CIVIL RIGHTS THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR
5 September 2001
Observers of our conflict are never short of something to say, not all of which stays in the memory for long. But there are a couple of particular insights provided by two men, the enduring relevance of which ensures that no trawling through the archives is required in order to find them. Both are pertinent as they provide a window of understanding which helps to illuminate some of the issues plaguing Ardoyne at present.
The republican writer Danny Morrison once wrote that when times were at their worst for himself and his colleagues the British or their allies would perpetrate some howler that would get republicans out of a tight spot. No matter how bleak things are the opposition could always be relied upon to snatch its own defeat from the jaws of victory. The Unionist academic Paul Bew at one time mused, more out of exasperation than passion, about the capacity of 'stupid unionism' to score limitless own-goals. Even if you can't put one in the onion bag yourself, don't worry, unionism will score it for you.
Yesterday, Billy Hutchinson of the PUP tried to invalidate the strength of this logic. He may as well have moved to defy gravity. In a damage limitation exercise he claimed that the hate gauntlet mounted by loyalists on Catholic schoolchildren was the result of a situation manufactured by republicans to shift the uncomfortable spotlight from the Colombian story. Loyalists, we are supposed to believe, are the innocent dupes of a fiendish republican plot.
Only the terminally dishonest would contend that Sinn Fein were not over a barrel regarding Colombia. Furthermore, the party had been progressively isolated on the policing and decommissioning issues. And it is true that anything offering to take the heat off would constitute a much needed source of relief. But to blame Sinn Fein as a means of disguising the wanton stupidity and naked hatred of loyalism is as far removed from the truth as Bogotá is from Belfast.
The strategic intellect guiding loyalist hate crime in Ardoyne is as shallow as the bigotry motivating it is deep. As a friend so ably characterised the motivation today, 'so the fenians want Alabama - lets give them Alabama; so they want to make idiots out of us - let's make idiots out of ourselves'. Only a combination of the bigoted and the blind would confirm the accuracy of both Morrison and Bew by finding their way from Bogotá to Alabama in a single morning and changing their own fortunes in one fell swoop.
Billy Hutchinson and his colleagues could do worse than radically reappraise their stance in relation to what is happening in Ardoyne. They need to consider the animosity they have generated in the nationalist community by their defence of the hate thugs, thus making themselves indistinguishable from the UDP front-men for those bombing Catholic homes. And they must not lend succour to the notion that Catholic kids should go to the back of the school. The supremacist notion that seeks to place Catholics in a sort of servant class - under the stairs types who may use the back - fed into the anger and resentment which plunged this part of the world into a prolonged conflict much more so than any hankering after a united Ireland for its own sake. Going to the back may defuse a situation temporarily but the long terms cost would be civil and human rights going to the back of the queue.