A Morning Thought @ 1046

Chris Fogarty ✒ News Letter readers suggest that I reply to its publication of Dr. Birnie’s comments on the article that began: “Joe Biden: ‘My ancestors left Ireland because of what the Brits had been doing.’”

Dr. Birnie imputes error to President Biden, he repeats the “famine” story we were all taught in school, and writes “… more should have been done.” 

A question: More what? Ireland was starved by 67 named British army regiments; ought 77 have been deployed? Davitt, et al. reported it as “Holocaust.” Starting on May 4, 1846 until November 19, 1855 the Cork (now Irish) Examiner newspaper reported it as “Holocaust.” (“Genocide”was coined post-WW2.)

From the start of 1845 to the end of 1850 the British government ordered into Ireland more than half (67 regiments) of its 128-regiment empire army. Their mission was the removal of Ireland’s abundant food crops to the ports for export. Commander-in-Chief of mission from start to finish was General Sir Edward Blakeney on whom, in 1849, Queen Victoria conferred an Order of the Bath. 

The quantity of forcibly removed edibles is readily ascertainable in that era’s editions of The (London) Times, the Limerick Intelligencer, etc. The volume of non-potato foods produced by the Irish are indicated by the following processors: 1,935 grain mills, 1,984 grain kilns, 555 flour mills, 136 grain-using breweries, 74 grain-using distilleries, 62 threshers (though flails were more common), 948 livestock pounds, 45 woollen mills (mutton and lamb), 43 windmills, butter markets, and “shambles” (butcheries), etc. (Precise location of each available upon request.)

During those years, and until 1900-1920, Ireland was owned by English landlords. The Irish were their tenants-at-will. The army was deployed only where the English-led constabulary and landlords’ militias encountered resistance to the food removal. Though, for example, the 68th of Foot was deployed briefly as far north as Ballycastle, the constabulary and landlords’ militias usually managed to extract the food crops in what is today’s Northern Ireland. During the first quarter of 1847 (numbers are approximate):

Antrim: Its 604-strong (520 pvts.) militia was HQ’d in Belfast. Commander; the Marquis of Donegal residing in London. Adjutant Col. Carrothers.

Armagh: its 640-strong (520 pvts.) was HQ’d in Markethill. Commander; the Marquis Acheson residing in Gosford Castle, Markethill. Adjutant Biford Woodhouse.

Derry: its 755-strong (650 pvts.) County Londonderry militia was HQ’d at Londonderry. Commander; Sir R.A. Ferguson, Bar’t, residing at The Farm, Londonderry. Adjutant __ McClintock.

Down: its 453-strong (390 pvts.) The Royal South Downshire was HQ’d at Hillsborough. Commander; The Marquis of Downshire, residing at Hillsborough. Adjutant __ Hodgson.

Fermanagh: its 453-strong (390 pvts.) Co. Fermanagh militia was HQ’d at Enniskillen. Commander; the Earl of Enniskillen residing at Florence Court Demesne, Florencecourt. Adjutant Wm. Corry.

Tyrone: its 755-strong (650 pvts.) Royal Tyrone militia was HQ’d at Caledon, near the post town of Caledon, Co. Tyrone. Adjutant; William Lundie.

⏩ Chris Fogarty is author of Ireland 1845-1850: the Perfect Holocaust, and Who Kept it ‘Perfect’.

More What?

Fra Hughes ✒ Trouble erupted on the streets of Belfast on Wednesday the 7th of April 2021. We can only ask if we are witnessing a return to the violent scenes of 1969.

The Northern Ireland protocol has created the Irish Sea Border which is seen by Unionists and Loyalists as a diminution of their Britishness and of the continuing link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and their fears for their future within a united Ireland which is now firmly on the political Horizon.

The fall out between the Democratic Unionist Party and Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has led to failed negotiations from the unionists to have the Northern Ireland protocol revisited and amended between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

History in Northern Ireland has proved when unionism fails to deliver politically loyalism tries to deliver violently.

