You know how it is, you’re quietly minding someone else’s business on the internet when you stumble upon something quite dramatic. In this case I was looking up something when I stumbled on someone’s social networking site and it looked a bit Ulsterish, so I thought I’d take a closer look.
The site in question belongs to a man, who seems to be the loving and loved partner of a woman, they have two kids, and he states his “happiest when” moments as spending time with his family. There was nothing wrong with his ‘Hometown’, if that’s how he wants to express it: “loyal ulster” (Upper and lower case given here as on the site). His music choice went a bit further; “loyalist bands and anything to do with the white race” and mentions extinct racist, neo-Nazi bands Skrewdriver and No Remorse; a bit of the old mythology there, given that there is nothing which can be defined as “the white race” – and we’re all descended from an African woman anyway so that kind of pulls the plug on racism as a rational approach, full stop. One of his favourite films was a bit fenian in that it was shot in the Republic but given it’s concerning a Scottish military hero, “braveheart”, well, it fits the profile. Interests were listed as “hunting shooting and football LINFIELD RANGERS CHELSEA” (the last three defined as ‘The Blues Brothers’).
However it was his statement regarding what he is “Scared Of” which was definitely scary: “niggers and taigs ruling Ulster. be worse if they were all gay” It takes real genius to fit racism, sectarianism and homophobia in two very short sentences, but there we had it. If you were inventing a bigoted stereotype it would be hard to do any better. But this guy is for real, a living, breathing member of the community in Norn Iron. I hope neither of his children ever forms a gay partnership with a black Catholic because that could strain family life somewhat. If he got a chance maybe he could expand his views a bit to include lily-livered pacifists, reconcilers and peaceniks because you sort of feel he might have strong views on those kind of people as well. The challenge for us, in the wishy-washy community, is helping our friend discover that blacks, Catholics and gays are people with just as much integrity and right to be heard as he is from ‘loyal ulster’.
Song for our times No. 578
Damien Dempsey’s “Celtic Tiger” on his 2003 album, Seize the Day, is this month’s ‘Song for our times’. With lyrics like “If you hear the Celtic Tiger Roar / Run for the door”, and a chorus of “So greedy, greedy, greedy, greedy, greedy” it sums up the era Ireland has just been through. There is an attractively sung, contrasting backing vocal by Sinead O’Connor, about the Celtic Tiger and greed, “I am your god you see / And you shall not have any / Other gods than me”. Definitely a track for our times when it is realised the fat cats have got the cream and not even left skimmed milk for the rest.
Meanwhile it has been good to see people mobilising in the Republic against the education cuts which, as always, will hit the weakest worst. When you see 8,000 people gathering (for an education cuts protest) in a town like Donegal on a cold Saturday at the end of November you know that resistance is afoot – and this has been only one, local, demo.
Ferry slow travel
If you had suggested ‘blogging’ thirty years ago, or even half that time ago, then no one would have understood you. If you had suggested blogging, and they understood what that meant, about a ferry trip across the Irish Sea, people would certainly have thought you were mad, because that is how people travelled all the time before the advent of cheap air fares. Cue memories about being questioned by the Special Branch at Holyhead as I passed through. But blog about a ferry crossing is what I’m going to do. I needed to attend a conference in the Midlands of England, and, being unwilling to fly, if possible, for ecological reasons, I thought, right, I’ll go by the Belfast-Liverpool ferry.
Overall it worked out fine but, as with most ferries, it is geared to commercial traffic and cars. On the NorfolkLine ferry crossing from Belfast to Liverpool there were about 6 foot passengers going over on a Sunday night, and two coming back on a Wednesday – admittedly this was winter. Those of us without cabins were able to lie flat out on the padded benches but if there had been more than ten of us those would all have been full. Cabins were £50 each way – feasible if you have 4 people sharing but OTT for a single traveller of modest means. The lights stayed on full all night in the lounge and, on the journey back, I had to look for a steward to turn off the blaring radio on the PA system when I realised, too late to easily find someone, that the radio would be left on all night – no one was thinking of those without cabins. The crossing on this route is about 8 hours and I got maybe 4½ hours sleep each way. Would I do it again? Certainly, but it was tiring for the next couple of days, and the bags under my eyes were a bit more noticeable. [I knew you’d make a bags of it – Ed] [I think we’re not going to see eye to eye on this one – Billy] You know the phrase ‘jet lag’ – well this was ‘ferry lag’.
If more foot passengers are to be attracted to ferry travel – and I would be surprised if this does not happen for a variety of reasons, then boats will need to cater better for them by a) Providing more comfortable, ‘sleep-in’ seats, possibly ones that recline, some ferries on the Irish Sea already have these, b) Dimming lights and cutting noise overnight, and c) Allowing passengers without luggage to check in until very close to departure time (waiting for luggage the far end also delays getting away there) – we had to check in at least an hour before departure. The reason for this, I was told, is that foot passengers were taken on board before vehicles but, while this may have been partly the case there did not seem any good reason for it, and the minibus taking us could just as well have done the job five minutes before ramps were raised prior to sailing. Oh, and d) The ferries would need to provide bus transport to and from the nearest public transport systems – in this case buses to and from the centre of town in Belfast, and Hamilton Square, Wirral, for the Metro line into Liverpool. e) The fares at the moment are geared to lorry drivers and NorfolkLine include a ‘free’ evening meal and breakfast – if competing with air fares they could cut that and cut the price (my return Belfast-Liverpool was £70 and I’d train and bus fares as well).
If you take away ‘sleeping time’ and travel overnight, then travel to, say, the English Midlands by boat and rail or bus this route is not necessarily a huge amount slower than going by air. Going to Scotland from Belfast or Larne is much faster again and that offers a fairly speedy sea journey which is already a time-friendly option. But travelling by boat could be made a lot easier, as suggested above. As a market develops then the ferries will respond…….and this can be assisted by pointing out facts of life such as the above to them.
