Robinson warns party conference as confidential power-sharing talks with Sinn Fein continue
Henry McDonald, Ireland editorGuardian
Sunday November 2 2008
The next few weeks will be critical for the survival of devolution in Northern Ireland, First Minister Peter Robinson warned yesterday.
With the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein still involved in confidential talks about restoring the power-sharing Executive at Stormont, the DUP leader told his annual conference that the Cabinet would have to meet to salvage the Province's economy.
Speaking at the DUP's conference in Armagh, Robinson said: 'In a few weeks' time I hope that we will be able to bring a package of measures to the Executive and Assembly to get through the present difficulties and to build for the future. We must alleviate short-term hardship, boost our construction industry and ensure we keep our employment levels.
'I have no doubt that how this Executive deals with the present economic crisis will be the yardstick by how devolution as a whole will be judged.'
The Executive has not met since June this year because Sinn Fein refuses to sit in Cabinet. Sinn Fein wants a firm date for the implementation of the final phase of devolution - the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Officially the DUP refuses to comment on reports of fresh negotiations with Sinn Fein but it is understood talks, which only ended in the early hours of Friday morning, were focused on finding a compromise over policing and justice.
The DUP's annual conference was held on the eve of a controversial homecoming parade in Belfast for local soldiers in British Army regiments. Dissident republicans have told The Observer they plan to disrupt today's rally, despite calls from Gerry Adams for 'troublemakers' to stay away.
Dissident republican sources said they rejected pleas on Friday night from community groups closely linked to Sinn Fein to re-route their protest rallies. Two organisations - Eirigi and the Irish Republican Socialist Party - are holding separate demonstrations today against the army march.
There will be a huge security operation around Belfast city centre this morning to cope with the thousands expected at the homecoming rally. Among the crowds cheering on the returning troops will be several hundred loyalists. The Observer has learnt that both the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association has ordered all its members to attend the march. There are fears among the security forces of clashes breaking out between the loyalist and the dissident republican demonstrators.
It follows a series of bomb alerts yesterday afternoon in Larne and Glenavy near Lisburn. One hoax closed the Larne-to-Whitehead line in east Antrim.
At the DUP conference Robinson used his speech to attack Sinn Fein's decision to hold a demonstration against the homecoming military parade.
'I bitterly regret Sinn Fein has chosen to hold a counter-parade and protest but their backward-looking approach must not be allowed to mar the occasion.'
The DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister took to the stage yesterday to the strains of The Verve's 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' and a standing ovation from 500 delegates.
He told delegates that while republicanism and unionism remained incompatible, 'that doesn't mean that there are not issues upon which we can agree'.
The First Minister stressed that the DUP was in favour of the Assembly taking control of policing and justice but only when there was community support for it.
Robinson added: 'The conflict as we have known it is over; the union is secure and the people of Northern Ireland once again have control over their own affairs.'
Addressing nationalists Robinson said his aim was 'to build a better society for everyone in Northern Ireland'.
Review by Seán Ó MurchadhaAn Phoblacht
30 October 2008Dying for the Cause: The Story of the Mayo Hunger StrikersPhoto: Seán (Jack) McNeela, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg
• Three CDs
• Produced by Liamy Mac Nally & Teresa O’ Malley, Mid West Radio, Mayo
• Cost: €20 (Includes P&P)
• For purchase contact: email@example.com
These three documentaries on the Mayo hunger strikers Seán (Jack) McNeela, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg, were produced by local broadcasters from Mid West Radio. It is ironic to think that stories that were once censored by the 26-County state are being made available via radio to the general public with assistance from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. Indeed one of the documentaries on the life and death of Frank Stagg, The Stolen Body, secured a Bronze award at this year’s PPI Radio Awards.
The first CD focuses on the life and death of Seán McNeela from Ballycroy, Mayo who died along with his comrade Tony D’Arcy in 1940. Such was the bond of friendship between himself and Tony that Jack crawled from his own deathbed to comfort the dying Galway man. The brutal behaviour of the gardaí and state forces at both men’s funerals is strikingly similar to the behaviour at the funeral of Frank Stagg 36 years later.