Violence on the streets is not a generic response from grassroots unionism to the Northern Ireland protocol, it is an orchestrated reaction from political unionism, the DUP and loyalist paramilitaries connected to the Loyalist Community Council comprising the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and The Red Hand Commando.

While initially, sporadic violence occurred in the loyalist Waterside estate in Derry about 2-hours from Belfast about ten days ago, trouble erupted last Thursday in the Sandy Row – Shaftesbury square area close to Belfast city centre. Several police officers were injured and several arrests were made including a 13-year old boy. Some of those charged had ages ranging from 13- 28. None of these people would have been born into previous cycles of violence which many of us have witnessed since 1969. Violence has also been inherent in the state since 1921. The fact that the trouble yesterday on the Shankill Road was deliberately staged at the intercommunal interface between Lanark Way, which leads onto the loyalist Protestant Shankill Road and this connecting corridor which leads onto the Springfield Road which adjoins the Falls Road which is seen to be a nationalist Catholic Republican heartland proves orchestrated attempts are being made to foment inter-communal violence. A well-used trick by unionism over the decades.

Unionism is using loyalist paramilitaries to put pressure on a British government to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol. Loyalist paramilitaries are using violence to put pressure on the police and the state to force concessions on the Northern Ireland protocol on behalf of Unionism.

In order to accentuate the violence, deliberate attempts are being made to provoke a reaction from the Catholic Nationalist Republican Springfield Road and Falls Road areas by holding a protest directly on the peace Line destabilising both Communities and Society in general.

The fact that bottles and petrol bombs were allegedly deliberately thrown over the police line creating havoc on the Springfield Road leading to a Confrontation between Nationalist youths and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Fragile peace established through the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement is hanging by its fingertips.

The violence has been localised to date and has been sporadic with little numbers involved until yesterday when several hundred people converged on the Shankill Road at the peace line. Many of those most involved in violence at the peace line were young and wore masks

There are messages circulating on social media encouraging loyalist youths to gather this Friday in South Belfast and march on West Belfast in a show of strength. This may very well have the potential to lead to further violence on the Shankill Road and further afield. Violence at the interface is almost guaranteed as this March is deliberately designed to be provocative.

It is designed in my opinion to draw in Nationalist youth from the Falls and Springfield roads into a violent conflict. Then the loyalist’s will simply step back from the interface and encourage the police to engage in the repression of the nationalist community using force with water cannons, baton charges and plastic baton rounds.

Many might consider disregarding the violence being offered by small sections of the loyalist Unionist political and paramilitary machine as the last rattle of a dying political snake but this would be short-sighted. It is important that the state does not become involved in the sectarian repression of nationalists who may unwillingly be dragged into a violent confrontation with the state that is being staged, orchestrated and managed by paramilitary Godfathers in the various loyalist paramilitary organisations. It is a trap. 100 years ago the state of Northern Ireland was brought into being, it has been a one-party unionist state for the first 50 years of its inception/ The following 30 years saw the violent repression of nationalist civil rights and an armed campaign for National liberation.

For the last 20-years, we have had a kind of peace through the Good Friday Agreement. While this peace process is not perfect for many it is the only game in town and for unionists and loyalists to again use violence as a veto on progress towards the reunification of the island of Ireland is tantamount to a declaration of civil war.

This is a time for cool heads on the nationalist Republican side. People must be prepared to defend their homes and their properties, their lives and their communities but being sucked into a cycle of violence that is designed for that very purpose would be a mistake.

Springfield Road Belfast. Nationalist youths engage the Police after a provocative protest on the Shankil Road
turned violent. The smoke in the background is a Bus set on fire by Loyalist pro British protestors.

