Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Bobby Sands

MOPE – a Tale of Two Diasporas

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 28 2016

Colman's Column3

Susan Sontag: Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking.

Shedding Blood in Every Generation

Four years ago, I posted a lengthy article on Groundviews which was prompted by a statement in May 2011 by MDMK chief Vaiko in Tamil Nadu. He said that the war for Eelam was not over; Prabhakaran was not dead and would emerge from hiding at the right time. According to Victor Rajakulendran, the LTTE remained a shining example, a “good history,” for all Sri Lankan Tamils to follow. For a very small number of Irish people the leaders of the Easter 1916 Rising remain a shining example. In her new book, The Seven, about the seven members of the Military Council who made the decision to rebel in Dublin, Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards, concludes: “By courting death for a cause that had no popular support, were the Seven different to Bobby Sands and his comrades who committed suicide by starvation? Or from the jihadis who these days joyously sacrifice themselves in suicide bombings? They shared a sense of their own absolute moral superiority as well as an ambition to achieve some kind of immortality”.

Choosing Martyrdom

Ruth Dudley Edwards quotes words of Yeats written in 1939:

Some had no thought of victory

But had gone out to die

That Ireland’s mind might be greater,

Her heart mount up on high;

And yet who knows what’s yet to come?

For Patrick Pearse had said

That in every generation

Must Ireland’s blood be shed.

 

In my Groundviews article, I asked: “Did Prabhakaran ever ask those who are shown in the horrific Channel 4 images if they wanted to be martyrs? Was there a referendum on martyrdom, a focus group?”

 

Unhappy Land of Heroes

Liam Kennedy, Emeritus Professor of Economic History at Queen’s University, Belfast, recently published a collection of essays entitled Unhappy the Land. That phrase comes from Bertolt Brecht: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes”. The subtitle to Professor Kennedy’s book is The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? The acronym MOPE has been used a lot since Kennedy first introduced it in what Ruth Dudley Edwards called “a good essay at the very end of a book containing lots of boring economic history”. Professor Kennedy writes: “It is hard to overestimate the role of self-delusion in in Irish history, whether as a force animating colonial ‘reformers’ in the seventeenth century or Sinn Fein activists in the twentieth”. Self-delusion is not confined to the Irish.

Unhappy

Unhappy Land?

Did Ireland suffer from exceptional disadvantages? Kennedy thinks not  “…the island of Ireland, when viewed comparatively, was favourably circumstanced in terms of soil, climate and biological conditions”. Professor Kennedy contends that no major war was fought on Irish soil after the seventeenth century. With the exceptions of Switzerland and Iceland, “it is difficult to think of any major European society which has enjoyed the degree of isolation Ireland enjoyed from the immediate depredations of war”. During the last three centuries, there have been no major invasions of Ireland. Unlike most Europeans, the Irish have never experienced military conscription. “During the most brutal century that Europe has ever known – the twentieth- Ireland escaped relatively unscathed”.

Some might point out the number of Irishmen who perished in the First World War. About 210,000 Irishmen, all volunteers, served in the British forces during World War One and 35,000 of them died. Others might draw attention to the deformation to the Irish psyche caused by being next door to England and being subsumed into the oppressive British Empire.

A Happy Land?

 

Kennedy

As an economic historian, Professor Kennedy confidently states that Ireland was among the fastest growing economies in Europe at the time of the Easter Rising. Apart from slow growth in particular sub-periods such as 1932-38 and 1951-59, “Over the twentieth century as a whole, the growth performance of the Irish economy has been close to the western European average and well ahead of eastern Europe. The Irish Republic and Northern Ireland today rank among the richest regions in the world in terms of income per head”.

Professor Kennedy also challenges received wisdom that the introduction of the Penal Laws at the end of the seventeenth century repressed the religious rights of the majority Catholic population of Ireland. Kennedy contends that after 1715, the Penal Laws were fiercer on the statute book than in practice. By the 1790s, Catholics and dissenters in Ireland enjoyed freedom of worship, Catholic churches and dissenters’ chapels dotted the Irish countryside and a state-subsidised national seminary for Catholic priests was founded at Maynooth. At the same time, there was vigorous persecution of religious dissent on the European mainland.

The nineteenth century saw the uninterrupted progress of the Catholic Church in Ireland as it developed a vast infrastructure of churches, presbyteries, convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces. Perhaps most important was clerical control of the school system with funding from the British state. Clerical education and clerical appointments were free of state control. As a child, I used to enjoy the rousing hymn Faith of our Fathers. Whatever the words of that hymn might claim, Irish people, from the 1740s, were able to worship without fear of “dungeon, fire and sword”. Kennedy says that at a deep level “there was the image-world of Christianity and its symbolic representation of pain, sorrow and exile – universals of the human predicament – which could be exploited selectively to colour the Irish collective experience”. Patrick Pearse was a master of this. After Ireland became independent the church’s power reached totalitarian proportions.

