Thursday, May 11, 2006

Protagonists need to put houses in order

Breidge Gadd:

"Not bad for a wee lad from Onward Flute Band in Belfast who used to march to Finaghy on the Twelfth" – the words of Sir James Galway as he prepared to play for the Pope last week.

These words were the only beacon of light in an otherwise deeply depressing week for Protestants. Even then, I suppose there are still some who even today believe that Sir James is betraying his heritage by setting foot in the Vatican. Reverend Brian Kennaway's recently launched book certainly confirms a picture of modern bigotry and begrudgery still rampant in Loyal Orders members.

Most damning by a long chalk has been this paper's exposure of the government knowledge, since the 1970s, at the highest level, of collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitary organisations in the targeting and murder of Catholics.

Those of us who lived through that period believed that nothing would shock us but I was shocked last week by The Irish News' revelations. Although over the years there were angry accusations from republican areas of systematic collusion, law abiding Catholics dismissed the claims as exaggerated. Few indeed would have given any credence to the seemingly wild accusations that government ministers and unionist politicians knew and condoned what was going on.

Well we were wrong: they did and they did nothing to stop it.

And what is most shocking of all, as Susan MacKay pointed out in her article last week, is the deafening silence of unionist politicians to these revelations. We wait to hear the voice of the Protestant Churches on these matters.

In fact, while this archived material was being exposed in this paper, bizarrely other media generally ignored it and focused on analysing the impact of the hunger strike on the civil conflict here and its contribution to the continuation of violence. As usual we had the predictable statements from a range of Protestants/unionists about their surprise, indeed outrage that otherwise decent Catholics supported the hunger strikers.

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.

If last week's revelations taught us anything it was that there were people from all sides in Northern Ireland with blood on their hands. There were many, including British government ministers, who proclaimed outrage at IRA terrorism who also knew but said nothing about the terrorist infiltration of HM forces for terrorists' own murderous purposes.

In fact, last week should also have taught us that there is little room for self-righteous rants about who was to blame for the deaths during 30 years of conflict. It was a dirty nasty war from which none of the combatants emerges with untarnished glory.

Given what we now know as fact, the old adage that those in glasshouses should not throw stones must become the new imperative.

While there is a long way to go, I do believe that republicans have started a painful process that will define a future that genuinely includes those for and those against the union with Britain.

I struggle to find the same sense of purpose in unionism. Historical papers, Brian Kennaway's book, the continuation of intimidation of Catholics from their homes, still one-off murders by loyalists, the supposed majority of unionists now against the good Friday Agreement – all point to a people resisting, (and some still being prepared to use violence) the idea of sharing Northern Ireland with their fellow republicans and nationalists. Last week's evidence in this paper showed that it was not only the IRA who used terrorist tactics. It is time to put an end to the fallacy that everyone else involved were passive victims.

If we have learned anything it is that all the protagonists, not just the IRA, need to devote energy and ingenuity to put their own house in order and to stop blaming others for their woes.

Surely the time has come for Protestant leaders to be brave and honest enough to acknowledge the wrongs their people did.

They must work to raise the game of the young Protestant working class men who see the pinnacle of their ambition as walking down Garvaghy Road. Their role model should be the epic one of Jimmy Galway walking into and welcomed by the Vatican.

Politicians must realise what failure means

Tension and disbelief on estate’s streets

There’s a sinister hush over collusion evidence


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