Irische Geschichte / Irish History

The State of Northern Ireland and the Fascism Discussion

One of the main architects of the present situation in Northern Ireland, with all its racism and violence, was Winston Churchill. During the First World War he resigned his position as the First Lord of the Admiralty after the military disaster in Gallipoli, Turkey. In the year 1921, the independence war in Ireland had developed into a major threat to the still-intact British Empire. During peace talks in London, British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Churchill, still in government, threatened the Irish delegation with war within three days; a treaty was signed on 6th of December 1921, dividing Ireland. In June 1922, Churchill demanded that anti-treaty forces be bombed out of the buildings they had occupied in Dublin. Pro-treatyite forces then used artillery that was given to them by the British. For ten months a civil war raged in Ireland, leaving lasting divisions in Irish politics.

Although Churchill is better known for his role in defeating Fascism during the Second World War, little is known of his sympathy for Hitler and his racist frame of mind in the early thirties (see below: Taking Churchill at his words). During this pre-World War II period, many conservative politicians and church leaders were to show a mixture of respect and sympathy towards the Fascist movements in Italy, Germany and Spain. What certainly did not help is that in the USA, the title story in Time magazine about Hitler's rise to power (in which he was named “Time Man of the Year 1938”) was more heroic in nature than critical.


Leaders like Churchill, with his family’s long colonial background in Ireland, were to become the blueprint for the new leaders of the racist statelet of Northern Ireland which was, in the words of its first Prime Minister, "a Protestant state for a Protestant people."

The British ethos in Northern Ireland was one of racism and violence towards Catholics.

During the 80s of the last century, strong military contacts were built up by the British military’s Secret Service between the pro-British Loyalist death squads in Northern Ireland and the apartheid state of South Africa. A large delivery of weapons and many assassinations (including that of the prominent lawyer Pat Finucane) were the result of these contacts. Today these loyalist terror organisations have still got strong contacts to the British Secret Services and European neo-fascists.

Is it any wonder when you read the words of the BBC's winner of the 'Great Britons' poll, Churchill, on race!

On race: Churchill said 'the Indians in East Africa are mainly of a very low class of coolies, and the idea that they should be put on an equality with the Europeans is revolting to every white man throughout British Africa'

Dermot O'Connor, Irlandinitiative Heidelberg - 26th of October 2005

Sunday, 23 October, 2005

Friday, 21 October, 2005

Monday-Thursday, 17-20 October, 2005

Sunday, 16 October, 2005

Wednesday-Sunday, 12-16 October, 2005

Tuesday, 26 November, 2002

Sunday, 23 October, 2005

There is a Nazi analogy to be made

By Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland

Fr Alec Reid, a quiet, self-deprecating and normally circumspect man, was thrust into public life recently when it was announced that he and the Methodist Minister, the Reverend Harold Good, were the two independent witnesses to the IRA putting all of its weapons beyond use. Both clerics appeared at the same press conference as General John de Chastelain and his two commissioners on September 26, when the announcement was made.

Fr Reid, of course, is also the Redemptorist priest from Clonard Monastery who acted as a mediator in various republican feuds (and helped end those between the IRA and the Workers Party in 1975 and 1977). He also brought Sinn Féin and the SDLP together for talks in 1988, and acted as a conduit between Charles Haughey, when he was Taoiseach, and the republican leadership. He was famously photographed giving the kiss of life to the two plain-clothes British Army corporals who were killed after they inexplicably drove into the funeral of IRA Volunteer Kevin Brady in 1988. He is not a supporter of armed struggle. In fact, he never gave up trying to persuade the IRA to abandon its campaign, but he is an Irishman who believes in Irish independence and would like to see his country reunited, as is his entitlement, but with the consent of the unionist community. He and the Reverend Harold Good set out to persuade the sceptics about the historical importance and decisiveness of IRA decommissioning and came to address a public meeting of about 200 people at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast last Wednesday night.

There were heated exchanges and some unionists, according to Fr Reid, slighted and insulted his faith and the Catholic Church. He was interrupted and he lost his temper. He said that there would have been no IRA but for the way unionists treated nationalists.

“They were treated almost like animals by the unionist community. They were not treated as human beings… they were treated like the Nazis treated the Jews.”

There was shock in the audience and it triggered a shouting match and a bit of a walkout. Fr Reid apologised almost immediately, an apology that was accepted - albeit his remarks were regretted - by many of his friends in other denominations, including the Reverend Ken Newell whose church had hosted the meeting.

