Saturday, October 26, 2013

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Castlederg Revisited

Guest Writer Sean Bresnahan revisists the Castlederg debate and elaborates on the 'cultural war' he believes is being waged over interpretatiom and control of the past.

What are we to make of the furore in Unionism surrounding the unveiling of a plaque to Thomas Begley at the weekend in Ardoyne and what can it tell us about the troublesome question that seems to have paralysed the political process in the six-counties - what or who is a victim? Placed against the backdrop of 'Castlederg' among other things, such as the need to designate as living in Northern Ireland in order to get on the electoral register, we can determine that much of this is the outworkings of a cultural war designed to revise history and in doing so legitimise the continuing, ongoing British partition and occupation of Ireland. 

For this to succeed then republicanism has to be labelled as the bad guy, singularly intent on all manner of death and destruction, while the state was merely an upholding agent of the law. The causes of conflict that led to nearly 30 years of violent insurrection against that state and its laws do not come into it and are to be minimised to the greatest extent possible.

The IRA are to blame and this is to be the defining narrative, there can be no equivocation between the Provo war and its resulting casualties and that of the state and those who died or received injury at the hands of the state. Thus commemorating dead IRA Volunteers is beyond what's socially acceptable while paying homage to the mass-murdering British Army each November at the Cenotaph is something to be lauded and held in an elevated esteem and as a source of pride. Those wretched Catholics are still to be shown their place it seems in the supposedly all-new 'bright and shiny Northern Ireland'.

Watching the Nolan show on Wednesday night past I have to admit to feeling the calculated and sweeping bias that continues to infect everything about this place in the way the programme was set up. It wasn't difficult to sense that the governing rationale behind this so-called 'debate' on victimhood is to ensure the criminalisation of the IRA and everything it stood and fought for. For the likes of not only Nigel Dodds and many within his constituency but the British government itself it seems the only true victims were those killed by the dastardly Provisionals; everything else, from Ballymurphy to Bloody Sunday to Malachy Boyle's and Loughinisland, is secondary in the dubious context that the IRA killed the most people during the conflict; as if that somehow absolves the actions of the state and its paramilitary off-shoots. 

I don't seek to detract here from the awful pain no doubt felt by those who suffered as a result of the Shankill bombing, on which the programme focused, but my wife and I wondered where were the survivors of Kennedy Way, where was the in-depth coverage of these horrendous killings? The short synopsis dedicated to the violence inflicted on the totally innocent people of the sleepy Derry village of Greysteel, an attack some hold to have involved the participation of a Special Branch informer, smacked of an afterthought to avoid accusations of political bias. The whole unseemly episode strikes me as indicative of a predetermined agenda to separate the violence of Irish republicans from that of the state and its agents through the construction of a hierarchy of victims.

Perhaps even more worrying is that Sinn Fein now appears to have at least partially bought into this logic.

The decision to light up Belfast City Hall in the colour of the red Poppy, the traditional emblem to remember not just those in Britain's armed forces who died in war but also those who served in those wars, including those who participated in the most recent Irish troubles (such as the SAS killers of Peter Cleary, Seamus McElwaine, Tony McBride, Willy Price and many, many others), is surely yet another example of the Sinn Fein leadership bending the knee and hoping for a few crumbs from the master's table. It seems they are required or obliged to continually demonstrate their suitability for government, in the process further legitimising British actions in Ireland and, importantly in terms of attempts to create a hierarchy of victims and thus a monopoloy on the legitimacy of the use of force, without a corresponding quid pro quo for the actions of Irish republicans - sackcloth and ashes spring to mind. 

John O'Dowd's recent admission on the BBC that future republican commemorations would have to be "looked at" in the context of the uproar about Castlederg feeds further into this line of thought, a result no doubt of the Tyrone Volunteers' Day parade in that town provoking the ire of Unionism. Indeed it was stated as one of the reasons for its reneging on the redevelopment of the Long Kesh prison complex.

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The reality is that both the British state and political Unionism are intent on exploiting the dependence of Sinn Fein's current strategy on its need to be in government and its need to demonstrate continuing electoral strength and relevance. They are under no political pressure to provide any equivalence between the IRA's campaign and that of the British military and its paramilitary extensions and feel more than comfortable in pushing the boundaries further and further, secure in the knowledge that for Sinn Fein to attempt any sort of a walk-out at this stage of the game spells lights out. 