Friday and the weekend ahead will show us the direction unionism and loyalism are taking. They cannot return to the negotiating table as there is nothing to negotiate. The NI Protocol is going nowhere. If it is to be a continued round of sectarian violence with the marching season in July and the celebrations of 100 years of Unionist misrule then the summer of 2021 could be as bad as anything we have previously seen. It is very reminiscent of Drumcree in 1995 – 2000. The Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985, the Ulster Workers Council Strike 1974 or indeed around the events of the summer of 1969

Brexit ➖ That Northern Ireland Protocol And The Storey So Far

Peter Anderson ⚽ I was tempted to write this week's article to gloat over the demise of Celtic and the "nailed on 10 in-a-row" following yet another Old Firm defeat against the mighty Gers, but alas current events have forced a rethink.

I don't think many of the TPQ's regulars will be disappointed! So, to the bigger story this weekend: Europe's "elite" have finally announced their breakaway league. It has not gone down well with the pundits or Boris Johnson and rightly so in my opinion. It has been called everything from "disgusting" and "greedy" to "devastating" with the British PM saying he would try to stop it. Football in these islands holds a special place in people's hearts and it is with a sense of dread for many that this point has been reached.

Football in the 80s got out of control, hooliganism, Heisel, Hillsborough and many, many other incidents forced change on our game. The advent of seats, modernisation of stadia and ticketing reduced the violence and incidents without lowering the atmosphere too much. The enforced changes were mostly positive, footy once again became a family sport. The English Premier League teamed up with Sky TV and we witnessed a soccer revolution, top quality live footy on the TV. Then we saw the Champions League become the best footy competition on the planet.

Suddenly, there was mass global interest in European football and the sharks started circling. Clubs that were traditionally locally owned were bought by oligarchs and oil barons and it became clear that they were in the game to make money and not to entertain the locals. For example, we experienced the owner of Cardiff trying to change the club colours and crest, and the owner of Hull City trying to change the club's name to the Hull Tigers to better market the club in Asia. Fan power and relegation from the EPL saw them off, but we all knew that the big clubs would try something more audacious, the much talked about European Super League.

I have to say here that I am not without a modicum of sympathy. FIFA and UEFA have been corrupt like few other sporting bodies in history and have retained power with some ruthlessness. Watching Blatter and Platini fall has been a pleasure to watch. However, on this issue I have to agree with the governing bodies. A super league with no relegation is anti-competition.

And who are the "big 6" anyway? Would that include City, Arsenal and Spurs who have never won the Champions League? Leicester and Blackburn have won more Premier Leagues than Spurs! What gives those clubs the right to be in the "big 6"? The fact that some seasons the "big 6" don't qualify for the CL is clearly the reason they want a super league. England only has 4 CL spots so by design you have to earn the right to play with the big boys and so it should be! This is what make the EPL so good, so competitive. Literally any club in England can theoretically get into the CL. Wolves and Sheff U had a good go at it last season with Leicester only falling short in the last few games. This is the essence of the EPL and what makes the CL so very special.

It is bitterly disappointing to see the clubs go down this route but unfortunately not surprising. It would be truly great for football if fan power stopped it, a super league played in empty stadia wouldn't be super. Alas, I am quite pessimistic on this one and think that big money will win in the end. I hope I am wrong.

Peter Anderson is a Unionist with a keen interest in sports.

European Super Greed

A Morning Thought @ 1045

John Lindsay writes of an attack on his home in Derry. 

When the first hammer blow hit the window, I didn’t realise that the noise that I was hearing came from inside the house. 

When the second blow came, I realised what was happening, and thought: “Bloody hell, this is going to be a drag having to get the windows fixed again“. 

The third blow brought a shower of glass over where I had been sitting; I’d got up to find my phone and to start dialing 999. I stepped out into the hallway, listening to the operator asking me which service I required. I could see the silhouette of a man striking the glass on the door. It was only at this point that I began to feel afraid. Not just afraid, terrified. I screamed. The man let out an incomprehensible roar, and I heard footsteps running and the gate opening. They weren’t trying to force their way into the house. They were not trying to kill me this time. 