There was also an immediate outcry at his remarks from unionist leaders, including the leading party in unionism, the anti-Agreement DUP, which rubbished the affidavits of Reid and Good in regard to decommissioning and still seeks pretexts to avoid sharing power with Sinn Féin. Father Reid’s remarks certainly smarted many unionists. He should not have demonised an entire community. You cannot compare the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis, and their genocide, to the nationalist experience in the North, however unpleasant that was.

Nevertheless, Fr Reid, a moderate, must have said what he said out of frustration and desperation – a natural human reaction. Prior to those remarks, the last person not of the republican physical-force tradition to have said something similar was President Mary McAleese earlier this year. During ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp she suggested that Catholics in the North suffered like Jews during Hitler’s war on Europe. Of the Nazis she said: “They gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred of Catholics – in the same way that people give their children an outrageous and irrational hatred of those who are of different colour.”

Within 24 hours she too apologised and said she was “deeply sorry”. McAleese’s and Reid’s comments represent something visceral which even most nationalists believe but only express in unguarded moments for fear of being regarded as sectarian, but the analogy with fascism is in fact legitimate and rooted in certain fact.

The evidence is that the traditional unionist establishment has strong anti-democratic and fascist tendencies.

Firstly, unionists, who had no problem with a united Ireland when they were in political ascendancy, opposed the extension of the franchise to the Irish working class and opposed a measure of devolution, Home Rule, because they would lose their sectarian supremacy. They opposed ‘lawful’ authority, organised the first right-wing paramilitary army of the 20th century, the UVF, threatened civil war, got their way and set up what was basically a state of one-party government. To ensure they maintained control they used terror. They gerrymandered constituencies. They discriminated in employment and investment and reinforced the traditional ghettoes in which Catholics had gathered for safety. They used the Orange Order to keep nationalists in fear. At the foundation of the state they drove the few Catholics that had work in Protestant industries out of their workplace. In 1921 alone 9000 Catholics were driven from work, 30,000 were rendered destitute and thousands were rendered homeless. Catholics were in a minority but made up the majority of those who emigrated. Unionist newspapers regularly carried job advertisements with the unashamed pronouncement that ‘No Catholics Need Apply’.

Loyalist paramilitaries boast of their connection with neo-Nazi groups, including Combat 18. The ‘18’ in their name is derived from the initials of Adolf Hitler, A and H are the first and eighth letters of the Latin alphabet.

To this day Ian Paisley uses insulting and derogatory language when he refers to ‘Papishers’ and ‘Romanists’. His party displayed fascist tendencies in its Ulster Resistance mode, Third Force rallies and when it united with loyalist paramilitaries in the UWC strike. One of Paisley’s councillors, George Seawright, said of Catholics in 1984: “Taxpayers’ money would be better spent on an incinerator and burning the whole lot of them. The priests should be thrown in and burned as well.” Former Home Affairs Minister, William Craig, set up the Vanguard Movement as a pressure group within the Unionist Party. At Vanguard rallies unionist leaders arrived flanked by motorcycle outriders. At one rally in Ormeau Park, Craig addressed 100,000 people, which included serried ranks of masked men carrying cudgels. He said: “We must build up a dossier of the men and the women who are a menace to this country… it may be our job to liquidate them.”

Commenting on these rallies, the veteran British journalist Peter Taylor wrote many years ago: “To nationalists they represented a menacing display reminiscent of Hitler’s Nuremburg rallies.” So, yes, there is an analogy to be made, though not on the same scale as the Nazis. Unionists are genuinely appalled that nationalists should think this way of them and they reject such a view. They do so because they themselves are in denial about their part in the origins of the conflict. Certainly, the IRA’s campaign devastated them, led to a litany of loss, pain and bereavement, and a sense of great victimhood, but that sense of victimhood is also conveniently used to mask some of the real truths about their own ethos and their attitude to Catholics.

For them it’s more comforting to view the IRA as completely ruthless as to examine the darkness at the heart of unionist supremacist values.

Unwittingly, Fr Alec Reid’s outburst has done just that.

Copyright © 2005 Daily Ireland

Sunday, 23 October, 2005

An open letter to unionist/loyalist and Protestant leaders from Fermanagh priest Joe McVeigh

By Fr Joe McVeigh Muine Mhuiris, Ederney, Co Fermanagh

The Good Friday Agreement provides the possibility of bringing about the reunification of this island by peaceful political means. It offers us a way of healing the wounds of history. Fr. Joe McVeigh he historic statement from the IRA in July declaring an end to all armed actions and the recent decommisoning of the IRA's weapons afford a real opportunity to put the past behind us and to work together for a better future for all the people of this island.

