Republican News · Thursday 29 June 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Views from the hill


Two views from the hill

Ruth Dudley Edwards was born and brought up in Dublin. She read history at University College Dublin and was a postgraduate at Girton College, Cambridge. She went on to become a civil servant and later, a freelance writer and journalist. ``The Faithful Tribe'' is published by Harper Collins and priced at 17.99.

Susan McKay was born in Derry and now lives in Dublin. She is a staff journalist with the Sunday Tribune . She was one of the founders of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre and was a community worker in Sligo and Fermanagh before becoming a journalist. ``Northern Protestants, An Unsettled People'' is published by Blackstaff Press and priced at 12.99.

A sapling, despoiled of its leaves and branches, stands in a barren field against a darkening sky. Tied at the top of the tree flies a British Union Jack; beneath it an Ulster loyalist flag is unfurled.

The gravest flaw at the heart of the Ulster Protestant community lies in its ambivalence towards sectarian violence. To what extent are Northern Protestants undermined by a sectarianism that few of them acknowledge? asks McKay
In her study, ``Northern Protestants, An Unsettled People,'' Susan McKay argues that ``a sense of place is important in the North of Ireland''. On the front cover, the deserted field at Drumcree provides McKay with an image of desolation which sets the tone of her book.

This is a story of ambivalence, indifference and denial - a story of a community whose greatest peril lies within rather than outside its ranks. The impromptu flagpole may be staked into the ground, but its slender form is insubstantial against the threatening storm.

At the heart of Dudley Edwards' analysis lies a simple model. It is this. If republicans are the bad guys, and if the Orange Order aren't exactly all time good guys, then for Dudley Edwards they're good enough
On the back of ``The Faithful Tribe'', a study of the Orange Order by Ruth Dudley Edwards, the message is subtly different. The image is still of Drumcree field. A bowler-hatted figure stands silhouetted beneath a flying Union Jack.

It's an archetypal image of Britishness, but in this particular corner of Empire, the sun has already set. This records the closing, not the beginning of an era. The immediate nostalgia evoked by the image is dispelled by the harsh reality barely visible on the horizon.

The flag may be illuminated, but only by the artificial lights of British Crown force personnel deployed to thwart the Orangemen's determination to walk down the Garvaghy Road. This is a story of inexplicable betrayal.

For Dudley Edwards, the Orange Order represents ``the old virtues of family, sobriety, self reliance, hard work and thrift''. Her study opens with a quote from an English Orangeman reminiscing about his childhood and remarking on the fate of fellow Orangemen in the north of Ireland today.

``It's the Blue Remembered Hills: you can't go back. We can all see that community and experience a sense of loss - because we know where we've come from. But it makes me feel angry that an entire community should be demonised for no greater crime than being out of fashion.''

McKay has no time for such misplaced sentimentality. The gravest flaw at the heart of the Ulster Protestant community lies in its ambivalence towards sectarian violence. To what extent are Northern Protestants undermined by a sectarianism that few of them acknowledge? asks McKay.

She probes into the darkest regions first, describing in depth the sectarian killings of two Catholic teenagers, Bernadette Martin and James Morgan.''I wanted to explore the influences which were capable of producing such violent hatred,'' says McKay.

``Bernadette Martin and James Morgan were young people full of life and much loved. Their circles included Catholics, Protestants, and others who had allegiance to neither faith. But to the men who murdered them, they were simply taigs, fenians. The enemy.''

McKay displays no ambiguity when it comes to sectarian violence; the passion with which she describes the circumstances surrounding the killings and the compassion with which she identifies with the victims, speaks for itself.

``Both of the killers [of Bernadette and James] supported the Orange Order. Trevor McKeown was a Drumcree foot soldier. Norman Coopey was an Orangeman, a member of the brotherhood.''

Within the Protestant community, such violence is not typical, says McKay, but it does represent the worst outcome of a type of strong political Protestantism. ``How, in some, did being `proud to be Protestant' turn pathological?'' she asks.

For Ruth Dudley Edwards, sectarian violence isn't spawned from within the Protestant community or Orangeism. Dudley Edwards might record Orangemen describing themselves as ``blockheaded bigots'', but she sees sectarian violence as the game plan of the Republican Movement.

``It was Drumcree, at the Mecca of Orangeism, that was to become the centre of the IRA/Sinn Féin strategy of setting not just Protestant against Catholic and unionist against nationalist, but the loyal institutions against the state to which they were so fervently loyal.''

Republican cynicism has no bounds for Dudley Edwards. The IRA ``hope to provoke retaliation'' and ``the kicking to death of Robert Hamill and the shooting of Adrian Lamph ``helped [Breandán] Mac Cionnaith win a council seat.''

d then there's the do nothing theory of social change. ``Without the 25 years of assault from the IRA, the Orange Order would have almost withered away,'' says Dudley Edwards.