Michael Gaughan is the subject of the second CD. We hear of his growing up in Ballina. Like Frank Stagg, Michael Gaughan had to leave his native Mayo to search for work in England. Fellow POW, Danny MacElduff from Tyrone recalls Gaughan’s wish to return to Ireland to continue the fight with him in Tyrone. We hear of the horrific torture of force-feeding that led to his death in 1974. Gaughan’s funeral was one of the largest held in the country. The Fine Gael/Labour government tried to ensure that the same would not happen again when it came to the funeral of Frank Stagg.
The CD about Stagg is fascinating especially for the emotional details provided by his family of the prison visits to England and the disgraceful attitude of the 26 County government in stealing the body of the Mayo man in 1976. In life Frank Stagg was demonised by the British, in death by the southern government. Details are heard of what seems like an illegal autopsy carried out on Stagg’s body when it eventually arrived in Shannon after being diverted from Dublin. Perhaps members of the Cosgrave government could shed some light on this ghoulish episode. Also fascinating is the detailed account of the reburial of Frank Stagg by the IRA in the Republican Plot after the earlier burial in another grave by the forces of the state.
Ultimately it is the personalities of these brave Óglaigh that shines through. Tony Darcy’s son Joe recalls Jack Mac Neela playing with him as a young child, throwing him up in the air. Michael Gaughan jokes about finding out the Mayo football results before he dies. And you actually get to hear a recording of Frank Stagg singing one of his own songs about the characters from his home town Hollymount. Ordinary People in extra-ordinary circumstances.
Only one complaint was received about the programmes. It came from a retired garda who was on duty for both Gaughan’s and Stagg’s funerals. He criticised the programmes for “lack of balance, impartiality, distortion of the facts and historical perspective”.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission rejected the complaint.
BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHAAn Phoblacht
30 October 2008
THIS Sunday, the British Army will march through the streets of Belfast in a triumphalist military parade celebrating their role in the US/British imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The parade and the counter-protest by Irish republicans take place on the anniversary of the execution of a brave young Irishman who refused to serve any longer in the British Army in protest at British Government terror in Ireland.
It was soldiers of the Connaught Rangers who made that protest in India in 1920. The Connaught Rangers regiment was established in 1793 and for more than a century it played a key role in garrisoning the British Empire and fighting the many wars waged by Britain.
In 1915, the Connaught Rangers were among the thousands of Irish-born troops used as cannon fodder in the disastrous British attempt to capture the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli.
In 1916, the Connaught Rangers – like their mercenary compatriots of today – were fighting for Britain in Iraq. But the final chapter in the history of the regiment saw Irish soldiers refusing to fight any longer for Britain and declaring their loyalty to the Irish people.
By the summer of 1920, the atrocities of the Black and Tans in Ireland were becoming widely known. The Irish soldiers serving in the Connaught Rangers in India were receiving letters from relatives at home describing what was happening. In many cases, British atrocities visited their own families.THE PUNJAB PLAINS
It was at the British military barracks at Jullundur, on the plains of the Punjab, that the mutiny began. Here was based the 1st Battallion of the Connaught Rangers and, on 27 June 1920, Private Joseph Hawes of Kilrush, County Clare, asked his companions what they were going to do about the situation in Ireland. While on leave in Kilrush in 1919 he had witnessed the beginning of the Tan War and the banning of all public meetings and GAA games, including a hurling match prevented at bayonet point in Kilrush. Hawes learned later that his brother had joined the IRA.
The Irishmen in Jullundur decided to refuse to obey the orders of their officers. “We’ll soldier no more for England,” Hawes told them. The men’s protest was passive at first in that they volunteered to be locked up in the guard-room. But the mutiny spread quickly and Hawes and his comrades were joined by 400 others at Jullundur.