It was disgraceful to see the escalation of loyalist attacks on Catholics resulting in the killing of Thomas Devlin in Belfast and the attacks on Catholic homes throughout Co Antrim. I applaud those community and church leaders who have tried to highlight the situation and to stop these attacks. I would also condemn attacks on Protestant places of worship and on Protestant homes that have occurred in recent times.

Since my young days growing up in Co Fermanagh, I have been aware of the political division in our community, as well as in our country. This division in the local community followed religious lines as well but the religious differences were not as pronounced where I lived as they were in other places.

Since my earliest days growing up, I have always had friendships with ordinary Protestants. I have had friendships with my Protestant neighbours and with Protestant clergy - men and women. I have occasionally officiated at the weddings of Protestants and Catholics. I have preached in Protestant churches. I have debated with Protestant churchmen, publicly and privately, about our political situation. I have found all of them courteous. Over the years, I tried to reach out to the working-class Protestant people, through some of the political leaders. I have great admiration for those Protestants who are tolerant and conscientious. I have a problem with those who denounce the Catholic faith and use derogatory language when speaking about Catholics. I do not deny your right to defend the Union but I do not accept that you have the right to denounce Catholicism in the assment and intimidation because I was a Catholic priest and because I dared to speak out according to my conscience about injustice suffered by Catholics. Some members of the forces went beyond being peacekeepers. They murdered some of my friends and relations.

There are a lot of wounds to be healed. I hope they will be healed in time. The loyalist/unionist Protestant church leaders can make a big contribution to the healing process and to the creating of an Ireland where everybody is accepted and welcomed.

We who live in the northeast are victims of history. Our lives have been deeply affected by policies and decisions taken in previous generations, especially by successive British governments.

The Good Friday Agreement offers us the possibility of a peaceful way forward - a way out of the logjam we were in. It provides the possibility of bringing about the reunification of this island by peaceful political means. It also offers us a way of healing the wounds of our history through co-operation at all levels in promoting the wellbeing and economy of this part of Ireland. We need laws that will provide justice and fair play for all. We need a new culture of tolerance towards all, including immigrants. There is no place for racism and sectarianism. We need a new appreciation of the centrality of respect for human rights. We must be able to live together on this island on the basis of equality, justice and fair play and be able to work to bring about a country that is outward-looking, forward-looking and economically sound. The most important thing now is that we make sure that violent conflict never happens again and that we can resolve our difficulties by peaceful political means. This will require leadership and co-operation. We may need a forum or facility for people to express their hurt and their grief and their regrets.

I know we have a way to go before we have a just and lasting peace on this island. I know there is a great gap in understanding not just between people in the North but between North and South. I think we have come a long way thanks to those who have worked to bring us this far along the way to peace and justice. We will go a lot further and learn better how to work together and enjoy life together. We will learn to discover our common identity and to respect each other. I would like to see that all of the people on this island of Ireland will some day in the not too distant future be able to manage our own affairs efficiently and fairly. That is my hope for a truly democratic country that allows a place and a voice for everyone on the basis of equality.

For the sake of all the young people growing up in Ireland, we must now work together to end sectariansim and racism in all its ugly forms. We must always show respect for one another even if we often disagree about theology and politics.

Friday, 21 October, 2005

Comparing like with like is just not fair

By Des Wilson,

How in the name of goodness could anybody in his right senses say our unionist regime was like the Nazis?

I mean, dammit, just think about it for a moment. How could anybody? Sure think what those Nazis really did and you'll see.


Created a state in which one party and one party only could rule They isolated one section of the people, blamed them for all their troubles and publicly and officially condemned them They put this isolated section out of jobs and professions, hindered their education, made as many of them as they could live together in places where they could not interfere with the power of the regime They kept power away from these people and made them obey laws they were forbidden to have any part in making They made regular attacks or pogroms against the disfavoured minority and attacked their business places and drove them out, often taking over their premises They drove people out of their homes They ran campaigns against gay people They ran campaigns against Travelling people They held mass rallies with banners and war symbols and outriders and uniforms to show who was boss They believed and taught that they belonged to a superior race and that other races and cultures were inferior They inducted children into their political organisations with the promise of political and employment rewards They believed they should have a vast empire and in it they should be rulers over subject peoples They systematically humiliated their opponents, especially the scapegoated community by violent public speeches which roused many of the rest of the people They systematically convinced decent people, including highly civilised German people, that they should take part in all this

Now, for goodness sake, how can you possibly compare our unionist friends to that? Good heavens, man, what are you thinking of? Yes, we all know you were ambushed, we all know it was a set-up, we all know the television cameras were there to witness one more blow against a reasoned peace settlement, but really, the unionists being like the Nazis? Have a sense of proportion, man, don't let your impatience get the better of you.

