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25 February 1999 Edition

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Television: Labelling the tribes

Loyalists (BBC2)
Leárgas (RTE)
Queer Folk (Channel 4)
``Loyalists'' was always going to be a difficult series for republicans to watch and what made it more so was that it was told from a virtually unchallenged loyalist perspective, and a British media, BBC in this case, yet again minimising Britain's role in creating sectarianism, portraying us Irish as ``these rebellious folk'', who when not attacking Britain, turn on each other.

Tracing the history of loyalism, beginning with the naive thousands who signed Carson's Ulster Convenant Pledge, to a royalty who they have continued to believe will protect them; it takes us to the trenches of the Somme where 630 out of the 700 strong Shankill regiment were used as cannon fodder (the Irish were regularly placed in the front line) for a Britain that ``would always support us''.

This is followed by the infamous Gusty Spence murder of an innocent Catholic barman, shortly after the UVF announced that ``known IRA men will be executed mercilessly''.

The programme does give some sense of the frustration and fears of loyalists when dealing with the crown, but the percieved ``IRA threat'' as exemplified by Gusty Spence, has always been used as a smokescreen to `take out any taig when the fenians get uppity' eg. Michael McGoldrick, Robert Hamill etc.

Paisley's role - ``Romanism has bred poverty, ignorance, witchcraft and superstition'' in the 60's, in stoking the sectarian fires is highlighted, and he is named as a strong influence by a number of former Ulster Protestant Volunteer members, who carried out the first explosions of the troubles - bombing Belfast waterworks and Ballyshannon power station.

Paisley has always managed to stoke sectarian flames among loyalist youth, yet always careful not to have his own fingers burned. One positive outcome of the growth of the PUP/UDP must be the realisation that they were ``used'' by Paisley - ``they led us by the nose when it suited them''.

Unfortunately Peter Taylor, who also produced ``Provos'' neglects the role of the state in the evolution of ``the troubles'', yet again portraying them as the referee.

Various shady individuals including John White, who stabbed Paddy Wilson 30 times in the throat, and Andy Tyrie outline their reasons for joining- ``we were under siege from the IRA''; their feelings at the time ``I felt ten feet tall with my gun and parka jacket'' and their determination to weed out the IRA - ``we selected him for no other reason other than he was a Catholic''.

What is hard to accept however was that as the war escalated, some IRA attacks (which led to civilians casualties) eg. Bloody Friday, Shankill furniture shop etc - ``we were scooping bodies into shovels'' fed the myth that the IRA was fighting ``against the Protestant people'' and fuelled by sectarian politicians, this led to quite a number of loyalists joining the UVF/UDA.

David Trimble talks of his understanding of William Craig's outburst ``our job is to liquidate the enemy'' as ``one of those things that happens occasionally'', and John Taylor describes the death of an RUC man by Shankill loyalists as ``reflecting the anger of the unionist people''. And I thought he was a man of peace.

Carrickmore or Termonmahurh - ``the sanctuary of the McGurks'' is immediately labelled by an RTE trailer ``can Carrickmore emerge from the trenches'' and unfortunately, in this ``Leárgas'' feature, Pat Butler engages in the patronising Free State habit of querying northern nationalists ``willingness to be nice to Protestants''. This annoying line of questioning is carried through when asking Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff, in the wake of the Omagh bomb, which claimed the lives of two young locals - 18 year old Gareth Conway and 16 year old Brenda Logue - if he would have condemned the deaths of 29 RUC men and pregnant women? - this sort of question belongs in the Section 31 dustbin as does the views of parish priest Faul, who percieves himself as a republican ``in the mould of Jack Lynch or Garett (£200,000 from the bank) Fitzgearald.

Faul also advises Catholics to join the RUC, who only ``want to play GAA'' but ``not many listen to him'' in Carrickmore, where there is a 90% republican vote - ``it's in the rocks, the air and the graveyard over there'', a 100% Mass attendance and a thriving cultural scene - Carrickmore is the only place in Tyrone to have quality hurling, camogie, handball and football teams and a bustling visitors centre, ``An Creagán''.

This programme in half an hour doesn't do justice to the many issues of the parish of the rock, and Barry McElduff who tells us he would like to be a policeman ``ba mhaith liom bheith i mo phíléir'', needs to be told he just wouldn't look the part!

I doubt if the Gay nightclub scene thrives in West Tyrone as it does in C4's new drama series ``Queer Folk'' which although humourous and revealing, stereotypes homosexuals as sex maniac, pill-popping, bed hoppers with wiggly bottoms.

Stuart and Vince, flatmates, occupy opposite ends of the ``shifting scene''. Stuart never tires of ``looking'' and strikes lucky with innocent Nathan whom he quickly beds and masturbates to climax, while answering the mobile phone.

Vince is unfortunate enough to attract the attentions of a girdle wearing, beer belly with ``muscles like a bouncy castle'' who utters romantic nuances such as ``can we just get on with it? and picks fluff from his belly button.

This steamy yet refreshing and humourous drama is sure to set the reactionaries scuttling to their complaints desks, and the homophobics among you blushing and switching to the footie, but its no more erotic than your average hetro romp of a weeknight.

Sure we're all a bit quare!

By Seán O Donaile

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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