I have spent some of the Pandemic researching my own family History. The despicable comments by (Lady) Kate Hoey have angered a lot of people in the nationalist community.
At this point, I do not want to go into much detail about Hoey. Others are much more eloquent than me. I am angry. And Family History is a sore point at the moment.
The Fallout from Hoey’s comments.
In response to Hoey, there are a lot of angry educated successful, people (nationalists or from a nationalist background) who have been telling their own “rags to riches” story over three or four generations. If we look closely at an rish family history, we are not far away from poverty and degradation.
This is maybe the most important lesson from the Civil Rights Movement and the last sixty years. We demanded RESPECT and for the most part got it (even if it required legislation in fair employment). To some extent, it is a matter of choice for unionists to give or withhold Respect. But Self Respect is in our own hands…you cant take that away.
There is of course a downside. Any oppressed people……Irish, Jews, African Americans, colonised people have a kinda quota of people who are Self-Loathing. They take on a second class role for themselves siding with the Oppressor. It is not a pretty sight.
It is of course a matter of choice that a person born into a nationalist family re-appraise their background. An absolute right to choose to be British, unionist, conservative. But there are too many from a nationalist/Catholic background who boast so much of their conversion that they have a self-loathing.
Self-Loathing is not a pleasant condition. In Norn Iron, some people fall over themselves to reject Irishness and embrace Britishness.
I attended a funeral recently for a cousin from the maternal side of my family. And their story …my story is not a lot different from those being told on social media as a rebuttal of Hoeys remarks and perceived intent.
My maternal grandparents were John (from County Cavan) and Kate (from County Monaghan). They married in 1889. John was a railway labourer on the railway and Kate had a small dowry from her farmer father. They settled in County Armagh, a small tenant farm and John worked in a mill owned by the local big house aristocrat and unionist politician.
Between 1891 and 1912 (my mother), John and Kate had 11 children, one died in infancy. Two boys (unmarried) died from illnesses in the 1930s.
My grandfather was killed in a work-related accident when my mother was 9 years old. My granny who I can remember died in 1956.
So in my lifetime and in the 1950s, 1960s and some of the 1970s, I knew three uncles and four aunts and 15 cousins, all but one older than me plus one younger sibling. As a tendency, my cousins were teenagers or in their 20s when I was born.
The three uncles (one childless) worked in the mill where their father died and they had rented fields off the aristocrat to raise some cattle.
The aunts (two childless) were “homemakers” or “carers”…..and the two married aunts had railway worker husbands. My father was a Belfast man and a barman.
In its own way, it is not a case of Rags to Riches…..more a case of Not Very Good Clothes to Not So Bad Clothes.
But that generation was the force behind the Third Generation….my generation.
What happened the 15 cousins?
The Boys(five) …….a priest*, a railway worker, a creamery worker, a taxi driver, a junior civil servant*.
The Girls (ten) ….nun/teacher*, civil servant, teacher* nurse, nurse. nurse, ,factory worker, factory worker, factory worker, factory worker.
The * indicates university education.
This is social progress.
Only three of my cousins (83, 74, 66) plus my sister (67) are still alive. I obviously don’t have a lot of contact with most of THEIR children and spouses……but the occupations include nurses (now requiring university education), police forensics officer*, Sports journalist/producer* teachers*, bus drivers, speech therapist* ,shop workers, blood specialist in a hospital lab*, chef, civil servants………and I suppose the rest are a mix of occupations.
It is a long way from Granda and Granny on a tenant farm in County Armagh.
So who is Kate Hoey? Well she is a 75 year old retired Labour (!!!) Member of Parliament for Vauxhall in London. She retired in 2019 after over thirty years in the Commons. She is now in the “House of Lords”, a traditional retirement sinecure for veteran MPs.
She was one of the few Labour politicians to campaign for Brexit in 2016.
It was a long way from her 1970s posturing as an International Trotskyist. Having said that, it is not unusual for teenage and leftist politicians to flirt with fringe political groups before finding a home (and a safe seat of course) with the mainstream Labour Party.
But we need to go back further in Hoey’s life …she was born in South Antrim in the 1940s and did not leave for England until the 1970s. For Hoey, British nationalism (versus European Union) is the same as British nationalism (versus Irish nationalism) in Norn Iron.
In her later years in Parliament, she was so identified with unionism that she was known, sarcastically as “the DUP member for Vauxhall”.
In the House of Lords, she has become even more identified with unionism and lends a certain respectability to unionism. She is a celebrity I suppose and it reminds me of the move of Enoch Powell from the Conservative Party to Ulster Unionist Party in the 1970s.
What to make of her? I would say two things. She was a medium sized fish in a very big pond and is now a very large fish in a very small polluted backwater. Or……..you can take a girl out of Mallusk, County Antrim but you can’t take Mallusk out of the girl.
Hoey’s story is linked to that of Jamie Bryson, a 30 something wannabee politican from North Down. Currently an outlier and a “blogger”. Vehemently anti-Protocol and a thorn in the side of established unionist politicans in DUP and UUP. He might well be a candidate in the Assembly Elections in May this year. His shtick (gimmick) is that he is poster boy for the loyalist underclass.
