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Northern Ireland – a basket case

I am aware there are a few people who follow this blog who may not have an understanding of the politics of where I come from.

Northern Ireland is a basket case. To those who live there or who have moved away but refuse to step back and re-evaluate, it makes perfect sense. But to anyone else, it is no better than a lunatic asylum.

Let me demonstrate.

The above picture clearly shows a man in a petrol station with a loaf of bread on his head. It is a still from a video where he asked the camera if anyone knew where they kept the bread. Funny, if you’re 3 years old.

Except it isn’t funny. At all.

You see it isn’t just any man – this man is an elected Member of Parliament for a Northern Ireland constituency.

But he doesn’t actually sit in Parliament because the republican party to which he belongs opposes Westminster’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, and its oath to the Queen.

It isn’t just any loaf – the fact this is a Kingsmill loaf is very relevant.

And it wasn’t just a random day that this happened – it was the 5th of January, the anniversary of a 1976 sectarian massacre.

The massacre consisted of gunmen stopping a minibus full of men outside the village of KINGSMILL on their way to work. They let the one catholic man go and shot the eleven protestants, one ‘lucky’ man survived with only 18 bullet wounds whilst the rest died.

The man in the ‘loaf-on-head’ picture claims that his choice of date, his decision to video himself with a loaf on his head and his choice of bread were completely coincidental. In other words he is a blatant liar, a supporter or terrorism and a hatemonger.

His party suspended him for three months. He can still claim his pay and represent his constituents and given that he doesn’t attend Parliament anyway, it isn’t too big a deal.

The loyalist parties were up in arms at how offensive the original video was to the families victims and how his punishment was a slur on the dead men’s memories. And then the loyalist MPs started sharing this.

When pointed out to a loyalist MP who shared this on Twitter that this could be offensive to the victim’s families, he said he would wait for them to complain (ie. wait until he had offended them) before removing it. They did complain.

When pointed out to the artist that this cartoon would be offensive to the victim’s families, the response was “the past was gory and brutal and tough images have to be seen to reject the past and move forward together.” Yep, this image is meant to help us move forward together. Because a lifetime of images of death and brutality are not enough, we have to draw cartoons of it too.

So as much as everyone loves to scream about the feelings of the poor families, point-scoring is the real reason everyone is excited about this.

If you want to see the response of a ‘victims campaigner’ (he only recognises loyalist victims), please do take two minutes to watch this..

Just to be clear – the deranged man in the video above is taken seriously by many in Northern Ireland.

By now, you might have a flavour of the lunacy of this episode. But please believe me, the sort of nonsense described above is nothing unusual. The entire country appears to exist to point-score against the ‘other side’ and there are no limits to the childishness of it all. I could tell you about how each side wants to name things after it’s own heroes – who are invariably terrorists. I could tell you how they still gloat over a battle which happened in 1690. I could tell you about how they fight over the Irish language, or flags, or every trivial little thing because it is culture, it is identity and that is more important than peace. Every commercial development project becomes a pawn in the game of “them’uns get everything and we get nathin!”. Green spaces are burnt annually – along with houses – when the loyalists celebrate a battle that was won against a catholic king in 1690 by making huge bonfires and burning anything that upsets the catholics. The councils are prevented from planting trees, building playgrounds because of this ritual which exists purely to taunt the other side. And the ruling body of the sport of Gaelic Football did not allow anyone who was a member of the armed forces to play Gaelic football from 1897 until 2001. Each football team in Northern Ireland (and to a decreasing degree the national team) is unofficially affiliated to either one side or the other. I could go on and on.

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And if you think things are getting better in peace times, let me explain. DUP (red) and SF (green) are the most extreme (and polar opposite) parties in Northern Ireland. SF is the political arm of the IRA and the DUP are every bit as bad. So have a look at the recent voting trends…

The rationale behind ‘normal, respectable’ people voting for terrorists and religious bigots is fear that if one side starts voting moderate the other side will vote extreme and the other side might ‘win’.

Northern Ireland is currently without a government because the two leading parties refuse to sit in the same room. Politicians are now considering giving up their careers as there is so little hope of control returning to a local government.

And things are about to get worse because Brexit challenges the status quo. The Good Friday Agreement (the vehicle which delivered the closest to peace there has been in decades, signed in 1998) mandates that there be no border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and there should be complete freedom of movement. Residents of NI can choose an Irish or a UK passport or both. But if Northern Ireland sits outside the EU, they need a border and that is the opportunity the extremists want to pull apart the fragile peace on the island.

I am mortified by the behaviour of my old country. And my links to it are becoming weaker by the day because I cannot defend its behaviour. There is a very strong loyalty to Northern Ireland by all who come from it, a fondness for the wee place no doubt strengthened by the years of troubles. But I look back at some of my old attitudes, the things I was told growing up, the lies, myths and hatred perpetuated amongst the apparently god-fearing people of Ulster and am deeply ashamed.

When I comment on how mindless the politics of the country are to those in Northern Ireland I am told that I have been away too long, that I have forgotten what ‘they’ did. In reality I have had time to step back and open my mind, understand that there were desperately harmful acts by both the British and the Irish that caused the deaths of over 3,600 people. It isn’t over – the police and prison officers are still targeted and punishment beatings are a way of life for some communities. All I can think is ‘why don’t they want it to end?’, but the reality of the attitude in NI is a paranoia that the past might be forgotten.

Northern Ireland politics is, at heart, fuelled by hate. The country lives in a temporary, fragile peace with many looking for the first opportunity to break it by attacking the ‘other side’. As you can see above, the country becomes politically more polarised, not less. Following the debacle described at the start of this article, there is great triumphalism in the loyalist community as they claim that ‘the mask has slipped’ and everyone can see the republicans for who they really are. This is how childish and pathetic it is – we all know that both major political parties are bitter to the core. But both sides like to claim the moral high ground for political gain and the perpetuation of divides.

I have little hope for Northern Ireland.
I love it and I hate it.
I love what it could be, I hate what it is.
I love the people, I hate what they are doing to the country they claim to love.
I know why it is the way it is, yet it makes no sense.

And the worst of it is, those in Northern Ireland who believe they are moderate – most of them really are not. You don’t spend decades in a divided society and not have prejudices. And if you don’t know you are prejudiced, you won’t do anything to address it.

This is how we used to walk into Belfast City centre – corralled into metal barriers where we were searched for arms and explosives by armed soldiers. As much as I hate to think it, it could very easily happen again.

What a basket case.

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