How dumb can a country be and still survive? By the looks of things up here, it won’t survive much longer.
ast week we “celebrated” Northern Ireland’s centenary. Which is a bit like celebrating slavery and inviting leaders of the African-American community to sit at the back of a bus, waving as it drives through Mississippi.
The celebration is a triumphalist gesture divorced from the reality of Northern life. Not even Her Majesty attended. This was because of “medical advice”, although the same press release said HM would still be attending a series of events at the upcoming COP26 climate change conference.
The royals are trying to build a modern, progressive image. Why would they celebrate partition?
The British PM who presided over partition was the inveterate liar David Lloyd George, a proud tradition maintained to this day.
Three options were explored, the determining factor being a sectarian headcount based on the 1911 census. The options were: four counties — too small; nine counties — too many Catholics; six counties — least worst situation, but do we really have to keep Tyrone?
In the end, the unionists chose six, and hell was unleashed on the Catholics that remained. About 7,500 Catholics and what were dubbed ‘rotten Prods’ (Protestant workers seen as sympathetic to Catholic colleagues) were expelled from the shipyards.
A news report from the time describes how “a number of men who were attacked were able to escape by hurling themselves into Musgrave Channel and swimming across to the Sydenham shore”. Another report describes how “men armed with sledgehammers and other weapons swooped down on the Catholic workers in the shipyards, and did not even give them a chance for their lives”.
In the words of James Craig, prime minister of Northern Ireland, what followed was “a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”.
In 1933, Sir Basil Brooke, later prime minister of Northern Ireland, told a 12th of July march: “I would not have a Roman Catholic about the place and neither should you.”
The following day in Stormont, Craig said: “There is not one of my colleagues who does not entirely agree with him, and I would not ask him to withdraw one word.”
The extent of the state’s sectarianism was stunning. William Lowry, minister for labour at Stormont during WWII, was agitated at the number of US soldiers stationed in the North who were Catholic. To his horror, US Military Command formally requested he find them a place of worship. He sourced a disused Orange Hall, then explained to colleagues in a leaked memo that when the servicemen left “we can have the place fumigated”.
By 1969, just as the civil rights movement was taking to the streets to campaign for equal rights, then prime minister Terence O’Neill (since held up by some as a paragon of reconciliation, presumably for comments like this), said: “It is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house, they will live like Protestants because they will see neighbours with cars and television sets; they will refuse to have 18 children.” To be fair, it’s hard to argue with that.
Boris said last week: “As a proud unionist, it’s a moment indeed to celebrate a wonderful part of the United Kingdom.” He is merely using the North to engage in a bit of poll-friendly euro bashing. The DUP and other unionists are meanwhile betraying the Northern business community, whose trade with the South has gone up by almost 70pc since Brexit.
They howl blue murder because they are in terror at the prospect of sharing power. The North does not have taxation or economic powers, and unionists have held out against getting them since they decrease dependence and increase independence. Far better to argue over flags and other issues of no real importance.
We see this with the protocol. With a few tweaks, it is hard to see any downside. Listening to the DUP and Boris, one would think the North is about to go up in flames.
Yet we have just completed the quietest marching season in living memory. Despite the hysterical warnings, nothing happened — save for orderly, musical celebrations by increasingly elderly men, watched by small, well-behaved crowds.
I stood in Belfast city centre on a Saturday in August watching an excellent band parade and there wasn’t a single hostile vibe. It is no longer about exerting supremacy, but about tradition, music and enjoyment.
In South Belfast, the Bredagh GAA club has harmonious relations with the once notorious Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge. The club’s board has attended events in the lodge and vice versa. It is important to understand that what is happening in Northern politics is divorced from the reality of Northern life.
In February this year, unionist-controlled Mid- and East-Antrim council removed staff carrying out post-Brexit checks at Larne port amid claims of loyalist intimidation. The council announced gravely they had “no option but to withdraw staff from their duties in order to fulfil our duty of care”.
Police investigated and concluded there was no evidence whatsoever of “credible threats”. Last Wednesday, the PSNI flooded the council offices as part of an investigation into “misconduct in a public office”.
Nipsa, one of the North’s biggest trade unions, representing many council staff, has asked Stormont’s Department for Communities to step in and run the council.
The question is whether the council was used as a propaganda tool for protocol hysteria. What is happening underlines there is no longer a hiding place in our society, either in the workplace or in the structures of governance.
I took to driving through Belfast over the last year. Every time the media showed some kids throwing stones or a petrol bomb, I toured through those same streets. Sandy Row. The Shankill. Lanark Way. It was life as normal. These were tiny, isolated incidents in underprivileged enclaves, whooped up by those who are loudly celebrating partition.
On Friday past, government buildings in Northern Ireland were to be lit up to celebrate partition. Belfast City Hall had other plans. Instead, what was once a bastion of bigotry was lit up in rainbow colours to mark 40 years since the landmark European court ruling that led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland.
Now that is a cause for celebration.