AP front 1 - 2022

1 August 2002 Edition

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Unionist dilemma anything but moral


Grotesque is the only word to describe the mock outrage paraded before the media by David Trimble, a man so adept at disregarding violence when it emanates from his political allies, the British state, the Orange Order or loyalist paramilitaries
"Nationalist people are now becoming convinced that their opposite numbers only want peace on their own terms - that unionists can't handle equality, and so there's this desperate need and wish to turn back the clock.

"All this pressure for expelling Sinn Féin from government is being seen as a determination to get back to the old days of one-party government, where nationalist people were effectively disenfranchised.

"But that won't happen. We can't go back to the old days. And that is what is making people so angry. Change is not so much slipping away as being thrown away. People are blaming the politicians."

These are the words of Fr Dan White, a North Belfast priest, speaking shortly after the loyalist killing of Catholic teenager Gerard Lawlor. Fr White had administered the Last Rites to Gerard in the street where he had been brutally gunned down.

After weeks of Orwellian double-speak, or more accurately Trimblese, for northern nationalists Fr White's words felt like a breath of fresh air. The British government and the media had dressed up unionist huffing and puffing as high moral drama, but northern nationalists can recognise a farce when they see it.

But faced with the real tragedy of ongoing loyalist violence, which has included over 400 bomb and gun attacks against Catholic homes, businesses, schools and chapels, and last week, the killing of Catholic teenager Gerard Lawlor; northern nationalists have found nothing comic about the unionist inspired pantomime.

Grotesque is the only word to describe the mock outrage paraded before the media by David Trimble, a man so adept at disregarding violence when it emanates from his political allies, the British state, the Orange Order or loyalist paramilitaries. And he is equally adept at feeding the fantasy of anti-Agreement unionism with a diet of perceived republican threat.

Meanwhile, several thousand mourners attended the funeral of Gerard Lawlor, the latest victim of another drive-by shooting by loyalists intent on killing a Catholic, any Catholic.

Among the cortege was the city's mayor, Alex Maskey and party colleague, North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly.

Holy Cross primary school governor Fr Aidan Troy also attended, as did Michael Brett, the father of Gavin Brett. In a similar sectarian drive-by shooting, his son, 18-year-old Gavin Brett, was shot dead by loyalists last year in the mistaken belief he was a Catholic.

At St Gerard's church on the Antrim Road, mourners heard the Bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Walsh condemn "the raw sectarian hatred" of those who carried out the killing of Gerard Lawlor, a young man targeted simply because of his religion. The First Minister should have been noticeable by his absence but after years of rebuffing his nationalist constituents, no one expected David Trimble to attend.

After all, as the editorial of Belfast Newsletter made clear, even on the morning of a funeral of another victim of loyalist violence and bigotry, the "Spotlight must remain fixed on IRA activity".

"Loyalist violence, however dangerous and distasteful, is essentially a security issue." In other words, no one need trouble their political head about loyalist violence. When it comes to a systematic campaign of loyalist terror against the Catholic community, there are no answers to be sought and no sanctions to be taken. David Trimble can predict mayhem and crisis and loyalism can deliver, but by definition, unionist hands will always be clean. Republicans can engage in a peace process and despite deliberate provocation, IRA guns can remain silent but, as far as unionist mindset is concerned, their hands will always be dirty.

"David Trimble does not have to convince anyone that he is opposed to political violence in all its forms. Nor for that matter does Ian Paisley. But Gerry Adams does and therein lies the difference," insisted the Newsletter editorial.

"The idea that the IRA might still be practicing forms of terror while republicanism's more democratically-inclined partners grip the reins of power is the anomaly that gnaws at the integrity of the political institutions and contributes to the loss of confidence in the peace process."

The key words here are 'idea', 'might' and 'forms of'. Even the Newsletter knows that compared to real, actual, current loyalist violence, the republican "activity" (the editor is very careful not to say violence because such an accusation is demonstrably untrue) is nothing more than a bogeyman to frighten the children with and acknowledges as much within the text.

But if even the Newsletter, largely regarded as the Orangemen's tabloid, acknowledges, however obliquely, that the republican 'threat' is largely a myth, then what is the 'crisis' at the heart of unionism generally and the Ulster Unionist Party in particular?

What is "the anomaly that gnaws at the integrity of the political institutions and contributes to the loss of confidence in the peace process"? Fr White spelt it out:

"All this pressure for expelling Sinn Féin from government is being seen as a determination to get back to the old days of one-party government, where nationalist people were effectively disenfranchised," the priest had said. Unionists can't handle equality and wish to turn the clock back, he concluded.

