Sectarian Violence in Northern Ireland

Madmen on the rampage

Isn’t it ironic that UVF attacks on Catholic homes in Belfast hit the news on the same day as the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team report on the Kingsmill murders?

Two sides of the same demented coin.

Last night, a mob of lowlifes attacked houses in the Short Strand area of Belfast.  Two of them were shot, and to be frank, I don’t blame whoever fired at them.  If I had a gun and someone was attacking my home, I’d do the same.

That horrible undercurrent of hatred that permeates the loyalist community remains as poisonous today as it ever was.  If they’re not attacking pensioners in their homes, they’re sending bullets to managers of Scottish football clubs.

They are truly the dregs.

Of course, the loyalist groups – as opposed to the unionist – have always attracted the lowest of the low.  You might agree with the unionist political viewpoint or you might not, but in the end it’s no more than an opinion.  Many people in Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, think the union should have been maintained.  Conversely, the vast majority, Catholic and Protestant, are fervent supporters of Irish political independence.  Loyalism, on the other hand, has to do with triumphalism, aggression, contempt for others and an atavistic tendency to violence.

Loyalists, for the most part, are idiots.  Violent, uneducated idiots who desperately need something to give them some kind of legitimacy.

Somebody once pointed out to me that the reason the loyalist paramilitaries, for all their murderous bigotry, were so unsuccessful was simply that they couldn’t attract anyone with a brain.  The unionist people in the North had options to join the police, the army,  even the despicable B-Specials who later morphed into the sectarian UDR.  By the time it reached the UVF and the UDA, the only thing on offer was semi-evolved knuckle dragging half-wits like Johnny Adair, Billy Wright and Lenny Murphy who in the end became such an embarrassment that the loyalist paramilitaries worked with the Provos to kill him.

The Provos, by contrast, had their choice of capable people who, in a normal society, would have joined the police force, the army or the professions.  Therefore, in addition to the knuckle-dragging half-wits they inevitably attracted, they also had people of genuine ability.

Unfortunately, and despite what Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness might claim, there was also a sectarian strand to the activities of the Provos, just as there was in the newly-formed republic when Protestants were burned out of West Cork in 1922.

So let’s have anough of this nonsense.  Let’s have enough of people telling us that the loyalists are sectarian — which they are — but that the republicans’ hands are totally clean.  They are not.

On the 5th January 1976,  ten men were going home from work on a bus in County Armagh.  The driver stopped when a man appeared waving a flashlight.  Armed men stepped out and ordered all the workers off the bus.  They demanded to know the religion of the men, and released the only Catholic, Richard Hughes, telling him to run away.  They then shot everyone at the side of the road, leaving only one survivor,

The murdered men were, in order of their ages,  Robert Chambers (18); John McConville (20); Kenneth Worton (24); Reginald Chapman (29); Walter Chapman (29); Robert Samuel Walker (46); Joseph Lemmon (49);   John Bryans (50); Robert Freeburn (56); James McWhirter (63).

The IRA, which was supposed to be on ceasefire at the time,  responded to the public outcry at the blatantly sectarian nature of the attack by inventing a false title for the murderers : South Armagh Republican Action Force.

You might respond with the Greysteel and Loughinisland massacres, and I wouldn’t disagree.  You’d be right.  They were examples of absolute mindless, loyalist moronic aggression. But somehow, and maybe I’m wrong here, the republican side always seemed to claim a purer legitimacy to the thing they called the “armed struggle”.

So, how did it help the struggle to shoot a dozen harmless workers at the side of the road?

I don’t want anyone telling me that I’m trying to minimise the sectarian loyalist campaign. There are plenty of articles on this site about such things, if anybody cares to read them.  But I think it’s about time we faced up to the fact that the Irish nationalist side has also been responsible for crimes of hatred against others solely based on their religious affiliations.

As the years went on, many things have become obvious about Ireland and about the Irish. One of the most obvious is that we are unable to take responsibility for our own faults and failings. Since the mid 1800s, we handed control of our country to a demented form of clericalism which we still struggle to shake off.  We handed control to a bunch of lunatic priests who invented an Ireland that never existed.

In other words, it’s time to drop the holier-than-thou victim persona we’ve traded on for too long and start behaving as adults, perhaps for the very first time.

The loyalists are just thugs and as long as the political will exists, they”ll never be more than a nuisance, however menacing.  The thinking republicans. likewise, will take a pragmatic view of what can be achieved, and that leaves the patriots who die for Ireland every Saturday night.

