The right-wing patrician UStater William F Buckley (despite the Irish surname) and two dogs, one of them the imminently slappable racist Tory Roger Evans, take Bernadette Devlin (now Devlin-McAlliskey) on and she wipes the floor with them. She was a month short of 25 years of age when she sat this interview in late March 1972, without any notes to hand, keeping up with the arguments, never losing her temper, reeling off historical facts and financial figures. It was a stellar performance.
Even more remarkable, not two months had passed since the Paras had shot 26 unarmed marchers in Derry, murdering 14 men at a march she had herself attended and, though then an MP, she had been refused permission to speak on it in the House of Commons, while lies were being stated by people who had not been there. Also, her interview took place only a month after the travesty of an inquiry into the murder by Lord Widgery who completely exonerated the gunmen and their officers, maintaining they were acting in self-defence against all evidence except the soldiers’ and Widgery even claimed a march of at least 30,000 was at most around 3,000! It seems that there must’ve been an agreement not to mention Bloody Sunday, perhaps as a condition for the interview, otherwise what else can explain its omission?
Bernadette came out against the Good Friday Agreement when it was born, not pushing armed struggle as an alternative but stating that the GFA institutionalised sectarianism and because she accused the Provos of seeking alliances with the Right and capitalism rather than with the Left and the working class. She would have been a powerful voice against the GFA and could not be accused of being in a ‘dissident’ armed group but the British State held her daughter Roisin, who was pregnant, hostage and Bernadette stepped back from that issue. She was marginalised by the Republican movement in the 1970s and 80s, along with being shot 14 times in front of her children (her husband shot too) in 1981 and lost to us as a national leader again in the first decade of the GFA.
Watching this discussion brings back to mind all the economic and political issues that were around at the time, especially as Bernadette reels them off, many of them largely forgotten. All the fudges and lies of British governments avoiding doing anything fundamental to improve things even within an illegitimate colonial context.
A recent article of the Belfast Telegraph, a British-Unionist paper, reports that nationalist youth have built a bonfire and decorated it with, among other things, a banner representing the Parachute Regiment and another representing “Soldier F”. The article reports that the Police Service of Northern Ireland are treating this as “a hate crime”.
The newspaper comments also that this bonfire is associated with “anti-social behaviour” the nature of which however they neglect to specify. Although the article treats the PSNI statement as unremarkable and neglects to interrogate it as responsible journalism should do, the police statement is actually not only totally inaccurate in terms of law but also discriminatory and oppressive.
One definition of “hate crime” from an on-line dictionary is a crime, typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.
Wikipedia posts at greater length and depth:A hate crime (also known as a bias-motivated crime or bias crime is a prejudice-motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group or race.
“Hate crime” generally refers tocriminal acts which are seen to have been motivated bybias against one or more of the social groups listed above, or by bias against their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, mate crime or offensivegraffiti or letters (hate mail).
Now, how does placing an emblem or banner to represent the Paratroop Regiment constitute a “hate crime” under any of those definitions? First of all, is it a crime to burn the banner? Not in itself, no and therefore it cannot be a hate crime. But even if burning a banner were defined in law as a crime, how would it fit the definition of “hate crime” as given above? It is none of those categories above that leads to the Parachute Regiment being reviled.
It is interesting, since the issue of “hate crimes” was brought into law, how incorrectly they are being ascribed by people in authority and by mass media and, curiously, applied to people struggling for national self-determination against repressive states and also to those opposing fascists. In other words, it is progressive forces that are being accused of “hate crimes” because of their resistance to oppression and resistance. Not the reactionary forces one might suppose were the object of the classification.
Certainly, it is the discriminatory and repressive behaviour towards its large Catholic minority of the ‘Northern Ireland’ statelet since its formation which clearly fits into the definitions of “hate crime”, although often its actions were not defined as crimes since they were authorised by its repressive legislation. Nevertheless, even within the parameters of that body of legislation the Statelet and its police committed thousands of crimes, including petty harassment, beatings, torture, perjury, arson, collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and murder.
The British Army became an active participant in those crimes when it was sent into the Six Counties to bolster the crumbling government and exhausted sectarian police. Chief among those in criminality was the Parachute Regiment, responsible for an admitted list of unarmed civilian fatalities which includes 10 in Ballymurphy in August 1971, 13 in Derry in January of 1972 and another five in July of that year on the Springfield Estate.
It is perfectly reasonable, natural and, I would say healthy to hate the people who carried out those massacres. And to hate them cannot reasonably be called a crime.
