Friday, October 06, 2006

Unionist Foot-soldiers Exit Stage Left

For an hour-and-a-half today, BBC Radio Ulster waxed lachrymose at the demise of the Royal Irish Regiment, with much mewing over the history of its former incarnation, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

Michael Copeland, a former UDR man, spoke to presenter Seamus McKee about how he and his companions in terror "Did their bit for Ulster." Phrases such as 'The Province' were scattered throughout this eulogy. He spoke in a sentimental fashion about a Catholic recruit, fearful of 'service' on the streets, who said: "What am I going to do on the streets of Londonderry? How can I come out against my own community?" One would imagine that usage of the term 'Londonderry' would provide an adequate solution to that problem.

"You can almost hear the thoughts of people," gurgled Seamus McKee in a reverential tone as he described the widows and families gathered at the Balmoral Showgrounds in Belfast. His faux-plummy accent was choked with equally faux remorse.

A UDR Greenfinch was interviewed. She described her pride at serving in the UDR, noting her duties as a security searcher in Belfast during the 1970s. I recalled a story from a friend, whose baby sister had her pram searched going through those 1970s security barriers. The child's mother hoped the baby would void its bowels as the Greenfinch attempted to search its nappy.

I also remembered an occasion when, stopped by a UDR patrol, I was questioned by a pig-faced soldier who asked me my address. I told him and the answer didn't suffice. He asked for my previous address, which also didn't compute. I had lived at many addresses over the years, primarily in ethnically mixed areas. Unable to determine my religious background, the pig-faced creature grew red with fury and apoplexy. But this is a minor complaint compared to the murders, the collusion, the harassment and the rifle butts in the face suffered by others.

Back at the Balmoral Showgrounds, a commentator noted the presence of the great and good from within unionism - Reg Empey, David Trimble, Archbishop Robin Eames, Jeffrey Donaldson, David Forde, Lord Alderdyce, Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley The Next Generation.

Alasdair McDonnell from the SDLP was also there. I wondered what had brought him to this carnival of unionism. Didn't someone tell him about the long history of UDR collusion with loyalist paramilitries? Didn't he know that nineteen members of the UDR were convicted of murder? Has he ever wept into his tea at the dreadful killings of the Miami Showband?

Cue a rather magnanimous Brian Feeney, obviously wheeled on to give some sense of balance to the unfolding event. Mr Feeney wasted no time in assuring the listeners that the UDR was loathed by Catholics. He noted that members of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) often joined the UDR and made up 15% of the regiment between 1975 and 1976. He also reminded listeners that, up to 1980, it was perfectly legal to be in both the UDR and UDA.

Mr Feeney was swiftly cut off by Seamus McKee, who doubtless swooning in ecstasies, handed over to a commentator who described how Queen Elizabeth II had arrived, wearing a rather fetching suit and hat of purple, complete with a purple-edged umbrella, for alas, it was raining.

At this point, I felt compelled to switch on the TV to see this outfit in all its glory. There it was, resplendent in the rain with BBC Northern Ireland's Noel Thompson fawning like his aural counterpart on Radio Ulster.

The British national anthem was played. And played again. And again. Queen Elizabeth II craned her neck awkwardly to watch some helicopters fly overhead, a look of bored resignation etched on her face. She handed over The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to the Royal Irish Regiment, paying them off in much the same way she payed off the equally abhorred RUC.

Soon after, a black limousine arrived to whisk Queen Elizabeth II back to the world of fresh air. The assembled dignitaries broke up into bewildered groups. The RIR marched up and down. The rain stabbed against the wet concrete.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Who Talks Like That?

Last night, BBC Northern Ireland broadcasted 'You Thought You Knew... Belfast City Hall' fronted by Sunday World journalist, Jim McDowell.

BBC Northern Ireland apparently believes Mr McDowell to be a popular and accessible front-man, as he's appeared on several recent TV shows. Perhaps the corporation considers him to represent a certain type of local, working-class personality generally absent from TV screens. Mr McDowell certainly adopts the persona with some aplomb, complete with faux-working class growl, reminiscent of the exaggerated Belfast accent one normally finds on beer commercials.

When trails for this programme aired during the week, I found myself asking the question, 'Who actually talks like that?' I was heartened to hear Gerry Anderson say the same thing on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday as he humourously mocked McDowell's less than dulcet tones.

The programme itself presented a rather superficial overview of the (mostly unionist) history of Belfast City Hall. Mr McDowell swaggered around the marble corridors like an uncouth dolt, sounding more and more like Honey Monster as the programme continued. Even Andersonstown News editor, Mairtin O'Muilleoir seemed infected by the monster-speak, as he started talking in a similar accent when McDowell descended to interview him. The DUP's Sammy Wilson, sporting the usual bad haircut, appeared like some king spide dispensing wisdom from Robinson's Bar, circa 1979.

The entire display created a kind of vapid smokescreen which seemed designed to lull the viewers into a false sense of camaraderie; one where we could laugh along with city fathers without reference to sectarian politics, rest our weary elbows on the rough-hewn table on which the Ulster Covenant was signed and consider a future of Catholic mayors and gay weddings. Sure, weren't we all there? And wasn't it a laugh?

'You Thought You Knew... Belfast City Hall' was like flicking through a rather insubstantial, glossy magazine. It gave the vague impression of being part of a conspiracy designed to fool a generation into believing there is no such thing as history, with Mr McDowell as its mawkish poster-boy.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Money Grabbing Loyalists Strike Again

With all of that money being thrown at loyalists by the British Government, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that the South East Antrim Brigade of the UDA this week asked government for £8.5 million.

It would appear that this UDA unit wishes to disband and needs the money to help it on its way to becoming a community development organisation. It notes that the £8.5 million could create 74 jobs.

One imagines that there must be 74 members of the South East Antrim Brigade of the UDA. Most community development organisations rattle along with a mere handful of staff members.

Tommy Kirkham, a spokesman for 'Beyond Conflict' (presumably another UDA-adjunct) which backs the proposal, stated he believes the money could bring an end to loyalist paramilitary activity in South Antrim.

Reasons as to why the South East Antrim Brigade of the UDA can't just stop its campaign without having money thrown at it remain unclear.

Mr Kirkham's group is presenting a plan of action for government consideration, but notes that the proposal is not a prerequisite for ending paramilitary activity. This tactic is generally referred to as a bribe.

Meanwhile, the government has just withdrawn funding from Belfast's Rape Crisis Centre, citing failure to meet government accounting requirements.

Perhaps, like the South East Antrim Brigade of the UDA, the Rape Crisis Centre should consider engaging in killing people and drug-dealing as a way to secure further government funding and a massively inflated staff complement.