For seventeen months (from Aug. 1994 to Feb. 1996), there was relative calm in N. Ireland (otherwise known as Ulster, though this historically refers to a nine-county province, including three in the Republic of Ireland, rather than the six counties of the British state). Peace had begun when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (called the Provos, or simply the IRA) declared a ceasefire in August 1994, followed by a loyalist ceasefire two months later. What led to the latest surge of violence in the province and elsewhere in the U.K., and is there likely to be a return to more peaceful conditions?
First of all, in August of 94 the Provisional IRA announced a complete cessation of military operations, rather than a permanent cessation of violence, as some political pundits in Britain, Ireland and the U.S. misinterpreted it, which left open the option of a return to military operations.
At the same time, some government officials and commentators hinted that the cessation might not be that permanent if the British Government failed to respond to it promptly by peace dividends, meaning concessions to IRA demands and further movement towards the nationalist agenda (i.e. a reunited Ireland). The fact that it took the British Government some 18 months before finally announcing elections to a province-wide assembly from which a forum would be drawn to determine the next stage of negotiations was considered unconscionable by many observers (particularly the more militant factions within the IRA, such as the army council and the Southern brigade, based in the border areas and the Republic). This frustration and anger at the slowness of the political process led to the bombings in London between February and April, as well as the central Manchester bombing in June.
Meanwhile, the loyalists or Unionists (those favoring retention of membership in the United Kingdom) were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with what they saw as the British
Governments catering to the republican (pro-IRA) nationalists, members of West Belfastman Gerry Adams party, Sinn Fein (literally We Ourselves, the name derived from an early 20th-century pro-Irish independence party established by Arthur Griffith). This party may represent as much as 40% of the N. Irish Roman Catholic minority. The more moderate, constitutional nationalist party (representing the remaining 60%) is known as the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labor Party), led by Derryman John Hume, whom the unionists also view as becoming increasingly green (i.e. favoring reunification with the Republic of Ireland). What finally brought the situation to a head this year (and also led to some sporadic violence last year) was the annual marching season.
Between early April and late August every year, marches are held by various groups of a mixed political-religious nature, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians (the leading Catholic, nationalist organization) and the Orange Order (founded in 1795 following a skirmish between Protestant and Catholic agrarian secret societies, mainly to counteract growing Catholic strength in areas such as Co. Armagh, from which it spread throughout N. Ireland, and eventually Scotland, Canada and the other British colonies). These marches are intended to reinforce the political influence of the individual group involved and sometimes to intimidate those of the opposing political and religious persuasions. Hence, the marchers are often accompanied by huge drums (called Lambeg drums) and accordion or flute bands (some Protestant ones actually called kick the Pope bands because of the strongly anti-Catholic nature and vehemence of the music they play). The marches sometimes go through areas which may have traditionally been inhabited by that group but which, because of demographic changes, are now occupied by another ethnic/religious group. For example, the Ormeau Road of Belfast (near which I lived for about a month this year) is divided between the Protestant Ballynafeigh area (south of the Ormeau Bridge) and the now Catholic, nationalist Lower Ormeau Road (north of the Bridge).
The latter area was inhabited by primarily working-class Protestants until some fifteen years ago when, partly as a result of the Troubles (as the conflict in N. Ireland is rather euphemistically known), Catholics began moving out of the Smithfield (market) area of central Belfast towards the southern parts of the city, which led to Protestants moving out into the suburbs (something like white flight in American cities during the 1960s). As the area became more heavily Catholic (with corresponding nationalist graffiti and murals on the walls), conflicts developed between the two groups leading to such atrocities as the murder of five Catholic men in a Sean Graham betting shop (located next to a well known pro-IRA bar) on the Lower Ormeau Road in 1992. Last year, when the Apprentice Boys (a group commemorating the Protestant resistance to the Catholic siege of Derry in 1689) were allowed to parade through the Catholic Lower Ormeau area, they raised their fists in a sign of victory as they passed the betting shop, which highly incensed the local nationalist community. This year, a concerned citizens group attempted to block further Apprentice Boys or Orange marches from coming through the area en route to their final destination, the Ulster Hall in central Belfast.
