Northern Ireland: Britain’s Responsibility
by J. Haire
Britain is responsible for the deliberate dysfunctional condition of NI that has brought a lot of suffering to the Catholic population. There was absolutely no constitutional way of remedying this. SF has always been on the political trail with different leaderships over the years. So they supported the IRA. So The Times, The Telegraph and all media in England supported the British Army.
1963, in Belfast, with the IRA having abandoned their campaign, SF was campaigning politically when the Rev. Ian Paisley demanded that the Tricolour be taken out of the window of their campaign headquarters in the Lower Falls, a Catholic area. If the RUC didn’t act then he and his followers would. The RUC used sledgehammers to take the flag. Severe riots followed. There were huge amounts of arrests. The press was full of pictures of the arrested chained together like the chain gangs of the US Deep South. The atmosphere in Belfast was one of fear and anger. Paisley led Loyalists through Catholic areas like Cromac Square in a provocative show of strength. 1963 was the beginning of the fight-back by the Catholic population. Tame Nationalist MPs like the corrupt Harry Diamond sat at Stormont mouthing nothings. His speech in the Unionist-dominated Stormont ran like: `To resolve this crisis (the rioting) we should all get down on our knees and pray.’
It’s impossible to convey with words what it feels like to be one of the persecuted. Your grandparents went through it, your parents are going through it, you are going through it, and your children will go through it. There is no doubt you have been made to feel inferior. On a daily basis you are a fenian, a taig, a mickey. You live in filth, you breed like rabbits, if the husband doesn’t want any more children then the priest will take on the job of impregnating the wife, says the low-life within earshot of Catholics. You see Protestant confidence in all its shapes and forms. Once during the 12th of July, as a teenager, I was on a train with my father a Protestant, on our way home to Carrickfergus. He was wearing a green sports jacket. Then I heard the muted jeers from the Orangemen in full regalia, with their wives and daughters beginning to comment on the colour green. My father spoke up.
`if you think I am going to throw away my jacket for the lot of you then you have another thing coming to you!’
That quietened them. Only a Prod could speak to them like that and they knew it. Me, well I pushed myself further into the seat like something caught in the headlights. That’s what a dysfunctional NI has done. In my household there is a superior Protestant being with his Catholic family sometimes cowering behind him. The psychological pressures are enormous. You have a Catholic mother who will sometimes have outbursts about the Prods and curse the whole damned side of your father’s family. Sometimes it’s said jokingly. It’s time then for father to say nothing but just weather it. You can be lined up as Catholic children against your own Protestant father.
Children were physically punished back then. You sometimes wonder: ‘is my father beating me as a father or as a Prod? Then the confrontation again on religious grounds within the family and this time two of your sisters take pity on the father and support him against Prod-calling. Later they will convert to born-again Protestantism as teenagers. The father is blamed for this but the last thing he wanted was extreme Protestantism and two sectarian daughters harassing the mother.
As a teenager, during a softer moment, he might confide in me: ‘I almost bumped into a woman in Carrick. She was carrying a bible like she was good-living. (religious) We almost clicked.’ (flirted) I think he was tired of the religious antagonism within the marriage and having to defend it against outside bigotry. But in his dying years he understood what the Provos were doing though remaining a partitionist. He knew early on the main struggle was for reform. I did come across a few Protestants like that back in the 1970s. One was a journalist on the Belfast News Letter. I got a lot of support from the News Letter for something I had on in the theatre in Belfast. The Republicans didn’t like that but then they didn’t know the journalist who had to cover himself on a daily basis and having a father who had been a Unionist MP.
But the hurlers on the ditch chicken out every time!