One of the strange things about talking about the Troubles is that we get into that “Troubles According To My Da” (Martin Lynch) territory. Ask any man of say sixty-one (which I coincidently am) about the Troubles and we talk about the big events and then we start with the handful of events which we were almost victims…and then we seem to slide into the lighter side of the Troubles.
Take a woman I know. She recently turned fifty. Forty odd years ago, she was outside playing in a West Belfast housing estate and she found an odd looking object which she brought home to show her mammy and daddy. And her Daddy had to get the bomb disposal people because….it was a hand grenade. How we laugh about that everytime she tells the story. I mean it was only a hand grenade and well it hardly kill ya. Maybe blow your hand off. Or blind you. But not actually kill you. Welcome to West Belfast circa 1973.
Low profile victimhood. People talk about Truth Commissions but thàts for “big” things. Little things …comparative little things …got to us all. So when the latest do-gooder in the Conflict Resolution industry says that we must give voice to victims, I want to throw something heavy at the television. For the point is being missed. I first heard that “hand grenade” story thirty years ago. VICTIMS DO NOT NEED VOICES. THE PEOPLE WHO NEVER LISTENED NEED EARS.
In the early 1970s…I had to walk home one night thru sleet and snow and found Larry McCoubrey reading the news. He mentioned my workplace. ” Did you know about that?” asked my mother.
” It WAS me Mammy”. The Official IRA came a calling and one of the Sticky Bastards shoved a gun into my mouth. Forgive the French but he said that he would blow my fucking head off. In 2013 my head is still very much intact.
But here is the really odd thing. It happened about 1pm. I arrived home…walking at 6pm. Nobody said “take the day off”” Can we drive you home” “You should get some counselling”, “you should speak to a lawyer”.
But I did get a Good Cop, Bad Cop interview, make statement, prepare to go to Court….as it happened the Sticky Bastards pleaded guilty and I did not go to court. But it set in chain the procedure that led to my family leaving Belfast. Am I bitter about it? Oh yes…especially about the Official IRA whose greatest achievement in Irish History is to airbrush themselves out of it.
I left that job about six months later. A nervous wreck. And I was unemployed for six months but never signed on or got benefit. Until a few years back I used to get a letter from the National Insurance people to remind me that my insurance contributions are incomplete and I could buy the ones I missed.
Typing this now, it seems hard to explain just how bad things were in 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974…nobody knew the rules. Or how to get redress and compensation. Few people made complaints to the British Army about harassment or verbal abuse. Nor was there any understod way of seeking compensation for incidents. It was really the late 1970s before people really understood procedures and the lawyers moved in. And when the lawyers moved in and the Army gave over primacy to the RUC, fewer excesses happened.
A few years after I got married…say 1983 or 1984, I was talking to someone about the Sticky Bastards and the gun in the mouth thing….and he gave me a phone number for Criminal Injuries people in Queen Street in Belfast.
So I phoned them.And the lawyer laughed…LAUGHED when I answered the question about when this happened. Ten years ago!! HA HA HA. There were time limits…30 days for “injury”.
Now I dont think this is unique. Small and even medium level victimhood went unrecognised, untreated, unpunished and uncompensated. So essentially, those of us who lived thru that time are a bit cynical of the whole Truth, Victims, Compensation, Reconciliation thing. Simply put…there will be no way that the low level victim who just muddled thru will ever be brought into the Process.
There are victims from those years who will just have to do what they did then. Move on. And some of us might reasonably think that high profile victims did the same.
There are people out there who did well out of the Troubles. Financially. Careers. And as for Victims…some got justice. Some did not get justice. Some got compensation. SSome did not get compensation. Some moved on. Some did not.
The greatDividing Line is not that Victims are or are not “innocent”. The line is that some were treated well and others were not….and that even some did very well.
This should not divide unionist people and nationalist people. Because we all know it is true.You dont have to be a unionist to know that ending up as a Sinn Fein advisor on a Civil Service salary of £90,000 per annum is actuallly quite a good deal compared with the way that some Republican paramilitaries have ended up. And you dont have to be a nationalist to think that severance packages that RUC personnel were given were ridiculous. It should not be partizan.
Sinn Fein cannot speak out on those lines. Nor can any unionist politician. But SDLP CAN and maybe SHOULD.