This wasn’t the first time that the house had come under attack. Four months earlier, in December, there had been an almost identical incident; windows and the glass in the door smashed by someone wielding a hammer. I hadn’t been at home that time, it was one of the very few times that I had visited a friend during lockdown. Neighbours called the police, who didn’t come out until the next day. When I saw the holes in the glass I wondered whether they had been caused by gunshots. The police, somewhat dismissively told me that they hadn’t. 

When the guy from the Housing Executive came out to board up the windows, he showed me how his hammer fitted exactly into the indentations in the glass. That was reassuring. He had better people skills than the police that came out that day. 

The 999 operator told me that the police would be out with me as soon as they were able to. They were out within half an hour. This time they were courteous, although they were honest about their chances of finding the culprit or culprits. They were close to zero. They told me that they had cars patrolling the estate, but the streets were empty. In a moment of refreshing candour a police officer confided that the large number of vehicles were sent out for their protection, not for mine: “We’re not well liked in Ballymagroarty”. 

It had crossed my mind, whilst waiting for the police, that the attack could have been intended to draw them into an ambush. I sent out messages to a couple of friends to tell them what had happened. I decided against telling my daughters that night. That could wait until the morning. The friends called me, and having them on the end of the line was a godsend. 

I also made a decision. I was going to go public about what had happened. Keeping quiet hadn’t worked the last time. The people who did this were going to hear my side of the story; if they wanted to give their side they’d have to talk to somebody. I sent a message to a local Facebook news group, asking them to withhold my name until I’d had a chance to explain to my daughters what had occurred. I didn’t want them finding out about it via Facebook. 

In my message to the news page I described the attack as “almost certainly sectarian”. It seemed a fair enough presumption. I’m a Protestant, living in an almost entirely Roman Catholic estate. I’m also outspoken. Well meaning neighbours had advised me to turn it down a peg, bearing in mind where I was living. The day before, UVF attacks on Catholic homes in Carickfergus had been reported in the press. It would hardly have been surprising if someone had decided to return the serve. 

My use of the word “sectarian” caused a tsunami of comments. There was near universal condemnation of the attack, but many of the comments were angry in a different way. At this point in time my name had not been attached to the incident. A few people presumed that, as I was living in Ballymagroarty, I must be a Catholic who was accusing Loyalists of having travelled across the city to single out my home for attack. That scenario was of course extremely unlikely. I must be looking to move house and hoping that the S word would get me extra “intimidation points”. I’d probably smashed my own windows to enable such a move. A few people pointed out that there are some Protestants still living in Ballymagroarty, and the “sectarian” moniker could mean something else. 

This produced a different, defensive, response, “Ballymagroarty people aren’t sectarian” several people averred. “There’s a great sense of community in Ballymagroarty. No one cares what religion anybody is”. That this community had produced people who would attack a person’s home wasn’t important, they wouldn’t attack someone’s home because of their religious persuasion. Once morning came and I’d let family know what had happened I went back to the thread and let it be known that it was my house that had been attacked. Quite a few people had commented how much of a mess my house was in in the pictures that I‘d sent in earlier, so I added another picture, looking out of the broken glass towards the garden, of which I’m quite proud. 

I pointed out that, whatever the motivation for the attack may have been, attacking someone’s home is a shitty thing to do and asked anyone who saw someone come home that night with shards of glass on their clothes to pass that information on. I expressed solidarity with anybody else who’d experienced a similar attack. Messages of solidarity, sympathy and offers of help came in. Most people are fundamentally decent and are appalled at the thought of an attack on somebody’s home. The protestations that this could not possibly have been a sectarian attack continued though, the tone altered somewhat now that they could put a face and a name to the person whose house had been attacked. “You, of all people should know that your neighbours in the Ballymagroarty aren’t sectarian. 

Maybe it’s someone you have pissed off” one man told me. In a sense I’m sure that he’s right. I don’t think that I would have been targeted if I’d kept my head down and never spoken out. Someone else suggested that I had been targeted because “The man comes from Wales, maybe he thinks he was targeted because people think he’s English. 