I mean, those notices around Belfast's walls saying 'Irish Go Home' and 'Fenians Out' cannot in any way be compared with what the Nazis put on their walls like 'Jews Out' and all that stuff. Like, we have only had hundreds of them and you really need millions to make a case. (In this instance it is not just the thought that counts, it's the numbers.) And that man – our unionist friends elected him – Seewrong or something, sure he was only one person when he said out loud that Catholics should be burned along with their priests. I mean if two million people had said it, then of course you might have a case too. But one?

You simply must also learn, dear good friend, that true things said by republicans or democrats or suchlike just once are evil and will be remembered forever in the church halls and episcopal and political drawing rooms but false things said by our preaching friends like the late Mr Seewrong or various present reverends will be treated as if they did not happen. Once you understand that you understand everything. Knowing it will come in useful as the campaign against you continues into the far future.

Nothing quite like making peace for making enemies.

By the way, could anybody remind us which of the close friends and colleagues of the late Adolf Hitler were invited to, and entertained in, the mansions of prominent unionist leaders just shortly before the Second World War? Ribbentrop was it, or Goering, or both? Can't remember now because we decently tend to forget things like that. Quite a bit of coming and going between the Nazis and our unionist friends in those times, what?

But as the man said, not a word about the pre-war.

And by the way, just suppose the hecklers got their way and brought a case to court alleging incitement arising out of the Fitzroy ambush, have you thought what that could mean? It could mean that for the first time since the unionists took power in the North and abused it, human rights people could discuss in open court all the abuses of the regime. Just think of that. Talk about good coming out of evil!

Friday, 21 October, 2005

Unionist state brought about the troubles


This time last year I tried do get Fr Alec Reid to talk to me about his role in bringing about the IRA ceasefire of 1994. He wouldn't do it.

I was making a television documentary for TG4 and had managed to interview most of the protagonists, including John Hume and Gerry Adams, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and former British premier John Major, as well as former military activists from the IRA and the loyalists.

Gerry Adams in particular – John Hume as well – was adamant that Fr Reid had played an early and pivotal role in bringing those two political leaders together in the hope that they could agree on an alternative route for nationalism that would allow republicans to consider setting aside the gun and the bomb.

My programme aimed to show how that alternative was indeed brought about, but Fr Reid declined to take part. I must have spoken to him on four or five occasions to try to get him to change his mind, but no dice.

He was particularly concerned that his recent role in helping the Basque people develop their own Peace Process might be jeopardised if it appeared that he was prepared to talk to the media about sensitive issues with regard to the Irish situation.

Even though the events I was interested in had taken place more than 10 years previously, Fr Reid still said no. And that was fair enough, we just had to go and make our programme without him.

So you can see why I was quite surprised to see him becoming embroiled in a slagging match on television with Unionists.

I don't know Fr Reid. Aside from the few telephone conversations I had with him last year in which I did my level best to bring him on board for the Sos Cogaidh programme, I have never spoken to him. Can't ever remember meeting him, even.

But I know from talking to others that Alec Reid is a thoroughly decent and honest person, a man so totally opposed to violence that he spent his years – not to mention his health – struggling to find a way to help bring about a situation in which political violence no longer played a part in Irish life.

There is no point at this stage further joining the media past time of crucifying Fr Reid. Nor do I intend to add my halfpenny worth to the debate of what he actually meant.

I could prove to you here and now that the way the Unionists treated the Nationalists in the North from the beginning of the state until the end of the Stormont regime was akin to how the Nazis treated those opposed to them in Germany. I could also prove the opposite.

I could even show that Unionists were treated in a Nazi-like fashion by Nationalists. It doesn't matter. Father Reid made comments that he regretted for the offence they caused, and he made a full and contrite public apology. Case closed.

But all that does not mean that the Troubles here were not brought about by a particular situation.

There was a time – up until the Hunger Strikes of 1981, I'd say – when the British were fond of portraying the IRA as mindless men of violence.

Sort of pathological murderers and criminals who wreaked havoc and devastation all around them because, well, because that's the sort of people they were. Needless to say, that whole ideal was a load of cobblers and the British themselves abandoned it.