Having an RIR old time
Disaster was averted at the start of November when both British Army and Sinn Féin compromised on aspects of the ‘homecoming parade’ in Belfast and the republican protest about it, for the Royal Irish Regiment returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. The RIR are actually based in England so how it is exactly a homecoming is debateable. As you might guess, we are not in favour of military parades and it seemed crassly insensitive in the Northern Ireland context to even think of it. If they wanted to have an event behind closed doors, well, what people do in private is entirely up to them. Once republicans started to oppose it then more Prods came out in support – up to 50,000 for the Belfast parade in the News Letter’s estimate.
Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society and the British Army is not neutral and cannot be seen as neutral. This and the fact that most people opposed the Iraq war before it started means holding a public ‘homecoming’ parade was more than insensitive, it was crassly one-sided and sectarian as well as possibly detrimental to public wellbeing. Republicans were not wise to protest in the way they did either; a dignified silence with an event elsewhere looking at the disastrous nature of the Afghan and Iraqi wars would have been more suitable but the old confrontational impetus asserted itself and a close by protest there would be, which ‘upped the ante’. However both sides compromised beforehand – no weapons carried by soldiers, a variation in the location of the protest – and despite real risks, major violence was averted.
As we sometimes do in such cases, it is instructive to do an analysis of the two main morning Belfast papers (I am deliberately not including the Belfast Telegraph’s AM edition in this since it is primarily an evening paper); the Irish News (read primarily by Catholics) and the News Letter (read primarily by Protestants). Doing this is instructive precisely because it enables us to get to grips with two different world views. Let’s start with the front page headlines; the News Letter had an almost full page pic of soldiers parading with the title “A homecoming fit for heroes” plus 8 pages of coverage (including some photos and reportage of ‘homecoming parades’ in Larne and Ballymena), while the Irish News had a photo of police and protesters with text and caption “Riot police on streets to stop violence at parade protests” along with 4 pages of coverage inside.
The News Letter proudly proclaimed its support for such a parade by mentioning its Welcome Home the Heroes campaign launched in July. Lt Col Andrew Cullen, commanding officer of 2 Royal Irish said it was the “right recognition” of what his soldiers had been through and that the parade was a measure of how far Northern Ireland has now come in recent years. Another soldier proclaimed there was no religious divide in those out supporting the troops – a statement difficult to believe. A report stated there was such thunderous applause it was difficult to hear what the military band was playing. Another said that he was acutely aware that the streets were the same streets on which the 36th Ulster Division marched off to war ‘almost 100 years ago’, in the First World War; I would ask the question – how much has been learnt in 100 years? The News Letter also made the point that there was more Irish (language) with the Union Flags, seeing the RIR motto is ‘Faugh a ballagh’ (an anglicized spelling of the Irish for ‘Clear the way’), than with the protesters. The parade culminated in a military service at St Anne’s Church of Ireland cathedral.
The Irish News, meanwhile began its report by saying “A tense British army ‘homecoming’ parade passed off with only minor skirmishes yesterday – but riot police were forced into action to prevent violence breaking out. Community relations were said to have taken a backwards step as observers described witnessing “pure naked sectarianism” when an estimated 30,000 people took to the streets of Belfast.” It went on to say that while some parade supporters were in their Sunday best, others covered their faces with scarves and hoods, senior loyalist figures were present, and at one stage the two sides were only 50 yards apart “and riot police had to move quickly to prevent violence erupting on the route of the march as loyalists charged their lines. Loyalists threw bottles and fireworks but the parade of 250 service personnel, which took a few minutes to pass, was free of any trouble – much to the relief of those who had feared massive disorder.” The Irish News reported both sides accusing each other of stoking sectarian tensions. It also reported on republican group Éirígí’s protest, attended by about 300 people, and another small republican protest. Another reporter spoke of having to pass through three separate police checkpoints to get to work, and police leave had been cancelled for the day.
There is a lot more detail I could provide from the two sources but I will leave it at that. Two quite different worldviews. Fortunately, despite an event which I would say should never have happened and risked far worse than what did happen, things passed off ‘well’ by Northern Irish standards which, to be honest, are not much to write home about.
Things I learnt this year
What did I learn this year? Firstly, that the capitalist system’s feet are made of very soft clay – I thought they were at least made of half-baked clay or pottery. What a difference a year makes! Though it is interesting that, at this stage, there is no sign that people are flocking to join socialist groups and parties. The second thing I learnt is that redcurrants keep very well on the bush if they are protected from birds so there is no need to pick them all in one fell swoop. All right, the poor weather meant they ripened slowly but I was still picking some into October; having stopped making jam with them I will in future just pick them as needed to eat, or some to freeze for coulis. The third thing? The issue of global warming is becoming not just a threat but an immediate threat, without, yet, the adequate response needed from ‘the West’. What else did I learn? Apart from the fact that Nonviolent News keeps getting bigger, maybe that at my age I don’t learn as much as I used to.
Meanwhile, with the next issue of Nonviolent News, the February one (there being no January issue) we will yet again be hosting our inestimable Adolf Awards for conspicuous disservice to peace, the environment and human rights. Nominations can come to the usual INNATE contacts; vote early, vote often but vote imaginatively and, where possible, humorously. You know they deserve it!
In the mean time (and given the recession, we are probably entering a very mean time), I wish you a peaceful Christmas season and a preposterous New Year. I won’t even mention my usual campaign to get Christmas postponed for ten days so I can catch up [You just did mention it – Ed] – the Orthodox Christmas would do very nicely. Yours as ever, until we meet in 2009,
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).