I did indeed grow up in Wales, but I was born in Belfast, to an English mother and Scottish father, and I’ve never considered myself to be anything other than British

Another person volunteered that perhaps the attack had happened because she saw somewhere on Facebook that I supported Rangers Football Club. The police asked me if I could think of anybody who had any reason to want to do this. It’s interesting how this question focuses the mind. I honestly couldn’t think of anybody that I’d fallen out with in the weeks before the event. Longer term it’s a different story. I’ve offended loads of people. I’m a contrarian and I throw myself into arguments. I’d stood in the Assembly elections in 2016 and 2017 on a Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol ticket. I’d lambasted the groups carrying out ‘punishment’ shootings and called for them to be exposed and prosecuted. I’ve read diatribes denouncing me as an anti-republican defender of criminals, a drug addled Zionist who likes to go to parades and talks to animals. More recently I’ve expressed views about, for example, the Union and the Northern Irish Protocol that some may feel that someone living in Ballymagroarty should not hold, and certainly shouldn’t say out loud. Of course I’ve pissed people off. 

Community workers came to see me the next day. They were matter of fact and helpful in terms of fast-tracking repairs (new glass for the windows would take a bit longer than usual, something to do with Brexit). They were also able to tell me that three people were involved in the attack. Witnesses saw them running away from the scene. They put me in touch with Base 2, a Belfast based crisis intervention project, who could ask questions of “armed groups” about whether they had sanctioned what had happened. I’m not sure whether I’d believe anything that such groups might say, and I’ve certainly no intention of entering into negotiations with them about terms under which I might be ‘allowed’ to continue living in my home of twenty years. Nonetheless hearing their response might clarify my situation. 

Other people made contact. Victims of similar incidents on both ‘sides’ of the community, wanting to offer support and to compare notes. Some of their stories were horrendous and heartbreaking, much, much worse than what had happened to me. I counted my blessings. People wanted to express support and empathy that they were afraid to express publicly. People from the Protestant community seemed to have far less trouble understanding and accepting my perception of what happened (am I sectarian for saying that?). Someone else (a Catholic) offered some insights about how majorities can be blind to the lived experiences of minorities they interact with daily. Another person gave me some fascinating insights into the early history of Ballymagroarty; how it had been intended as a model ‘mixed’ community, how that dream had briefly seemed possible until a small number of people decided to intimidate families of the ’wrong sort’ from their homes. I’d heard fragments of these stories before, whispered by older people who had been amongst the first to move into the estate. The vast majority of residents had been appalled by what happened, some had close friendships with the families forced to leave, but few people in Ballymagroarty talk about these events. Why should they? They happened a long time ago. To talk about the expulsions would also sit at odds with the estate’s self image as a community where neighbours help each other out. That self image is largely true, but it isn‘t the whole truth.

⏩John Lindsay is the author of Brits Speak Out - British Soldiers impressions of the Northern Ireland conflict (1998) and No Dope Here - Anti-drug vigilantism in Northern Ireland (2012). He stood as a candidate for Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol (CISTA) for Foyle in the 2016 and 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections.

Reflections Following A Worrying Incident

Sean BresnahanWriting in the Irish News (Letters, April 9th), Paul Laughlin, Doire, argued that a border poll held under the Good Friday Agreement would constitute an exercise in self-determination by the people of Ireland. In this, however, he would be wrong.

The Good Friday Agreement, as it relates to Irish Unity, stands in fact to deny the exercise of self-determination by the people of Ireland, this through awarding power of veto to a gerrymandered constituency within their rank — a minority among their number who live in the occupied North.

The raison d’ĂȘtre of that Agreement is to give primacy to the wishes of a contrived gerrymander over those of the wider Irish people. Indeed this same function is implicitly acknowledged in its recognition that the wish of the Irish people is to live in a United Ireland, before proceeding in turn to impose conditions which prevent this coming to pass.

Where there is self-determination in any of this it is for that section of our people still bound within the northern remnant of colonialism only. But that is not self-determination for Ireland. How so? Because even if the electorate in the South, to a man, were to support in a vote the reunification of Ireland and even were this married to a full-on 49.9 percent vote towards same in the North, Irish Unity would still be held back.