Some Unionists still adhere to this idea, however, and continue to kid themselves that the only thing ever wrong with Northern Ireland was those murdering Catholics who tried to bomb their Unionist neighbours into a united Ireland.

In fact, it was the behaviour of the Unionist government at Stormont – with the active participation of many sectors of the Unionist community – that caused the Troubles to come about.

I don't even think it was partition, per se. Had the Stormont authorities provided the Catholics of the Six Counties with equality of employment, proper housing, educational and cultural rights, parity of esteem. . . had they made Northern Ireland a warm, Irish house for Catholics and Protestants alike, then there simply would not have been any war.

I am sure that Nationalists would have continued to lobby for inclusion in the Irish nation, but without the discrimination, the gerrymander, the bad housing. . . without being denied the vote, or being treated as second-class citizens. . . without the horrors of institutionalised sectarianism there would have been no armed, Nationalist revolt.

And had the state not taken up arms – both legally through the police and army, and illegally through the loyalist paramilitaries – in order to oppress the Catholic population, the Nationalists would not have had to form and sustain the IRA to protect them.

These things happened. The Northern state was sectarian and corrupt to the core.

It was Orange, anti-Catholic and wrong. And it was nurtured and sustained by the Unionist people, and the inevitable result was war.

The Northern Ireland state, the Unionist state and the Unionist people created the conditions that led to the Troubles that resulted in death and devastation for almost 30 years.

Thank God it is over.

Monday-Thursday, 17-20 October, 2005

Analysis: Ian knows a thing or two about fascism

By Anne Cadwallader for Daily Ireland

Baroness May Blood and others are correct in one sense. It's a reasonable assumption to make, after both President McAleese and Fr Alex Reid compared unionist domination to the Nazis, that this is a sub-conscious psychological thread in the minds of many Northern Catholics.

I suspect it is one that is internally rejected after rational contemplation, however, and that it only emerges in public after intense provocation and with immediate and genuine regret.

No sane person could possibly equate unionist political, social, economic and cultural discrimination against Northern Catholics with the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Both Fr Alex Reid and President McAleese are intelligent, thoughtful, Christian people and neither rationally believes the literal truth of what they said.

Most of those on their high horses, including both DUP and Ulster Unionist politicians, cannot either believe, in private, that either individual genuinely meant what they said. Many Catholics, however, subliminally believe some aspects of how they, their families and their forebears were treated by unionism bear a resemblance to the way the Nazis treated the Jews. But are there any real similarities?

The Nazis blamed the Jews for all the economic ills of the pre-World War II German state. They believed in an international Jewish conspiracy against the Teutonic people. They herded Jews into ghettos and regarded them as sub-human.

In our case, some unionists blame an alleged Catholic/Irish "fecklessness" for their lower economic performance. An inability or reluctance to work. A lack of the Protestant work ethic. That is racism, nothing less.

Some unionists say the economic miracle south of the Border only came about not because of hard work and intelligent planning but because the Irish "held their hands out" to Brussels and were amply rewarded. That is racist too.

The Orange Order operates a shady loan and land-bank scheme to prevent Catholics getting their grubby hands on "Protestant land". Until fair employment laws stopped them, some Protestant employers were reluctant to hire Catholics.

In religious matters, some Protestants, certainly those of Ian Paisley's ilk, believe in an international Vatican-driven conspiracy to return them into the clutches of Rome.

Catholics have most certainly found themselves living in ghettos (west Belfast, the New Lodge, Ardoyne, the Short Strand) for reasons of safety after repeated loyalist pogroms dating back to the 1920s.

When Protestants vacate land, such as in north Belfast at this time, unionists use every trick in the book to prevent Catholics, who desperately need homes, from moving across the peaceline into "their" territory.

This is not to call unionists Nazis. It is, however, to point out that there are more than passing similarities between the way the 1930s German political elite treated Jews with the way Catholics have been treated in this state, into which they were abandoned by the South.

Like many others, I groaned internally when I heard what Fr Reid had said. I had been turned down for an interview many times over the years. Then, after a lifetime's discretion, he appears to have blown it at a meeting where he had, ironically, hoped to encourage unionist confidence in his status as an honest broker over decommissioning.

In his defence, he had been subjected at the meeting to ridiculous accusations that the Redemptorist Monastery at Clonard had been "a haven for IRA men" and "used to store weapons in the 1970s".

Leading the charge against Fr Reid was Ian Paisley's DUP. Ian Paisley's own past does not stand up to much scrutiny when it comes to moderation and respect for other creeds and cultures.

Has he, for example, ever apologised, or been asked to apologise, for his words of June 1959?

