The first involved John Brady, who was found hanged in his cell at Strand Road police station in Derry on Saturday 3 October. Brady was a dissident republican who’d been arrested on Friday 2 October in connection with an alleged assault. His family don’t believe he committed suicide, which is what officialdom is busy claiming was the case. In a final salute, a volley of shots was fired over Brady’s coffin, and this has excited much critical comment in anti-republican ranks. “These are the gestures of a failed and discredited culture” the Irish Examiner told us, “and do not honour anyone’s life or death”.
The second salute, or non-salute, involved the Mayor of Belfast and the Queen of England. The Alliance Party’s Naomi Long drew heavy unionist fire when she didn’t propose a toast to QE2 during the official dinner marking her installation as mayor. DUP councillor Robin Newton said he was ‘greatly saddened’ by this failure and that she’d let down her East Belfast constituents.
Not for the first time, it’s hard to know what the Irish Examiner is on about. It’s a time-honoured practice in military circles to fire shots over the coffin of comrades who have died – the British army do it all the time. Why the dissident republicans’ volley should be described as ‘a culture’, failed or otherwise, is hard to see. The people who fired the shots clearly admired Brady and since they didn’t hit anyone, their volley is harmless and understandable.
The unionists in Belfast’s City Hall were also keen to show the esteem in which they hold Queen Elizabeth II, and they weren’t one bit pleased that Naomi Long didn’t give them the opportunity to so do. Not that QE2 either knew or cared whether they did or not, any more than the dead Brady could care about the salute over his corpse.
But the paramilitaries were speaking, so to say, for their united ranks, when they fired the volley; Naomi Long, had she offered a royal toast, would not have been speaking for at least half and maybe more of the people of Belfast. She clearly was aware of that and sensibly kept her glass on the table. Robin Newton and unionism also know that half, maybe more of Belfast’s population are now nationalist/republican, but they find it hard to accept. Maybe they felt that if Her Majesty could be toasted at the dinner, somehow past unionist hegemony would come flooding into the present on a wave of royal sentiment.
So maybe the Irish Examiner should stop trying to pretend dissident republicans have gone away and Robin Newton and Co should start accepting that the good old, Queen-quaffing days ain’t coming back.