The wishes of the people of Ireland, then, are secondary and circumscribed by the wants of those who live in the North, whose wishes take precedence. This may be many things, depending on your perspective, but it is not and can never be self-determination by and for the people of Ireland.

While a day may be approaching where unionism is eclipsed and reduced to a minority even within its own artificial gerrymander, potentially speeding the numbers required for to unlock Irish Unity in accord with the Agreement, nevertheless, this should never be held up and spoken of as though it would constitute self-determination.

For there to be self-determination for Ireland and her people then all of her people — acting as one unit, with equal weight given each of their number — must be free to determine their future for themselves absent external impediment, among such the continuing claims to sovereignty in Ireland by the British Government.

As an earlier version of Gerry Adams once called it, many years ago, it remains: ‘the Unionist Veto must go; the British Government must go; Partition must go.’ Only then will there be self-determination for our people, as is their national right and entitlement. Speed that day.

Sean Bresnahan is an independent Republican from Co. Tyrone who 
blogs @ Claidheamh Soluis. Follow Sean Bresnahan on Twitter @bres79

Good Friday Agreement Denies To Ireland Her Right To Self-Determination

Loyalist street violence over the Northern Ireland Protocol could play into Boris Johnston’s hands if the Prime Minister finds himself facing renewed calls for a Scottish independence referendum. Political Commentator
Dr John Coulter explains this conundrum for the PM.

Unionist and Loyalist opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol was one of the political fuses which sparked serious rioting during and after the Easter celebrations and saw more than 80 police officers injured.

While a section of working class Loyalism believes in the delusion it can petrol bomb the Protocol out of existence, the vast majority of pro-Union support in Northern Ireland is relying on the legal challenge to the Protocol.

Although Boris Johnston has expressed his concern at the street violence, is he really more worried about the outcome of next month’s parliamentary elections in Scotland where polls predict an outright victory for the Nicola Sturgeon-led Scottish National Party.

If such a scenario becomes a political reality in Edinburgh’s Holyrood parliament, then Scottish nationalism’s battle cry for a second independence referendum will surely gather considerable momentum.

Setting aside the debate that an SNP victory will add equal momentum to Irish nationalism’s plea for a border poll on Irish Unity, there can be no doubting that an independent Scotland would rejoin the European Union.

After all Scotland and Northern Ireland, as regions of the UK, both voted ‘remain’ in the 2016 EU membership referendum.

The main plank of Unionist and Loyalist opposition to the Protocol is that it threatens Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the UK by creating the border along the Irish Sea.

But what happens if the Protocol works economically and Northern Ireland prospers financially from that Irish Sea border in the long term?

Could Scottish nationalists also demand a Scottish Protocol with an economic border along the 73-mile Hardrian’s Wall between northern England and southern Scotland as a stepping stone to gaining full independence and a return to EU membership?

Put bluntly, if PM Johnston is to stem the rising tide of Scottish nationalism, he needs the Northern Ireland Protocol to fail economically so that he can inform Brussels - ‘this ain’t working!’

As Loyalists vent their anger at the Protocol, Scottish nationalists must be equally politically furious that they did not manage to be given a similar Protocol for Scotland as part of the UK withdrawal agreement.

A so-called Scottish Protocol would have been the perfect launching pad for the economic benefits of full-blown independence from Westminster.

Perhaps the key question which the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland should be asking is - what does Boris Johnston fear most; Irish Unity or Scottish independence?

Similarly, does Boris Johnston and his supporters in the anti-EU European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs really want the Protocol to flounder economically so that it can be conveniently axed at a later date under the political banner of ‘I told you so’ - no matter what the financial consequences for Northern Ireland?

Some sections of the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland have suggested that Unionist MLAs should walk out of Stormont and collapse the Assembly in protest at the Protocol.