It's not 'violence', perceived or otherwise, that unionism fears, but power sharing. Partition was imposed by violence and the threat of violence and maintained by the same means for many years. That's why even today, violence in support of the Union is seen as non-threatening to everyone other than the unfortunate 'taig' at whom it is generally directed.

Violence against the Catholic/nationalist community is presented as non-political. It is merely individual tragedy. Catholic victims are routinely described as 'in the wrong place at the wrong time' or 'lucky to be alive', as if it is somehow accidental and incidental.

An ambiguous attitude to loyalist violence has served the interests of unionism very well and this is reflected in the reluctance of unionist politicians to seriously challenge sectarian violence. But if unionists' attitude to loyalist violence has been largely opportunistic, unionist support for state violence has been unequivocal.

No amount of state violence has been too much for unionism. You can forget truth and justice, human rights and equality, even democracy and citizenship. These concepts have merely provided the rhetorical landscape within which British and pro-British forces have ruthlessly repressed the northern nationalist community.

Republicans remember Ken Maginnis' comment, "two swallows don't make a summer" and his enthusiastic support for the summary execution of IRA Volunteers Brian Campbell and Colm McGirr in 1983. More recently, Roy Beggs Jr expressed unionist outrage at the establishment of a Queens University bursary on behalf of Pat Finucane, the murdered Belfast defence lawyer. Shoot-to-kill, collusion - when it comes to state killings, even the covert assassination of political dissidents or 'uppity' Catholic lawyers, the Ulster Unionist Party finds no 'moral dilemma'.

But power sharing with nationalists, well that's quite another matter. The exclusion of Sinn Féin from the executive would effectively diminish nationalist representation to a point where unionist domination could be fully realised.

This is the anomaly that gnaws at the 'integrity' of the Ulster Unionist Party. They yearn for a return of the old Stormont regime and a fairytale world where compliant Catholics 'enjoy' triumphalist anti-Catholic Orange Order parades through their neighbourhoods as mere spectacle.

David Trimble recently confided to the media that he was looking forward to the day when the Twelfth could be enjoyed by everyone, like Bastille Day in France or America's 4 July.

Of course, such a vision of unionist hegemony is necessarily incompatible with power sharing and equality. After engineering a 'crisis', no wonder Trimble and his party colleagues were outraged when the British government failed to meet their agenda to expel Sinn Féin.

With a sudden blood rush to their heads, the UUP had somehow forgotten that unionism was fostered to meet the interests of the British state and not the other way around. It was left to the British Guardian newspaper to point this out.

"Mr Trimble cannot dictate British policy," said the Guardian editorial. The British government had chosen "to call Mr Trimble's bluff" and had been right to do so, concluded the paper. "Mr Trimble has shown increasing signs that he despairs of being able to win an election next year while heading a power sharing government which includes Sinn Féin.

"If he cannot get Britain to suspend Sinn Féin, he could be planning to collapse the power sharing institutions to run as the acceptable face of rejectionism. Mr Blair has decided, rightly, that he cannot allow him to dictate British policy in this way."

But for UUP Assembly whip Jim Wilson, it was more a matter of "bottle" and London didn't have it. If the British government was "serious" it would have "to tackle this issue effectively", said the reassuring Wilson.

Meanwhile, UUP president Rev Martin Symth threatened unilateral action by his party to collapse the Executive. Tony Blair had uttered "hollow words" because he had failed to change the mechanisms that could be used to expel Sinn Féin.

"It must now fall on others to take decisive and concentrated action to have the plague of paramilitaries eliminated from our democracy and all aspects of our society," he said.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffery Donaldson added that unionists should "take action to remove Sinn Féin from the Executive by whatever means necessary".

But taking action was far from what the Ulster Unionist Party had in mind when it came to the call for cross-party action against sectarian violence. As Nell McCafferty of the Tribune pointed out, when Belfast mayor Alex Maskey last week called together community representatives, trade unions and politicians to discuss the fight against sectarianism, only one unionist representative turned up, David Ervine of the PUP.

Far from challenging sectarianism, the First Minister and his party are more concerned with using the smokescreen of loyalist violence to pursue their own anti-power sharing agenda.

As Susan McKay points out, "after a summer of sustained and increasingly fierce loyalist violence against Catholics", Trimble is threatening to collapse the executive citing as the reason "the British government's alleged failure to deal with what he has called 'naked sectarian aggression' by republicans against Protestants".

Hypocrisy knows no shame, it seems. Unionist politicians were manufacturing crises and manipulating them while young Catholics were murdered by loyalists, Fr Dan White concluded.

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