When the colonel addressed the men and recounted all the battle honours of the regiment, Joseph Hawes replied:
“All the honours on the colours of the Connaught Rangers are for England. There is none for Ireland, but there is going to be one today, and it will be the greatest honour of them all.”
The mutineers elected a committee, took over the barracks and hauled down the Union Jack. The Tricolour was raised by Private Frank Geraghty of Castleblayney, County Monaghan.SOLAN
Two hundred miles away, another part of the regiment was based at the hill station of Solan. There the mutiny was led by Private James Daly (22), of Tyrellspass, County Westmeath. He led a company of men who paraded outside the officers’ mess and he addressed the officers saying the parade was a protest at British atrocities in Ireland.Photo of James Daly from: The Wild Geese
The men refused to obey the officers’ orders and demanded the release of two soldiers who has been arrested after bringing the news of the mutiny from Jullundur. More men joined and, on 30 June, after an attempt to capture the fort’s magazine, the men were fired on and Privates Patrick Smythe of Drogheda and Peter Sears of Neale, County Mayo, were killed.
The shootings at Solan marked the end of the mutiny.
It had never had a definite objective but was a spontaneous protest by Irishmen sick of soldiering for England and desperate to show their support for the Irish people. Seventy-five of the mutineers were rounded up and held in harsh conditions. This resulted in the death of Private John Miranda of Liverpool. In September, the mutineers were court-martialled in Dagshai.
The court-martial sentenced 14 men to death and the remainder to terms of 10 to 20 years in prison; 13 of the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. The one death sentence confirmed was that of James Daly. “It is all for Ireland. I am not afraid to die,” he wrote in his last letter to his mother.REPUBLICAN PLOT
The mutineers were transferred to jails in England and the last of them was released in 1923 and returned to Ireland. The Connaught Rangers had been disbanded the year before. In October 1970, the remains of Daly, Smythe and Sears were re-interred in Ireland; Smythe and Sears in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery and Daly in his native Tyrellspass.
The British Army tried to hush-up the mutiny and news of the execution of James Daly was naturally eclipsed by the death of Terence MacSwiney on hunger strike a week before and the execution of Kevin Barry a day before. But, like them, Daly gave his life for Ireland.James Daly was executed at Daghshai Prison, Solan, India, on 2 November 1920, 88 years ago this week.
Police will be on high alert in Belfast today with hundreds of republican protesters set to demonstrate at a contentious Armed Services homecoming parade.
One of the biggest security operations in recent years is being undertaken by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to ensure the event passes off peacefully.
While both the army and the organisers of a Sinn Féin protest made concessions on Friday in a bid to ease tensions, fears remain that loyalist and republican extremists could infiltrate proceedings and cause trouble.
Sinn Féin agreed to change the route of its demonstration in order to avoid any possible confrontation with parade supporters descending on the city from unionist areas.
The move followed an announcement by the army's General Commanding Officer (GOC) in the region Major General Chris Brown that a scheduled RAF flyby was to be cancelled.
However, dissident republican elements opposed to power-sharing at Stormont are still planning to protest at locations where parade followers could pass.
With reports that hard line loyalists and even English fascists intend to join the crowds of supporters, there will be a strong police presence on the streets.
Republicans of all shades are opposed to an event that will mark the return of soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.
They claim it is inappropriate given the fact the British Army was responsible for the deaths of Catholic civilians during the Troubles.
Unionists, however, believe the army has every right to walk the streets of Belfast and have expressed disappointment that the changes to the parade will mean local troops will effectively receive a different welcome home than soldiers in the rest of the UK.
Families of Northern Ireland's disappeared will hold a service for All Souls' Day at Stormont later.
Charlie Armstrong was abducted 27 years ago on his way to Mass in Crossmaglen on a Sunday morning in 1981.Charlie Armstrong was abducted on his way to Mass
His daughter Anna McShane said her family just want to be able to give him a Christian burial.