However, such folk who threaten devolution have had their political knuckles severely rapped when Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis successfully got Westminster to grant him powers to order the Department of Health to offer abortion services which are available in other parts of the UK, thereby bypassing the Stormont Executive.

Devolution has not endured the same rocky political path in Scotland as it has in Northern Ireland, so was the Lewis move really a warning shot across the bows of the SNP from the PM - if I can do this in Northern Ireland, I can bypass Holyrood, too?

Scotland and Northern Ireland have strong cultural and historical bonds - and that’s not simply a reference to the Old Firm support for Rangers and Celtic in the Scottish soccer Premiership.

What happens in Scotland in its 6th May parliamentary elections will resonate in Northern Ireland.

Ironically, Boris Johnston may be forced to ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol, not because of a Unionist legal challenge or Loyalist rioting, but because it may give unwanted impetus to a potentially massive resurgent SNP. 

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at http://radio.garden/listen/sunshine-104-9fm/tBZsuX1o 

Is Boris Wanting NI Protocol To Fail To Prevent Scottish Version?

A Morning Thought @ 1044

Anthony McIntyre was less than impressed by a former police chief's book on the Hillsborough disaster. 

Thursday past marked the 32nd anniversary of 96 Liverpool fans who were unlawfully killed by South Yorkshire Police at Sheffield's Hillsborough Stadium during the course of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final. 

It was sunny in Drogheda on Thursday as I stopped to talk with a neighbour and fellow Liverpool fan. We swopped memories of how we had learned of the news three decades ago. Liverpool fans of a mature age always remember exactly what they were doing when the news broke. My neighbour had been watching the game on television: I had been listening to it on the radio in my prison cell, thirteen years into a life sentence. 

The week that is in it prompted me to share some thoughts on one of the range of books written about the tragedy. It would feel much better to discuss a book that had been written to tell the truth rather than one written to chop it to pieces. By the time I had put the book down, I was in no doubt: Norman Bettison is a machete man. 

It is not possible to claim to enjoy any book about the events of Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April, 1989. This one, I derived absolutely no pleasure from although for different reasons than usual. The others exuded humility and authenticity. This oozed narcissism and disingenuousness. 

It is a work that is well written but not well told. It is not the untold story of Hillsborough but in the untelling of what really happened on the day and after, a fundamental truth is revealed: the police are so crooked they can't possibly lie in bed straight. The book prompted such revulsion that one observer said ‘Book burning is a terrible thing, but if Bettison could move publication forward to November 5, we might make an exception.’ Neil Welby has forensically demolished both Hillsborough Untold and its author. What can be added here is of minimal value compared to that. 
Norman Bettison was an Inspector with South Yorkshire Police in 1989. Off duty on the day, he attended the match as a spectator. He claims to have been a life long Liverpool supporter but oddly stood in the Nottingham Forest end of the ground. 

His dark arts were not practiced at the match but in its wake. He sought to extend his "peripheral" role at the game and inject it into the characterisation of his very central role in the months and years that followed. 

In the aftermath of the disaster Bettison helped amend officers’ statements to lessen the deleterious effect that the original raw statements would have caused. Much of the Wain Report which was submitted to the Taylor Inquiry had been written by Bettison. It was a strategic attempt to influence Lord Justice Taylor's Inquiry and was laced with police accounts of drunken, tickletless and aggressive fans. Bettison sat through every day of the Taylor inquiry as the South Yorkshire Police chief constable's plenipotentiary. Later he would lobby against Taylor, making a video for MPs showing crowd violence at soccer games, none of it in any way related to Hillsborough.

Many years later evidence would be given against Bettison to the Hillsborough Independent Panel by two fellow students on a business course he was attending not long after the crush. Their claim was that he had told them that the strategy of the South Yorkshire Police was to blame the fans. When he applied for the role of Chief Constable of Merseyside in 1998 he failed to mention Hillsborough in his application. 

All of this is tackled in the book but in a way that would earn a red card in today's game. 

