Thursday, September 21, 2006

Good and Bad Loyalists

Not satisfied with all that money thrown at them by the British Government, those irksome loyalists have decided to threaten the safety of senior Irish diplomat, Aine DeBaroid.

The police noted they believed the threats to be credible and Ms DeBaroid, who was engaged in outreach work with loyalist communities in Belfast, was quickly transported to Dublin.

Frankie Gallagher from the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group said: "In East Belfast we never took any money to get any resources in and yet we had a fantastic relationship with Aine, where she came and helped us in an advisory capacity."

Last night, during the BBC's ten o'clock news bulletin, newsreader Mark Carruthers noted that the threats came from 'dissident' loyalists and that the other (presumably nice) loyalists wanted Ms DeBaroid to come back to Belfast.

Since no loyalist groups are currently on ceasefire, one wonders who these '‘dissident'’ loyalists might be. It would appear that BBC Northern Ireland, adopting the role of apologist for government policy, has created this 'dissident' terminology to help define good loyalist from bad.

Earlier this week, The British Government announced it would give £135,000 to loyalist areas to enable conflict transformation. In June of this year, the British Government announced that £33million had been earmarked for loyalist areas.

Information on previous British Government funding to loyalists, in the shape of arms and intelligence to support campaigns against Catholics and Irish nationalists, is unavailable.

Last year, a study by Deliotte for the Department of Social Development found that Catholics are much more likely to live in areas of weak community infrastructure than Protestants.

Other research, conducted in 2005 by PricewaterhouseCoopers, disproved the claim that Protestants are less likely than Catholics to get Union Peace II funding to build up community infrastructure. Over half the money spent under this heading went to people in Protestant areas. The Department of Finance and Personnel regards the research report as internal and has not published it.

Details of both these reports can be found at The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) website.

Requests for copies of any research undertaken by the Ulster Political Research Group will be met with blank stares.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Moron Moments - Ian Paisley Jnr

Democratic Unionist Party assembly member, Ian Paisley Jnr continued his campaign of sectarian foolishness today when, in a statement to the BBC, he claimed Catholics in north Antrim had been attacking their own homes to make it look like Protestants were to blame.

Mr Paisley Jnr also remarked that a recent paint bomb attack on the long-suffering Harryville Catholic Church in Ballymena "appears to be the work of republicans".

His paranoid rant continued: "This self-imposed attack is evidence that a considerable amount of the attacks recently carried out in north Antrim are not only self-inflicted by republicans but are part of an orchestrated effort by republicans to stir up sectarian activity to discredit the local unionist community."

One would imagine that the local unionist community, led by Mr Paisley Jnr, is quite capable of discrediting itself with such blather, rather than expect republicans to help them along. Also, Mr Paisley Jnr's methods of ascertaining "the work of republicans" in this context remains unclear. Did the colour of the paint give these alleged rogues away?

Local police district commander, Superintendent Terry Shevlin said: "I wouldn't say for one moment that those people targeted are perpetrators."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Well, We Brought Ours!

Last Sunday, I took advantage of European Heritage Open Day 2006 and went off to visit some of the north's greatest icons of British Imperialism.

The first stop was HMS Caroline, moored off Alexandra Dock in Belfast.

According to the brochure, HMS Caroline, a Royal Naval light cruiser, was launched at Birkenhead in 1914. It is now the sole survivor, worldwide, from the Battle of Jutland. Still in commission, the ship came to Belfast in 1924 to serve as headquarters for the Royal Naval Reserve in the six counties (the brochure says 'The Province' here). Our guide explained that the British Army recently occupied the ship and used the towering crow's nest as a watchtower to spy on the colonised people of Belfast. Everywhere, dull paint peeled from the hull, revealing spreading rust. The Union Jack hung limp from the ship's bow.

