Protesting and Politicking

Britain has a long imperial tradition of celebrating foreign wars with the homecoming tramp of military feet, after Johnny Foreigner has been given a jolly good thrashing – Patrick Murphy

Where I now live there is an intense lack of interest in or awareness about the North. ‘Intense’ is not an adjective normally associated with a lack of interest. But it is an appropriate term because lack of interest here does not amount to mere indifference but active avoidance. People don’t merely switch off when the North comes up but pull the fuse completely and hurriedly bin it. Non-interest can be infectious. The less the North comes up in discussion the more pronounced is the ignorance of the issues associated with it. When a republican friend living in Belfast commented that he had expected to see something written in the Pensive Quill on the RIR return from Afghanistan parade due through the city centre on November 2, it took me a minute or two to grasp what he was talking about. RIR down here, where taxation not partition is of infinitely greater concern, would more readily pass for an abbreviation of Rapacious Inland Revenue than for some regiment of the British Army.

The Royal Irish Regiment, formerly known as the Ulster Defence Regiment, has a long history of violence including murder which it perpetrated against many nationalists since its formation in 1970. So bigotedly sectarian was the regiment that when I thought about its time in Iraq, I imagined it roaming through the streets of Basra, or hanging about roadblocks, looking for Iraqi Catholics to harass rather than being concerned with oppressing Muslims or any other denomination.

The group my friend in Belfast belongs to, Eirigi, is organising a protest against the march. The protest venue, Divis Tower, is in the west of the city which for decades was subject to many British Army attacks, invasions, incursions and infringements. We have come to expect this type of thing from Eirigi. It is consistent with what they profess to believe and they can hardly be accused of being on the wrong side of the barricades on this one. Nor has the group asked for permission to protest, believing that it is a fundamental right of Irish republicans, not a privilege subject to British state approval.

Par for the Eirigi course, more newsworthy then is the spectacle of finding Sinn Fein on the right side of the barricades alongside the protestors. It applied for and was granted permission to protest in Donegal Place. As the Parades Commission determination stated, ‘Sinn Fein's willingness to co-operate and engage with the Commission and the PSNI has been a positive contribution to the planning for the event.’

Patrick Murphy in his Irish News column was somewhat less flattering.
Sinn Fein’s cosy relationship with Bush does little to justify their protest. They do not appear to have raised the issue with him during several meetings. Martin McGuinness has offered advice on peace-building in Iraq but it is difficult to find examples of where he advocated American withdrawal. Do they oppose only British involvement?

Observers of the party’s rightward drift over the years would hardly feign surprise if they found Sinn Fein, not protesting but actually leading the RIR parade carrying a banner emblazoned with the words, ‘It’s our Royal Irish Regiment too, you know.’ After all it has been tripping over itself to attend British Army commemorations in various parts of the world. In such a scenario those falling in behind the Catholic party in support of the RIR are the same people who would just as readily turn out for the protest against the regiment. It is simply a matter of chasing after whatever line is cast from on high. No thinking, just following. It takes minimum effort to visualise a float carrying the lord mayor of Belfast, Uncle Tom Hartley, him pompously waving at all the British subjects along the route, proud as punch that they are as British as himself. And then the following Thursday in the Irish News Sinn Fein’s favourite columnist would regale us all with tales of wee women, long since deceased and unable to confirm or deny it, who had dead relatives in the RIR whom they grieved for but with no peace process could not be open about it. Their loss should be respected as well. Those that don’t quite see it that way would be advised by the woeful one to meditate on the true genius of Gerry Adams and move on.

Truth is, Sinn Fein have long since given up on being a party of protest. Their actions here are about politicking not protesting. It is seizing an opportunity to send smoke signals reminiscent of the old stage managed ‘angry voices and marching feet’ that commentators used to take seriously but now treat with derision. The party is frustrated that its shouts of ‘boo’ at the DUP have induced no sense of fright. The unionist horses have not been scared into bolting away from the exaggerated size of the fence they supposedly face by not giving into Sinn Fein demands for devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Fein calculates that rubbing some irritable ginger called anti-RIR into their rumps might just produce the bolt effect. It is a transparent effort to apply political pressure on the policing and justice issue in the wake of Martin McGuinness having been exposed as effectively granting unionism a monopoly over the ministry when it eventually does come; in the wake of Peter Robinson belittling Gerry Adams over his discourse in relation to the pseudo-crisis, saying the Sinn Fein boss was more to be pitied than scorned; in the wake of the British moving to ensure that no prospective justice minister will ever have access to informer files.

Truth is, the RIR is as much the army of Sinn Fein as the PSNI is its police force. Sinn Fein is an integral part of the British administration in Ireland, an administration buttressed by a British army and a British police. It is this which makes Sinn Fein’s position bizarre as can be seen from a quick glance at the comments of Paul Maskey:

We made the commission aware of the fact that the protest rally will highlight the legacy of the RIR and their predecessors the UDR here in Ireland as well as opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where thousands of civilians have been killed.

That the PSNI predecessors were the RUC, with a legacy equal to that of the RIR, coupled with varying degrees of PSNI involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan seems not to have been factored into Sinn Fein’s thinking for the very reason that it would require being consistent.

The Sinn Fein ‘protest’ is an action which serves to trivialise serious international conflict by reining it into the sectarian corral that constitutes the high politics of the North. The Eirigi protest is the only one of the two that makes sense. Not approved by the Parades Commission, and the organisers threatened by Roger Poole, there is a genuine opposition amongst its activists to wars that place it on the streets regardless of what shenanigans are taxing the minds of the ‘folks on Stormont hill.’


  1. The fact that other areas of the so called, United Kingdom ,are discouraging members of the British Armed Forces not to appearing in public in uniform says it all. This of course, because of the involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Unionists' politicians insisting on this parade shows how out of touch they are with reality. Especially with the dishonorable history and behavior of the British Army in the Six Counties. Unionists knew what the results would be with this parade; That's why they insisted on it in the first place.
    To use street language and put it in perspective, unionist politicians are nothing more than 'shit disturbers.'
    Not to mention stupid.

  2. not much changed in that respect