"You people of the Shankill Road," an eyewitness heard him say (quoted in Paisley by Ed Moloney and Andy Pollak), "what's wrong with you? Number 425 Shankill Road. Do you know who lives there? Pope's men, that's who."

"Fortes' ice cream shop. Italian papists on the Shankill Road," he said, adding that Catholics now lived at 56 Aden Street and 38 Crimea Street. His followers duly attacked Catholic shops and homes.

An elderly lady from Newington in north Belfast, now passed on, once told me of how her family home on the Old Lodge Road had been daubed with a cross one afternoon in the 1950s after one of Paisley's meetings in the area.

They knew what it meant and immediately moved out to live in a house offered by a Protestant gentleman in Glengormley. As they left, they saw the mob torching their old home. Shades of Kristallnacht.

In 1968, after loyalist attacks in Belfast, Paisley said Catholic homes had caught fire because they were "loaded with petrol bombs". The disparity in Catholic/Protestant unemployment rates, he said was because Catholics bred like "rabbits" and multiplied like "vermin".

After the UUP decided to run a Jewish candidate, Harold Smith, he said: "The Unionist party are boasting he is a Jew. As a Jew, he rejects our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament, Protestant principles, the Glorious Reformation and the sanctity of the Lord's day."

Has anyone even thought to ask Mr Paisley to apologise for words he wrote in a Free Presbyterian booklet in 1982? Words such as the following: Rome is "a debauched, degraded, filthy, incestuous, adulterous monster. Her popes, her cardinals and her priests all lived in a state of the most monstrous villainy."

The Vatican is a "murderess, the Antichrist" and the papacy is "the seed of the serpent, the offspring of Belial and the progeny of hell. Her eye gleams with the serpent's light. Her clothes reek of the brimstone of the pit."

"There is no night as dark as papal midnight. No dungeon so loathsome as that of the Woman of Babylon. No chains so fettering as the chains of the Antichrist of the Seven Hills. No slavery so degrading as the slavery of the Mother of Harlots."

"The dog will return to its vomit. The washed sow will return to its wallowing in the mire, but by God's grace we will never return to Popery."

Let's come right up to date. On May 24 this year, Mr Paisley referred to the SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, as "another apologist for terrorists. He has mixed so long with the fascists of Sinn Fein, built up into their present strength by the helping hand of the SDLP, that he is blotched with fascism himself."

Any apology sought for or given to Mr Durkan? Not as far as I know. Or to David Trimble, of whom Paisley said in a 2001 annual conference speech: "If David Trimble is a unionist, then Bin Laden is an American patriot."

Fascism, Paisley once said, is the "child of Romanism". Knows a lot about fascism, does our Ian.

Copyright © 2005 Daily Ireland

Sunday, 16 October, 2005

Analysis: Legacy of sectarianism is the enemy within

By Tom McGurk for the Sunday Business Post

At last week's Downing Street meeting between Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Irish government was adamant about adding a new part to the wider peace process agenda, post-IRA decommissioning.

Dublin is now determined that the wider crisis of sectarianism and its historical legacy in the North needs immediate and determined political address. If Dublin has its way in any new talks, the political parties will be required to address sectarianism directly.

Further down the road, it is hoped that they will give it the type of attention which the British government previously gave to the problem of racism.

As in that campaign, this would involve public exposition and opinion-forming, and perhaps even a new body charged with combating sectarianism similar to the role of the Race Relations Board in Britain. The ambition would be that it would eventually become a part of the education syllabus at schools level.

Ironically, as Father Alec Reid discovered last week, placing fingers into the historic wound that is at the heart of the North can be an explosive business.

Fr Reid didn't directly address the historic sectarian context of the Six Counties, but there can hardly be any meaningful exposition of its political legacy without addressing the defining subtext, which is sectarianism.

Class and wealth played some small parts in determining Northern politics down the centuries. In the largest view, however, from the plantation of Ulster onwards, the Protestant/Catholic division across political lines was the defining influence.

Just as religion defined the 17th century political difference between planter and Gael, it is difficult to see any radical change in the political landscape in the 21st century.

The outlooks and attitudes that were frozen in time by the plantation have barely been disturbed down the centuries since.

In fact, it might be a very useful moment, given Fr Reid's admittedly intemperate language, to consider the attitudes within unionism that drew this reaction, however unwise or inaccurate some might consider it to be.

Reid argued that, for 60 years - presumably since partition - the unionist community had treated the Catholic community like the Nazis treated the Jews. He has apologised for the remarks, but he has at least opened up a much-needed debate.