The narrative sounded like bad plastic surgery looks - false. It was an exercise in evasion and self exculpation. Bettison loved the fans and only wanted to help them. He was critical of colleagues but only it seemed when there was no where else to go and if the bus was to be kept on the road those extra passengers weighing it down had to be thrown under it. He got rid of dead weight but solely for the purpose of keeping the South Yorkshire Police ship afloat. Everything was packaged just too neatly, betraying the fact that the script had been well rehearsed. It sounded like a case for the Defence, the author in the dock.  

Whereas match commander on the day David Duckenfield’s cover up seemed incompetent, Bettison's appeared much more sinister: as a cover up operative he was special forces and Duckenfield a grunt.

In ways Bettison conveyed the demeanour of Gerry Adams when the latter cynically lined up with the McCartney women after their loved one, Robert had been stabbed to death by IRA members. Adams sought to present himself as their friend while all the time undermining them. Bettison, frequency labelled a narcissist, does likewise.

He insidiously sought to cast relatives like Trevor Hicks, whose two teenage daughters died, and Margaret Aspinall, whose teenage son also lost his life, in a tinged light. He had to apply more subtlety than he wanted: besmirching the relatives head on was a losing strategy. He was more forceful when tackling Maria Eagle whom he blamed for being responsible for much of the serious reputational damage sustained by South Yorkshire Police. She had accused him under parliamentary privilege in 1998 of being part of a police black propaganda unit out to smear the fans.

Reading Hillsborough Untold chills in the way that reading Pet Sematary does. There is a dark malevolence in the pages working incessantly to corrupt wholesomeness. There is no doubting its commitment, which is not to the fans or their families but to the crooked baton of South Yorkshire Police. It is a dedicated effort to to refute the alleged existence of a plot within the South Yorkshire Police force to cover up the events of the day, despite the police lying from the get go. For Bettison the use of the term Salem shows essentially the overriding thought informing Hillsborough Untold: there was no cover up, just a witch hunt against South Yorkshire Police.

 ⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

Hillsborough Untold

Opindia ✒ Female cartoon characters on Iranian television must wear hijab, as per a new ruling by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
... Tasnim News Agency, a pro-regime news agency, had asked Khamenei if he believes it was essential for the female characters of animated films to observe hijab. He replied:

Although wearing hijab in such a hypothetical situation is not required per se, observing hijab in animation is required due to the consequences of not wearing hijab.

Khamenei did not explain what ‘consequences’ he was referring to. However, according to activists, he had earlier suggested he was fearful that the girls would grow up and not wear hijab.
The political activists have termed the ruling as toxic. They further added that those who are in power in Iran are obsessed with everything associated with women. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, said on Twitter:

This isn’t a joke! The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced women even in animations, should wear hijab! Even female insects like bees have their hijabs on! Their obsession with the hair of female anything is toxic. These people are in power in Iran.

Continue reading @ Opindia.

Hijab Compulsory For Female Cartoon Characters On Iranian TV

Right Wing Watch ✒ There Will Be No Swearing or Taking God’s Name in Vain on Mike Lindell’s New ‘Free Speech’ Platform.

Kyle Mantyla 

Angered by being banned from various social media platforms for ceaselessly spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation about the 2020 presidential election, religious-right activist and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell decided to create his own social media platform, which he promised would be a bastion of free speech.

With his new Frank Speech platform set to launch on April 19, Lindell appeared on Eric Metaxas’ radio program Monday to promote it.

During the discussion, Lindell revealed that speech on his new platform will not be quite as free as one might have imagined, announcing that users will not be allowed to swear or use the Lord’s name in vain because Frank Speech will be “a Judeo-Christian platform” founded on biblical principles.

“People asked me, ‘You’re going to let everything go? Porn? Swearing? Everything?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not ... We have a thing we found in the Constitution and our founding fathers that defines what free speech is. And Eric, get this, this Judeo-Christian platform we’re going to have here, they go by biblical principles—you know ...

Continue reading @ Right Wing Watch.

No Swearing Or Taking God’s Name In Vain

A Morning Thought @ 1043