I took part in a Young Unionist debate at the UUP headquarters in Belmont Road on Thursday last. It was, you could say, an occasion of two halves.
The first half – well no, not so much first half as good part – was the civility and warmth with which I was greeted. It wasn’t a huge occasion (our audience was small but perfectly formed) and it wasn’t something that made any great demands on me, but people were repeated in their thanks for my participating. They were young people I enjoyed talking to and debating with. Which is how these things should be: a differing political stance should not interfere with decent relationships between political opponents.
The not-so-good part…No, let me be frank. The depressing part was the view of politics that emerged in the course of the debate and questions from the floor. The topic for debate was the SPADs bill and whether it was a good or a bad thing. In fact, the discussion ranged much more widely than that – back to the establishment of the UVF and further. My reasons for being uncheerful? I’ll try to list them as accurately as I can. If I get any wrong I’m sure I’ll be corrected.
- The Troubles were the fault of a small group of violent republican criminals who murdered ruthlessly for several decades.
- The notion of any equivalence between the IRA and the state/British forces would be laughable if it weren’t so obscene.
- Terrorism is always wrong and to compare the IRA to the ANC, let alone Gerry Adams to Nelson Mandela (I didn’t actually), was ridiculous.
- The notion of commemorating IRA dead with commemorating British army dead was outrageous. So too was the comparison of dressing up of children in IRA uniform/regalia with the Boys’ Brigade (I did actually).
- The SPADs bill was a very good thing and had signalled to republicans that, having been elected to Stormont, they couldn’t just lower a rope-ladder and winch up their hard-line elements at will and give them jobs.
- The conditionality (yes, I hate the word too) of republicans in saying that violence should be suspended now but leaving open the possibility of its resumption in the future was outrageous.
- The formation of the UVF and its threat of violence to the British state was different from the IRA’s violence against the British state because the UVF’s was a defensive threat. It said ‘Here we are, come and get us, but if you do, we’ll use all means to resist’. The IRA, on the other hand, threatened and engaged in violence against the legally-constituted government of the state.
So what’s depressing about all that? Well, it’s that these young men (mainly young men) were full of suspicion of republicans, full of resentment at what they had done, appeared to believe the state played no part in creating the conditions for conflict, and saw no validity of any kind in the notion of Ireland, north and south, as a country.
In terms of attitude, it could have been 1954 or 1961 – things would be fine if republicans would abandon their violent ways and promise never ever to revert to them again (that’s the conditionality thing), and drop this foolish notion of national unity. Meanwhile, the SPADs bill would soften Sinn Féin’s cough for them and would give no succour of any kind to dissident republicans. It would also let Sinn Féin know that because they’d been elected didn’t mean they could enlist the hardline elements in republicanism to join them and work at Stormont.
In a way, the niceness of the people articulating these views made it all the more depressing. Sinn Féin have a policy of outreach to unionism. Judging from Thursday night, lads, you have your work cut out for you.
And these were presumably the “educated,articulate” wing of the Young Unionists.Did you get the impression that they were more right wing than Mike Nesbitt?Maybe the youth section of most parties is always a bit more “extreme” than the parent party.
”The Troubles were the fault of a small group of violent republican criminals who murdered ruthlessly for several decades. ”
Respectfully Mr Collins, as a member of the audience on Thursday night I take exception to the claim that any member of the YUs suggested that The Troubles were started wholly by ‘violent republican criminals’ in isolation of any wider political context.
Nor did – or would – any member seek to justify loyalist paramilitary violence – OR that of rogue members of the state forces. Indeed such actions by such actors were condemned on a par with their republican equivalent.
Truthfully, such an unnecessary distortion does a great disservice to what was – as you yourself acknowledge – a very cordial and respectful evening.
Anon 17:56 – that’d be Dr you’re looking for….:)(never could do those bloody things)
You have the recording so I’m subject to correction indeed.But I got the distinct impression that the Troubles were the result of unnecessary violent action by a small number of violent republicans, with the state playing no part in that.As to violent loyalists, these were indeed condemned for their actions by the YUs and the panel- but while I can’t give the exact wording, I had a very clear impression that there was nothing that could not have been righted peacefully but that a cadre of violent republicans embarked on a killing spree that lasted several decades.
Anon 16:58 – as you ‘ll note from the dazzlingly handsome pic above, Mike Nesbitt was present – although he arrived quite late, he contributed considerably to the discussion. I detected no difference between the views he expressed and those of the YUs. But as I say, they have the recording so they may be able to prove my memory defective. I doubt it, though.
Re your reply to Anon17 56;Do you always insist on being addressed as Dr? Were you trying to make a particular point?
No no no – just having a small chuckle. Little amuses the innocent, Anon…
Jude excusing PIRA terrorism again?
And misrepresenting those who oppose it?
Anon 20:54 – I always think abuse is a very unconvincing form of argument
That’s not abuse. It’s observation.
I wasn’t there on the evening itself but as a long time active member of the YU I can assure you that I have never heard praise for any paramilitaries on either side of the troubles. I hold the belief that terrorism is wrong, no matter what its form. As a unionist I don’t see the difference of someone being convicted in London for “glorifying terrorism” and the recent parade in Castlederg held to commemorate and praise the 2 IRA men who were killed by their own bomb on the way to kill innocent others. SF supported the parade 100%. In your own words,
“Sinn Féin have a policy of outreach to unionism. Judging from Thursday night, lads, you have your work cut out for you.”
Sir, taking Castlederg as an example were was the policy of outreach to Unionism there? Where was the remorse for the murder of innocent people, both Catholic and Protestant. Any “outreach” to Unionism is token as long as they continue to justify and indefensible. So yes, I agree, they do have their work cut out to come across to unionism as sincere.
“The conditionality (yes, I hate the word too) of republicans in saying that violence should be suspended now but leaving open the possibility of its resumption in the future was outrageous.”
The above statement you said makes you uncheerful. I’m not really sure what part of that depresses you. Surely if SF were completely committed to making Northern Ireland a peaceful country, a successful country and one that does not tolerate sectarianism why would they continuously leave the threat of returning to murder on the peripheral to those with opposing views? Surely you see how the threat of violence is completely unacceptable? Where is the shared future in that?
I do not apologise for believing that violence in any form is completely unacceptable. I certainly do not apologise for believing that victims of terrorism should have answers from those involved in murder, but most of all I do not apologise for believing that commemorations of terrorists should be banned. How would New Yorkers feel if there was a commemoration every year to celebrate 9/11?
I think it is unfortunate that the Young Unionists disappointed you, indeed I wish I could have made it. The SPAD bill was a great moment for victims. Look at the strength of Ann Travers who lost her family in a matter of minutes. Surely it’s only right that those who actively rebelled against law and order in our wee country should not be allowed to advise those in charge if making it. I’m not going to stop believing in the rights of victims or the right of justice.
I know how the IRA should be dealt with because I was a terrorist myself once’ – Airey Neave, quoted in Public Servant, Secret Agent from the Irish Times, 31 March 1979.
Do you support the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, proxy-wars like Libya, Syria and Egypt?
War funded and continues to fund the British Empire; I suggest you read ‘In the Public Interest’ by Gerald James. The UK is built on the bodies of soldiers; soldiers kill people, that’s what they do!
So how can you love Great Britain and Britishness and not support violence in any form?
The cognitive dissonance in Northern Ireland is crippling, both sides up to their necks in innocent blood, both sides claiming to want peace and unable to let go of the past. Sad!
I’ve written an account of the debate I’m my blog. Would welcome any comments and if I’ve misrepresented your views I’m willing to correct the article.