Because both the Brits and the Unionists are acutely aware that Sinn Fein has lost the confidence of the republican community and now depend on the middle classes to maintain their political position. Any return to the radical street politics of old is simply a non-starter, despite the 'looking over the shoulder' we now see in an attempt to claw back the ground ceded to an emerging breed of republicans unwilling to participate any further in this normalisation process. The bluff has been called. It's expected of Sinn Fein to cede the right of the British side to honour its dead, indeed expectations are that not only should this be tolerated but indeed actively facilitated. Meanwhile those on our side are increasingly referred to as terrorists and criminals in a type of language not heard in many years, though of course it has always been there beneath the surface. It's just that now they feel safe to openly declare things so without jeopardising the continued participation of republicans in the British political arrangements here.

But not everyone is prepared to sit back and allow this counter-revolutionary narrative to embed itself to the point where it is beyond challenge.

Hard as it may be for those directly affected to acknowledge, and understandably so, neither Thomas Begley, Sean Kelly or indeed the Provisional IRA itself intended the devastating, horrifying consequences of the Shankill bombing. There will be those that argue there is no excuse and can be no excuse but whether we like it or not we simply can't divorce this sad event in our history from the context in which it took place - a 25 year terrorist war inflicted on the Irish people by the British state in which men and women had little option but to defend their communities from foreign aggression and attack. 

Yes to an extent by the end of this terrible period in our history much of the violence may have degenerated into a series of horrifying incidents one after the other but that was certainly not the fault of the IRA alone as they would have us believe. Indeed when it comes to determining who was at fault for this the Provisionals are at the lower end of the spectrum, ultimate blame lies with those who created and sustained the conditions in which such barbarism flourished - the British state and its occupation of the North. Had these conditions not been there in the first place young men like Thomas Begley would not have felt the need to join a paramilitary army and to undertake the actions that they did.

This is the narrative that needs to be rubbed out as the battle over who gets to write history is waged relentlessly by those on the British side, with incidents such as the one in question to be manipulated and exploited to maximum effect in pursuit of this agenda. The most recent offering of the Nolan Show is no exception to this process.

At the finish of the thing it seems that both the British and Unionism are more determined now than ever to use the advantageous strategic position they have been gifted by the weakness of Sinn Fein and the inadequacies of its political strategy to attain in times of peace what they could never have achieved during the war - the criminalisation of the indigenous resistance to Britain's Irish policy. 

Having secured for the Northern Ireland state a much greater degree of legitimacy than would likely have been thought possible, by convincing republicans to accept and normalise with the governing political institutions and arrangements here, bound as they are within the framework of the British sovereign claim once opposed by the armed struggle of the Provisional IRA, all this has been made possible. The current efforts to elevate victims of IRA actions to a morally superior plateau than those who died at the hands of the British state and its proxies are part and parcel of this renewed criminalisation offensive.

For Britain the war is not over and will not be so until republicans, even if they do so only tacitly, acknowledge their total defeat and subservience to the enemy. Achieving a disparity in legitimacy between British state violence, which is to be seen as morally upright, and that of those who resisted the British occupation, which is to be seen as morally reprehensible, is the tool through which they hope to achieve this long sought-after goal, in the process legitimising not only British state terror but British rule and the British occupation itself. They will not succeed.


AM said...


solid stuff here. Important questions asked and telling observations made. Thanks for posting it here. This is one area people need to be looking at much more closely.

michaelhenry said...


" The need to designate as living in Northern Ireland in order to get
on the electoral register "-

True-Sinn Fein and The RNU have asked people to fill in those forms
anyway-there is a section where you can fill in that you are Irish- has the 1916 Societies got a opinion on this seeing that your spokesperson is a elected member-

Was at the Castlederg Commemoration myself and I thought it a very dignified event-the Unionists out protesting were hemmed in by the police up the street but you could still hear the shouts of them-seen a couple of
people with Strabane Societies wrote on the back of their black jackets also at this event and all was well-Republicanism can sometimes be bad but I am glad we can honour our fallen in peace-

Organized Rage said...