Maybe we should get them to exchange phone numbers with the loyalists.  They seem to have a great deal in common.



Previously on Bock



38 thoughts on “Sectarian Violence in Northern Ireland

  1. Bock,

    I worked in a Loyalist community in the late ’90s, there was an attitude of complete nihilism amongst most of them. While the Republicans were getting on with community development and achieving real progress, there were few Protestant leaders of any substance who were prepared to engage with the Loyalists. In ’97, there were serious issues of intimidation of Catholics, punishment beatings, and the usual other stuff that goes with such elements. There was a meeting set up with the political wing of one of the groups and Protestant clergy were asked to attend – only three of us turned up. I despise the Republican leadership, but they have led (most) of their community into better times. The finger of blame in the Loyalist community needs to be pointed not only at the savage elements, but also at the comfortable middle class Protestants who have ignored the trouble at their own door.

  2. Ian, I can understand you despising the Republican Leadership at the height of the troubles when both communities were at polar opposites. On the one hand you had the Republican leadership hell bent on a violent struggle in order to attain, or who’s aspiration was to attain a 32 county republic through armed struggle. And on the other side you had a large section of the Unionist population who considered nationalists/republicans’ as second class citizens and enemies of the state (The six counties of Northern Ireland). Now this same Republican leadership has managed to convince P.I.R.A. to move away from the armed struggle and into the political mainstream to pursue their aspiration of achieving a 32 county republic and are very much a part of the political process holding the peace together. I would have thought communities, especially community leaders and politicians would have moved away from despising each other at this stage.

    Bock of course you are right, there were elements within the Republican movement who’s only motives for being involved was purely sectarian. Violence, wars, armed struggle, whatever you want to call them, are a filthy business. Thankfully its behind us. But the only way we can ensure it stays behind us is for both communities to learn to forgive each other, to respect rather then despise each other and to find ways to work together, especially in the working class areas of Belfast.

  3. I’ve always said that there’s a very ugly triumphalism within loyalism. By its nature it needs to hold on to the past and to celebrate oppression. The loyalists have never stopped thinking of themselves as invaders and colonists.

  4. Excuse my innorance and laziness, but could you just briefly explain to me the difference between loyalists and unionists and republicans, and how they relate to Catholics and Protestants?

    Just when sports where starting to cheer you up, here comes bad news again out of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Maybe McRory should go do an exhibition 9 holes over there.

  5. Sorry, but I’m afraid that would take all day. Maybe someone else might volunteer.

    I’ll just say one thing about it. People aren’t as ethnically distinct as they might like to believe.

  6. LJS, I retract ‘despise’. However, I have a deep mistrust of people who persist in refusing to express any remorse for murders; whose (past) friends, according to anecdotal evidence, are still engaged in a range of illegal activities to which a blind eye is turned; and whose vision of history has no place for my community.

    Bock, I agree, but unless someone leads them out of that pernicious mindset, the stuff will continue to fester.

  7. How will that happen? Who will lead them out of the mindset? Look at the deep-seated hatreds in Scotland. Look at the treatment of Neil Lennon.The sort of bigotry behind that is deep-rooted. For many people, I think it defines who they are. If they give up their hatreds, they’ll be nobody, in their own minds.

  8. The mail today -The IRA last night apologised for the killing of all “non-combatants” who died during its campaign of terror. In an unprecedented statement, the republican terror group offered its “sincere apologies and condolences” to the families of victims during 30 years of violence.
    At the same time it said it acknowledged the grief and pain of the families of the combatants – police, soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries – killed during the violence.
    Records show the IRA killed nearly 1,800 people during its terror campaign, close on 650 of them civilians.
    The apology came ahead of the anniversary this week of one of the IRA’s worst acts, the killing of nine people and injury of over 130 when terrorists blitzed Belfast with 27 bombs on the afternoon of
    Read more:

  9. Far though I am from being a supporter of the IRA, it always amazed me how selective the British media are when talking about terror. Bloody Sunday was terrorism. Internment was terrorism. Bombay Street was terrorism. Likewise, the loyalist gangs were nothing but terrorists and criminals. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that sort of blindness prolonged the conflict.

