ANOTHER week, another ‘Ooh, ah, up the Ra’ controversy pushes ongoing loyalist paramilitary activity from the headlines.
What happened to former DUP leader Arlene Foster at the weekend was wrong. It was wrong because she is a victim of the IRA and to have that fact pushed into her face in such a crass and insensitive way was unimaginably hurtful. But simple condemnation without any attempt to understand the wider issue is pointless.
This younger generation of nationalists refuses to accept the single-narrative history of the conflict that paints the IRA as the bad guys and the various armed agencies of the state as the good guys. That was never accepted by the vast majority of nationalists during the conflict, which is why they steadfastly rejected the RUC and the British Army – vindication of that position coming when both the RUC and the UDR were dumped because, quite simply, peace was impossible without them. Attempts today to rewrite the past by presenting the IRA as uniquely deserving of contempt/criticism are equally being rejected by new generations, whose family and community histories of the conflict lead them to the quite correct conclusion that the version of history being propagated by British politicians and unionists is self-serving and wilfully blind. Perhaps the main reason for that is that they receive their information not from the overwhelmingly unionist print and broadcast media here, as their parents and grandparents did, but from family, friends and various social media platforms, where a monochrome Anglocentric version of the past thankfully does not exist.
That is not to say that in singing songs in praise of the IRA they are endorsing every action that the IRA took – how could they? They never lived through grim reality of the conflict. It is to say, however, that they believe – again quite rightly – that commemorating republican resistance is no different from the daily commemorations of British armed forces that they see all around them every day – permanent and recurring.
The continued failure of unionism to understand that nationalist victims are hurt not occasionally but daily by officially-sanctioned memorials, statues and commemorations does not go unnoticed. There is no plaque on British Army war memorials or on poppy wreaths withholding respect from the murderous colluders and licensed killers of the state.
Nationalist insistence on remembering as they please is not going to go away, any more than the war memorials and statues in cities, towns and villages are going to disappear.
People of every generation have every right to commemorate in whatever way they see fit, free from the cynicism and cant of those who continue to insist that they commemorate as they’re told.There is a time and a place and a method of commemoration. That time and place is where and when it is accepted and appropriate.
That method is with dignity and empathy. No lectures will be taken from those in the DUP and UUP who demand of others that which they don’t demand of themselves.