Dreadful Lesson

Last week a letter appeared in the Irish News. It was signed by a raft of community and political groups from West Belfast. It hit out at an earlier spate of hijackings and burnings carried out by republicans hostile to the current political consensus in the North. Although a show of supposed strength, the actions of the republicans involved demonstrated their weakness and a bankruptcy of ideas. Apart from those who carried it out there are few who viewed it as anything other than gratuitous violence. The people most inconvenienced by it all were working class communities like Ballymurphy which according to researchers and letter writers to newspapers already suffer from high levels of poverty and deprivation.

The hijackers and burners in their application of force so much resembled the Provisional IRA in its frequent campaigns of disruption right up to the end of its armed struggle. City wide bomb hoaxes were every bit as disruptive of working class daily life as the recent violence. That it all ended in failure is ignored by those intent on trying it all again. Nevertheless, while a show of weakness, it seems the physical force advocates derive some degree of satisfaction from aping the Provisionals in copying their actions and then regurgitating their dismissive responses towards expressions of community concern. They are never slow to remind their critics that in their condemnation they focus on only one type of violence and turn a blind eye to others.

The exclusive concentration of the letter writers on the republican violence gave the letter the feel of something the peace train activists would get up to in response to the frequent Provisional IRA disruption of the cross border service between Belfast and Dublin. Those concerned with securing an uninterrupted train journey would ignore state repression. Perhaps because they were largely middle class types who lived outside the ring of steel within which the state practiced its repression they never actually had any experience of the phenomenon and saw only the train tormentors. This is hardly an excuse that the signatories to the Irish News letter can claim. They have seen it all yet strangely never once in their letter referred to the draconian 28 day detention legislation that now stalks the streets of the North where political policing is supposed to be a thing of the past and which helps to convince hijackers and anybody else with a gun or a petrol bomb that the British state in Ireland is still something that needs to be resisted militarily. Perhaps that particular letter was not the place to raise the issue. But the suspicion remains that no place will be considered suitable by the bulk of the signatories to raise the issue. When it was reportedly put to those behind the letter that the 28 day detention should also be addressed the request was ignored.

The sentiment expressed in the letter is nevertheless right. The violence and disruption inflicted on the communities is futile, nihilistic and depicts those who inflict it as little different from the people behind the many forms of anti-social behaviour that have long plagued communities. It is hard for those suffering it to make the distinction between violence for pleasure and violence for Ireland.

But the letter loses more than a smidgen of its moral authority when the inconsistency of many of the signatories is so evident. When we see Alex Atwood and Margaret Walsh adding their names we can say that they at least never advocated violence against the community at any time. It would be hard for some of the others who lent their name to the appeal to make the same claim. Some of them prompted mobs to the homes of people in Andersonstown and Springhill because the occupants had spoken out against the killing in Ballymurphy of West Belfast man Joe O’Connor.

Had it been made clear from the moment of O’Connor’s slaying two and a half years after the Good Friday Agreement that the use of political violence in Ballymurphy was without justification rather than hounding those who were explicit in their rejection of the political violence then being employed, the moral force wielded against the latest practitioners of burning and hijacking might have been considerably stronger. The lesson that violence in the community was justified after the Good Friday Agreement was an dreadful one to teach people opposed to the agreement. If those who endorsed the agreement could treat it with such contempt why expect others to behave any more respectfully toward it?


  1. With respect. Is it not true that you went on a journey away from political violence. If this is so then why is it so hard to believe that many who signed this letter have also travelled a similar journey.

    Have you asked them if they oppose the 28 day holding period, because from my experience most people who support SF also feel it is wrong.


  2. Forgive my indulgence, but if most people who support SF feel it is wrong, then why aren't they protesting outside Antrim police station, why are SF supporters not threatening to upset the apple cart, or more aptly the gravy train at the treatment of their fellow countrymen & women?

    Considering sf and their supporters silence on issues such as operation helvetic, they will only squeak indifference and spout lip service.

    Much as the same lip sevice when the 'drunken brawl' that killed robert mc cartney was exposed as a lie, the labelling of paul quinn as a criminal- a label that even mcguinness' good buddy hugh orde has rejected, or the murder of Andrew Kearney.

    And the murder of Joe O'Connor didnt even merit lip service, some people who support SF may see some things as wrong, but they are happy to turn a blind eye because it suits the agenda.

  3. Balbriggan

    I understand the point you are making and of course people do change their minds, but I think Anthony makes a valid point in the last paragraph. For many people Martin McGuinness in his condemnation of the recent shootings, appeared more like the emperor without any 'democratic' clothes.