Hence there were major confrontations this year at the site of the bridge, a boundary between the two groups, beginning around April 8 (Easter Monday), when the Apprentice Boys sought to cross but were prevented from doing so by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the N. Irish police force, which led to rioting that lasted more than eight hours. An Orange march later that month was also prevented from crossing, but the Orangemen (generally less rowdy than the Apprentice Boys, not a juvenile group despite the name) are usually more sedate, so most of them gathered on the Ballynafeigh side of the bridge, singing Protestant hymns and God Save the Queen (see photos) though a few younger members swam across the River Lagan (and were escorted back across the bridge by the RUC). This July 12 (commemorating the Battle of the Boyne , in which the Protestant-supported King William III defeated the Catholic army of James II, and the most important Protestant holiday in N. Ireland - see murals from two strongly loyalist areas, Shankhill Road and Sandy Row in Belfast), the Orangemen were allowed to march across the bridge, with side roads leading to the Lower Ormeau Road effectively blockaded by the RUC from 6:00 p.m. the evening before. The 2,500 Catholic residents complained bitterly that for over 24 hours they were allowed to reach their homes, but not allowed out again. Around 9:30 on the morning of July 12, the Orangmen of the Ballynafeigh Lodge (greatly augmented by several hundred Orangemen from other parts of the province and joined by bands from Scotland) marched across the bridge to central Belfast (which was virtually deserted by this time, from fear of rioting). The people of the area were obliged to remain in what somone described as internment until the marchers returned across the bridge that evening (see photo in The Herald, July 13, 1996).
Meanwhile, on July 7, the Sunday before July 12, Orangemen from Portadown, Co. Armagh (a loyalist stronghold) had demanded the right to march to Drumcree Village and return through a nationalist area, the Garvaghy estate (settled by Catholics driven out of Portadown itself), which the residents has strongly resisted. This led to a loyalist stand-off with the RUC. Initially, the British Government declared that it would not be swayed by the increasing violence in loyalist areas or threats from the leading Unionist politicians, such as David Trimble and Rev. Ian Paisley, leaders of the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) and DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), respectively. However, after four days there was a major turn-around, and on Thursday morning, July 11, RUC officers in riot gear were sent into the Garvaghy estate to clear the few hundred nationalist protesters who had quickly gathered when they sensed that the offical resolve had broken down. Batons were wielded and within five minutes the streets were cleared, with Orangemen marching through the Catholic estate.
Journalist Mary Holland has stated that the change of heart has generated more anger and resentment among the entire nationalist community than any even since the Bloody Sunday killings of 1972, when British paratroopers killed thirteen civilians in Derry. Northern nationalists and many Irish politicians have been unwilling to accept the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesleys handling of the affair and believe that a decision of such enormous political importance could only have been reached by close agreement with the highest level in the British Government (i.e. the Prime Minister, John Major), confirming the Catholic view that the RUC and British Government are closely allied with the Orangemen and Unionists. Annesley himself is being replaced by Ronnie Flanagan, though Gerry Adams and other nationalistists are not impressed, saying Flanagan (former head of the RUC Special Branch division) was part of the RUC administration during the Drumcree/Garvaghy crisis. At any rate, Drumcree has now entered the N. Irish political vocabulary as a symbol of deceit, betrayal and government connivance with the loyalists. One lasting effect of the situation has been a continuing boycott of Protestant-owned businesses by Catholics, which has had a considerable economic impact in large areas of the province. Church burnings have increased during the summer months, as well as blockades to keep Catholic parishoners from attending their churches in strongly loyalist areas such as Bushmills, Co. Antrim.