  10. There is a problem in Protestant culture (which has shaped the thinking of such communities) in that there is great emphasis on individualism and material success (prosperity theology is very pervasive). There has never been the sort of community development that transformed other areas, nor even the sort of thinking that might have made such development possible. The Loyalists are failures by the definition of their own tradition (ask people in North Down what they think of their supposed coreligionists) and react with frustration and aggression. I think the DUP could engage much more with the communities and, once they become theology-free, will probably provide some answer.

  11. One of the most interesting things about any discussion of loyalism is the constant use of terms like low lifes etc. These people are in the main marginalised, socially and economically deprived communities that NI politics has left behnd. The Paisleys and Robinsons of this world previously used and abused these communities for thier own ends. Now that respectability has arrived they are forgotten. ian is quiet right the lack of cummunity development and community cohesiveness is an issue but the real hopelessness of these communities is incredible.

    The what aboutery of “bombay street versus Kingsmills or bloody sunday versus bloody friday has only increased the alienation because loyalist communities no one inthier community getting £80K special adviser posts, no bloggers call them low lives, politicians ignore them and the media demean them

  12. The stupid thing about those “loyalist” attacks on the catholics is that they come on the same week that a poll showed that the majority of catholics no longer want a united Ireland.Northern Ireland is now more secure in its union with Britain than it ever was.So what are those brain dead inbreds trying to achieve now other than trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  13. I don’t think this is about achieving anything. As I suggested earlier, I think it comes from a deep-seated antipathy towards anything perceived to be Irish. It’s about territory and domination. It’s true that the loyalist communities are marginalised, but the main reason the UVF and the UDA are referred to as lowlifes is their thuggish behaviour.

    To the best of my knowledge, I have never characterised ordinary people living in loyalist areas as lowlifes — only those who went out to intimidate or kill their neighbours.

  14. Funny some may say this is a “tom Elliot” defence, “I didn’t call all members of Sinn Fein scum”.

    Sectarianism is at the heart of the issue, as is fear, dislocation and political and economic abandonment. Whether it is the murder of innocents at Kingsmills or the attacks on Bombay Street or the Short Strand sectarianism created the circumstances and the justification for these actions. Describing either the UDA, UVF, IRA or INLA as lowlifes or scum, makes no positive contribtion it simply dehumanises people. Once this happens its easy not to take the people seriously, makes it easy to ignore their issues and not to listen to the real concerns

  15. What poll was that William?
    We also need to remember that there are Protestant republicans as well as Catholic unionists.
    I know this is going back a bit, but lest we forget the republican movement was founded in the first place by Protestant activists.
    I don’t want to drag this post back hundreds of years, but the idea that the conflict in the North is just some kind of religious war really annoys me.


  16. Eglise en Bois — It’s not a defence. You seem to have latched onto the most peripheral point in the whole post and I’m not going to spend the rest of the day arguing about calling killers hurtful names.

    LJS — Of course it isn’t a religious war, although there is a strong correlation between membership of any given denomination and political alignment.

  17. Bock I was reacting to Williams post re ‘ Poll majority of Catholics want the union etc, etc’ I really dislike this simplistic approach that the cause of the troubles in Ireland is a religious one. As well as my own pagan Kids, I have Catholic and Protestant nieces and nephews and they all hold the same basic political views – Protestant, Catholic and pagans. I’ll leave you guess what they are.

  18. Bock this looks as if the whole thing has been engineered by the dissident fuckers…… Throw bricks at a few prod (loyalist) homes……. provoke a reaction from the loyalist morons (disaffected youth)…… let them riot……shoot a few prods or journos by mistake. ……Provoke tit for tat shootings from UVF (disaffected youths big brother)…… Let them kill a few innocent taigs…. never bothered the Provos……Create an atmosphere of fear and hatred in the nationalist community……. Result increased support and recruits for the dissidents and the whole spiral of violence starts again.
    Thank fuck I got out of the shithole!

  19. i believe that because republicism had a close link with civil rights movement it had something to work towards. Loyalists on the other hand were always giving ground
    after all for some loyalists all they had was they thought they were a step above republicians

  20. I can’t agree with that. The civil rights movement had nothing to do with republicanism. In fact, most people on the early civil rights marches were demanding equal treatment as UK citizens.

  21. what I meant was that civil rights rather than the civil rights movement, gave republicans something positive to work towards.I think for most people civil rights was more important than a united Ireland.
    for the lolalists there was never anything to gain, they seen to measure things only as losses.

