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1 September 2005 Edition

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Love and hate in a boat at Larne

BY

LAURA FRIEL

It seemed a curious choice, the word love, used this week to launch the latest campaign by rejectionist unionism against any kind of historic compromise with their nationalist neighbours.

But then it was all very emotive stuff. Two daughters of an IRA victim, killed 15 years ago, expressed their anguish following the IRA's decision to end its armed campaign while posing for media photographs holding the "Ulster at Crisis Point" banner headline of a previously little-known parochial publication, the Shankill Mirror. Just why an end to the campaign that saw the death of their father caused them further injury was not explained.

Love might be in the title but hatred was never far from the agenda. But who would wish to challenge the motivation of victims? Their perception has undoubtedly been shaped by events not of their choosing.

The problem is that rejectionist unionism utilises the pain of real victims as a means of identifying all unionists as victims by definition. Of course there is a perfectly legitimate position that identifies all people caught up in conflict as victims, but unionists don't really mean that. Theirs is not an inclusive vision.

Unionism rejects, sometimes angrily, the notion that nationalists ever suffered at their hands or the hands of a unionist state. In this vision, if nationalists suffered and even that is questionable, it's all their own fault.

It flows not from their opposition to a sectarian state, not from repression by pro-state forces, or from the sectarian anti-Catholic allocation of houses and jobs. It flows from their 'disloyalty'. Nationalists by definition are 'disloyal'. In other words, if you are not a unionist you deserve repression, even violent repression by irregular state forces. It's not victimisation, merely 'policing'.

So for rejectionist unionism there is no contradiction between evoking notions of love to deliver a message of hate. There is no contradiction in the use of using unionist paramilitaries to distribute that message. Indeed they went even further by celebrating unionist paramilitary gun-running.

Special editions of the newspaper, announcing the Love Ulster Campaign, had arrived by boat at the port of Larne in an emotive re-enactment of the unionist paramilitary gun-running that had announced the birth of the UVF almost a century earlier.

Contemporary unionist paramilitaries were on hand to load the 16-page propaganda sheet into 50 waiting vehicles to be distributed throughout unionist-controlled areas across the Six Counties. It was to be distributed to Protestant homes, Orange Halls and shops and community centres in unionist areas.

With a little love heart replacing the o in the website address of loveulster.com, the flysheet announced, "Democracy And Justice Are Not For Sale". Which is probably just as well given the propensity of unionist paramilitaries to sell just about anything at ten pound a deal.

Inside there was a 2005 Ulster Covenant to sign. Here potential signatories were urged to express their conviction of a conspiracy to bring about a united Ireland and pledge their support to resist this by all lawful means possible.

At a press conference to launch the newly-established Love Ulster Campaign group Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters officiated while campaign spokesperson, William Wilkinson of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, spoke of "a lot of frustration" and "deep hurt".

"We are saying enough is enough, the voice of the victims of 30 years of violence, the voice of the lawful people, must be heard and they are deeply unhappy," said Wilkinson.

Frustrated, hurt and unhappy. Was the Love Ulster Campaign group really trying to get in touch with its emotions? Or perhaps the psychobabble was a cynical attempt to mask the appalling lack of rational engagement.

Lawful people, innocent relatives are all code words for exclusive unionist categories of legitimacy. Nationalists aren't second-class citizens, they're non-citizens and anything that suggests otherwise, like power sharing and equality, rejectionist unionism identifies as betrayal, as making concession to republicans.

It's an irrational and reactionary position and it's hardly surprising that it relies on political posturing, sectarian fear mongering and emotive rabble rousing.

Perhaps the Love Ulster Campaign group would be appalled to be linked, even by perception, to the ongoing campaign of unionist paramilitary violence currently being waged against nationalist communities in the Six Counties. But how else are most northern nationalists to understand the blatant display of unionist paramilitary empathy displayed in the way in which the Love Ulster grouping decided to launch its campaign? The corollary of 'loving'‚ Ulster appears to many to be 'hating' all Taigs.

Ulster Unionist MLA David McNarry was swift to endorse the Love Ulster Campaign. "Initially I must welcome the campaign and give my support. It identifies a problem within unionism and that is the lack of unity. I have been calling for some time for a united strategy and voice. We would be much better served with one voice and a unity of purpose," said McNarry.

In contrast the DUP have appeared more reticent, although 'Love' spokesperson William Wilkinson is a member of the DUP and ran as an unsuccessful candidate for the DUP in last local government elections. Orange Order head Robert Saulters also publicly backed DUP candidates during the last election.

It's a hard call. The main protagonists behind the campaign appear to be the Orange Order and UVF, both of which have historically closer ties to the UUP. In the last elections rejectionist unionism backed the DUP to thwart any possibility of UUP power sharing with nationalists.

But there is a contradiction at the heart of the rejectionist strategy. They want political power but at the same time fear it. Having bestowed power onto the DUP they are now fearful about what the party might do with it.

The 'Love' campaign is a mechanism by which they hope to secure the rejectionist position articulated by the DUP during the last election. It remains the core of unionist political strategy. The problem for the DUP is that having secured unionist political power the only way to exercise that power is through the power-sharing mechanism of the Good Friday Agreement.

Of course rejectionist unionism and the DUP would like to recreate the old Stormont regime of unionist domination -- power without sharing. But this is no longer a viable option. Political unionism cannot move backwards and, at the moment, remains determined not to move forward. It's best hope, for the moment, remains maintaining the kind of political vacuum in which unionist paramilitary violence flourishes.

In a reasonable world, love and hate are polar opposites. But life and politics in the artificially created Six-County state are far from rational.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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