The original stand-off led to widespread loyalist violence throughout the province, ranging from roadblocks to the kidnapping and killing of a Belfast Catholic taxi driver (Michael McGoldrick), probably by a member of a group which has split from the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force, one of the oulawed loyalist paramilitary groups) in opposition to the loyalist ceasefire. This group includes Billy Wright, a Mid-Ulster loyalist leader from Portadown, called King Rat, now under a death sentence by the Combined Loyalist Military Command, representing the UVF and the UDA (Ulster Defense Association, the other major loyalist terrorist organization), because of his opposition to the ceasefire. Plastic bullets were used in many incidents, while rioters threw petrol bombs and other missiles. Several Catholic families in N. Belfast were burned out of their homes; three policemen were shot and lightly wounded (the first officers shots since the IRA had declared their ceasefire).
Following the march, rioting broke out on the Garvaghy estate, three cars were hijacked and set on fire, and several nationalist families living in houses adjacent to Protestant areas were terrorised by loyalist gangs. Demonstrations spread further, with rioting in Derry leading to the death of one man (Dermot McShane), killed by a security forces vehicle. However, by August the situation had been defused so that despite a 20-hour stand-off the Apprentice Boys march through the largely Catholic village of Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry, on August 10-11 eventually passed without incident. Similarly, large Protestant and Catholic parades through Derry City and Belfast, respectively, on that weekend were peaceful.
Rather than viewing the loyalists as a monolithic group within the population of N. Ireland, it is important to realize that they are extremely divided, though all are in favor of retaining union with Great Britian. The different factions are reflected by the wall murals throughout Belfast and other northern cities, e.g., these murals from Shankill Road (UVF); E. Belfast (UYM, Ulster Young Militants, along with images of former defenders of Ulster, including the ancient Irish hero Cu Chulainn, apropriated from the Nationalists, the Ulster Defense Regiment and B-Specials, British paratroopers much hated by the Nationalists,) the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a nom de guerre of the UDA; and the UDA themselves on Sandy Row. The quote on the last two murals, ironically, was originally proclaimed by the 13th-century Scots resisting English rule (cf. the film Braveheart).
During the period leading up to the elections in late May this year, it was very easy to tell by the graffiti and posters throughout Belfast which areas were pro-Sinn Fein, and which were pro-Unionist (including not only the UUP and DUP, but also the so-called fringe Unionists, the Progressive Unionist Party [PUP], led by former UVF associates Hughie Smyth and David Ervine; and the Ulster Democratic Party [UDP, not to be confused with the DUP], led by Gary McMichael, son of one of the founders of the UDA, whom it is claimed was killed by the IRA with the connivance of a rival senior UDA man - such are the conflicting loyalties of political life in N. Ireland). The two fringe Unionist parties, which gained 5.5% of the vote in the May elections, were allowed to take part in the talks (along with other minority groups such as the N.I. Womens Coalition, which gained 1.6% and Labour with .8%).
Despite the fact that, because of the IRA bombings in England, Sinn Fein (which earned 18.7% of the total vote) was prevented from taking part in the so-called all-party talks (conveniently renamed multi-party talks) which began meeting at Stormont Castle (the former seat of the N. Irish parliament) in early June, chaired by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the PUP and UDP (despite their terrorist associations) were allowed to participate. As of early September, when the talks resumed, Ian Paisleys party (the DUP) demanded the exlusion of the fringe Unionist members because they failed to condemn the death threats against Billy Wright and Alexander Kerr, which the Combined Loyalist Military Command claims it issued to safeguard the loyalist ceasefire.
Paisley claimed that if the PUP and UDP do not condemn the death sentence against Wright (thus violating the Mitchell principles established before the talks began), this would destroy the argument which has kept Sinn Féin/IRA (hitherto exluded) from participating. However, PUPs David Ervine indicated that the threats against the two men did not violate the Mitchell principles, since they were an internal loyalist matter. Moreover, the UDP and PUP defended themselves, indicating they had no control over the actions of the Combined Loyalist Military Command (similar to Sinn Feins argument regarding the IRA). Both London and Dublin see the continued presence of the two fringe Unionist parties as crucial to the maintenance of the Protestant ceasefire, which has survived since October 1994 despite the internal Protestant infighting and demands to strike back at Republican insurgents, so Ulster Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew and Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring ultimately agreed to allow the fringe Unionists to remain. Paisleys party has responded with considerable scorn that this is all a trick to allow Sinn Fein/IRA to enter the talks.