She acknowledges that ``in Portadown itself, with its big Protestant majority, violence against Catholics has been a constant'' and that ``Portadown parades have often provided a focal point for sectarian conflict''.

But although the author provides scant evidence to support it, for Dudley Edwards sectarian violence is reciprocal. Two warring tribes, with the RUC ``caught in the middle'' and Dublin interference and''well meaning English belief in balance and compromise'' making the situation worse''.

At the heart of Dudley Edwards' analysis lies a simple model. It is this. If republicans are the bad guys, and if the Orange Order aren't exactly all time good guys, then for Dudley Edwards they're good enough.

The fundamental flaw at the heart of the analysis is this. The right to live free from sectarian harassment is a northern nationalist as well as republican aspiration. Dudley Edwards fails to address the hopes and fears of the nationalist community. They are portrayed simply as dupes of the IRA.

Thus, residents' spokespersons are ``frontmen'' and their mandate is ``bogus''. Breandán Mac Cionnaith is an ``unrepentant ex terrorist'' and Father Eamon Stack, a ``fanatical'' Jesuit who ``stalked the Garvaghy Road hunting for state injuries''. Irish Americans who give them a sympathetic hearing are ``die hards''.

Dudley Edwards' analysis almost falters when in 1998 she decides that ``the Sinn Féin agenda would not be helped by mayhem at Drumcree''. Her solution is to demonise Breandán Mac Cionnaith even further.

``Journalists who had known Mac Cionnaith for three years confirmed to me that he seemed megalomaniacal. One man has actually managed to flout the will of virtually everybody.''

So forget 200-odd years of Orange inspired bigotry and decades of unionist misrule, ignore the anti Catholic pogroms of the 1920s and the 1960s, and sideline the campaign of sectarian assassination perpetrated by loyalists in the name of Drumcree. It's all Mac Cionnaith's fault.

Dudley Edwards often collapses her analysis of the opinions of the Orangemen of which she writes so sympathetically. Breandán Mac Cionnaith is currently being actively targeted by loyalist death squads. Rosemary Nelson is already dead. The demonisation of individuals is a very dangerous business in the north of Ireland.

Of course, Dudley Edwards has no sympathy for loyalist violence. Sectarian violence around Drumcree is just another form of extremism, distinct from mainstream Orangeism. So when the Orange Order's Grand Master, Robert Saulters, is reported as having said that Tony Blair had ``sold his Protestant birthright by marrying a Romanist'', this is not a sectarian remark, merely a deeply religious one.

``Inevitably I tried and failed to explain to horrified English and Irish people that such a remark did not mean that Saulters was a mad bigot,'' write Dudley Edwards, ``but instead that he took his religion seriously in a way which was incomprehensible to a secular world.''

One minute Orangemen are singled out for praise because of their plain speaking, the next they don't really mean what they say. Misunderstood and ill treated, they are inevitably led towards ill conceived acts of frustration.

``As I became closer to the loyal institutions and made more friends within them,'' says Dudley Edwards, ``I was constantly angered by the sheer unfairness of the way in which they were perceived outside their community.''

At Drumcree, Dudley Edwards watched as an Orangeman ``briefly succumbed to frustration and rage and was seen screaming at the RUC''. Another, ``a pillar of his local community - completely lost control when he saw the razor wire, for it conjured up an image of the trenches at the Somme''.

While Dudley Edwards accepts the Orange Order's perception of its own martyrdom, McKay is more questioning. She cites an incident in which an Orange supporters' march in Portadown was confronted by the RUC.

McKay describes a handful of RUC, ``undecided'' about what they were about to do: ``Several held batons, but did not use them. They did not block the footpath, so the parade simply moved sideways off the road and resumed its route.''

But the marchers were ``furious''. The behaviour of the RUC was ``a disgrace'' and partisan. It was the ``same police force'' who had ``protected an illegal Sinn Féin march in Belfast... but here, they drew their batons,'' said one angry marcher.

``The rage seemed disproportionate. Righteous indignation gone hysterical. I had no doubt that this citizen had been entirely in approval when, during Drumcree 1997, the RUC drew their batons on nationalists who were protesting by sitting on the Garvaghy Road,'' says McKay.

Nationalist protesters had been ``grabbed, beaten, lifted, carried through the first line of police, which then closed behind them. Then they were flung through the second line.'' They emerged ``bloody headed and bruised'' while ``the Orangemen passed down the road beyond the RUC lines''.

The decision to stop the Orange march in 1998 was ``to the Drumcree supporters, a matter of betrayal and surrender,'' says McKay. ``A young man... stood in a circle cleared by the incandesence of his anger.

``He looked like a firework exploding. `They're nothing but fucking animals them bastards on the Garvaghy Road,' he roared, `if they don't give us the Garavghy Road, we'll fucking take it by force.'

``Then they sang, `The Lord is my shepherd'. The last time I had heard the beautiful psalm,'' says McKay, `` was at the funeral, in the summer of 1997, of James Morgan, murdered by an Orangeman.''

