Please support our friends in Ballygowan.
This Friday night the Ballygowan True Blues Flute Band will be hosting their annual parade through the Co Down Village.
The host band will start the evening off by parading the route before the main parade which will begin shortly after the host band have finished
The parade will begin at 7:30pm from the Village Hall and will take the following route:
All most welcome.
Is this what we are up against at a time of “peace”. Chants of “oh ah up the RA” and “F the Union Jack we want our country back” echoed across the Falls Park during the Council funded West Belfast Festival – Feile an Phobail (Festival of the People).
Many groups including our own work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in an attempt to steer our community in a more positive direction. As a group a big emphasis of our work would be directed toward impressionable young men and women who we are duty bound to educate about our past and help navigate and facilitate a brighter future.
Among the 10,000 strong crowd literally thousands of teenagers, who wouldn’t have been born during the conflict, waved pro-IRA flags shouting “And we will fight you for 800 more”. What is going on within their communities and homes? Are they being taught hatred and intolerance as opposed to respect and reconciliation? People are not born to hate.
“Of the people” meaning what exactly? According to Feile an Phobail, which this year marked its 30th anniversary, the organisation aims to “promote social inclusion and the celebration of diversity”. The festival director Kevin Gamble said: “This year, representatives from all communities were welcomed to Féile to have their voice heard. This covered a wide and diverse range of society.” I’m pretty confident members of the PUL community would not feel welcome whatsoever. In fact, i would go as far as saying any right and forward thinking people within their own community would not have felt comfortable in this environment.
It is an absolute outrage and one i hope is not a glimpse into this beautiful country’s future.
It is understandable that the exhibition by loyalist ex-prisoner Michael Stone should provoke critical comment – especially so in the light of his own attendance at the event and the presence of local community leaders.
It is certainly the case that deep hurt is still felt by relatives and friends of those who suffered at his hands.
However, in a society such as ours, where the release and rehabilitation of ex-prisoners was part of the agreement that brought an end to daily violence, the moral issues are not clear cut.
Ours is a society in which political ex-prisoners, some with a ‘casualty list’ from their own pre-gaol days, have occupied key roles in local government.
They have done more than make art. They have made decisions about our economy, our education and our health.
There is certainly a wide-ranging debate to be had about the manner in which an exhibition such as this should be undertaken – the venue, the publicity (or lack thereof), those invited along and the artistic themes and tone of the artefacts that go on display.
There is also a debate to be undertaken about whether Stone’s violation of the terms of his original release debars him from further generosity. It is a debate that must take into account how, during the Troubles, republican and loyalist combatants sometimes reoffended upon release. This did not prevent the eventual terms of prisoner release, subsequent to the Good Friday Agreement, from applying to them.
I have not seen the exhibition, nor do I know Michael Stone, though I am acquainted with those who do.
However, I am aware that there is a deficit of art, whether visual, literary, musical or dramatic, to offer a view from within the loyalist ex-combatant community of who they were as individuals, what they were collectively, what they did, why they did it and what it means to them now.
At this stage, one thing needs said, however. I am not promulgating the old myth about ‘Protestants not being interested in the arts’. East Belfast, to name just one relevant district, was and is the birthplace of an array of literary talent coming from ‘a Protestant background’, including dramatists such as Stacey Gregg and Rosemary Jenkinson and novelists like David Park, Lucy Caldwell and Glen Patterson.
And Conall Parr’s recent book on Ulster Protestant culture, Shaping the Myth, has cast new light on an array of Protestant working-class talent from the past, such as Sam Thompson and Thomas Carnduff.
- Malachi O’Doherty: Mervyn Gibson has his questions to answer, but so do all of us when it comes to separating an artist’s paramilitary past from their current work
However, the current loyalist community has offered relatively few recent voices that speak out of – and critique – their own experiences. And there are few visual artists to embody the diverse forms which the loyalist imagination might take.
That is why all opportunities to nurture artistic expression coming from within a loyalist context are to be welcomed.
The art of another loyalist ex-prisoner, Geordie Morrow, is a case in point, as is the drama and prose of Robert Niblock. Among Niblock’s plays there is a dynamic play called Tartan, which deals with the gang culture of the early 1970s, which overlapped with the rise of paramilitarism.
His poetry explores the Protestant working-class boyhoods of east Belfast just as the Troubles were beginning to brew.
Then there is the powerful theatre work of Gary Mitchell, with his Rathcoole background and more recently David Ireland, with his origins in working class Ballybeen.