Gerry Adams response to this has been as follows: Loyalists can walk in and out of cessations while the UDP and the PUP remain at the talks. Unionists can break the Michell Principles at will and the British have been using plastic bullets during Drumcree. So the selective use of preconditions is being used to keep Sinn Fein and the people they represent out. Sinn Fein has called for an end to the current peace talks, claiming they have degenerated to arguments between the loyalist parties and the SDLP over issues such as arms decommissioning with no substantive progress on the future of the province.
Meanwhile, American pressure has continued to have some effect on the peace process. John Bruton, the Irish taoiseach, or prime minister, recently travelled to Washington and, in a meeting with Bill Clinton, urged the President to continue Americas constructive and unbiased influence on all the participants in the multi-party talks. Bruton also claimed that the IRA were considering restoration of their ceasefire, citing as a major reason Washingtons concern that the peace process should be advanced as soon as possible. Clearly, Gerry Adams wishes to restore the good relationship he had with President Clinton before last February. However, the IRA have denied that a new ceasefire is imminent, despite British and Irish leaks that a general army convention was being planned for October in Co. Donegal, at which this would be the major topic of discussion. Regarding this issue, Gerry Adams has said that the ball is in the British court. As long as peo[p]le believe the British government will deal with a new IRA cessation the way they dealt with the last one, the situation becomes very fraught. A new ceasefire depends on the British government applying itself to building confidence in its commitment, dropping all its preconditions and agreeing onsome acceptable time frame. An Irish-American fact-finding delegation, led by former U.S. Congressman Bruce Morrison (who had been involved in brokering the original IRA ceasefire), in Belfast last weekend reiterated Sinn Feins position regarding the multi-party talks.
The discovery of a large cache of arms explosives and the arrest of six men, one of whom died after a police shoot-out in W. London on Monday morning, suggest that the IRA were planning to stage another high-profile attack in England in the near future, suggesting that another ceasefire is not imminent. The ten tons of explosives discovered were apparently to be used for major operations in Britain on a scale never before seen. One bomb alone was four times the size of the one that devastated central Manchester in June, wounding 200 people, several seriously. Prof. Paul Rogers of Bradford Univ. has stated: The current policy is to target economic targets on the (British) mainland - rather than political or military targets - to put pressure on the Government and to try and avoid escalating the situation in Northern Ireland. He said that IRA hardliners still wanted a united Ireland, while slightly more moderate elements were trying to bomb their way to the negotiating table and a more favorable political settlement. He added that a smaller calling-card bomb could be expected in the next few weeks to prove that the IRA had not been beaten by the second major find of its equipment in three months, a rather chilling prediction. John Major has responded to the latest discovery by stating that Sinn Fein will not be allowed to the conference table until the IRA declare another ceasefire and begin the decommissioning process. Fifty British and Irish politicians (25 from each Parliament) meeting on Tuesday unanimously called for the multi-party peace talks to continue. Kevin McNamara, former Labour Party Northern Ireland spokesman, though, said there was no moral grounds for keeping Sinn Fein out of the talks: that there was no difference between the actions of UUP leader David Trimble during the stand-off at Drumcree and the position of Sinn Fein.
I hate to end on a pessimistic note, but it seems to me that we have gone full circle to the same situation which existed before the 1984 ceasefire, with little or no progress having been achieved in the interim.
[James E. Doan Nuair bhios a ghaoth air chall, Dept. of Liberal Arts iarr bhon deas i. Nova Southeastern Univ. (When the wind is lost, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314 seek it in the south - Gaelic) Email: email@example.com (954) 476-1965 - Fax (954) 475-7622]