This is a very good piece, thanks,

Next week over here we have the serialisation of Blair's boot boy Campbell's Diaries, which deal exclusively with the peace process. What I have seen so far it is totally designed to re-write history with the 'gallant' British PM acting as a neutral arbitrator between the norths waring parties.

Fionnuala Perry said...

This is a brilliant piece and a piece that totally sums the very skewed definition and reporting of victims here.

I didn't know Sinn Fein had agreed to light the City Hall red for poppy day.
What ever next? yellow for treachery.

Michael Henry,
On the election form it includes Irish in the Nationality question. However, when it comes to residence it states Northern Ireland and that is what Sinn Fein are telling people to tick.

michaelhenry said...


" that is what Sinn Fein are telling people to tick "

I know-like I said Sinn Fein and the RNU have already asked for people to complete their forms and post them back-I was just wondering if the Societies had a opinion on the matter-

Sinn Fein agreed to the city hall red light for poppy day because it shows respect to the people who find this time of year a major event-dead soldiers cant hurt us now anyways-

sean bres said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eurofree3 said...

It's important to register to vote - under whatever format- and then to vote.
The Orange State may be gone but the power of the Loyal orders has still to be broken and until it is, nothing will move forward.
I invite you all to look at and comment on some of the posts on

belfastgit said...

Good reading there Sean. I saw that "Nolan Show" (normally I avoid those programmes like the plague!). Patricia McBride looked frightened on it. Watching unionist politicians this last good while back, their take on things here haven't changed at all. Take Nigel Dodds for instance on the aforementioned show, he said that the people of the Shankill were experiencing REAL pain and hurt (about the unveiling of the plaque), the subtext of those remarks being, that C/N/R people don't experience the same feelings. If the wreath laying at the City Hall and so on was to honour the dead that laid down their lives fighting fascism etc. I'd have no problem with it, but it isn't. It's to honour ALL their dead soldiers, you know the murdering scum that served here in the north, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. etc. etc.

Fionnuala Perry said...

By ticking that you live in Northern Ireland means you acknowledge that such a place exists?
Which creates a quandary because Republicans say it does not exist therefore, to tick the box means the expression of an anti-Republican sentiment.

It's not the dead soldiers causing the hurt and offence it is Sinn Fein.
Those Poppies are worn to commemorate all British soldiers including the ones who murdered innocent civilians here (whatever the place is called)
To include those soldiers who murdered and tortured on a global scale.
It is disgraceful that they of chosen to do this, but not surprising.

itsjustmacker said...


A fantastic piece , a lot to digest as well.
As for the Poppy City Hall , that's just SF throwing out the hand of friendship to Their Loyalist friends, But I'm sure those in East Belfast will be piss taking SF for this, and will be parading around the Poppy city hall with their flags , which they have no respect for, even the secretary of state for norn iron and David cameron said so in the British Parliament.

You are correct , they will be celebrating those very British soldiers who murdered for murders sake in norn iron , also Gibraltar , license to murder in broad daylight of unarmed combatants. The orange state has not gone fully away yet, The Loyal Orders need to keep a hand in it to ensure its members don't drift to the extreme left , "Any Taig Will Do" , But we wont be that stupid again, Castlederg as far as I'm concerned was a propaganda SF exercise and yet MH states he was there and "The British Police Held There Loyal Subject Back"?, Its toning down time for SF now, They will decide which Commemoration will be allowed and those which will not be, Just to appease those who trampled all over us/Our Fathers/grandfathers,Great Grandfathers ,etc , etc.

On the voting forms if norn iron is ticked you are actually stating you are british and run by the british, SF included.

Maitiu Connel said...

In regards to these 1916 societies. Can I ask, are these political groups or historical groups??
Genuine question. I have seen them mentioned several times but not sure what the message behind them is.
Are they going to stand for elections etc?

frankie said...


I've asking myself the same Q's about the societies..

michaelhenry said...


" Forget about trying to paint it as acceptable because it is not acceptable "-

Nobody is trying to make you do anything against your will-its your own choice if you do not agree-

Those dead brits had family and friends who never caused any hurt or killed anyone-I think it just shows respect to those people-


The 1916 Societies don't stand for elections but its members who are elected call themselves independents-

itsjustmacker said...