McKay identifies what she calls a ``craving for victimhood''. In an interview with a Portadown Orangeman, whose ``sash was worn over a shoulder which also bore a UDA tattoo,'' McKay exposes the doublethink at the heart of the Drumcree protest.

The decision to reroute the Orange march away from the Garvaghy Road in 1998 filled John with `fierce rapture'.

`I hope and pray Mo Mowlam will stick by what she says. The Ulster people will be united again. If the Orange Order is battered here, it is going to unite the people,' says John.

`This will be our Alamo. This'll be Custer's last stand. When the British people see British subjects being battered on the streets of Portadown, when they see British blood running down the faces of the people... only looking to walk the Queen's highway, they will think those people have the right.

`This will be our Bloody Sunday,' says John.

``John carved such a martyrdom for his people,'' writes McKay. ``He wanted blood sacrifice, filmed and photographed. Blood to wash away the image of Protestants as triumphalist bullies, and show them as the true victims.''

But of course fenian blood is also on the agenda. ``The little boy stood silently listening. John ruffled his hair. He told me this was his grandchild. `I'm bringing him up to the gun,' he said. `Sing the girl a song, son. Sing her ``The Billy Boys''.'

``The child stood to attention. Then he sang: ``We are, we are, we are the Billy Boys...' When he sang the line, `We're up to our necks in fenian blood', John grinned, patted the child on the head, and punched the air.''

But McKay doesn't just concern herself with the active sectarianism of the few. She is just as concerned with the ambivalence towards sectarianism found amongst the less overt.

`There was more to that than meets the eye,' said the woman, `you wouldn't know what it was about, but there is no way it was sectarian. This is not a sectarian town.' She was talking of the murders of the three Quinn children, burnt to death in a loyalist petrolbomb attack on their Ballymoney home in the early hours of 12 July 1998.

McKay describes the woman as ``kindly, an evangelical Presbyterian from the professional classes'' and she was saying what almost everyone else McKay had met from the Protestant community in Ballymoney had said.

McKay describes Ballymoney as ``peaceful enough''. A predominantly Protestant town ``nestled on the western edge of Paisley's Bible belt heartland in North Antrim but ``where a Catholic minority seemed to live quietly''.

But behind the denials, there was a more sinister reality which many people in Ballymoney refused to recognise. When the nearby nationalist village of Dunloy objected to an Orange march through its main street, sectarian tension rather than toleration was the response in Ballymoney town.

``Pastor Alan Campbell preached a sermon in the town, in which he claimed that what was really going on in Harryville `is the ancient battle between the true church, Protestantism, and the Whore, the Beast, and the Baal worshippers within Catholicism'.

For 20 months, Orange Order supporters, protesting against the rerouting of their parade away from Dunloy, picketed a Catholic chapel in Harryville, Ballymena .''The picket at Harryville was frightening,'' says McKay.

``The demonstrators attacked Catholics, threw bricks through their car windows, and on one occasion broke into a house and beat up people in their beds. They also hurled abuse, grunted like pigs at the worshipper, and tried to burn out both the chapel and the priest's house in the grounds.''

Then in 1997, in the centre of Ballymoney, a loyalist mob attacked an off-duty RUC man, Greg Taylor. The mob, a local flute band and its supporters had recognised the RUC officer from the barriers at Dunloy. They kicked him to death in the street.

But ``people in Ballymoney disputed the evidence about this murder too. `That was nothing to do with Dunloy,' said a teacher....'there was more to that than meets the eye.' Others said it was `just drink'.''

Denial would also shape the people of Ballymoney's response to the Quinns' killings a year later. Even residents living on the same housing estate as the Quinn family deny the killings were sectarian.

``Josie had lived on the Carnany estate for almost 20 years and loved it. She was angry at media coverage of the Quinn murders. `They made a mountain out of a molehill,' she said. `They went overboard. They were crawling all over the place.

`Now people say about Carnany. ``That's a bad place.'' If it was, I wouldn't be here.' The community centre ran courses and fun days and had darts and snooker and TV for the children. On St. Patrick's Day, 17 March, they had an Irish stew night.''

Strangely, reports McKay, ``no one spoke to me in Ballymoney about the shame or damage after the Quinn and Taylor murders. Instead, they offered reasons for the murders. Some went to the brink of justifying them.

``People insisted that the murders had nothing to do with Drumcree, nothing to do with Dunloy, nothing to do with sectarianism, nothing to do with the Orange Order,'' says McKay.

``Middle class people said that some of the people involved in the killing of Taylor were `from respectable families'. By contrast, Taylor had jeopardised his own respectability. He had separated from his wife for a time.''

Susan McKay places the dynamic of Drumcree within the wider Protestant community. There are many dissenting voices, which deserved equally to be heard but which I have not included in this article.

Ruth Dudley Edwards' vision may be coloured by her support for the Orange Order and an anti-republican agenda, but her study does offer some insights into the mindset of many people within the Protestant community.

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