop them. Well, there were people there, of course, but they didn’t have any guns and that lot weren’t likely to be deterred by a stern ticking-off or even a clip with a hurley.

If there’d been somebody at the bottom of my street with a machine gun, though, we’d have been alright. One volley over their heads and they’d have been back up to the Shankill quicker than you can say educational underachievement/weak community infrastructure.

Next day the place looked like the village in Saving Private Ryan, but even as the houses smouldered, amid the sullen anger you got a sense that this would never be allowed to happen again.

And it hasn’t. Well, up to now anyway because the tidal wave of petrol bombers has so far been held back by a dike built of hard experience and eastern European materials.

Certainly there have been regular leaks in the form of peaceline confrontations, but there’s a reason why the restive sectarian hordes don’t raze the terrifyingly vulnerable Short Strand or why the Orangemen in bowlers and their supporters in baseball hats don’t pour over the Springfield Road into the little terrace streets: some bloke would step out and let off a burst on full automatic and they’d have to leg it pronto.

I don’t mind admitting that if the people who burned Belfast last week made it as far as my street, in the sure and certain knowledge that Trevor would be otherwise engaged, I would be very grateful for the assistance of P O’Neill and Comrade Kalashnikov.

True, angry loyalists are not likely to make it as far as my gaff so I can afford to be fairly sanguine about this dumping arms business, but you can bet your last Northern Bank fiver that some people in the Short Strand, north Belfast and Portadown are tugging anxiously at their shirt collars at the prospect of the IRA giving up their gear.

Maybe the Irps are in for a bit of an Indian summer.

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