I am not denying that some individual may buy one of Michael Stone’s works merely as a collector of loyalist memorabilia, or indeed out of misplaced relish for the violence of the past.
The true value of this exhibition is not to be found in those responses but in the licence it might just give some young loyalists to ponder the meaning of the word ‘artist’ and the insight Stone’s art should give all of us others into one particular loyalist’s imagination. Art has done that kind of thing in challenging circumstances down through the ages and will continue to do so all across the world.
Philip Orr is a writer and involved in community education
A southern Protestant who always wondered why he felt like “an outsider” says he has discovered a virtually unknown of exodus of 40,000 Protestants who fled the south from 1920-23 due to sectarian intimidation and murder.
Robin Bury, the son of a Co Cork Church of Ireland cleric, studied history at Trinity College Dublin and worked as a history teacher and later with the Irish export board.
He made his findings through an M Phil at Trinity, now published in his recent book.
The most dramatic discovery he has made was what happened from 1920-23, when normal policing broke down and hidden sectarian tensions came to the surface, resulting in wide-scale religious intimidation and the murder of up to 200 Protestants.
Protestants made up around 10% of the population in the south in 1911 but had dropped to only 3.2% in 2011 – despite a major influx of foreign national Protestants in recent years, he said.
“I wouldn’t say in my own personal life that I suffered from discrimination, but I suffered more from not really belonging, being a bit of an outsider,” he said. He now lives in Canada, partly because the country “is not preoccupied by what religion you are”.
‘There was a feeling of uncertainty and in some cases there were actual murders of Protestants, particularly in rural areas’
The most surprising thing he found in his research was that “the key to the theme of separation and feeling an outsider was what happened in 1920-23, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
“I established that approximately 40,000 Protestants left the south of Ireland in that period. which I call ‘involuntary emigration’.”
He added: “There was intimidation, there was a fearfulness of what would happen once the Free State was established. There was a feeling of uncertainty and in some cases there were actual murders of Protestants, particularly in rural areas. There was a pretty nasty pogrom in west Cork but there were other incidents of violence.”
In fact the 1920-23 mass exodus of Protestants is something which “generally speaking other historians haven’t really come up with”.
He carried out his work with support from Prof Brian Walker from Queen’s University Belfast.
“In 1911 there were about 300,000 native Irish Protestants in the 26 counties but there was a drop of 175,000 from 1911 to 2011, or about a 60% drop in the Protestant population.
“This surely tells a story. Emigration and the Ne Temere decree were the driving factors in this decline.”
Ne Temere, the Catholic doctrine on mixed marriages, was seen by many as helping ensure the resulting children were brought up as Catholics.
By contrast Catholic numbers “steadily increased” in the south in the same period and in Northern Ireland increased from about 35% of the population to 45% today.
He accepts that doctrinal differences on birth control may have initially have been a factor – until the legalisation of contraception in the south began in 1980.
His book includes graphic accounts of people who fled the country and later filed claims for compensation for lost property from the Irish state, based on records in Kew national library.
But he also estimates that 100 to 200 Protestants were murdered.
“The most disturbing without any doubt is the west Cork Bandon pogrom that took place in April 1922. They went to murder 28 Protestants in that area around Bandon and Dunmanway and I think they murdered 13. They were shot. One quite young lad, he was 15-16, the rest were men.”
Much of the intimidation came from “the civil war IRA”, there being no police at the time.
Robin borrows the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the most violent period, but says this later evolved into a milder form described by West of Ireland Protestant Fiona Murphy. “She said there was ‘polite ethnic cleansing’. It wasn’t aggressive or violent after the Free State was formed. People were aware of our difference and they were aware that really we were here as a matter of indulgence, as opposed to a matter of right.”
Although “the ice has melted” now, southern Protestants also came under pressure due to the Troubles. “During the hunger strikes there was real fear among the Protestant community of a backlash.
“In fact a Catholic said to me – out of concern: ‘You know, you want to be a little careful because of what is going on in Northern Ireland’.”
The 1926 census of Northern Ireland found 24,000 people had come from the south in the previous 15 years, he said.
“A lot of this has been buried – I think ‘Buried Lives’ is quite a good title for the book – people want to keep quiet about it and don’t want to talk about it.”
• Buried Lives, The Protestants of Southern Ireland by Robin Bury (from The History Press Ireland).