"There are people we know and meet every day that know something, and it's those people that we're actually begging now to come forward," she said.
"We want them to finally realise that we're not looking for any kind of retaliation. If they come to me and said I'm the one who was the cause of it, I'd feel sorry for them.
"I would still put my arm around them and say thank you for coming to me and thank them for any information. We just want to find his body, to bring peace and closure to this family."
Charlie Armstrong is believed to have been murdered by the IRA and secretly buried. A number of searches have failed to locate his body.
Irish News**Via Newshound
01/11/08The PSNI has been given the all-clear to continue using the controversial Taser stun gun.
At the High Court in Belfast yesterday Mr Justice Morgan dismissed an application to ban the weapon pending the outcome of a judicial review next January.
A Taser has been fired only once since the Policing Board approved the chief constable’s decision to introduce the weapon.
The PSNI bought a dozen Tasers, which can only be fired by one of a dozen specially trained officers.
When the weapon is fired, barbed darts containing an electrical current attach to a person’s body, incapacitating them.
This led to lawyers branding Tasers “weapons of torture”.
Mr Justice Morgan said a Taser had been carried on duty on 562 occasions, was deployed on four and fired only once since being introduced eight months ago.
He said the fact they had been used for so long without challenge and that arrangements had been made by way of training and deployment strongly supported the argument that the status quo should be preserved pending the full hearing.
The application for judicial review has been brought on behalf of an unidentified Belfast child from a family said to have been affected by the Troubles.
An application to join the Policing Board as a respondent in the case will be heard next month.
By Allison MorrisIrish News
Four members of the same family who admitted involvement in a violent dispute that led to the death of father-of-five Gerard Devlin are expected to be eligible for release from prison by Christmas.
Mr Devlin was stabbed to death during an altercation in the Ballymurphy estate in west Belfast in February 2006.
His killing sparked months of violence, which saw a number of families displaced from their homes and more than £1 million spent on policing the estate.
In September of this year, as the trial of five members of the extended Notarantonio family was about to get under way, murder charges against four of the accused were dramatically dropped when they pleaded guilty to lesser charges of affray.
Francisco Notarantonio (21) also had his murder charge reduced to manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea.
The four awaiting sentencing for affray are brothers Christopher (56) and Anthony (50) Notarantonio and their cousins William Notarantonio (24) and Paul Oliver Burns (26).
Anthony Notarantonio has a previous conviction for possession of weapons and has links to a dissident republican organisation.
He is being held on the republican ‘separated’ wing of Maghaberry prison.
He is expected to receive a three-year jail term for affray, which with 50 per cent remission and time already served on remand means he will be due for release in just over 12 months’ time and eligible for parole by this Christmas.
Francisco Notarantonio, who previously admitted responsibility for stabbing Mr Devlin, is expected to receive an eight-year sentence for manslaughter, of which he will also serve half.
The others are expected to receive minimal sentences for affray.
Mr Devlin’s mother Mary embarked on a hunger strike outside Laganside court in September in protest at the decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to drop the murder charges.
She called off her fast on the advice of her doctor after collapsing.
Mr Devlin’s aunt, Bernadette O’Rawe, said news of the likely sentences was a further blow to the family.
“What angers us most is that the prosecution had a very strong case, three eyewitnesses and a confession and yet decided not to go to trial,” she said.
“In accepting lesser charges the PPS have created a situation where those responsible are going to be back on the street within months.
“Gerard’s mother is broken and his children are fatherless while these people are now free to get on with their lives unhindered.”
Riot police kept apart rival loyalist and republican factions in Belfast today as thousands of supporters packed the city centre for a tense homecoming parade by members of the armed forces.Riot police kept apart rival loyalist and republican factions in Belfast today as thousands of supporters packed the city centre for a tense homecoming parade by members of the armed forces.
In one of the biggest security operations ever mounted in the city, soldiers and other military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered to march past City Hall to a civic reception and later a church service in St Anne‘s Cathedral.