Diaspora

Emigration has been seen as a downside, a drain on the economy, depriving the nation of its bright ambitious young. Professor Kennedy sees a positive side. The Irish have unlimited freedom of exit and have enjoyed privileged access to two of the highest-wage economies in the world – North America and Britain.

Large-scale emigration began after the Famine and it did not take long for the victims to become victimisers. The New York riots of 1863 (as featured in Scorsese’s film The Gangs of New York) were called the Draft Riots because of protests against conscription into the Union army in the Civil War. In fact, they were race riots carried out by Irish immigrants, the children of the Famine, who feared competition in the labour market from emancipated black slaves. At least 119 were killed in an orgy of lynching and arson.

One of the Seven, Tom Clarke, lived in America and revelled in the atmosphere of grievance and heroic struggle that Irish Americans propagated. He expressed a virulent hatred for blacks. As Ruth Dudley Edwards puts it: “Irish Americans would take the narrative of exceptional Irish victimhood to extreme levels of narcissism, self-pity and absurdity and feed it back to republicans in Ireland in what became a malign circle”.

The Politics of Grievance

Sound familiar? In the same way, genuine grievances of Tamils living in in Sri Lanka get subsumed in the exaggerated claims of genocide uttered by sections of the Tamil diaspora.

Professor Kennedy does not deny that Ireland suffered injustice. “It would be an act of denial… to fail to acknowledge that Irish history is replete with instances of persecution, of evictions, of famines. These form part of a European historical experience that was, time out of mind, brutal, bloody and oppressive. One does not have to go all the way with Hobbes to conclude: the past is not a pleasant place”.

However, he sees the ever-present danger of keeping historical resentments alive. “The library of past and present wrongs, including those of an economic nature, were articulated in a continuous present tense that seemed to give historical depth and legitimacy to newly-minted notions of nationalism”.

Bosnia provides a warning. The horrors of the 1990s came “out of a hate-filled history of victimhood. The sadism of the moment was clouded by the rhetoric of the centuries”. Let us not dwell on self-delusion about “800 years of oppression” or deal with perceived grievance by more bloodshed.

 

Reconciliation Ireland Part 6

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 7 2012

On April 27, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), an intergovernmental regional security structure comprising 56 states including all EU countries, Russia, the US and Canada, held its annual conference in Dublin. Ireland had a good story to tell about how peace was achieved.

 
On the same day, a Catholic mother on the Creggan housing estate, took her 18-year-old son to an appointment with Republican Action Against Drugs, to be kneecapped for drug dealing.

 
My friend the Rev. Harold Good, together with Father Alec Reid, played a vital role in the Northern Ireland peace process. It was Harold who announced to the press that the IRA had decommissioned their arms. If the IRA had given up their arms, the ‘long war’ waged by the IRA was definitively over. Or was it?

The peace process itself was endangered on many occasions by bombings and shootings which, despite their great stature within the Republican movement, McGuinness and Adams were powerless to prevent. In 1997, Michael McKevitt, the then IRA QMG (Quartermaster General) , who was also a member of the 12-person Provisional IRA (PIRA) Executive, broke away from the Provisional IRA to form the Real IRA (RIRA). His wife, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands and a founder of the RIRA’s political wing, the 32 County Sovereignty movements, spoke out against the peace agreement: “Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state”.

The RIRA takes violent action against the British military and police and other targets in Northern Ireland, including civilians. The 1998 Omagh car bombing claimed 29 lives and injured hundreds. Dissident groups remain a threat today, fourteen years after the peace agreement. Another ‘new’ IRA was announced on July 26.
To RIRA it is Sinn Fein who are the dissidents for their apostasy in accepting a divided Ireland. In the May 2011 elections, not a single dissident won an Assembly seat, and their combined vote was less than one percent. Republican Sinn Fein (the RIRA’s “political” wing) spokesperson Cait Trainor told Channel 4: “We have a mandate stretching right back to 1798. We really don’t need the public to rubber stamp the republican movement.”
Dissidents have little hope of ‘winning’ in the sense of achieving a united Ireland by force. Meanwhile, they are content to disrupt the liberal consensus and show that the Good Friday settlement has not produced the peace that was promised.

Terrorists often inhabit a murky borderland with organized crime. Part of the RIRA plan is to gain legitimacy as a community police force by acting against drug dealers, thieves and those involved in anti-social behavior. This is hypocritical as they are heavily involved in crime.
In the Republic, police chief Martin Callinan rejected criticism of his officers for failing to intervene when shots were fired by masked paramilitaries at the funeral of murdered RIRA member Alan Ryan on Saturday September 15. Any rational assessment of Alan Ryan would assess him as a hoodlum and extortionist. The RIRA planned to turn him into their very own Bobby Sands.

RIRA godfathers exploited Ryan’s funeral as propaganda despite the fact that they had themselves recently admonished him for his erratic behavior. Ryan threatened tortured, bombed, shot and murdered. His security company was a front for a protection racket targeting legitimate business people and organized the murder of drug dealers for other drug dealers. A foreign hit man was paid €100,000 to terminate Ryan.

