It was said of unlamented French royals "they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing". Trevor Ringland's letter, coming amidst an array of Unionist outrage at Loughgall commemorations, was printed on May 5th, Bobby Sands' anniversary. (Ensure what happened in past never occurs again) Unionism seems to have forgotten nothing of their litany of outrage from 1981, and learned nothing about why many remember Bobby Sands MP, or the Loughgall Martyrs, as patriots.
The view, voiced elsewhere by Nelson McCausland or Tom Elliot and here by Mr. Ringland, seems simple to understand. They feel political and emotional loyalty to British law and rule. They consider the British Army, Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defense Regiment their uniformed forces, which upheld British rule. Excesses, like Bloody Sunday, 'Hooded Men' torture, or murder by loyalist proxies were committed with good intentions in terrible times.
They judge anyone, like Jim Lynagh or Bobby Sands MP, who fought against British rule as criminals, to be remembered, if at all, with repentance rather than pride. Mr. Ringland says his perspective is "shared by many across our society". We can understand this view. Understand we make no apology for rejecting it.
Why do the feelings of those who attend Republican commemorations, seem incomprehensible to Unionists? Why do they seem as dismayed by Loughgall commemorations today, as they were that people dared elect Bobby Sands MP?
Mr. Ringland says of the 1968-98 Troubles "we had got into a mess that we should have avoided". This 'mess' began when Britain carved out as much of Ireland as they could keep, based on a sectarian headcount. For fifty years Westminster ruled behind an Orange State, giving Unionists carte blanche to impose a system of discrimination and second class citizenship in housing, jobs and voting rights.
Republicans commemorate men and women, who refused to submit to the sectarian clampdown on civil rights, Internment, Hooded Men torture, Ballymurphy Massacre, Bloody Sunday et.al. Despite risk of imprisonment or death, they fought to achieve Ireland’s right to freedom and remove British injustice . We read the 1916 Proclamation over those who died for its principles. We commemorate them as patriots and volunteers.
James Connolly, who signed the 1916 Proclamation said of British troopers about to shoot him, he would “pray for brave men who do their duty according to their own lights”.
No one expects Mr. Ringland to accept our view. Can he at least understand that there were honorable individuals from opposing backgrounds and allegiances, acting to maintain the right as they saw it, in the extraordinary times of 1969-98? Can he understand why we remember our patriots with pride?