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24 February 2003. The UDA has recently announced a 12 month cessation in paramilitary activity. Forgive me if I remain sceptical. Even if the UDA is genuine, their stance regarding decommissioning remains an issue.
26 October 2002. So the Assembly has been
suspended and Tony Blair has given an ultimatum to the IRA to
disband. That scares me a bit. I'm scared that the IRA will just
turn around and walk out of the peace process altogether. In saying
that, however, I guess that that's what a lot of people mean when they
say that the IRA can't keep using the threat of violence to get what
Mick Fealty has some interesting things to say about the breakdown of the Assembly at Letter to Slugger O'Toole.
It will be interesting to see what sort of progress that Paul Murphy can make in the current environment. Indeed, I really don't know where he can go from here. The ball is, once again, firmly in the terrorists' hands (that applies to loyalists as well as republicans).
8 October 2002. Well, it looks like it's all going to pot again. We have had four good(-ish) years of self-rule, but now it's all falling apart. Self-rule was starting to make a real difference, with local issues finally starting to come to the fore, but with direct rule looking imminent, it looks like we are going to lose that.
28 August 2002. Last week, footballer Neil Lennon decided to quit international football after death threats by a loyalist terror group. This just seems incredibly petty to me. I mean, the man is a footballer for gods' sakes! All that he wanted to do was play for his country, and let's be honest, it isn't as if we can pick and choose! The incredible bigotry here just totally overwhelms me, not to mention making me ashamed to be Northern Irish.
In the middle of July 2002, on the anniversary of Bloody Friday, the IRA made an apology to the civilian victims of its campaign of violence over the past thirty years and also acknowledged the grief caused to the families of the security forces killed over that period.
Reaction to the statement has been mixed but I find it encouraging. It may or may not have been sincere, but the very fact of its existence is enough to make me hope again (and anybody reading these pages will know how often that hope has been dashed).
In the middle of October 2001, the IRA did something that it has never done before. It verifiably put arms beyond use, a process confirmed by the independent decommisioning body. This is something that the entire media got very excited about and called one of the most significant developments in the history of the peace process.
I should be excited as well. This action finally offers the prospect of bringing peace to Northern Ireland. And I really want to be excited, but we've been here too many times before. I don't want to get excited about this, only to have my hopes come crashing down on me as has happened so many times in the past. I have my fingers crossed that something will come from this, and indeed, the signs are good. David Trimble and his ministers have returned to the Assembly, mere weeks after they resigned meaning that the Northern Irish Institutions wouldn't have to be suspended after all.
Barely a month before this announcement, however, it was all so different. Watching pictures of frightented children trying to get to school amongst violent protests and jeers. It should have been an exciting time for many children starting school for the first time, or returning for the new year, but instead it was marred by protests and violence. Over what? The route taken by school children to get to their school. I mean this really has to take the biscuit. I really feel for those children. I can't imagine what it would be like to have that kind of abuse hurled at you for no reason. And that's what it seems like to me – there is no reason for these attacks on children, especially on children who have no part in these racist attacks. Yes, I call them racist, I can think of no other reason for it. People may hide behind a shield of politics and history, but when it comes down to it, it's just plain racism.
Under no circumstances, however, am I excusing the other branch of the North Belfast community. They too have attacked their neighbours over the past few months but my point is that children should not be involved in this. They should not be shouted at, jeered, attacked or bombed. The children are our future, they are our only chance to be freed from this violence, and these sorts of attack can only fuel the hatred and pass it down to yet another generation.
It was an article in Reader's Digest magazine that made me realise that I have never once mentioned one of the most important people in Northern Irish politics as well as being one whom I respect deeply -- Mo Mowlam. Dr. Mowlam spent two years doing a very difficult job, whilst being disparaged from all sides. I feel that it was in a large part due to her efforts that the Good Friday Agreement has got as far as it has now and I wish her all the best in her new role in the Cabinet. Dr. Mowlam is very much a people person whose popularity can be seen in the fact that she has won the Woman of the Year award for two years in a row. I only wish that I had as much confidence in her successor, Peter Mandelson as I had in Mo Mowlam.