A spokesperson of Reach UK said:
“Reach UK supports initiatives from all sections of the community and was invited to consider hosting a free one-week exhibition of artworks from Michael Stone’s ‘Milestones collection. Reach is a non-judgement organisation and volunteered space to host the art pieces and a free-to-attend opening evening in mid-July.
“Reach recognises that art can be a powerful tool to help people deal with personal issues and has been successfully used to promote mutual understanding between unionist and nationalist communities. The exhibition was undertaken with no publicity, in a low key manner bearing in mind sensitivities of the past with full knowledge of the prison bodies which encourage all ex-prisoners to re-integrate into society in a positive and peaceful manner.”
About REACH UK
REACK UK – to deliver the hopes of the PUL community , to help to understand their History and Culture to educate the young and the elderly to help our people move on to a brighter future for all the people of Northern Ireland to work with others with confidence of our future.
REACH provides advice and assistance to those most in need in society, regardless of race, religion or creed. We tackle head on the issues of Drugs abuse, Loan Sharks, Suicide, Alcohol Dependency, Anti Social Activity, Housing and Welfare issues and Food Poverty . We also assist and provide skills training to access employment for those suffering the most financial hardship in our community.
Reach UK has a reputation for integrity and supports a culture of lawfulness and the pursuit of justice and information retrieval for victims, survivors including ex combatants. In pursuit of a fair, balanced and equal society we have proactively engaged with politicians, PSNI, clergy, community groups and Republicans (including ex-prisoners), international students and academics from across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
In accordance with our Mission Statement, we support the integration of time served ex-prisoners into society in a meaningful, structured way which is to the benefit of all. Perhaps some 30,000 paramilitary members passed through the prison system with up to 200,000 families and friends directly affected, the issue reaches into all fabric of society. Having attended a number of civic society events where Republican paramilitaries where introduced as Artists and playwrights we would assume that working class Unionists are given the same equality to move on with their lives and engage in Arts, Music and Culture , particularly if this helps younger people not to travel the same troubled path as a previous generation.
As Danny Murphy , IRA prisoners spokesman says, “its about informing and educating .. ensuring the next generation don’t go into the same conflict of the past. “
“Because someone has a past doesn’t mean he cant have a future” – Trimble
Reach will continue to work towards an inclusive society for all and will continue to host events in the near future which are ground breaking and diverse and provide innovative answers to dealing with our divided society’
Nationalists quick to define what they mean by being Irish – so why are unionists so poor at explaining Britishness?
“Not even the most ardent republican could deny the value of the NHS or BBC. Those who wish the Union well need to confront Sinn Fein’s equality and rights-based agenda with a diversity and responsibility-centred alternative, argue Graham Spencer and Chris Hudson
The concept of an agreed Ireland, which originated from John Hume’s nationalism, but was subsequently taken and used by Sinn Fein, has met no equivalent emphasis on the benefits of an agreed Northern Ireland from unionism. Indeed, the fractured and disjointed nature of unionism has hindered the possibility of common ground when it comes to articulating what the Union, or being British, means.
But is it possible to advocate the benefits of Britishness as a basis for an inclusive and dynamic Northern Ireland? And, if so, what might that look like?
For a start, this would require moving from fixations about the national question which offers little chance for enabling a sense of Britishness that can be broader, more embracing and more dynamic to be heard. Rather, it would require promotion of the merits of Britishness in relation to shared institutions and culture.
Even the most ardent of republicans would probably find it difficult to refute the value of the NHS, the BBC, or the FA Cup – all indicators of Britishness that have wider social resonance and attraction. Yet, by keeping expressions of identity and belonging locked onto fears and insecurities about national identity, wider progress has been stymied on many levels. Poor educational attainment levels on the Shankill Road should not be seen as a loyalist, or unionist, problem, but a social problem. High levels of unemployment, or poverty, in the Strabane area are not a republican, or nationalist, problem, but a social problem.
Poor transport links between Derry and Belfast and a lack of railway infrastructure across Northern Ireland generally are not a republican, or unionist, problem, but a social one. And yet, all too often, the response to such issues is framed in relation to segregated national identity positions and interests.
Routinely, one hears that Protestant schools are not performing as well as Catholic schools and so the reference-point for educational performance remains national division. No such conceptualisation seems to be used in the UK more generally.
Poorly performing schools are seen as socially unacceptable and action is expected on that basis. The problem is considered to be a matter of collective responsibility and understood in terms of fairness, inclusivity and the common interest.
Why has such an approach not found its way into Northern Ireland, some 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement?
