WE’RE all agreed that the loyalist people of This Here Pravince are absolutely rippin’ it about the Protocol, right? That the long-suffering unionist majority (or is it minority now?) are on the windowsill on the 50th floor of the union building and are being poked with sticks and urged to jump by Ursula von der Leyen, Simon Coveney and James McClean.
And when you step back and take a cold and objective look at what has happened, it’s hard to imagine a more damaging blow to partition than the government of the United Kingdom agreeing to place a border in the Irish Sea.
If you were to force Squinter to imagine an event more damaging, he’d be looking at something absolutely out of left field. Charlie Lawson off Coronation Street introducing the Wolfe Tones on the last night of Féile. The News Letter employing an Irish language columnist. The BBC sacking Jim Allister as a Nolan co-presenter. What we have is the only offshore member of the UK family of ‘nations’ being placed behind a literal border that involves blokes in high-vis jackets asking lorry drivers what’s in their Scanias. And that makes it substantially different from the two other great constitutional crises of partition – Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement – neither of which involved physical changes to the scaffolding of the union.
Parade in Portadown has finished peacefully. Lots of those taking part wearing full balaclavas. When I asked about it they said faces are hidden to avoid police (obvious really). But you can’t help feeling it does give things a rather sinister look. pic.twitter.com/WLKPn4Hc5Q— Emma Vardy (@EmmaVardyTV) June 5, 2021
So it is, to be sure, an existential threat to the Britishness of these six counties. Set aside the fact that many people in yer actual Britain don’t consider people from the north of Ireland British, and the only poll that unionists would fear more than a border poll here would be a poll in Great Britain on whether to keep the Wee North – from the point of view of someone whose number one political priority is the union the Protocol is a complete and utter disaster.
And that reality is reflected in the fact that Our Wee Country has never been so angry, that unionism is a smoking volcano of brightly bubbling Orange magma that’s about to blow and bury us in a massive sea of loyalist lava. That’s self-evident, isn’t it?
Well, the truth is that we are being told that loyalism is a seething cauldron of unrest, that even garden centre Prods are ready to go to the mattresses over this. And we’re being told this by a loudly familiar gallery of politicians, commentators, observers, community workers, social media warriors and lamppost jockeys. And while Squinter is grateful to these people for the bants and giggles over the years, he has to say that their insights haven’t always been what you might call searing.
And that occasioned a bit of reflection on how much fury we have seen outside of the press releases, the newspaper columns, the radio phone-ins and the online posts.
We can all vividly remember the April unrest when a car was burnt at the Cloughfern roundabout – and the reason we can remember it was because it was filmed on a phone by a few people standing at their door laughing their spools off. And seared indelibly into our consciousness is the image of a dozen 12-year-olds in North Face jackets doing a charge for the cameras at the Lanark interface, while a few feet away somebody threw a petrol bomb at an empty and slowly-rolling runaway bus. Now don’t get Squinter wrong, burning a car is patently Not A Good Thing. Schoolkids going over the top at the blast of a Somme commemoration whistle from a baldy and unseen 50-year-old is Not Good Craic. But in terms of what we’ve seen here over the years, it’s a regular tea party. Squinter will go so far as to say that those things wouldn’t have brought you to your front door for a look in Lenadoon in the 80s.
And then we’ve got the Protocol demos. Pictured above is the latest from this week, held in Bangor on Bank Holiday Monday. People were off work, the sun was splitting the trees – the perfect environment for the loyal folk of North Down to show us the raw and widespread anger that is throbbing across loyal Ulster (well, according to a certain wee man from a few miles up the road anyway).
You can do the counting yourself if you want to, but Squinter will save you the trouble and say there are around 60 people there, and that’s being generous. In other words, there were 60 people in the North Down area who were concerned enough about the future of the United Kingdom to come out and make their voices heard. That’s not a volcano about the blow – that’s a leaky tap.
Ah, you say, but that’s just one example. To which Squinter replies that this is actually one of the bigger demos we’ve seen in recent months. 60 people is not a big enough event to warrant a burger van, but the local poke man would more than likely show. up at some stage. The one in Newtownards, however, where a blue bin addressed the crowd with Jamie Bryson standing on its head outside the local cop shop, was so small that the Trevors didn’t know there had been a demo until the blue bin went viral(ish) on Twitter.
All of which is to say that next time somebody has someone on the radio explaining the bottomless depths of fury that the Protocol has led to within unionism, maybe a question should be put about the little matter of actual evidence.
It is said that when Winston Churchill in 1943 suggested to Stalin that perhaps the Vatican should be associated with some of the decisions taken by the Allied powers in order to give them more moral authority, Stalin replied: “The Pope? How many divisions has he?”
In a similar vein, if we ask ourselves how many blue bins there are across this blue and pleasant land, the answer must come: Many, many thousands, but nobody’s putting them out.
And so the fighting goes into extra time
ANOTHER European final, another depressing cine reel of English fans brawling and wrecking places in another European city.
And again the question is asked: What is the matter with these people? Why do they feel the need to keep reminding Europeans of why they don’t like the English?
The continuing Brexit humiliation doesn’t help, of course, as the redtop English media continue to blame Europeans for letting the UK stab itself in the neck. Throw that in with a bit of loss-of-empire/self-loathing pop psychology and you’re on the way to an explanation.
But whenever Squinter watches these bare-bellied young men with arms spread wide shouting “You want some?” at a security barrier he’s seeing someone who’s likely going to pass that on to his children. And while thirty or forty years ago the world was entitled to hope that the no-one-likes-us-we-don’t-care post-Suez anger might fade with time, the truth is that it’s as strong as ever thanks to the rise of the hard-right in British politics.
Three things re the issue of generational contagion sprang to mind as Squinter watched the news on Saturday night. The first was the Philip Larkin poem, This Be the Verse.
They f**k you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
The second was an incident in a bar in Ibiza when Squinter was a young man. He’d been frequenting a particular watering-hole for some days and was at a table nursing a pint and doing a crossword one afternoon when a party of some 10 or 12 English people arrived. As they fussed over picking a table and sorting out seating arrangements, one of the adults asked a boy of about eight, probably his son, to call the waiter. The kid looked in the direction of the single staff member – who Squinter had got to know a little bit – whistled very loudly and shouted: “Oi, Pedro!” They were Londoners, so it came out as “Oi, Paaydro!”
The waiter approached and as he did so Squinter caught his eye. Squinter shook his head almost imperceptibly and the waiter raised his eyebrows a little bit, made a straight line of his mouth and went on about his business. It wasn’t the worst thing Squinter has ever seen a waiter subjected to, but because it was a child he felt absolutely gutted for the fella.
The third thing was a story about another restaurant told to him by a friend who was in Germany (the name of the city escapes Squinter for now) for the 2006 World Cup.
At the next table was a family of about six English people, and as they ate their meals they were wearing plastic Tommy World War Two helmets. All of them. Parents and small children. Again, not the most egregious behaviour Squinter has ever heard of, but for some reason that image has stuck fast in his head.
That Ibiza child would be well into middle-age by now. The children in the German restaurant probably in their mid- to late-20s. And if you ask yourself whether the boy speaks to Spanish waiters with any more respect, or whether the little plastic soldiers have a more rounded view of the German people, you would most likely come up with a rather grim answer.
Anyway, let’s get away from that and think of something more pleasant. The Euros kick off in Rome in eight days time and England are involved – how about that? Feel better now?