History may well come to tell us that Friday 10th
April 1998 was an historic day in the history of the province of Northern
Ireland, the day that was the beginning of the end of the violence of the last
30 years, but the Omagh Bombing hasn't exactly given me confidence in the
Agreement. This bombing, carried out by the so-called "Real IRA" (they couldn't
even come up with an original name) has been the worst in the history of the
Northern Irish Troubles. I was working in Fermanagh on that terrible Saturday
and heard about it on the radio on the way home - passing through
Omagh. At that time, about 10 people were reported dead, by the time
that we got home, the number of dead was up to 21 and but it wasn't until the
next day that the final body count of 28 was revealed. 28 candles that have
been extinguished; 28 lights that will never shine again, with a 29th person dying
two weeks later from their injuries.
In my opinion, the most terrible thing in the atrocity was the murder of a woman pregnant with twins. Two unborn children, innocent in the ways of the world; two children who will never see the light of day; who will never feel the sun and wind on their faces; who will never experience love. Saturday 15th August 1998 was truly a black day in the history of our Province.
The feeling that I had when I first heard the news was a deep sorrow mixed with
anger. In the hours following the bombing, I almost lost faith in human
nature itself. It made me think what evil people that there have to be amongst
us to carry out such an act. My horror deepened as it was revealed that the
bombers had misled the police into moving the public from the Courthouse area
into the town centre, where the bomb was. What sick minds could do such a
They do say that it is an ill wind that blows no good but the good in this is buried very deep. It has been noted that Gerry Adams has utterly condemned the act - the first time that a Republican has condemned an act carried out by a Republican organisation in such terms. This could show just how isolated that these fringe organisations are. Although I am loath to say it, maybe an act like this was necessary to bring things to a head, maybe this will be the turning point that is recorded in history, not the actual Agreement itself. Only time will tell. On Saturday 22nd August 1998 - exactly one week after the Omagh bombing - the INLA also declared a ceasefire. In their declaration, they said that the decision had been made before the bombing and is a result of the overwhelming desire of the people of the island of Ireland for peace - as declared in the parallel referenda in May.
On Saturday 8th August 1998, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) declared that it's campaign of violence is totally and unequivocally over. I think that this is one of the most significant announcements since the IRA ceasefire. This announcement has, as of Friday 18th December 1998, been backed up with a "modest but significant" destruction of weapons. A total of nine weapons, along with assorted ammunition, were destroyed at an event to which the media was invited. This is the first time in the history of the Troubles that paramilitary weapons have been handed in to the authorities of the group's own free will. In my opinion, this also puts a lot of pressure on the IRA and other Republican organisations since the LVF was the last major Loyalist terror group still "active" so now that it has declared that it's campaign is over and so puts the ball firmly back in the Republican court, so to speak.
Of course there are things that I don't like in the Agreement (first and foremost the early release of prisoners) and I would think that the same is true of the majority of the population; but I, unlike the majority of Ulster's politicians, understood the need to compromise. Over time, however, the majority of our politicians do appear to have learnt this lesson though and that's why they stayed in the negotiation process. The only political exceptions to this are the DUP and the UK Unionists. These two parties have, in my opinion, no desire for reconciliation. Either that, or they are too afraid to fight for their beliefs where it counts - at Stormont. Their excuse is that they will never talk to terrorists, but this is a ridiculous stance. In every conflict there comes a point when opposing parties must sit and resolve the situation - no matter what has happened in the past. The most recent comparison is with the former Yugoslavia. There, all sides have sat down (albeit with some assistance) and worked out a solution. This must also eventually happen in Northern Ireland. The majority of the parties have accepted this and now the unthinkable has happened – the Republicans and Loyalists have actually sat down on opposite sides of the same table. This has now led, through much blood, sweat and tears – too much blood and tears – to a tentative Agreement.
The Agreement has now got the support and endorsement for all the parties that took part in the Peace Process. On the 22nd May 1998, the Agreement was put to the people of the island of Ireland in a parallel referendum. Unfortunately, I was unable to vote, since my application for a postal vote was received too late, but I prayed for a Yes vote and I thank God that this happened. I would have liked a greater majority in favour than the 71% that we got in the North, but I am just glad that it has happened; the 94% majority in the South showed a great desire, I think, on the part of the people of Ireland for the Troubles in Ulster to end.
On 25th June 1998, I voted to elect the members of the Assembly
that will govern Northern Ireland from now on. I voted
primarily for the Alliance Party simply because they were the only
cross-community party available to me (and I'm not mad enough to
vote Natural Law!)