Creating a new future in the North requires the beginning, at least, of recognition and understanding about what so poisoned the society for so long.

Reid's remarks were about degrees of prejudice. Of course, the comparison between the Third Reich's anti-Semitism and the North's avowed anti-Catholicism in the first 60 years of its existence are simply historically inaccurate.

But who can deny that, for all those years that anti-Catholicism, like anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, was a defining part of political discourse, which received official and unofficial encouragement in the North?

Trapped in a rising tide of nationalist expectations at the turn of the last century, partition was simply a sectarian headcount to defuse the crisis that faced British rule in Ireland by 1920.

The Northern state was actually designed to be a Protestant enclave in nationalist Ireland. Is it any wonder, then, that its rulers would have thought or acted otherwise?

It was essentially a new colony created out of the ruins of a collapsing colony, a line of retreat that came to represent a demarcation line between coloniser and the formerly colonised.

Since the rationale for the new state's existence was essentially sectarian, is it any wonder that it became "a Protestant state for a Protestant people'', as Lord Brookeborough once stated?

The overwhelming political tragedy that ensued was that loyalty to the new state and asserting its citizenship became deeply embroiled with varying degrees of anti-Catholicism. Being loyal and being anti-Catholic became one and the same thing for considerable numbers of unionists.

What utterly complicated the whole context was that Ulster Protestantism largely had its origins in an Ulster Scottish biblical notion of covenant that saw Ulster as God's gift to them - they were therefore a chosen people.

They were Israelites in the lands of the faithless Hittites and Canaanites who were evil outsiders. This Old Testament concept categorised all Catholics or 'Romanists' as 'the enemy within'.

As Paisley's Protestant Telegraph once described it: "We have a historic and divine mission, we are a special people not of ourselves but of our divine mission."

In 1985, for example, a daily prayer for deliverance against the Anglo Irish Agreement was published in the Belfast Telegraph, which read: "O people of Ulster, you are God's Israel, chosen seed, God gave your forefathers this land, these promises are yours."

Fundamental to this notion was that all Catholics were unclean, unsaved, subversive, and idolatrous. Because these divinely ordained social and political arrangements were drawn up long ago, and since God is eternal, nothing can change. The past is a mere prism to determine the present.

"The fingerprints of the eternal God," as Paisley put it.

The tragic result of this unique confluence of religious belief and political arrangement created a vast body of Ulster Protestants who saw it both as their civic duty to their state and their religious duty to their beliefs, to treat and regard all Catholics accordingly.

For 60 years, through organisations like the Orange, Black and Masonic orders and with unionist political leadership in dutiful quiescence, anti-Catholicism became the definitive subtext of the Northern ruling classes. Catastrophically - and consequently - there followed 30 years of republican armed struggle, which seemed to fulfil all the unionist nightmare scenarios. Indeed, as the subsequent rise of Paisleyism indicated, the retreat into barely disguised politico-sectarianism eventually became almost total.

Fr Alec Reid, a man of truly remarkable moral stature in whose head the peace process actually began, has now - however, clumsily and historically inaccurately - raised this hare. Perhaps the time has come to confront the poison of sectarianism.

The government's new initiative on sectarianism may prove just as painful as Reid's blunt words, but the task of creating a new civic society in the North requires a new social consensus. That such a construct could be cemented together using the old building blocks of sectarianism and mutual suspicion is impossible.

What Alec Reid was talking about was the legacy of sectarianism. In that, he has - perhaps unsubtly but nevertheless unavoidably - done us all a favour.

Copyright © 2005 Sunday Business Post

Wednesday-Sunday, 12-16 October, 2005

PSNI to investigate priest for hatred

By Irish Republican News

A Catholic priest who compared the treatment of Catholics under unionist rule to Nazi-era Germany is to be investigated by the North's police over the remarks.

The comments, made by Father Alec Reid during a rancorous public debate in south Belfast, created a furore in the mainstream media.

Fr Reid was one of two clergymen who witnessed the recent decommissioning of arms by the Provisional IRA.

During a public meeting in South Belfast on the decommissioning issue, a heated argument arose between him and William Frazier, the leader of anti-republican lobby group FAIR.

Fr Reid said that not only unionists had grievances over the past, nationalists had them too.

"The reality is that the nationalist community in Northern Ireland were treated almost like animals by the unionist community," he said.

"They (Catholics) were not treated like human beings. It was like the Nazis' treatment of the Jews," he said.

Fr Reid later the audience he had "said some very hard things" about the unionist community.

