This change has made Northern Ireland a place we can all call home.
It’s my belief that the change in mindset required for this to happen has been much greater in the unionist tradition than in the nationalist groups. And we all have to recognize that the majority of unionist people have done this with an open heart.
A further example of the change in public attitudes was made obvious in February 2008 when Ian Óg had to resign from a junior ministerial post in the Assembly over doubts about his dealings with Seymour Sweeney, although as far as I recall Ian was guilty of no wrongdoing.
Lately, Nelson McCausland has been in deep water for what some believe to be not very honest behaviour as regards the Housing Executive. Even Jim Allister of the TUV said at a debate in the Assembly:
"Have you no shame that you would use your position in office, abuse it, to oppress your own member who dared to stand in your way....is your arrogance such that you think you can abuse power?" (Belfast Telegraph)
Seeing these events unfold tells us a lot, but have we thought about how it affects us?
There was one moment in Northern Ireland history that marked the time when things changed forever for the better.
Do you remember the day that David Trimble had to apologise for what he said about a dead Catholic?
In the history of the Troubles, no unionist leader had ever been forced to apologise about a dead Catholic, such behaviour was beneath them. I’ll refresh your memory.
On the 4th of July 2001 Ciaran Cummings, a young Catholic from Antrim was “shot dead today in Northern Ireland in a killing that police have described as ‘professional and well organised.’” (The Guardian Unlimited)
You have to remember that this was after the ceasefires and during the time of the intense debate about decommissioning. It was obvious to Catholics that Ciaran had been shot by Loyalists but such a reality did not suit the unionist mindset of the time.
Then the next day the Irish Times ran an article with the following lines: “Ulster Unionist leader Mr David Trimble today said there was ‘good reason’ to suspect the 19-year-old Catholic man killed in Co Antrim yesterday was murdered by republicans. The former First Minister suggested the fatal shooting of Mr Ciaran Cummings as he waited at a roundabout on the outskirts of Antrim town could be linked to drugs.”
This statement caused great offence to the Catholic people. We had had our fill with the attitude held by some Unionist politicians that they could say what they liked about dead Catholics with impunity. For us, David Trimble, who many believed had never been serious about his role as First Minister nor of promoting reconciliation, was only saying what lots of people believed.
Monika Unsworth wrote again in the Irish Times on July 6th 2001:
“The RUC officer in charge of the investigation of the murder of Ciaran Cummings, Detective Superintendent John Brannigan, flatly contradicted suggestions by resigned First Minister David Trimble that Mr. Cummings was shot by nationalists involved in drug dealing, saying there was ‘no information to suggest that republicans were involved.’ An RUC spokesman confirmed that while Mr Cummings had a number of minor criminal convictions none of them was in any way drugs-related. Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist sources appeared bewildered by Mr Trimble's comments, with a party spokesman saying the UUP leader had not been briefed by party headquarters on the matter.”
Finally Trimble apologised. What Trimble had originally said on an RTE interview was:
"I know that yesterday a statement came from one of these dissident loyalist groups. But there's good reason to believe that republicans were behind the Antrim murder."
Even after the Red Hand Commandos had admitted responsibility Trimble could not believe it. You have to wonder what were his motives, were they sectarian or political?
His apology was reported on the BBC:
"I have seen the press reports with regard to the killing in Antrim and the very clear and unequivocal statement by the police with regard to who they regard as responsible for it.”
"Clearly the indications I had received were inaccurate, and obviously I withdraw those comments and I wish to apologise to the family for any suffering that the comments may have caused them."
Maybe he was misinformed by his sources. Trimble had reliable sources; on July 7th, 1996 he held a well publicised meeting with Billy Wright at Drumcree. This was the same day that Michael McGoldrick was shot dead by members of Wright’s hit squad.
However, in fairness to Trimble, it is widely held that Wright did not know about the shooting of McGoldrick. It later came out in court that members of the LVF shot McGoldrick ‘as a birthday present for Wright,’ who was born on July 7th, 1960.
It has taken quite a few words to fill in the background to what I want to say, but for me the fact that Trimble had to apologise for his statement about Ciaran Cummings was one of the seminal moments of the whole history of the Troubles.
Trimble had received the Nobel Peace prize along with John Hume in 1998. Peacemakers are people who build up a community. Many people thought that Trimble’s words in July 2001 were designed to do harm to the peace process, but the good people of Ulster, Protestant and Catholic, were not for going back to the old days.
Anyone born after, say 1985, would find it hard to believe how big a mind shift this has been for the unionist politicians. It is a mind shift of seismic proportions; Catholics could no longer be written off as having no importance.
One of the flaws in nationalist accepted wisdom is that we think we have done all the work; nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you remember George Seawright? He is an example of an extremist, whose ilk is hopefully gone forever.