The Northern Ireland Assembly met for the first time in July 1998 to elect a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister. And so it is that David Trimble (Ulster Unionist Party) is the first First Minister of our Province and Seamus Mallen (Social Democratic Labour Party) is his deputy along with Lord Alderdice as Speaker. This is, in itself, very encouraging since our First Minister is a Unionist while his deputy is a Nationalist, it shows a willingness on the part of both of the two major political parties to co-operate. Another very strange sight was seeing Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams sitting in the same room as each other during this debate and even hurling insults at each other -- indirectly, of course.
Normally, I am proud of being a citizen of Northern Ireland, I can hold my head up high whenever somebody asks me where I'm from, but there are two weeks of the year that make me ashamed to be Northern Irish – the weeks leading up to and following the Twelfth of July. The 2000 marching season has been a disgrace to all right thinking folk in Northern Ireland. I can't believe that there were 'pillars of the community' inciting people to violence! Luckily, I wasn't in the Province during this marching season, since I was working in Glasgow, but seeing the images on TV made me almost weep. The major thing that has occured to me this year, having an outside perspective on events, is that it is extremely childish, on both sides, but especially the Orange Order. They have been reliving past glories for the past 300 odd years, at the expense of a sizable proportion of the population. Frankly, I can understand why the catholic community is upset. If a certain segment of society spent two weeks every year celebrating, say, the victory over Germany in the Second World War, I dare say that many people would be quite upset, or even outraged. They are both events that happened a long time ago. We should learn about them in the classroom in an objective fashion, but not rub peoples' noses in it.
I was away for most of the 1999 marching season, on holiday (possibly the best place to be doing during those two weeks!), so don't really know what happened this year, but from what I was able to pick up on the news after I got back, although there had been trouble, especially around Drumcree (as usual), it was not on the same scale as 1998.
The 1998 marching season in particular ashamed and disgusted me and every right thinking individual of Ulster. Seeing the barricades being erected at Drumcree and the resulting violence throughout the Province has deeply saddened me; I know that the majority of the people demonstrating there were doing it peacefully, but why did they have to demonstrate at all? The Orange Order broke the law in attempting to march down the Garvahy Road, after the decision of the independent Parades Commission. It's only a damned march for goodness sake, a few hundred metres of tarmac - it wasn't worth the lives of three children. And not only the members of the Orange Order either. People of Garvahy Road, WHY do you object so much to a few dozen people walking up your road wearing ridiculous orange scarves and bowler hats? I mean, it could just a bit of fun really, if you try - turn it into a bit of a family day out, watching the band walking past, munching on a couple of sandwiches and enjoy the day. I realise that this is inherently unlikely, but one can but hope. Here, I must be fair and commend the people of the Lower Ormeau Road in keeping their protest peaceful and abiding by the decision of the Parades Commission. Although, the cynical part of me asks whether that would have happened if the Quinn brothers had not been murdered the day before.
There was, however, a ray of hope, however, in that marching
season. The Apprentice Boys had planned to march through the
Bogside area of Derry against the wishes of the local community.
This situation was resolved with a compromise – the
first that I had heard of in that season. I would claim, as
did the representative of the Bogside residents, that this is a
victory for common sense and would like to think that this is a
sign of things to come.
However, on the day, things did not go as smoothly. There was violence on both sides – with, as usual, the police in the middle. The RUC did, however, say that they believed that the violence was unorchestrated and due to a small minority against the wishes of the community leaders.
If I were a betting man, I would wager that if you asked everybody taking part in any of the Orange marches, less than 50% of them could tell you the political causes and repercussions of the Battle of the Boyne, heck, I wonder how many of them could tell you where the Boyne actually is? I mean, a cause is all very well, but only if you know what it's about. People take part in marches and talk about heritage this and culture that, but if they don't know about the historical background to that culture and heritage then they should just damn well shut up.
I would also like to use this page to convey my thanks to the RUC and the other security forces in Northern Ireland. During all this, it is they who are trapped in the middle. They bore the brunt of all the attacks at Drumcree and too many of them have died in bombings and shootings at the hands of terrorists too cowardly to even show themselves and fight outright. The security forces have tried their best and have been attacked by both sides in this conflict. What I would have done at Drumcree is evacuate the children and then remove the security forces and buffer zone and let the damned people kill each other – and then make whoever is left pay for all the damage caused and for the callout of the emergency services and hospital treatment. Hit them where it hurts – the pocket. People – and I use that in the loosest sense of the word – who behave like savages should not be allowed the benefits of civilisation. Okay, so maybe allowing them to kill each other is a bit extreme, but I mean it about payment, why should we have to pay for their actions?