The Official IRA’s greatest achievement was the putsch that put it in the leadership of the Irish Labour party and from there into coalition government with Fine Gael. Or as certain Labour TDs and MEPs say, “Shush, don’t mention the war!”.
A good reminder that the word “victim” can have a far wider application than is now commonly given. My great-grandparent’s family were ran out of Fermanagh for being Protestant Nationalists (and mixed faith) and joined the thousands who fled the Unionist pogroms before, during and after partition. Can I and my family apply for victimhood? Can we get our lands back in Enniskillen? Apparently we owned quite a few fields yonder. Compo?
Well I think we are making the same point about the Sticky Bastards LOL.
They did what you say…But prolly couldnt have done so without being airbrushed out of History.
And the boys and girls at the Ned Stapleton Cumman (it didnt exist either ..;) ) at RTE helped.
Official IRA…never existed.
Ned Stapleton Cumann….never existed.
RTE….sometimes I wonder.
I agree the sdlp has a responsibility to speak out about this kind of thing. But the past week has been one big catastrophe for mcdonnell and co…the bill was politically motivated and by the SDLPs own admission was flawed. Why did they let it pass? Odd strategy to say the least
I think the difference was Ann Travers…and look out for a European challenge.
I think the difference was Seamus Mallon, his intervention was outrageous, I know you think highly of him but his behaviour in the last couple of weeks is nothing short of disgraceful. Is he pursuing some sort of personal agenda at the party’s expense?
In all my time following politics I’ve never seen a “major” political party get so many things so wrong so consistently, its breathtaking.
You said in a recent blog that Sinn Fein are the losers in all of this, do you really think that they have lost any votes out of this or the SDLP have gained any?
In the end its votes that count for political party’s yet nobody in or associated with the party seems to understand that.
Any goodwill gained by the recent acceptable performance (not good or great) in Mid Ulster has been lost in this debacle.
You also said recently that there is a group of bright young things coming through the party they better get there soon or they are not going to have a party to inherit.
Im not actually sure that I said SF were the losers in this.
I think the context was that everything post GFA is zero sum and that this one is a nationalist defeat.
I think I also said that the Prayers in the Park in Portadown High court ruling was a unionist defeat.
There will be more blogs on this general theme in the next few days.
And with reference to the Young Ones too.
ADD: A bad week for SDLP but definitely NOT fatal.
It seems your not biting when anyone tries to engage you on Seamus there, FJH. I recall an encounter caught on camera, during his successful election campaign for Newry/Armagh, when he went to the home of Michael McVerry’s widow to ask her vote. I couldn’t help thinking that there was something not quite genuine about the encounter. Perhaps Mallon was only going through the motions, probably just using the polite engagement to counter any possible hostility in South Armagh. Like its pretty obvious he had no respect for that IRA volunteer and considering his recent utterances may well have considered McVerry to have been ‘scum’.
By the way, I’m happy there is an SDLP and wish it success in the future in garnering more votes for a United Ireland. Politics is the sole answer now, and should have been all along. With the strong likelihood of Scottish independence on the horizon, there’s bound to be alot of introspection among Northern Protestants and a charismatic figure in the non-threatening SDLP may be able to rally many of those to a platform for a new Ireland. SF need to let go of the past and Adams/McGuinness, for the goal is a United Ireland and that outweighs any legacy issues. However, unfortunately there aren’t enough Factuals to engage with Unionsim, so its up to you lads and lassies. 🙂
The real point of this pan-nationalist blog which certainly lens towards SDLP is to tease out nuances. I dont do the whole “biting” and “not biting” thing. The object of the exercise is to discuss rather than debate and certainly not to argue.
Im quite proud of the blog in that respect.
And I dont encourage LetsGetAlongerist views…in December/January there was a fairly concerted attempt by Alliance members and supporters to get a voice on this blog and I never posted a single comment. my gaffe my rules….they would add nothing to a pan nationalist discussion. Im quite optimistic that the new unionist Party might be pragmatic.
That could work well for long term nationalist aspirations.
On the other hand the LetsGetAlongerist aspect of Alliance inhibits those aspirations.
I think nationalism needs two parties. It is good to have an alternative. While MEMBERS of SDLP and SF are at daggers drawn, I for one have no animosity and I think thats generally shared by nationalist voters.
I wish I was optimistic about Scotland.
The biggest defeat for Nationalism in recent events is the shambles the SDLP is.