Next on the agenda was the former Harland and Wolff Headquarters on Queen's Road. It's a fine, three storey sandstone building, dating from 1919, although it has witnessed better days. The expansive interiors, containing the drawing offices, were in a sorry state of disrepair. According to a woman from the Titanic Society, surveyors have been examining the viability of restoring the building, although no plans exist to develop such an undertaking. The Titanic Society wants the space to be turned into a library. Other unnamed individuals want to see a hotel here. In its glory days, the building and its surrounding shipyards, stood as a symbol of Unionist might and anti-Catholic prejudice. Its ruination illustrates the current state of that former monolith.

After a trip to the rarely-open Friar's Bush Cemetery, I made for Hillsborough to investigate Hillsborough Castle. This 18th Century mansion was the residence of former colonial overlords and, since 1972, has been the home of a long list of British secretaries of state.

On entering, a rather fey footman gathered the crowds around him, and announced that he might sing us an aria while we assembled ourselves in the hallway. An elderly couple, standing directly in front of me, began speaking to the footman about the previous night's 'Proms in the Park' at Belfast City Hall. The conversation went something like this:

Old Man: We had plenty of arias last night at City Hall.

Footman: Oh, was it good?

Old Woman: It was very good, and the weather was great.

Footman: Of course, we're not allowed to take our flags down there.

Old Woman (defiantly): Well, we brought ours!

Footman: Good for you.

The dialogue was delivered with the kind of casual arrogance which assumed everyone in the room shared the same opinion.

We were ushered through several other rooms, all splendid with riches and treaures. The flag-waving pensioner and her associates cooed and bleated as guides revealed information about visiting royalty, displayed Queen Elizabeth's gowns - as designed by Norman Hartnell - and opened autograph books to display the signatures of Prince Charles, George Bush and Colin Powell. The old couple touched the seat where Queen Elizabeth once sat, as if expecting an amorphous exchange of energy to flood through their flabby frames.

The dining room glittered with expensive tableware, Tyrone crystal, elaborate menus and royal portraits. It was easy to imagine the colonial governors and their royal masters drink and make merry while their armed foot-soldiers wreaked havoc on Belfast's streets.

A further room demonstrated, via an accompanying photograph, the scene where Tony Blair, George Bush, Condaleeza Rice and others plotted the destruction of Iraq during their visit here on April 2003. The old woman mewed and made doe-eyes at the scene. There were no photographs of those who demonstrated outside.

The world of fresh air was never so welcome.

Welcome to the Great Wee Azoo

Many years ago, somewhere between the Age of Internment and the Age of the Internet, Belfast City Councillor and Ulster Unionist, Jim Rogers was filmed by local TV at Belfast Zoo.

Mr Rogers was complaining - as he often does - about some crisis at the zoo. I can't actually remember what he was prattling about, although I think it may have had something to do with a proposal to close the zoo.

Red-faced and indignant, Mr Rogers protested against the proposal. He couldn't understand why anyone would want to take such action.

"This is a great wee azoo!" he exclaimed.

Such was his fury, that Mr Rogers repeated this phrase several times, turning a serious issue into one of weird comedy. What was this 'Azoo' he spoke of?

After some thought, I reckoned this 'Great Wee Azoo' must be something akin to 'Our Wee Country', 'The Province' or - and I shudder to echo the words - 'Norn Iron'. These phrases have often been uttered by Jim Rogers and his Unionist friends, primarily to legitimise the Northern Irish state as a glorious wonderland best viewed through Brookeborough's rose-tinted spectacles.

Some of these phrases are simply trite. 'Our Wee Country' is particularly sick-making. It's not unsurprising to find it used as the name of a Northern Ireland Football Club website. Others, such as 'The Province' are stupid and inaccurate. The province of Ulster has nine counties, six of which reside within the Northern Irish state. 'Northern Ireland' and 'Ulster' are not the same thing. But try telling that to the broadcast media - particularly the BBC.

So welcome, one and all to 'The Great Wee Azoo'. Please don't feed the animals and leave your rose-tinted spectacles at home.