Much of the blame for this has to be laid at the door of unionist politics itself. From the outside, unionism looks static, defensive, reactive, inward-looking and obsessed with the past. Regardless of how one spins it, the perception is overwhelmingly negative. It is hard to see how such a politics can help make Northern Ireland a better place in the long-term.
Unionism seems to lack an imagined future beyond the protectionism of now and, because of that, suggests no ambition. To put it another way: it has no aspirational imperative built into its language, or intentions.
The richness of British cultural identity in terms of music, fashion, technology, comedy, art, literature and sport contrasts to the apparent rigidity of Northern Ireland’s Britishness, which is overwhelmingly expressed as a political conflict with republicanism without any ability to creatively neutralise impressions of republican progress except by hoping that demographics will come to the rescue.
Strangely, unionism seems unable to reach out to those of Catholic background who remain satisfied with greater opportunities brought about by the peace process and who appear more comfortable with remaining in the UK as a result.
Indeed, when unionism speaks, one gets the impression that nobody thinks there is any advantage in trying to engage such people through a sense of Britishness based on respect, tolerance, fairness, multiculturalism and diversity.
It has always fascinated us as to why unionism is not able to counter Sinn Fein’s agenda on equality and rights by presenting a more compelling agenda of diversity and responsibility, both of which are conceived not in terms of “us and them”, but “all”.
Diversity and responsibility contrast nicely with the republican agenda that stresses equality and rights. A new agenda that puts diversity and responsibility at its heart, if communicated effectively, would carry a captivating and dramatic sense of Britishness likely to resonate widely, but it needs to be adopted as a common position by all of unionism in order to do that. The tendency to talk in terms of “us and them”, rather than “all”, can be found in the constant recourse to being of a community, rather than a society. Many in Northern Ireland talk about their community and a community is, by its nature, distinctive between those who are of it and those who are not.
The language of community is very different from the language of society and its constant usage has created a staleness and predictability in relation to political and everyday discourse.
The language of society is a language of inclusivity, but the language of community is the language of exclusivity. It is the language of “us and them” rather than “all”. It is the language of local interest, rather than the common interest and invariably it does not respond well to those within who find how that community conducts or presents itself as objectionable.
Arlene Foster’s recent move to engage with nationalist culture by making visits to a GAA final and an Irish school to discuss a language act has been strongly welcomed by the majority who participate in that culture and her presence at public events has challenged the enduring stereotype of unionist intransigence and disrespect. Apart from demonstrating confidence in relation to difference, her actions are representative of society precisely because she showed receptiveness towards others.
Although Brexit complicates the picture, the general impression that emerges for most who visit Northern Ireland, whether nationalist, republican, unionist, loyalist, Catholic or Protestant, is the generosity, kindness and decency of those who live there and yet these qualities hardly transfer across Northern Ireland itself.
When asked what being British means, many unionists and loyalists look to the monarchy, or the unreliability of government to inform their response. For them, this is a Britishness less representative of stoicism, humour, generosity, decency, fairness, or respect, let alone Dad’s Army, the Proms, the Sunday roast, or moaning about the weather, and more the reliability or unreliability of institutions. For them, identity arises through the structures of power that symbolise British endurance and history.
Yet, understandable though this outlook is, it is not tuned towards the future, but the past. Its appeal is necessarily backward-looking and uses the rituals and commemorations of that past to assert feelings of preservation and order.
However, identity is much more than national symbolism and is now being increasingly expressed as individual and minority attempts to challenge existing structures of power and conventions of order.
Indeed, for many in Britain, it would appear that it is minority identities which now create new expectations about what one can be.
Clearly, Brexit indicates the polarisation between an exclusive and inclusive sense of national identity, but a more complex dynamic about being British is playing out underneath the media headlines. It is at the everyday level of identity difference that a new sense of Britishness is taking shape.
The challenges to being British have always informed what Britishness means and, indeed, opened the way for new possibilities. It is about time unionism spoke to this dynamic and advocated the confusion, difference, generosity and ambiguity of Britishness that makes it so fluid and complex.
Unionism should start talking collectively on behalf of society, rather than community.
It should demonstrate more the diversity and possibility of a Britishness that views problems in terms of a common interest.
It should welcome difference and assert the need for a responsibility to communicate not just what Northern Ireland is, but what it can be.
In short, it should develop and use the concept of an inclusive Britishness to argue the benefits of an agreed Northern Ireland.
Dr Graham Spencer is Reader in Social and Political Conflict at the University of Portsmouth. Rev Chris Hudson is minister at All Souls’ Church in Belfast