  22. Many people would argue that the physical-force tradition saw the civil rights movement as an opportunity to regroup. The IRA in 1968 was largely defunct and about as effective as the People’s Front of Judea. They even went on to have a split. In fact, a common jibe at the time was that IRA stood for I Ran Away. The people on the marches at that time were not looking for a united Ireland. They wanted equal treatment in housing and jobs.

    Housing policy in the North was about more than simply putting a roof over people’s heads. It was about managing the vote by ensuring that people of a unionist leaning were housed in the appropriate areas. In 1968, Austin Currie, MP for East Tyrone, occupied a house which had been allocated to a Protestant girl in her 20s ahead of a Catholic family. Police ejected him and that action, in due course, led to the civil rights marches.

    The following year, a march from Belfast to Derry was attacked by 200 loyalists, aided and abetted by the RUC and after that, there was no going back.

    The Bloody Sunday massacre happened when the British army opened fire on a civil rights march in 1972, organised by, among others, Ivan Cooper, a Protestant nationalist. In my opinion, that was when it really kicked off.

  23. William, Loyalists attacked Nationalists….Would the people of the world understand that?
    I am sure they would given half a chance. But it suits the British Government in particular, to use the Catholic v Protestant model. Yes you are right in that since the foundation of the 6 county state of Northern Ireland the political divide became inextricably linked with religion, but we all know why that is the case. In fairness when the state was set up we had our very own version of the South African Orange free state. The only difference was, religion not skin colour determined your social standing.

    You also claim that a majority of Catholics want the North to remain a part of Great Britain based on the results of “The Northern Ireland life and times survey” A poll involving 1205 people! Jesus wept.

  24. Small technical interjection here.

    A poll of 1205 people would be a large sample in statistical terms and would be considered to have a high degree of reliability provided the sample has been randomly selected.

  25. Yes you are absolutely right Bock, if it was a random selection. But it does not say it was a random selection. However the most recent elections held in the North would indicate that the poll may not be a valid reflection of the mood of the people. I would imagine if it was, then the Alliance Party would have had a very large increase in its vote from the Catholic population. However Sinn Fein increased their overall vote and remain the second largest political party in the North.

  26. Poll carried out in 2010. The election results 2011, seems to be at odds with the poll results of 2010. Maybe its methodology needs some tweaking? Unless people tell a few porkies when answering these questionnaires’

  27. LJS — There is another possibility. Perhaps people are voting SF for reasons other than their stance on the national question.

    FME — A representative, unbiased sample selection is the thing I have in mind..

  28. Bock I am not surprised by the survey results. Many catholics have done well since the introduction of the equal apportunity employment legislation over 20 years ago. As a result many of the top jobs in the Civil Service are held by catholics.These people are now part of the establishment, why would they want to give that up? This legislation came as a result of the initial work done by NICRA and taken forward by John Hume and Co. For the record I know for a fact most of those involved in NICRA abhorred violence and were opposed to the Provos. Furthermore to suggest that the Provos motivation was a civil rights agenda is to say the least a bit ridiculous.

  29. Unless there’s evidence that the survey was improperly conducted, I think we have to accept the bona fides of the researchers. The situation in the north has become a lot more nuanced in recent years. The questionnaire explicitly avoided asking if the economic situation in the Republic had anything to do with people’s choice, but I think it must be a factor in turning northerners off.

  30. Bock – LJS — There is another possibility. Perhaps people are voting SF for reasons other than their stance on the national question.
    Yes this is a possibility. My point though was that I think that people in general take a national vote more seriously then a poll questionaire. If there is a large increase in Catholics (see its not really about religion William) wanting to remain in the union then I would imagine that their vote would have gone to the Alliance party. Or maybe Sinn Feins vote has increased in numbers because more protestants are voting Sinn Fein.

  31. I think there’s a possibility that more Protestants are voting SF. If the union is less of an issue in people’s minds, it would also figure less in a national election. A general election isn’t really a focussed poll like a survey because there are so many considerations, often conflicting with each other.

    Therefore, if anything, a carefully constructed survey dealing with one single issue, is more likely to give a true picture of the direction people are leaning on that particular question.

  32. I know at least one Protestant who would vote Sinn Fein, perceiving them as a progressive party, but would be small ‘u’ unionist for pragmatic reasons. When anyone looks southwards and sees the economic crash in this jurisdiction, retaining British taxation and benefits looks very attractive.

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