“I moved to Belfast in the autumn of 1986. Some weeks earlier a DUP councillor called George Seawright had provoked outrage when he suggested in the council chamber that Taigs should be incinerated.” (Emily O’Reilly, Irish Ombudsman)
In the same year Ian Paisley and other unionist politicians attended the wake and funeral of John Bingham, a notorious UVF killer who died courtesy of the IRA and in December 1987 the INLA dispatched Seawright to the great incinerator in whichever place he went.
The hatred of Catholics by unionist politicians and the way they played up to Loyalist killers is something that had to be witnessed to be believed. There has been a ‘wright-sea-change’ in attitudes.
Fast forward til today; or if you want to look at it another way, turn the clock back to 1969, where we meet the blonde Belfast bombshell, one Ruth Patterson, DUP politician and former deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast.
Seemingly, for reasons best known to the organizers, a Republican march is being held on August 11th in Castlederg. To be honest I had heard nothing about it til the story broke about Ms Patterson. The 57 year old wrote a reply to a suggestion that a fictitious attack be held on the parade in which our deputy first minister and the TD for Louth were killed along with Gerry Kelly:
“You know, Brian, who cares how we would be judged, we would have done a great service to Northern Ireland and the world getting rid of these evil, devious, scum like individuals who bombed and murdered their way into government, who walk the corridors of power leaving their blood stained hand prints on everything they touch and who care not how far they go to rid my beloved Northern Ireland of everything that is good and proper. Would I shed a tear, No, would I loose a night’s sleep, No, would I really worry about what anyone else thought, No.”
But how times have changed; the DUP had to come out and say that Ruth had overstepped the mark; for me as a Catholic nationalist this was akin to Chairman Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward.’
"Councillor Ruth Patterson has apologised for her remarks, accepted they were well below the standard expected of a public representative and not in keeping with the DUP's values and ethos.”
"The party officers also emphasised the unacceptable nature of these stupid and obnoxious comments and will conclude its own internal investigations.”
"We fail to understand why the police chose to conduct a sensationalist arrest rather than contact Ruth and ask her to attend an Article 10 voluntary interview. This is a matter we will be raising with the chief constable." (BBC News)
Imagine a unionist politician being arrested for their words about the theoretical death of nationalist and Catholic politicians especially those from Sinn Fein. How the world has changed.
apologises for parade comments
We have reached a sort of an impasse in the new north and it needs a little analysis.
The unionists have lost their supremacy and they have recognised nationalists and Catholics as equal in all ways; the statement of the DUP about what Ruth Patterson said only goes to reinforce this. Some, and I stress the word ‘some,’ unionists still hanker after the days of domination, but most realize that these days have gone forever.
It appears a few unionist people do not know what to do now that they don’t have an enemy. It is hard to maintain an attitude of supremacy when you treat people as equals, sharing power in Stormont and the local councils, and when you no longer control the police. There will always be those who can’t let go; we have our dissidents.
Looking at ourselves, the nationalist people cannot continue in a state of rebellion when there is nothing to rebel about. Sinn Fein in particular is finding it hard to make the shift from revolutionary party to mainstream politics.
So if you haven’t got an enemy you invent one: the huge insult to the Catholic people of the flag flying over City Hall or the taking down of said flag.
You see, Sinn Fein and all the nationalist people of Northern Ireland have reached a turning point; how do we move forward now that Sinn Fein has effectively recognised British rule in Ireland.
We should not give up on the idea of a united, free and independent Ireland, which is run on a fair democratic basis.
A united Ireland shall only come from the north down. First we have to get our own house in order and when we accomplished that task we have to work towards a united Northern Ireland and figure out how we can take over the Free State.
Basically, a United Ireland shall be the result of a northern coup; the Free Staters have shown that they shall never work seriously for national unity.
None of us shall live to see this, but in my heart I firmly believe that David Trimble apologising to the family of Ciaran Cummings was the first tangible proof that even a dream as ridiculous as this could possibly come true.
And Ruth Patterson, like King Canute, cannot stop the tide!
Peacemakers, the people that the Lord called blessed, do not use hatred to further their aims, they use the truth.
We all need to make a Mao-like Great Leap Forward; a leap forward signified by an act of community forgiveness, forgiving the hurts done in the past and recognizing the strides that each community has made.
As for the Ruth Patterson’s of this world let us remember what the Real Peacemaker said, “Leave the people of dead attitudes to bury the people of dead attitudes.” The rest of us can move on.
The unionist and nationalist people of Northern Ireland are changing, we need to recognize this and celebrate it.
On Saturday morning the BBC news carried the following:
“DUP councillor Ruth Patterson has been charged by police after she made comments on Facebook about a planned republican parade in County Tyrone.”
If this doesn’t awaken the nationalist people to the sea change in Northern Ireland then what will.
And now knowing that Tyrone is progressing towards the All Ireland! Things in the new north are getting much brighter.
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