I know that the RUC and security forces have committed some terrible crimes over the past thirty odd years, and I in no way endorse these acts. A police force should be there to keep the peace, and events like Bloody Sunday did nothing to help the situation. The truth should be uncovered (which is what the Saville enquiry is attempting to do) and then appropriate action taken, but remember why the army was called in to Northern Ireland in the first place – it was an attempt to protect the citizens of the Province from attacks by terrorist organisations. By and large, I believe that it has succeeded in this task, in the face of much adversity, so cut them some slack! What happened in the past was wrong, but we have to get over it and look more to the future and how we're going deal with that. We shouldn't be continually re-enacting the past.
The first few steps on the Yellow Brick Road to peace have been
taken, the problem is that we seem to take one step forward and two
steps back. The Agreement, quite obviously, is not in itself
a complete peace settlement in it's own right, but now it has been
endorsed, then we can begin what John Hume has called the "healing
process" between the two communities of this Province and
eventually incorporate the extreme terrorist factions.
Not long before the referendum, there was a television discussion programme in which David Dimbleby interviewed leading 5 political figures in Northern Ireland, and was open to questions and comments from the audience. One comment from this programme sticks in my mind. Ian Paisley had accused David Trimble of being on the same side as the terrorists (i.e. Sinn Fein and the UDP/PUP) in wanting a Yes vote and a member of the audience commented that he, Ian Paisley, was on the same side as the most extreme terrorists – i.e. the No campaign. I thought that this was an extremely eloquent and well made point.
I really don't how to make this point, but why can't we all just
live in peace? If you stand outside on a clear night (even in
a city) and look up, you can see one of the most beautiful sights
in nature – the night sky. Each of the little points of
light are stars, maybe with their own planets around them.
There are over 10 billion stars in our galaxy – the
Milky Way – and over 10 billion galaxies in the known
universe, giving over 1022 stars in the known universe
(that's 10 thousand million million million). In this
enormous scale, the planet Earth is truly insignificant. In
view of this scale, why the hell are we fighting over a (quite
small) piece of rock? We should work together instead of
fighting each other.
At the dawn of the 21st century, national borders are almost irrelevant, not only can I walk over the border from Northern Ireland to the Republic any time that I want, but electronic communication and the Internet traverse all borders. Heck, my town (Strabane) and it's counterpart over the border (Lifford) have even built a joint cinema together. I believe that peace is the first step to a new Age of the world – a united nation of Earth. Only once the world is at peace – both civil and national – then the first building block can be laid for this new planetary state. For only as a single, united people can we truly relieve the current problems in the Developing world and elsewhere, as well as combining the world's resources towards current scientific problems, for example to achieve nuclear fusion. We have the technology and resources to ensure that nobody in the world need ever be hungry, but it is politics that prevent this from happening. Only under a single world state can there ever be a co-ordinated world effort to solve this situation.
I would like to end this discussion with the following
Although I am of Indian ethnic origin, my heart belongs to Northern Ireland. I was born and bred there and my heart still lies there, despite that fact that I'm living in the City of Glasgow in Scotland. I love my Province; I love the land, I love the country and I love the people. I don't want to see the island that I love so dearly destroyed from within in the way that it has been over the past 30 years. When I look out of my bedroom window out at the Donegal mountains I think that this is all too beautiful to destroy, that nobody living in such surroundings could hate anything so much. But time and time again, I have been proved wrong, with almost daily news of a shooting or maiming in our Province.
For over forty thousand years, humanity has been known as Homo Sapiens – the Wise Man. Now is our chance to prove our wisdom, we can and must, live and work side by side; Catholic and Protestant, Hindu and Muslim must stand shoulder to shoulder to end the violence. I am aware that the majority of people are peaceloving, but we must educate the minority. In my opinion, we must look on a time scale of generations since the prejudices and hatreds of this generation are too deeply ingrained to change, but we can mould the minds of the young; teach them to love rather than hate. As for this generation, what I would do with anybody convicted of any sectarian offence would be to sterilise them permanently, this will remove their ability to pass their prejudices on to any offspring. Extreme? Of course, but do they deserve any more, and more importantly, does our planet deserve any less?
On this note I will end this discussion, I hope that it may have interested you and perhaps you will join our cause - wear a white ribbon, join the marches and above all – keep the faith. There will be peace in Ulster and the World. Our work, however, is to ensure that it is the peace of billions of people living and working together in harmony, not the peace brought about by the self-extinction of the Human species...