The parade passed off peacefully.
Earlier political representatives on all sides appealed for the parade to pass off without any trouble.
An RAF flypast was cancelled as part of moves to ease tensions.
Sinn Féin supporters and dissident republicans opposed to the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness held separate demonstrations, one not far from City Hall where several thousand people, nearly all of them wearing Poppies, cheered and applauded as 250 soldiers and representatives of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force passed by.
Security was especially tight at Great Victoria Street where loyalists on one side and Sinn Féin supporters who marched from Dunville Park, off the Falls Road, came to within 50 yards of each other close to the junction with Grosvenor Road.
Before the parade started, insults were shouted and a number of bottles and fireworks thrown towards the republicans.
About 200 dissident republicans, among them Brendan McKenna and Colin Duffy from Craigavon, Co Armagh were held back by police near the West Link, and well away from the city centre. This demonstration also passed off without incident.
Loyalist paramilitaries, among them Jackie McDonald, a leader of the Ulster Defence Association, were also on the streets, and outside City Hall Peter Robinson, First Minister at the Northern Ireland Assembly was applauded as he walked to take his place on the VIP platform.
02 November 2008
TENS of thousands of people have gathered in Belfast city centre for a homecoming parade for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sinn Féin protesters have taken part in a demonstration against the British Army's role in the Troubles.
A separate dissident republican counter parade has been stopped from marching into the centre of Belfast.
Police in riot gear blocked 200 people involved in this demonstration at the bottom of the Falls Road.
Earlier, several thousand people walked down the Shankill Road with banners welcoming the soldiers.
A DUP delegation, including NI First Minister Peter Robinson, arrive at parade
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, speaking to protestors at Dunville Park in west Belfast, said the parade was a "provocative act which had split the city".
His party changed the route of its protest and told troublemakers to stay away.
A major security operation - including police on motorbikes and a police helicopter - is in place as there are a number of other parades, both for and against the event.
Earlier several thousand people have also walked down the Shankill Road, and from other area of the city, with banners welcoming the soldiers.
All parades carrying banners are marching to the city centre receiving rapturous applaunce from the crowds
Crowds of people, eight deep, are standing around the streets to support the homecoming troops.
A flag has also been erected at scaffolding at the corner of Presbyterian House. Youths are also said to have scaled the scaffolding.
A firework was thrown into the crowd by supporters of homecoming troops which received heavy condemnation.
Earlier, the RAF cancelled a planned fly-past and said soldiers at the parade would be unarmed.
Sinn Féin changed the route of its protest to try to avoid conflict and told troublemakers to stay away.
But despite the concessions made on both sides, there are still fears that some loyalists and republicans could infiltrate the peaceful protesters.
Sinn Fein said it was inappropriate to mark the homecoming because British troops were responsible for the deaths of Catholic civilians during the Troubles.
But unionists said the Army had every right to walk the streets of Belfast. They said that the changes made to the parade meant troops in Northern Ireland would receive a different welcome home than soldiers elsewhere in the UK.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has warned dissident republicans opposed to his party's role in Northern Ireland's devolved government not to "piggy back" on the protest.
"Anybody looking for trouble shouldn't be coming here," he said.
Politicians on all sides have appealed for demonstrators to be calm and dignified, he added.
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondentGuardian
Sunday November 02 2008
Brief but violent skirmishes broke out around Belfast city centre today during a controversial homecoming parade for soldiers returning to Northern Ireland from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As 250 local soldiers from several British regiments passed by Fisherwick Place just before noon, loyalists who had occupied scaffolding around the headquarters of the Presbyterian church threw bottles and fireworks at a group of Sinn Féin demonstrators cordoned off by a line of police cars.
Riot police moved in to keep the two sides apart, but at one stage there was less than 30 metres between them.
None of the troops were injured in the fracas, which was one of several around arterial routes into Belfast city centre mid-morning.
An estimated 50,000 people had turned out to cheer on the returning soldiers in what was one of the biggest public demonstrations in Belfast for 15 years.
