Category: Archive

View North: Jack Holland

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The loyalist doctrine: love thy contradictions

"I am large. I contain contradictions," wrote the American poet Walt Whitman. Well, no offense to Mr. Whitman, having but contradictions has got nothing to do with size. You can also be pretty small and still contain plenty of them, as Northern Ireland reminds us on a daily basis.

Take this for an example. The Orange mob gathered on the hill of Drumcree recently were heard chanting "SS RUC" as officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary massed behind metal walls to block their way to Garvaghy Road. These were the same people who a few weeks earlier were in a state of rebellion over the Patten Commission’s report advocating, among other reforms, that the RUC name should be dropped in favor of a non-political substitute, the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

We can see now why they were so eager to retain the old name. "SS Police Service of Northern Ireland" just isn’t catchy enough, is it?

The mob was doing more than chanting at its much-beloved and soon-to-be-lamented police force. To show their appreciation of its sterling work, they were hurling bricks, rocks, petrol bombs and the occasional blast bomb at it. They managed to injure 57 police officers as well as five British soldiers over the weekend of the Drumcree parade.

These attacks did not stop a small group of RUC widows who marched in support of the Orangemen’s protest. Yet, on the 11th night, an effigy of an RUC man adorned the top of the Drumcree bonfire, a spot reserved for only the most treacherous or hated enemies of Ulster.

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In another sign of appreciation which must be so gratifying to the RUC, in loyalist areas of Belfast there were 13 gun attacks on the police, according to reports. That loyalists have a peculiar idea of showing their support for the RUC is nothing new, of course. The same people who are incensed at the prospect of changing the force’s name have shown no similar concern for the welfare of RUC officers, whom on occasion they have murdered. Constable Frank O’Reilly was injured by a loyalist blast bomb in September 1998. It was claimed by a group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders, who also claimed responsibility for the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson in March 1999.

The 30-year-old officer suffered terrible head injuries. He was partially blinded by the bomb, and lost his speech. On Oct. 6, after an agonizing month, he died of his injuries, leaving behind a wife and three young children.

In June 1997, law-and-order loving loyalists demonstrated once again their support for "their" police force when they set upon an off-duty RUC officer outside a pub in Balleymoney, Co. Antrim. The officer, Gregory Taylor, had gotten into an argument with a gang belonging to a loyalist band who were drinking in the bar. They were angry at the RUC for blocking their route through the nearby Catholic village of Dunloy. He was kicked to death on the pavement before a police squad car could arrive to save him. According to one of those later convicted for the officer’s death, there were so many people kicking him that they were kicking each other. One of the gang shouted: "You’re not in Dunloy now."

No doubt had anyone suggested at the time to these loyal lads that the RUC should change its name to the Police Service of Northern Ireland they would have been horrified at such an act of disloyalty to "their" police force.

However, there is nothing new in this kind of contradictory behavior. The first RUC officer to die in the current conflict was shot dead on Oct. 12 1969 by loyalists who had provoked a riot after learning that the British government had disarmed the RUC and was abolishing the "B"-Specials. A UVF gunman, outraged no doubt at the idea that the RUC was to be disarmed, shot dead Constable Victor Arbuckle near the Catholic Unity Flats complex at the foot of the Shankill Road. The constable was, of course, unarmed at the time.

Sometimes, though, the contradictions within loyalism move beyond the merely paradoxical to verge on the schizophrenic. The problem always centers on Protestant attitudes toward violence. Last week, the grand master of the Orange Lodge, Robert Saulters, spoke in support of the Drumcree Orangemen and their "peaceful protest." He said: "We certainly don’t want to see any trouble. It is terrible to see people attack the police and army; they are our army and police — we don’t want that at all."

Yet, a few days earlier, Harold Gracey, the leader of the Drumcree protest which the Orange leaders were supporting, had called for the protest to "be carried across the province." Another, Mark Harbinson, called Drumcree "Ulster’s Alamo" and proclaimed: "This is where the battle begins. The war begins today." Amusingly enough, another Orangeman accused the Parades Commission of capitulating to the "threat of violence from Nationalists" — as if war wasn’t a threat of violence of the most extreme kind.

The grand master supports a "peaceful" protest held by men who are declaring a "war." The province-wide demonstrations that Garcey called for led to nights of fire-bombings, hijackings, riots, and gun attacks on the police. However, this did not stop a law-and-order man like Saulters endorsing the "peaceful" protest.

Such contradictions have always been at the heart of the Protestant and Unionist response to the changing situation in Northern Ireland. And usually they have been most blatant within the ranks of the extremists in the various paramilitary organizations that loyalism has spawned.

The Unionist/loyalist mentality which views the army, and the police and the state as "theirs" does not adapt well to declarations of "war" and against those institutions and bodies. How can the state be yours if by your actions you succeed only in undermining it? How can you murder "your" police officers? Morally, it ties you in something of a knot. That is why even the most extreme loyalists have never been entirely happy about their violence. There is always an element of doubt about the morality of what they are doing, something which is not so commonly found among republicans. Hence the feelings of guilt, often leading to prison conversations to various types of evangelical Christianity which convicted loyalists frequently experience. Republican prisoners rarely undergo such conversions.

Meanwhile, the conversation that everyone is waiting to see the Orange Order undergo is to that Christian doctrine, much neglected in Ulster, called "Love Thy Neighbor."

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