"There is something else I believe. Their history in the last 60 years put them in a position after partition that they did not want. They were forced to treat nationalists the way they did." He said nationalists puit in the same position would have reacted the same way.

But unionist leaders immediately denounced the comment as sectarian, and denied there had been any serious discrimination against Catholics in the past. The remarks have also been cited by the DUP as a reason for the party to refuse participation in peace talks.

Similar comments by Irish President Mary McAleese in a radio interview earlier this year led to death threats against her by unionist paramilitaries.

Although evidently exaggerated, the 'Nazi' comments reflect the widely perceived Catholic experience under unionist rule.

Fr Reid later apologised for the remarks. and said he had been provoked by confrontational exchanges -- but this has not prevented him being accused of incitement to hatred. The PSNI police said they were now investigating a formal complaint by Mr Frazier.

Leading unionists lined up to voice their outrage. DUP MP Gregory Campbell said sectarianism was "endemic" among nationalists, and that it helpd to explained "their [nationalists] desire to prevent our cultural expression".

North Antrim representative Ian Paisley jnr said Fr Reid had "insulted an entire community".

The party's North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said Fr Reid's comments had gone "beyond President McAleese's remarks".

Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey said the unionist community was "absolutely appalled and deeply shocked" by the comments.

"His comments have destroyed the community's confidence and trust in the decommissioning process."

However, Sinn Fein's AlexMaskey argued Fr Reid had merely been pointing out "the elephant in the room".

"If we are going to meaningfully challenge it then we need to have an honest debate about the true extent, nature and causes of sectarianism within our society," he said.

"Unionist leaders are in denial about the history of the state, their own responsibility for this and for the conflict which resulted from this."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness challenged the DUP to "stop looking for excuses" for not engaging in talks.

"The recent historic initiatives by the IRA have dealt with genuine unionist concerns about republican intentions in a definitive way. It is my belief that we now have a major opportunity to move forward and make progress in the time ahead," he said.

"The DUP as the political leaders of unionism need to stop looking for excuses for not engaging and instead join with the rest of us in re-establishing the political institutions and delivering for the people who elect us."

Tuesday, 26 November, 2002

Taking Churchill at his words

By James Heartfield

Winston Churchill, winner of the BBC's 'Great Britons' poll, is best remembered for the recordings of his wartime speeches - especially the 'We shall fight them on the beaches' speech of 4 June 1940 and the 'Their finest hour' speech of 18 June 1940. But Churchill never made those recordings. Norman Shelley did - a radio actor who played Colonel Danby in BBC Radio 4's The Archers and who died in 1980 (1)

At the time the speeches were recorded, Churchill, a stammerer who spoke off the cuff and full of Dutch courage, could not reproduce his Commons performances in front of a microphone. In our inoffensive times, where politicians can lose their jobs by saying the 'wrong thing', what is it about Churchill that is considered so great? Maybe we should let Churchill speak for himself, without Colonel Danby's help....

On Bolshevism: For Churchill, the Soviet Union was a 'tyrannic government of these Jew Commisars', a 'worldwide communistic state under Jewish domination', 'the international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew',or just 'these Semitic conspirators'.(2)

On race: Churchill said 'the Indians in East Africa are mainly of a very low class of coolies, and the idea that they should be put on an equality with the Europeans is revolting to every white man throughout British Africa.'(3)  In February 1954, he told the cabinet 'the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people'(4)

On force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes: It was 'not a medical question', said Churchill. 'It is a question of policy.'(5)

On Irish independence: According to Churchill, the struggle for Irish independence from Britain was part of 'a worldwide conspiracy against our country' by 'the rascals and rapscallions of the world who are on the move against us'(6)

Organising Orangemen in June 1922, Churchill said: 'When we begin to act we must act like a sledgehammer, so as to cause bewilderment and consternation among the people of southern Ireland.'(7)

On Hitler's coming to power: 'The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path', said Churchill.(8)

Asked about Germany's anti-Jewish laws in 1938, Churchill thought 'it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not an obstacle to a working agreement'.(9)

In 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh reported that 'Winston says at heart he is for Franco'(10)

James Heartfield is author of The Death of the Subject Explained, available from Amazon. He voted for Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the Great Britons poll.

(1) Observer, 29 October 2000 (2) Churchill, Clive Ponting, Sinclair Stevenson, 1994, p230 (3) Ibid., p260 (4) Ibid., p760 (5) Ibid., p106 (6) Ibid., p245 (7) Ibid., p264 (8) Ibid., p393 (9) Ibid., p394 (10) Ibid., p390

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