Citizen Ship 2013. Belfast. Nos. 17.
“See you and Self Esteem big lad!”
When the recent flag protests erupted in Belfast in December 2012 I was angry and annoyed. The middle class part of me was quite dismissive of the first protest at the city hall. Part of me found it ridiculous, even funny at times. Yet the other part “the worker” in me, didn’t find it funny at all.
This deeper part felt sad. Felt sad that some people, in East Belfast, were prepared to make them selves look so stupid, on the media, on the radio and in the newspapers, over a flag. Now what do I mean by “stupid”? What am I saying here? Am I just being critical? No. Am I saying that the flag protesters were totally wrong? No, I’m not saying that either.
The flag protesters were making a very valid point, and expressing themselves strongly, in some ways, for the right reasons. But they had reached this point in their lives and in the history of Ulster, Northern Ireland, the Six Counties, “Norn Iron”, for the wrong reasons and over hundreds of years.
They had reached such a low point that they were allowing this situation and the media to make them seem, merely inarticulate, violent and protesting for no real reason at all. Now, anyone can see that there was something to be said here and there were genuine grievances amongst parts of this community. However, the route taken, the methods and tactics adopted, the means of expression used, were all going to amount to one thing. Looking “stupid”, both locally and to the eyes of the world press.
Like a form of public self harm.
If, every time, you don’t get what you want, you riot, and damage the fabric and infrastructure of your own community, the only person or group to blame for this is yourself, and for the future loss of jobs, shops, facilities, investment and most of all, the respect from others, for who you are, as people.
After doing this hundreds of times over the past forty years, you also seem like a ONE TRICK PONY. (“Not gettin’ my stuff! . . . Riot!”) As predictable as a child without real and caring parents.
How did “Loyalism” develop?
While all was well economically, in the North of Ireland, during the height of the industrial period, the Protestant workers, in general, (an inadequate term), remained true to what they were being told, to be true to. This is a universal experience, not just something particular to Northern Ireland.
There isn’t one Protestant worker, now, or in the past 400 years, who invented “Loyalism”. It was invented for them by their employers. It didn’t grow out of Northern Protestant stock like the buds, leaves and branches of some wonder tree.
If “Loyalism” was ever a young sapling it developed and grew into this unusually contorted shape out of self preservation and the need to obey its betters. In order to stay safe, keep your family and friends safe and then to prosper, safely. To obey and fit in, was everything in Belfast, for everyone in the city. For all around the emerging work force in Belfast were the constant reminders of what would happen if you tried to buck the system.
Violence, and the threat of violence prevailed, as ever, from the early beginnings of Belfast to the present day and you could argue that even Sir Arthur Chichester himself, is a prime example of a person who knew how to use violence, power and control to shape things, and to establish himself within this situation.
We walk down streets named after him in the centre of Belfast, yet most of us know very little about him or about some of the violence that he employed, throughout his time in Ireland as Lord Deputy, and the advantage he took from his role, to gain title, position and wealth.
As I have said before, fear and the abuse of fear, within our population, always has been the major factor in political and social unrest. If there was no fear, no division amongst us, there would be no conflict. There would be no Troubles.
How do you take away the fear? The fear that continues to stand over us like Goliath and Samson? How do you convert the fear into friendship? How do you transform the users of fear and violence into active participating citizens? What makes them use fear and violence in the first place? Is it purely for money and status? For Bling? Is it just an engrained part of our culture? Are some people just addicted to violence? Wired for it? Are some of us violent due to mental health issues?
Did you know that Northern Ireland is the biggest user of prescribed anti-depressants in all of Europe?
People can change and evolve, but is it only through the intervention of money? Is that all there is? Do we all just jump to money? Are we not motivated by compassion in disasters? Think of the serious amounts of money we give to charities. Do we not make sacrifices as warriors in wars for others? Think of your bravery. If these are not the heights that can be climbed by the human spirit elsewhere, why can’t we climb them in Belfast?
“Can’t be arsed big lad.” Could be one reply. “Nah, son, you and yer middle class, wishy washy, do-gooder thinkin’ isn’t for the likes of us. We like it this way. We don’t want to change. Here . . . give us one o’ yer chips, mucker. Ah, magic, sunshine. Now, yer talkin’. Happy Days . . .”
If that was the case then all the good, decent people, on both sides of the community wouldn’t have worked so hard, without any income, to do so much for peace, in Belfast. So I’m certain that we don’t all just “jump to money” after all.
Yet, why is it that a small minority can use a flag like a threat? How can a small minority abuse our citizens, wreck our streets, threaten shop owners, extract money illegally with threats, while pretending that it is all about loyalty, when it is more to do with control?
There are so many industrious people here, giving their time for the good of their own community. Isn’t it time we dug up our own sense of community and self respect from the rubble and the ashes, created by the few of us “who can’t be arsed” to change?
The Citizen Ship.
Belfast 2013. Nos 17.
By Randall Stephen Hall ©