Around 1,000 republicans joined the Sinn Féin demonstration, while a smaller group of about 300 attended an alternative republican dissident protest in Divis Street, a main entry point to west Belfast.
There was a massive police presence at various potential flashpoints around the city centre with dozens of vehicles, riot squads, dogs and water cannon deployed.
As well as the violence at Fisherwick Place, which lasted a few minutes, there were also clashes between republicans and loyalists returning home from the military parade at Millfield, a thoroughfare between the Falls and Shankill Roads.
Sinn Féin minister Gerry Kelly told demonstrators at Dunville Park in west Belfast the parade was a "provocative act which had split the city". Kelly played a central role in helping to change the route of his party's protest on Friday. Sinn Féin had urged troublemakers to stay away from the protest.
But the bitter sectarian divisions of Northern Ireland bubbled up to the surface at the parade with a section of loyalists taunting republicans on the other side of the police lines. As well as hurling missiles, the loyalists sang disparaging songs about Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker.
Prior to the parade, the police intercepted a bus full of republicans from Co Armagh and prevented them going into the city.
The SDLP assembly member Alex Attwood said lessons needed to learned from the controversy, given how close the city had come to being plunged into widespread sectarian violence.
Speaking behind police lines close to the Eirigi republican dissident protest, Attwood said: "Questions have to be asked as to how we got into the potentially disastrous situation. And those who hyped it up on both sides must think again about their actions, which brought us very close to disaster."
Mark SimpsonBBCThe past still casts a long, dark, inescapable shadow over the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Scratch the surface of the new era in Belfast, and the old divisions are laid bare.Memories of the troubles are still strong in republican minds [British soldier during Bloody Sunday in Derry]
Those differences were on full display at the homecoming parade for the armed services in Belfast city centre.
At the flashpoint area, where loyalist and republicans came within shouting distance of each other, the tensions ran deep.
The military parade through Belfast provided a political - and security - test for the new Northern Ireland. Overall, it passed.
But the tensions on view served as a stark reminder of the underlying problems.
In crude terms, unionists see the British Army as heroes, republicans see them as villains. Peace process or no peace process, those views do not change.How they would react if the Belfast Brigade of the IRA announced they intended to march their volunteers through the centre of Belfast?
--Jim Gibney, Sinn Fein
And even though Sinn Fein are now helping to govern Northern Ireland, they still decided to stage a protest against part of the fabric of the state.
But could they not have just ignored the military parade? Turn a blind eye, rather than feed the controversy?
It's a question asked not just by unionists, but some nationalists too.
Sinn Fein's answer was found in detail in the pages of the Irish News newspaper, in an article by senior republican Jim Gibney. [See above article]'British and proud'
He wrote: "To expect Sinn Fein to somehow pretend Sunday's march is not happening in a city which has experienced the worst excesses of the British army's occupation is to expect Sinn Fein to reject its raison d'etre.
"If those cheerleaders for the British crown forces want to appreciate how nationalists and republicans feel about Sunday's coat-trailing exercise then they should ask themselves how they would react if the Belfast Brigade of the IRA announced they intended to march their volunteers through the centre of Belfast in tribute to all its members who lost their lives during the war."Some loyalists say they still feel threatened by republicans
Memories are long in Northern Ireland, and many people find it difficult to forgive or forget. Some don't want to.
"I'm British and I'm proud of it but I still feel under threat from republicans," said one prominent loyalist, as he waved his union flag at the troops marching through Belfast city centre.
Apart from a few scuffles, the event passed off peacefully. There was some sectarian chanting from a small element of the loyalist crowd, and some bottle throwing, but compared to some of the dark days on the streets of Northern Ireland, it was miniscule.
The deaths during the Troubles are catalogued in the book 'Lost Lives'.
It not only lists the names of the victims, but pinpoints those responsible for the killings.