“Soldier F” is the only member of that regiment to have been charged with the crime of murder and to be facing trial. As a representative of that murderous regiment he did not become a public target of hate until the Loyalists chose to publicly flaunt their support for him with banners, graffiti and badges. None of those, motivated by hate for the nationalist community, were charged with committing a hate crime. However, when nationalist youth, responding to that hateful campaign of the Loyalists, place the soldier’s alias on a bonfire, suddenly it is they who are accused of perpetrating a “hate crime”.
Unfortunate it may be that the nationalist youth have focused on this individual soldier but it is not a hate crime. They are targeting him not because of race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sexuality, disability etc, etc but because of his membership of a murderous regiment and, furthermore, in response to a campaign of provocation by Loyalists against which the sectarian PSNI and Statelet authorities have taken no action whatsoever.
And you know what? Although I am not from Derry or Belfast, I hate the Paratroop Regiment too.And the sectarian Statelet and its sectarian police force and the Loyalist bigots who support it and try to suppress the democratic rights of the nationalist population, as well as of migrants, women and LBGT people.
I could get to hate the Belfast Telegraph as well.
The crowd stood in the rain and gusting wind in Ardoyne, Belfast. In front of them, the gable end of a house shrouded in black. The crowd was dotted with uniforms of the various Republican marching flute-and-drum bands from Scotland, some green and some black. Irish Tricolour flags fluttered and here and there the Starry Plough and the Palestinian flag was in evidence, including above the shrouded mural.
After what seemed like a long wait, the MC, life-long Republican activist Martin Óg Meehan, called forward those who had commissioned the mural, the Independent Principled Ex-POWs group; around thirty of them, all dressed in black, carrying a banner with their group name on it, they formed a kind of honour guard during the ceremony. As indicated by its name, this is a collective aligned to no political party or group; it was established earlier this year by North Belfast Republican ex-prisoners.
Then after a short dedication speech, the shroud was pulled down to unveil the newest Republican mural in Belfast, which is surely Ireland’s city of murals (certainly of political murals). The centre-piece was a section of The Rythm of Time poem, written by Republican prisoner and hunger-striker to the death, Bobby Sands; around that central piece a number of panels depicted scenes from the struggles of Republican prisoners from the 1970s onwards. A special mention was made of the families and relatives of Republican prisoners, those who bore much of the brunt of the system that encarcerated their loved ones. One of the Scottish bands was then called to play The Soldiers’ Song, the Irish national anthem written and composed by two Republicans and which had been sung by some of the insurgents during the 1916 Rising against British colonial rule.
Some time after this ceremony, the primary purpose of the day was attended to as people assembled for the march against internment organised by the Irish Anti-Internment League. The British colonial statelet abandoned internment without trial after four-and-a-half years in 1975 but since then has been finding other means to remove its active political opponents from the streets. Some ex-prisoners who were released under Temporary Licence as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 have been returned to jail without charge, trial or right of appeal. Others have been faced with ridiculous charges — of in some way “assisting terrorism” — and jailed while awaiting trial; when eventually found not guilty, they have nevertheless already spent between one and two years in jail. Still others, after periods in jail awaiting trial, are being found “guilty” on highly suspect evidence in the special courts and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment (some of these too have eventually been released on appeal against conviction).
After outlining the order of march, Dee Fennel warned the participants that Loyalists had gathered in the city centre on the route of the march to oppose us. Dee urged us to obey the stewards and not to permit ourselves to be provoked into responding to Loyalist provocation. “The law is on our side, for a change,” he stated, meaning that permission for the parade had been applied for and granted, so that the police, if carrying out their duty, had to prevent others from attacking or obstructing us.
The march was headed by the prisoners’ relatives group and followed in sequence by the Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign, Wolfe Tone RFB (Republican Flute Band), Anti-Internment Group of Ireland (including the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee), Independent Principled Ex-POWs, Parkhead RFB, IRPWA, Vol.s Patricia Black and Frank Ryan RFB, Cabhair, Vol. John Brady RFB, Cógus, Erin Go Bragh RFB, Éirigí, 32 CSM plus other groups bringing up the rear. The Vol. John Brady band is from Strabane but all the rest are from Scotland: two from Glasgow and the Wolfe Tone and Erin Go Bragh bands from North Lanarkshire.
We worked our way down from Ardoyne in driving rain and strong gusts of wind, through the streets in twists and turns towards the city centre. Along the route we noted occasional Palestinian flags hanging from windows of people’s homes and from some flats in tower blocks. As we turned into Donegal Street coming in from the east and heading for Victoria Street, what sounded like a bestial howl arose ahead of us – the Loyalist mob had sighted the relatives’ group leading the march. There we halted for what seemed a long delay, while our march organisers brought the stewards up to the front. Tension mounted, the worse for the wait and not being able to see what lay ahead. Then the march started forward again.
