Time to forgive ……..
In September 5th 1972, I was walking to school from the Lower Ormeau Road to St. Marys Christian Brothers’ Grammar School Barrack Street. I was 15 years old exactly, it was my birthday. At 8.45 a m a UDR patrol pulled up in front of me at the top of Ireton Street between Botanic Avenue and Wolsey street in South Belfast. After a few minutes when they established my identity and the Christian names of both my parents, Margaret and Isadore, I felt dark clouds coming down quickly. A young member of this regiment then casually put a pistol at my mouth, told me to open wide, the way a dentist tells you to do it and called me a Fenian Bastard.
It’s hard to believe that until that day, I didn’t really know what the word Fenian meant and as for the word bastard, well never let your mother hear you say such profanity. My mother Peggy Whyte was murdered by the UVF in April 1984. She was from the Markets area of Belfast. My late father was called Isadore, the patriot saint of Barcelona I have since learnt. Both were decent people, not unlike your ma and da or that favourite auntie who gives you a few shillings on the sly.
It appeared that the name Isadore had provoked some members of the UDR to believe my late father was from Italy and a Catholic: he was the latter but not the former; Rasharkin is nowhere near Italy, I am reliably informed. I believe that day childhood innocence evaporated in the hatred that I felt from these public servants, tattooed, smelling of alcohol and of course in the main from the unionist community.
The years that followed 1973-1994 are well documented in any history book involving the Anglo-Irish conflict. On a macro level this part of Ireland imploded and on micro level thousands of families just like ours, the Whyte’s of 139 University Street, fell victim to bile, toxicity, hatred, prejudice, and straight-forward no-nonsense discrimination.
So, what was the nature of this hatred? It involved endless raids on our home, direct job discrimination, specifically in the public sector, repetitive harassment at road blocks and of course the usual expected sectarian filth from those who should have been protecting us. I often wonder if the parents of these protectors felt proud of their children
As you read this I suspect many thousands of people can identify with the general story. Don’t get me wrong. I cared little for the UDR or the RUC. For me they were the armed wing of Unionism – crass, rude, a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace to any civilized liberal democracy, paid to intimidate, suppress and humiliate Catholics.
I met over the years a few decent cops and I must say in many ways this state has been good to me. Three University degrees, solid job, children all educated. As my late mother would say, “Ten family allowances, you couldn’t find a better place to have a family”. It is in the context of this brief experience that I, Jude Whyte, a member of the Victims Forum for eight years have come to the conclusion that as we sit here, nearly fifty years since this conflict broke out, that we are no further on in building a united society, in resolving our ethnic differences or in simply tolerating the diversity that this small place manifests in everyday life. The vast majority of us live apart, are educated apart, play different sports, go to different places on holiday and somewhere deep in our heart no matter who we meet or where, an awful thought goes through one’s head, ‘I wonder are they one of us, or one of them?’.
This takes me to the point of legacy and dealing with the past. Can we as a society go forward if we don’t deal with the outstanding issues of collusion and the inescapable fact that this state and some of its paid employees are guilty of murder of unarmed civilians, both Catholics and Protestants, men and women, even our children. There will be in my opinion no meaningful legacy or investigations by this state of the actions of many of its military and civilian employees. The reasons are very simple. I apologise in advance to victims. The truth is hard to write.
1- There is no political will or agreement on the nature or cause of this conflict.
2- The UK is the strongest multi-cultural liberal democracy on earth. In order to defend those values, without apology or explanation, it went outside the rules and values of law and order to defend itself. It asked its security forces to defeat an enemy within at any cost. The next insurgency will be met with an equally vicious counter insurgency from the security forces, its gangs and counter-gangs. It is beyond any rational argument that people will be prosecuted for defending their realm. Let’s face it: who will defend the realm in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time from ISIS, if we prosecute members of the security forces now?
3- Even if Point 1 were agreed, the collective power or 18 MPs in Westminster is irrelevant in matters of national security; 7 of the 18 do not take their seats
4- The process for discovery of documents will always be hindered by national security which is an all embracing spurious term to block any serious investigation into state murder. It also is used to deny People who served time in this conflict access to a variety of jobs, travel and other services
5-The collective will in Westminster and in Dublin is a line in the sand that must be drawn, these events put into the dust bin of history. Both governments have the power to do this under various pieces of legislation for example offences against the state and anti-terrorist legislation.
6- The current generation, that is anyone over the age of 45 like me, if the truth be told, are all recovering to various degrees from our own trauma. Hence our objectivity, rationale and ability to open analysis events is lost. I consider myself a recovering bigot who will take years of extensive exposure to decency to finally sleep at peace in my bed. If ever
I am bitterly sorry that events like the Ballymurphy massacre, the New Lodge Road massacre, Kingsmill as well as hundreds of lessor known individual murders will remain unsolved, unaccounted for, and except for the families involved, unknown to the outside world. My late mother is one victim amongst thousands. Fifty-three years of age, a grandmother at the time, she at that time had two grandchildren. She would now have twenty-seven.
Member of the NI Victims’ Forum