In total, 3636 deaths are chronicled. According to the book:
• 1771 deaths were caused by the IRA
• 955 by UDA/UVF
• 309 by the Army
• 52 by the police
The rest of the deaths were attributed to smaller paramilitary groups or individuals.'Horrific background'
There are no official figures for the number of people injured, but it runs into the tens of thousands.
Northern Ireland's population is less than two million people so the proportion of those directly affected by violence is high.
There are two ways of looking at those grim statistics. One is to wonder if the wounds in Northern Ireland will ever fully heal?
The other is to marvel at how far the peace process has progressed against such a horrific background.
There are also two ways of looking at Sunday's parade - positively, given the lack of violence; negatively, given the display of tensions.
Ask around the pubs and clubs of Belfast and you'll get opposing views.
Mind you, what do you expect in a divided society?
The Thursday ColumnIrish News
The idea that Sinn Fein could ignore a march through Belfast city centre by a regiment in the British army, a march however it is presented--which glorifies the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Ireland, is patently absurd.
To expect Sinn Fein to somehow pretend Sunday’s march is not happening in a city which has experienced the worst excesses of the British army’s occupation is to expect Sinn Fein to reject its raison d’etre.
Sinn Fein is right to organise Sunday’s protest. The British Army in any guise has no right to march through the centre of Belfast. Their presence on the streets of our city is an affront to the people of this nation who have had to endure for centuries the consequences of Britain’s military occupation of Ireland.
The last forty years of conflict in the north and the thousands of people killed or injured and the legacy relatives have been left to deal with is directly attributable to partition and to the occupation by the British Army of this part of Ireland.
If those cheerleaders for the British crown forces want to appreciate how nationalists and republicans feel about Sunday’s coat-trailing
exercise then they should ask themselves how they would react if the Belfast Brigade of the IRA announced they intended to march their volunteers through the centre of Belfast in tribute to all its members who lost their lives during the war.
I am not at all surprised that this march has tapped into the most reactionary and jingoistic elements inside the unionist and loyalist community but I am surprised that the British government did not intervene and block the idea of the march before it reached the stage of a proposal.
It beggars belief that the British government allowed the British Ministry of Defence the freedom to select Belfast for a march which they must have known would be deeply divisive and provocative for at least half the population of the six counties who are nationalist.
Nationalists are not the only people opposed to the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to the invasion of Iraq many people from a unionist background marched in opposition. The Rev David Latimer, a chaplain, just back from Afghanistan, said an ecumenical service not a parade was more appropriate.
What is also disappointing about Sunday’s march is that its origins are to be found in the rivalry between the unionist parties as they try to outdo each other as the party most capable of challenging Sinn Fein and its united Ireland agenda.
The political vacuum at Stormont and the drift by the DUP away from working the power-sharing institutions are also a factor in driving unionists into a ‘little Englander’ mindset as they retreat further from the main-stream of
politics and shaping a new society to the footpaths of downtown Belfast on Sunday waving little union jacks and hankering after a make-believe world that does not exist.
In defending this march unionists are indulging themselves in a fantasy world of ‘welcoming home our boys’ as if their behaviour in this country, Iraq and Afghanistan was akin to the trenches of the First World War or the fight against Hitler during the Second World War.
Wars of occupation do not equate with the First or Second World Wars. The regiment which will walk through the streets of Belfast on Sunday, the RIR, has an ignominious history. There is nothing noble in this force’s past; its parent was the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Like the B Specials before them they were a blunt and sectarian instrument which the British government used to maintain its occupation here through terrorising the nationalist and catholic people. Many innocent Catholics were killed by serving members of the UDR.
Britain’s occupation of Ireland and the consequences for the people of this island, nationalist and unionist has been well documented. Those welcoming the RIR on Sunday should dwell on what they left behind in Iraq, over 600,000 people dead, two million displaced to neighbouring countries and a similar number internally dislocated. The story is similar in Afghanistan.
Is the human toll of misery in Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan worth celebrating either publicly or privately?