  4. Balbriggan Sinn Fein,

    I see you have provoked some oppositional comment. An opinion hardly amounts to much if it doesn’t stir something. Fair play.

    I don’t dispute that many may have made the journey you refer to. Their silence – or worse - on more serious acts than hijacking in West Belfast just leaves a question mark hanging over the journey.

    If for the sake of discussion your point is conceded a more pertinent point is that the journey is supposed to have started with the GFA. And if that is the democratic model that is to be elevated and espoused, and if as Gerry Adams says there is no justification for violence after the GFA, then the task of winning over those who use violence against the GFA is somewhat compromised if those who shout ‘support the GFA’ have flouted it with acts of violence.

    I have not spoken to them all but I imagine that most people in SF do not like the 28 day detention. I guess the lower down the hierarchy we go the more the opposition increases. But it is essentially a verbal opposition, the type of formal statement to provide cover for oneself rather than protection for those affected by the legislation.

    This is a major British state assault on civil liberties. It is reportedly the most draconian detention legislation in the democratic world. Yet SF spend more time going toe to toe with republicans opposed to them than they do with the British on this issue. The party’s policing and justice spokesperson called for the legislation to be reduced to 7 days. But when republican political violence was much more intense than it is now SF felt, rightly so, that 7 days was abusive. What political opposition has SF organised against 28 day detention? What letter was sent to the paper with such a wide range of signatories demanding that it cease? Why was it not flagged up prominently in all the Easter speeches and in particular that of the party president? He mentioned republican dissidents but was silent on this major issue.

    It would seem an imperative that a party which claims to be republican but which advocates informing to the police on republicans would do its utmost politically to ensure that those informed upon are protected from the police and their human rights guarded. But SF has been very weak in this regard. Perhaps people like yourself who obviously do not like 28 day detention should consider making it an issue within your party.

    In my view it is an embarrassing issue for your party. To prioritise it would expose the fallacy of having rid us of a political police force.

    Good luck

  5. As one who is totally opposed to the 7 and 28 day detentions by the PSNI/MI5 political Police in the North. I'm somewhat bemused why so many so-called Political Parties including S/F have not resigned their positions on the DPPs' and Policing Boards in opposition to the above detentions and the re-deployment of SAS Operatives in the North?

    In recent weeks, Ardoyne Anti-Drug Activists have had their relatives homes raided by the same Political Police while others have endured gross intimidation and smears from certain Political Activists.

    Therefore, it now seems it's Sinn Fein's way or No Way!

  6. "There for its the Sinn Fein way or no way" mmm good statement or maybe not let me think "an armilite in one hand and a ballot box in other " democracy at its best maybe it should ave been "its the Provo/Sinn Fein way or no way" but no.... because its the Provo's V Sinn Fein no wrong again.... its Dissidents V Provo/Sinn Fein no no its Dissident/Provo V Sinn Fein someone help please cant figure this out AHHH got it "its everybody against Sinn Fein , The British MP was right we are all Traitors to Ger and Marty's United Ireland ,Will we ever find out which way they voted the 28 day Detention Bill

  7. FFS I wrote a long response and lost it when trying to post it.

    I’ll reply quickly this time.

    I’m Balbriggan, but I should have posted anon given that the views are my own.

    Here’s my response to points raided.

    Mick – Agree with you. The comments by martin were wrong. I do not believe that those involved in the attack are traitors to republicanism and given the actions of the IRA prior to the GFA, then he is wrong.

    Balor – I’m tired of the gravy train stuff. Why not accept may of us believe in trying an alternative strategy and debate on that.

    In relation to SF silence on the issue, I would point out SF did make statements against the 28 day period, could you outline the comments made by other major parties from across the island. Also could you give me your opinions on the fact that no other party from across the Island was present at the gaol protests.

    In relation to fighting the 28 period I see the problem at present is that those who were at the gaol were largely those who would not oppose the killings of the soldiers and policeman or the wounding of the pizza deliverymen. If this opposition cannot be broadened then it will not succeed.
    I agree that SF should do more on the issue and I feel the way forward is to depoliticise the issue. By that I mean by trying to get as many people involved from as many groups as possible. I feel that such a campaign should be under the umbrella of groups such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. If this is the case then there may be an opportunity to develop a serious opposition with a chance of success.

    Ardoyne, The policing powers have not been fully implemented and I would not reject them at this time until we have given them a period to see if they can achieve anything.