Then I heard the phrase “Dissident Republicans” and I thought, “typical there's always someone who's never satisfied, someone who wants violence because that's all they know”. The dissidents, that group of dark evil men that want to drag us back into the bad old days, the malcontents who want nothing of peace and will never be happy with any settlement, they are to be shunned these demons, these monsters.
I think everyone experiences an epiphany at some point in their life, a point where the scales fall from their eyes and suddenly they understand. If they're lucky they will have several. I've had a few and the Bogside bonfire fiasco was the latest. For some it was the Kelvin project being taken from Derry to Coleraine. For others it was Adams shaking the hand of Charlie before any Paras were brought before a court, capitulating and giving welfare back to London, taking successful courses from Magee and giving them to Coleraine and Belfast, the desperate lack of infrastructure, secret talks, welcoming Zionist defenders.
The list is long and getting longer every week and with each disappointment and perceived betrayal, another few join the ranks of the dissidents. You see the dissidents aren't the monsters we are being led to believe they are. They aren't a group of ne'er do wells out to cause trouble for the sake of it. Back in the sixties and seventies the ranks of the IRA swelled as a response to atrocities carried out by the British state. These weren't hardened killers. This was Paddy and John down off Westland and, you know, Mickey and Joe from just off Broadway. These were ordinary guys who stepped up to the plate when they saw no-one coming to help. The Irish army stayed safely across the border, the UN looked the other way: someone had to defend us. And while I never agreed with their methods I at least acknowledge and honour what they tried to do. They supported the struggle for thirty years, many of them died, and now Paddy and John and Mickey and Joe feel betrayed, their struggle and sacrifice was for naught because the people they followed have compromised once too often, fairness and justice denied them by honeyed words on silver tongues in Armani suits. They're angry and some of them do resort to the violence of the past.
But take a dander through Galliagh in the evening. You will see these men walking the streets to help bring calm and guidance to the young, stopping the anti-social behaviour from escalating, tackling a growing drug problem while the Shinners demonise them, doing everything they can to keep the funding going into their coffers while the PSNI plan large operations to take wood off the kids in the Bog. The Dissidents are walking the streets, making the community safer. These self appointed wardens aren't getting paid £30k, £40k or £50k a year to do it. They do it because no-one else will. The political elite don't have the will and the PSNI don't have the resources - both are steadily losing the trust of the people. The P.S.N.I. was established, in part, to reassure the Irish people in the state of Northern Ireland that the days of using the Police as a paramilitary organisation to enforce the will of the political elite, were over. The RUC was a paramilitary force. It was a protestant police force for a protestant people. We've heard it so often and many of us have felt the baton and the hobnailed boot. The PSNI was to change all that, it was to be independent, accountable and reflect both communities.
Recently the PSNI accompanied “a local business man” to remove wood that was collected in anticipation of a bonfire. You can look at all the paperwork and the legality of what happened, you can listen to the spin, shake your head and tut at all those young'uns causing bother again, them bad'uns holding the community to ransom, but there is a growing unease that even the dogs in the street can sense...
The people who organised that bonfire and the wains that collected the wood sensed the injustice even when many of them couldn't articulate it, they felt it. A right that was granted to every prod in Northern Ireland was being denied them and the PSNI was the instrument used to deny them that right. That makes the PSNI no different to the RUC in the eyes of many. The prods don't want the Taigs in the bog to celebrate their culture and are looking for any excuse to withdraw the funding from the Shinners Gas Yard extravaganza. The political elite did not want the bonfire in the Bog, and they used the PSNI as a paramilitary force to override the wishes of a substantial minority. Do not be mistaken - the use of the PSNI was a political act and everyone knows it even if they don't want to admit it.
As Sinn Fein are among the political elite, their support of the actions of the PSNI demonstrate clearly that they have become a tool of the British state. They have shown how expertly the DUP have managed the new intake of Taigs, turning them into instruments of British oppression. Sinn Fein are complicit in the perversion of an independent Police Service into a paramilitary force. Why? In all of Northern Ireland was the only bonfire to be removed by the PSNI in the Bog? The answer is simple. It was to put those upstart Taigs in their place, with the support of Sinn Fein.
A growing number of Irish people in Derry are sensing how poorly they are being represented by Sinn Fein and SDLP. The last election shows that they are looking elsewhere. Is it really that surprising? After 20 years we Irish in Derry do not seem to have benefited to any great extent from the so called peace dividend. New schools I hear Martin cry: great, yeah, we've got the best educated dole queues in Europe. Indeed after 47 years the Irish in Derry are still facing the same problems that drove us onto the streets in 1969 - discrimination, housing, jobs, infrastructure.
No-one should suffer or die because of their religious or political beliefs, I have always believed this and can never support men of violence. Without condoning the dissidents, I at least understand why their ranks have been growing. Now I understand why the young people in Derry have apparently been going crazy over the last few years. After 47 years it looks like we're heading for another Battle of the Bogside. Which side of the barricades will the new Sinn Fein be on?
When the IRA was waging it's war, a top down command structure for it's army was essential. When the fight moved from the gun to the ballot box, the top down structure helped make Sinn Fein a powerful political force but it has left them woefully ill prepared for work in a democracy. While Gregory curries their yoghurts the new Sinn Fein are not listening to their people. By not listening how can they hope to meet their needs?
Their arrogance is astounding. It is not their job to tell the people of Derry how they should live or how they should celebrate their culture. It is their job to facilitate what the people want, it's their job to educate the prods, make them understand that we have rights, that we are a proud people and we will not be treated as second class citizens.
The Battle of the Bogside was fought by the Civil Rights Movement in protest at the discrimination of the Irish People by the British establishment. Martina Anderson needs to understand that she is no longer of the people, she is the political elite. She is the establishment and more and more she is seen as the British establishment, The Bonfire on the Lecky road was a shout at the British establishment, and particularly at Sinn Fein:
we will not toe the line so that you can keep funding your pet projects, you do not get to decide what is good for Derry, you do not get to define what it means to be Irish, you do not get to decide what it means to be a Derryman or a Derrywoman, you are our servants we are not your serfs.
When your supporters have nothing to lose, you lose them... We are Irish, we are proud we will not be dictated to. We want justice, we want fairness, we want equality. By failing to listen to their cry you are sealing the fate of another generation of Derry men to hopelessness and despair.
I only hope that as the people of Derry awaken yet again to the injustices that surrounds them and oppresses them that they follow a route of non-violence and civil disobedience. I hope they take their inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement. To do otherwise is to condemn our beautiful city to another half century of needless death and destruction.
“yous shouldn't have taken our wood” ~ sign on the bonfire