Irish Republican News · October 28, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Unionists in denial about decades of injustice

By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)

The main conclusion for northern nationalists arising from the recent debate sparked by Fr Reid’s Nazi/unionist comparison is unionist denial about their role and responsibility for creating the conditions which led to almost 30 years of war.

Unionist politicians are in denial about the decades of injustice they inflicted on the nationalist people of the six counties.

There was not a single unionist at a political, religious or business level prepared to accept their part in this conflict which caused huge loss of life and left a generation of people scarred. Unionists do not have a case to answer when their actions are compared to the magnitude of the Holocaust.

But unionists must deal with the reality that their Orange one-party state generated and perpetuated racist and sectarian attitudes similar to the type of hatred and prejudice that led to the Holocaust.

Their state systematically discriminated against an entire community simply because that community’s nationalist identity was different and could be presented as a threat.

It is more accurate to compare what unionist leaders did here with what whites did in South Africa.

The unionist’s state was every bit as immoral as the state set up by the whites. Both relied on a system of apartheid.

In the 1950s the South African parliament introduced laws to deprive blacks and coloureds of political and economic power.

In the north the unionists relied on the Special Powers Act, a system of political and economic privilege for unionists and Protestants which ghettoised and rendered nationalists powerless.

Underpinning both states was a supremacist ideology, which treated blacks in South Africa and Catholics here as less than full human beings with inalienable rights.

Lord Brookeborough, prime minister from 1943-63 set the standard. He refused to employ Catholics and publicly encouraged other employers to follow his example.

He achieved unionist’s stated aim of creating a ‘Protestant state for a Protestant people’.

The government was unionist and Protestant; the judiciary, unionist and Protestant; the civil service, unionist and Protestant; the police, unionist and Protestant.

The employment practices of the state’s flagship industries, Harland and Wolfe, Shorts, Sirocco, Mackies, rewarded generations of loyal citizens with employment and prosperity while discriminating against Catholics.

Unionist political leaders used different devices to ensure unionist political domination.

The first unionist government very quickly abolished PR for elections and replaced it with a first-past-the- post system.

Unionist majority rule resulted.

Unionist politicians gerrymandered Stormont and local government constituencies turning unionist political minorities into political majorities such as Derry City Council.

To vote you had to be a householder or own a business. Unionists allocated houses and denied them to Catholics.

Many unionist business people had more than one vote.

The umbrella organisation that held it all together was the anti-Catholic Orange Order supported by the Unionist Party, the RUC and the ‘B’ Specials.

The ethos of the state was British and Orange. July 12, the highlight of the Orange Order’s marching season was a public holiday.

BBC and UTV broadcast live Belfast’s Orange march.

All things Irish were illegal, discriminated against or ignored. Display of the Irish tricolour led to arrest. The Irish language was not recognised. Parents regularly had difficulties or were refused the right to register their child’s name in Irish. Gaelic games were treated as if they were foreign.

Add into this mix a significant strain of fundamental Protestantism which views Catholics as heretics.

At his most inflammatory Ian Paisley declared the Pope the “anti-Christ” and said Catholics “breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin”. The DUP’s Sammy Wilson described those who voted for Sinn Fein Councillor Joe Austin as “sub-human”.

At its base and most extreme level the dehumanising of Catholics led to random sectarian violence.

Reduced to non-people it was easy for loyalists to put a bullet in a Catholic’s head or slit their throat as the Shankill butchers did.

Minds filled with hatred, fear and prejudice thought it logical and legitimate.

Such bigotry also found a home among educated middle-class unionists.

Unionist political leaders have to recognise their part in creating the circumstances that led to this conflict. Unless they do they will not find their role in helping to solve it.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News