By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
In the summer of 1969, when the Catholic people of Bombay Street and many streets surrounding it in west Belfast were being burnt out of their homes by the unionist government’s armed forces in the RUC and the ‘B’ Specials, and loyalists from the nearby Shankill Road, my parents were ushering us children - all 10 of us - from our Bryson Street home to my granny’s home a few streets away in Lowry Street.
My parents believed Lowry Street was safer for their children should the unionist state visit the Short Strand with the same violence they used in Bombay Street.
My granny was elderly and frightened and so were we. She told us stories from her youth about British soldiers, policemen and loyalists burning Catholic people’s homes and shooting people in the streets.
My granny’s memories were from the year 1920 when the Catholic people of the north paid for partition with their lives, their homes and their property. Between 1969 and 1971 we returned several times to my granny’s for safety until in August 1971, during internment week, we lost our Bryson Street home to threats from loyalists.
My family went to live in Rathcoole where they were subjected to sectarian abuse by loyalists until they were eventually forced to leave their second home and seek refuge in Twinbrook.
My family’s story is typical and mild compared to what other families experienced in the years since partition.
Had we not had the IRA in the Short Strand and many other places in the north the loss of life in those years might well have been a lot higher.
The IRA was a product of Britain’s occupation to leave their second home and seek refuge in Twinbrook.
My family’s story is typical and mild compared to what other families experienced in the years since partition. Had wenothad the IRA in theShort Strand and many other places in the north the loss of life in those years might well have been a lot higher. The IRA was a product of Britain’s occupation of Ireland; of partition and unionist injustice.
The IRA’s actions from the late sixties were not spontaneous. They were handed down from history; learnt prior to partition in the War of Independence and the Civil War. The 26-county state is a product of the IRA. It would not exist but for the IRA’s actions. The Dail, the Irish government, Aras an Uachtarain, are all products of the IRA’s actions.
The freedom enjoyed by the candidates in the presidential election is owed in great part to the sacrifices made by men and women who took up arms against the British, fought and died or went to prison and laid the foundations for independence for that part of our nation.
Had the IRA not challenged Britain it would still be in occupation of all of Ireland. In my youth the IRA protected us in our beds at night from the violence of the unionist state. It was all that we had. No-one else cared about protecting northern Catholics but the IRA.
We were abandoned after 1920 by all parties in the south.
They did not care how we were treated. We were left to fend for ourselves. We had no rights in our own country.
Every part of us screamed for recognition as part of the Irish nation. The Irish government and its establishment turned a deaf ear to those screams.
Until 1969 the unionist government found it easy to deprive us of our political, cultural and economic rights. Our religiousbeliefs were regularly mocked.
Until 1969 the Irish government ignored the violence used by the unionist government to terrorise nationalists.
The reemergence of the IRA alter 1969 altered the balance of power in the north. The unionists, and then the British crown forces, could no longer inflict their violence on nationalists with impunity.
The IRA’s willingness to light gave the nationalist people negotiating power and gave us the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions just as its willingness to light between 1916and 1919deliveredthe institutions of the southern state.
The IRA is an intrinsic part of this nation’s history; of its political evolution.
The people of this nation know their history and the IRA’s place in it.
They are unlikely to be deflected from their views about Martin McGuinness whose status, as a one-time highly respected leader of the IRA, enabled him to become an outstanding advocate of peace.
He is a very worthy occupant to inhabit Aras an Uachtarain should the people choose to elect him - the people, not the media.