Note: Over the last 15 months, I’ve been working on a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981. Some of the insights and quotes here are drawn from my research.
Update 4th November 13:40pm: This is amazing. After tweeting this post on Twitter this afternoon, one of my followers, @andybelfast, replied: “nice piece. Tell ur ma i’m sorry.i lived in sugarfield street and helped make petrol bombs used on Kashmir rd/Bombay st.” Andy added that he was just 9 years old when he did this. It is horrible that children were used in sectarian warfare yet it illustrates a point I made recently: members of organisations like the IRA and UVF were often frightened 15 year olds. I replied to Andy and thanked him for the apology. I also apologised for the actions of my own community. I hope the day comes when we live together as one community instead of two.
It feels like Northern Ireland is at a fork in the road. One way leads to the “dark old days” (a euphemism for The Troubles). The other leads to a (hopefully) permanent peace.
Lately, I’ve been blogging/tweeting/arguing about politics a lot more than I usually do. I was eight years old when the Good Friday Agreement/Belfast agreement was signed. I didn’t see its impact until I was 16, at college and making friends with East Belfast Orangemen. By then, the notion that Protestants and Catholics couldn’t be friends was laughable. We called each other sectarian names with affection. It was our way of distancing ourselves from the pain our communities had inflicted on each other.
We could talk about the past without being angry. My friend’s Grandfather was a B-Special. My Mum was a West Belfast Catholic who saw members of the B-Specials help loyalist mobs burn Bombay Street down. Our family histories intersected in a very tragic way yet to this day, we’re good mates. My Mum harboured no bitterness and I knew well-enough to know that no side or organisation was “all bad”. My friend, for his part, was horrified.
I, too, was horrified to learn of the horrors people from my community had inflicted on my friends families. If I learned anything during those two years at tech, it was that neither side could claim a monopoly on pain. Bar victims, no one could seize the moral high ground.
Yet both sides do. That’s the problem. The peace walls in Northern Ireland are not just physical but mental. When “one of our own” is hurt, we speak out, protest, march. When something happens to “one of them’uns”, we say nothing.
Consequently, much of the conflict was driven by the assumption and fear that the other side harboured only ill-will. This is a belief we need to abandon if we are to avoid another civil war. Read More