Maitiu / frankie:

1916 societies interesting reading

belfastgit said...

You said those dead soldiers had family who didn't do anyone any harm, agreed. So have dead Vol's and I don't see anyone giving their families any respect (in fact the opposite). In fact in the case of Vol. Thomas Begley, Adams was on tv pretending to look sorrowful at the graves of Vol's in the Republican Plot in Milltown when he said: the operation Thomas was on was "stupid". How do you think the Begley family felt about that?
Re: SF will decide which commemorations go ahead and which don't. I say fuck 'em! Sean can maybe explain this better, but I seen another commemoration, organised I think by the 1916 or Connolly Societies in Tyrone around the same time and it was far bigger than the SF organised one. I saw it on tv and they homed in on Brian Arthurs.

Tain Bo said...


Poppy day or its origin Remembrance Day or Armistice Day is or was for the dead of WW1.
Both my grandfathers fought in the war( both Protestants) one returned home and was a bitter bastard with sociopathic tendency’s lived long enough to marry and have a family worked in the shipyard and was brutal to my grandmother and my Father and his siblings…fortunately his heavy alcoholism caught up with him and he died youngish miserable death in the nut house.

The other whom I loved dearly and admired as he was a gentle soft spoken giant of a man was returned from the front severely shell shocked an honourable man who settled down and had 18 kids. That was after his visit to New York where he found the signs in windows No Irish Need Apply appalling he was good enough to fight for western freedom yet a reject in the land of the free obviously his stay was short and returned home and also found work in the shipyard.
Sadly he was murdered in 1977.

I can’t remember the year I think it was 73 or 74 there is a photo graph of a British soldier saluting the cortege of a fallen IRA volunteer anyone with an ounce of common decency would display respect for fallen soldiers.
I considered the British army as my enemy though I respect those who fight and die with distinction and belief in what they were fighting for.

sean bres said...

But the logic of what you're saying Mickey is that you agree it's acceptable to honour the killers of so many people here in Ireland and around the world, it's not about whether I or anyone else choose to agree or not, it's about your own position and the attempts to make it somehow acceptable in a republican context. Remembrance Sunday as Tain Bo said was originally related to the World Wars but today it encompasses all conflicts involving the British Army and not just those who died but those who served - such as those who shot 14 people dead in Derry's Bogside on Bloody Sunday. It's your choice to agree alright but by doing so it's just more evidence that you'll accept anything from that leadership. If you'd any sense you'd resign from that outfit but you've made your bed with the way you've insulted the likes of the O'Connor family - you're forever tied now, you have no choice but to continue on regardless of what shit they pull next. Good luck with that

celticbhoy1 said...

This is a powerful piece of writing.A very accurate analysis of were we are at,presently.It's article's like this that brings it home to me just how powerful the pen is when it's in the hand's of an intelligent person.

Dixie said...

Great piece Sean.

The Shinners are indeed to blame for the criminalisation of the Struggle, lets not forget Adams' comments that all killings were murder.

They mouth off daily about criminal elements in regards to Republicans, something Thatcher could never have believed possible.

In regards to the SF Mayor lighting up City Hall for Poppy Day, lets not forget also that Raymond McCartney and Jennifer McCann sat on the committee which handed large payoffs to screws, many of whom likely brutalised Blanket Men including Hunger Strikers.

And what has this knee-bending brought about?

Nothing, only a greater push to, as you say, criminalise the whole struggle including those clampets in SF.

sean bres said...

I'd appreciate more on this about McCRtney and McCann and the pay-off to the screws... I'm not aware of that but it's certainly something that should be exposed. Wonder how our very own councillor for Ballinderry will justify this or will we get the usual silence from comrade Mickey, our supposed wee rascal

Tain Bo said...


Yellow for treachery that made me laugh but I wouldn’t put it past them.
As for lighting up city hall for Remembrance Day I think we are seeing signs of their PR kicking in as they have a lot of damage control to paste over.
I believe it is a gesture meant to be noticed by the Unionist middle class and I am sure we will see more and more PR from them to deflect away any of the more recent bad publicity that landed on their doorstep.