He Said…She Said
So what is the fuss all about?
Well He is poster boy for the loyalist on the street. A blogger and he runs a loyalist think tank” (sic). He writes.
“Unionism must weaponise the mechanisms and procedures of the institutions (for so long as they remain in existence) to benefit unionism.
“There can be no goodwill or balance; unionism must ruthlessly and relentlessly exploit the institutions for the benefit of unionism…
“And those provisions should be weaponised without a hint of shame or embarrassment; it is simply returning the serve.
“It cannot, and will not, be the case whereby nationalism can weaponise the Agreement and the law more generally, without the inevitable political and legal retaliation.”
There are buzz words and dog whistles. “weaponise” “no goodwill” “ruthlessly” and perhaps more tellingly “retaliation”.
Bryson’s contention is that there are now so many nationalist professionals in the law, media and academia and more nationalists in university education that they are effectively a fifth column working against the “Union”.
It is certainly true that a lot of students from a Protestant or unionist background choose to go universities in England or Scotland. A lot of this “brain drain” or “chicken run” is their parents realising Norn Iron is a basket case and any advantages their children might have had in the 1950s and 1960s are now over. There is also the fact that industries like ship building and manufacturing industry (where fathers and sons worked) are now gone.
Bryson is talking about my childrens generation.
Of course Bryson is not exactly a traditional politician. We can more or less ignore him. But Hoey has amplified his views and as a real life Lady given them a veneer of respectability. She writes as a foreward to his latest “report”.
“I support the increasingly strategic activism of young (and not so young) people within the pro-Union community, who are coming together in various ways to develop networks and sharing of ideas…
“I also entirely support the ongoing work to encourage those, especially from working class loyalist communities, to engage in education and to seek entry to professional vocations such as journalism, law, and public service.
“There are very justified concerns that many professional vocations have become dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion, and this positioning of activists is then used to exert influence on those in power.
“The work of UVPS is crucial, both as a network for the sharing of pro-Union ideas, and for the development of policies, legal arguments, and political strategies.”
Both are perceived as attacks on individuals.
The contradiction is that it is somehow acceptable to use education, influence and position to advance unionist views but somehow unacceptable to do so to advance nationalist views. Again Dog Whistle words…..”positioning activists”.
It is of course offensive to suggest that nationalists lack the integrity to be fully committed to their chosen profession in an unbiased manner.
Letter to Leo
A consequence of the growing Nationalist demographic and confidence has been the Letter to Leo (Varadkar) a few years back.
Essentially a letter from Irish citizens from many fields including, Law, Sport, Music, Business etc has been a catalyst. I myself have signalled my support for the “Ireland’s Future” Movement. Many of the signatories have now become reviled figures. They have had the temerity to want progress to Irish unity to accelerate.
Some unionists choose to interpret nationalist confidence as a “threat”. They fear a “pan nationalist front”….the Irish Government, southern political parties, SDLP, Sinn Féin, Catholic Church, Gaelic Athletic Association etc as some kinda conspiracy against them.
It is all I think, about Visibility.
When I visited my father in hospital in the 1970s, he pointed out the nurses “that girl is from Newry” “that girl is from Omagh, indicating they were Catholics. He contrasted this with being in the same hospital in 1952 and there were no Catholic nurses. In the 1980s, he was also pointing out the nurses from the Republic of Ireland…entitled to employment in the north because of membership of the European Union.
Of course as my father (a nationalist) saw this as progress, another father (a unionist) on the other side of town might see it as a threat.
In Norn Iron, we are all a little like that. At school in the 1950s, we were mostly given neutral sounding forenames…John, James, Thomas, Anne , Mary, Margaret ………sometimes Catholic sounding names Kevin, Theresa, Anthony, Deirdre ….which might have an adverse effect on future employment chances.
Now in the 21st century, my grandchildren have “Irish” names and two have names that I had not even heard of before they were born. Yes I get a buzz going into a bank or supermarket and seeing name tags like Oisín, Roisín, Sinéad, Gearóid, Laise and best of all Saoirse (Freedom). If I am 69 years old and getting a buzz out of something that appears so childish, then you can bet your life there is another 69 year old man seeing these name tags and longing for the good old days when people like me and mine knew our place. Croppy lie down.
Being a minority…often despised……requires a set of skills. It is not 1970 and no co-worker can call me a “sewer rat” and it is not 1975 and no policeman can shout “Fenian bastard” from the back of a land rover.
Not openly of course. Legislation and Decency has sent that kinda thing underground.
I think my maternal family ……uncles, aunts, cousins, wife (!!!) sons, daughters in law, neices, nephews, sister, …they mostly had that set of skills required to be a minority.
I think that is the fear in the Protestant/unionist community. As the demographics change, I am not sure that they have the skill set required to be a minority. I suppose in the interest of stability or even decency, I should care about their fears. But I …don’t.
THIS IS CIVIL RIGHTS.
“They call me….MISTER Tibbs.