Another dissident plan is to agitate in contended situations, particularly during the marching season, to prompt over-reaction by the security forces. North Belfast is a complex patchwork of republican and loyalist districts. For three consecutive nights in early September, embittered loyalists clashed with police, resulting in injuries to more than 60 officers. A planned republican procession had attracted loyalist protesters. Tensions have simmered over trouble close to a Catholic church. North Belfast was the scene of serious rioting earlier this year when republicans attacked police following a loyalist parade through the Ardoyne on July 12. North Belfast resident and writer Daniel Jewesbury said: “There are some groups dedicated to taking offense, but there are some who are dedicated to giving it”.

Belfast-based journalist Jason Walsh writes: ”Sectarianism is built into the very fabric of the peace process that brought the war in Northern Ireland to an end… in elevating parity of esteem and respect for cultural difference above all else, it also turned demands for community respect into the political currency of the New Northern Ireland”. The fear is that this nurturing of difference will explode again into open war.

See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/11201-peace-

today?.html#sthash.PHjbaxzS.dpuf

 

 

Reconciliation in Ireland – Part 4

At the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, the British government had more or less decided to grant Ireland Home Rule, but was hoping to get the little matter of the First World War out of the way first. The Ulster Volunteers, the first loyalist paramilitary group, was established under the leadership of Edward Carson. It evolved into the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913, receiving a large arms cache from Germany in April 1914. The unionists promised civil war if Home Rule became a reality: “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”.

Irish rebels did not win independence for the whole island. The boundaries of the north and east were gerrymandered so that the six counties which formed the statelet of Northern Ireland would have an inbuilt protestant loyalist majority. Since then, who ruled Northern Ireland saw to it that Protestant loyalists got the best education and the best jobs; the Catholic minority suffered severe discrimination. In Derry, Catholics were in a majority but Protestants ran the city council. The boundaries were drawn to ensure that 14,000 Catholic voters ended up with eight councillors, while 9,000 Protestants had twelve.

Ferocious rioting
By the 1960s, Northern Ireland Catholics were emulating the Civil Rights movement in the USA. The IRA was a spent force. That did not prevent unionists from regarding the NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement) as an IRA front. The IRA had given up arms and been taken over by Marxists under the leadership of Cathal Goulding, who admitted that he didn’t have the human resource to obtain a united Ireland by force.  The IRA did not drive the Civil Rights movement. Its members acted as stewards on many marches but to prevent rather than promote violence.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary and its notorious auxiliaries, the B Specials, were almost exclusively Protestant and Loyalist. Demands for civil rights were seen as sedition. In the summer of 1969, the powder keg was ignited in Derry, the conflagration spread to Belfast and engulfed the whole province. The ferocious rioting that lasted for three days in Derry became known as the Battle of the Bogside. One of the young men involved was Martin McGuinness. London’s attention was captured; troops were sent in.

The first RUC officer to be killed was Constable Victor Arbuckle, shot by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force that was ironically protesting the disarming of the RUC. The bizarre twists and turns of the 30-year conflict are captured in three books by Peter Taylor – Loyalists, Brits, and Provos.

Dissidents
The civil rights movement rejuvenated the IRA. After a so-called “pogrom” in Belfast in August 1969, the graffito “IRA – I Ran Away” began appearing on walls. The Catholic population believed that Goulding’s IRA had deserted them. A group of dissidents emerged which evolved into the Provisional IRA. Initially, the group’s primary objective was to make sure that they would be trained and equipped to defend the Catholic areas of Belfast if loyalists were to attack them. It is ironic now to remember that the British army regarded the IRA as allies rather than enemies. To the IRA, the loyalists were the enemy not the British.
The loyalists insisted on their civil right to stage frequent triumphalist marches through Catholic areas. Both sides became inflamed with sectarian hatreds which the British could not cope with. The Brits became the enemy for loyalists as well as nationalist, victims of the history of plantation and partition.
Even when Ireland became a republic, the IRA continued to “fight” for a united Ireland. Ireland remains divided, though, raising the question, were those deaths worthwhile?

One can appreciate why intelligent young men like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness joined the IRA in 1969 in order to defend the Catholic population. Although initially welcomed by Catholics, the British Army soon alienated them by their actions. The IRA moved from defending Catholics to fighting for a united Ireland, but “fighting” meant setting off bombs that killed babies and other innocent parties.

United Ireland
When Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in 1981, the situation in Northern Ireland was that Catholics had suffered severe discrimination. This was being addressed in the face of recalcitrance from loyalists. However, Bobby Sands was not fighting for an end to discrimination but for a united Ireland. What peace has been achieved in Northern Ireland has come because both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are both members of the EU and much of the Good Friday Agreement was about setting up institutions which covered all Ireland. Although most Irish people are grateful for peace, Bobby Sands’s sister and her husband feel they have the right to interpret his ‘legacy’ by leading the Real IRA in killing innocent people. Some freedom fighters!

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/10177-provos.html#sthash.eqKeP499.dpuf

 

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