I’m listening to BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster as I type this and they’re discussing the IRA ceasefire of 1994. All sorts of people – republican ex-prisoners, young people not born then, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, Alan McBride whose wife died in the Shankill bomb. A wide range.
But the discussion itself is narrow beyond words. The entire basis of the interviews is that the IRA was the source of violence and carnage. There’s no hint of what created the IRA, no hint of what part unionist paramilitaries played in the violence, no part of the role of the British army or the RUC. It’s a classic case of decontextualised history. Or to be more accurate, the version of the past that unionism is desperate to have accepted as official history. And that is? Thousands of young men from a nationalist background suddenly took it into their heads that they would start murdering people and went on doing so until it became clear that their slaughter were pointless. They should never have started and we’d have the power-sharing we have today – imperfect as it is – if they’d just stuck with civil rights’ marches. It’s the old mantra: do republicans expect to be thanked when, after decades of sectarian murder, they stop doing so?
In contrast to this, I heard Martin McGuinness briefly on-air. He was making the point that he has now met Queen Elizabeth three times – clearly a stretch, as they say, for republicans. Not a single unionist politician, McGuinness reports, has since spoken to him to acknowledge what he’d done. It’s clear how unionism, supported by the media, wishes to paint the past. It’s depressing to see how little unionism seems prepared to offer for the sake of a better future.