The howls grew louder and then we could see the Loyalists, about 400, many waving Union Jack flags, straining against yellow-jacketed PSNI, the British colonial police, who faced them. Then a line of colonial police in full black riot gear, including shields, facing us (!). Between us and them stood a line of our stewards, their backs to the police and to the Loyalists. A number of police were videoing the marchers, intelligence-gathering, but I saw only one filming the Loyalists.
Two loud fireworks exploded fairly close ahead, presumably aimed at the relatives or the colour party of the band. The storm of abuse was so loud and varied that it was hard to make out any actual words. On video recordings one can hear us being called “baby killers” and – no doubt totally unconscious of the irony — calls in support of Israel! This last no doubt a response to a number of Palestinian flags showing among the marchers.
In front of our contingent, the Wolfe Tone RPF band marched without playing but to a steady rap …. rap … rap …. of the side-drums. One of the mature members of the band called out some words of encouragement to the younger members and, in time, began to call out “clé …. clé …. clé, deas, clé …” (“left … left … left, right, left …”). Behind me in the crowd, somebody began to shout “the I … the I … the I, R, A” in response to the Loyalists.
By now other missiles were flying from the Loyalist crowd and, not surprisingly to us, the police seemed to be making no effort to arrest the perpetrators. I saw a plastic bottle full of water land ahead – a marcher picked it up and threw it back; an orange or red umbrella landed among the marching band and a tall bass drummer stooped, picked it up and threw it back almost without looking and without breaking stride …. Some police struggled with a very large Loyalist woman, her face contorted in rage, as she tried to break through to attack us. Those of us carrying the Dublin Committee banner brought it to flank between a section of the band and the Loyalist missiles while one continued to film the event. One of our contingent was struck on the head by a flying object but continued to march. Another firework exploded somewhere behind. The band continued marching, facing forward …. clé …. clé …. clé, deas, clé …
In a short enough time (though it seems longer watching the video later), our section of the march had passed the hostile mob but the roaring continued, aimed at the marchers coming behind us. On the main road heading up to the Falls Road, a fierce gust of wind caught us – we failed to lower the banner quickly enough and one of the bamboo poles snapped. We carried our banner the rest of the way, on up the Falls Road, past the Cultúrlann, then past Milltown Cemetery.
As we approached the Felons’ Club, stronghold of Provisional Sinn Féin, the band began to play “Take It Down from the Mast”, a Republican song from the 1930s castigating Republicans who had abandoned the path of fighting for independence. Originally the lyrics had been aimed at the Irish Free State government, then at the Fianna Fáil party; since then they have been thrown in turn at Official Sinn Féin, the Workers’ Party and now, at Provisional Sinn Féin. After Fianna Fáil, each party had sung the lyrics at those considered traitors before them, only for each to become, in turn, the target themselves.
“Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors,
It’s the flag we Republicans claim;
It can never belong to Free Staters,
For you’ve brought on it nothing but shame.”
As we passed the Felons’ Club, a number of their patrons leaned on the rail watching us go past. I wondered what they thought and felt. Before 1998, presumably it would have been them participating in the march – perhaps even having organised it. What did they think of a march for civil and human rights in their heartland of which they were not a part? Of 5,000 demonstrators marching in driving wind and rain on an issue around which PSF no longer organises? An issue, in fact, which they find threatening, now that they are part of the colonial administration … This is perhaps the reason for their dismissal of those independent Republicans and groups they call “dissidents” and “micro-groups” who, they say, “have no programme”. No doubt they are aware that it is a long time since Provisional Sinn Féin were able to mobilise 5,000 people to march on any issue.
The march came to an end at the Andersonstown shopping centre, the participants to be congratulated by Dee Fennel; we stood to one side, applauding the soaked marching bands as each one passed us. A couple of speakers were announced but, too cold and wet, some of us decamped to our coach, which had been summoned to meet us nearby. There we found that our thermos flasks of coffee and tea had fallen inside the coach and that the linings had smashed – so no hot drink for us.
When all our Dublin party were at last aboard and some had changed into dry clothes, we headed back up the Falls Road in search of food. Some of us were annoyed to find the Cultúrlann, in the restaurant of which we had looked forward to a cooked meal, closed and had to be content with a Chinese take-away for some hot food at last. Then back to Dublin; in our own city, our publicity and organising work as an anti-internment committee awaited us, as well as whatever other political work we might undertake as individuals or as members of other groups.