The “Glorious Revolution”

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson made an inspiring and quite brilliant appearance on the Nolan Show a few days ago.

He was speaking about the burning of Polish flags on 11th night bonfires and attacks on the Polish community.

He told listeners of a letter he had received from a woman in East Belfast who described watching a Polish fighter pilot defending Belfast during the Blitz. His plane was hit, and had caught fire, but instead of bailing out he flew straight into a German bomber, destroying it. He had given his life to save the citizens of Belfast.

Donaldson demanded that those who claimed to be loyalist and indulged in racism should take a little time to study their real history, and when they did so they would be ashamed and appalled at attacks on people from a community that had done so much, at such great cost, to protect ours.

He went further and reminded listeners that the Twelfth itself was a celebration of the Glorious Revolution and that was essentially about the establishment of civil and religious liberties.

This is a really fascinating thing for him to have said: after all where else in the world do you get politicians of all hues, invoking the distant past in order to make sense of the present?

And wherever else do we have such a confused interpretation of what actually happened which so distorts our behaviour today?

Many historians have always known this. FSL Lyons famously wrote at the outbreak of the Troubles “to understand the past is to cease to live in it”.

So let’s very briefly look at the Glorious Revolution.

When Charles II died in 1685 his brother James II who had converted to Catholicism came to the throne and he started to exercise more and more power without reference to Parliament. English parliamentarians were alarmed as they suspected him of wanting to re-establish an absolute monarchy. When his son was born, opening up the prospect of a Catholic dynasty, secret negotiations were established with his daughter Mary and her husband William, the Stadholder of Holland.

Essentially the deal that they cut was that William and Mary would be offered the crown. In exchange they would effectively sign up to new constitutional arrangements that would establish the supremacy of parliament.

In 1689 these provisions became codified in the Bill of Rights, which to this day is the foundation stone of parliamentary democracy. Never again would monarchs be able to exercise arbitrary power. The Bill of Rights was the main inspiration for the US Bill of Rights after it established declaration in the next century.

So the Glorious Revolution was a critical turning point in history, shifting power permanently to parliament, whose members were guaranteed freedom of speech.

However two groupings were excluded from the general liberating impact of the fall of James: Catholics and Protestant dissenters. James had granted religious freedoms to both these groups. After the Glorious Revolution Catholics were excluded from the vote, not permitted to stand for parliament, and legislation was passed which was only revoked last year barring a monarch from adopting Catholicism.

It is important to remember that the 17th Century was still an age of religious conflict. To Catholics Protestants were heretics and in Catholic countries heretics were persecuted, and many were tortured before being burned at the stake, so that their sins could be cleaned with fire. In 17th Century England, the same treatment was handed out to Catholic priests.

The very notion of religious toleration was novel and why, indeed would you tolerate a creed that you believed to be inspired and motivated by the Anti-Christ?

The Glorious Revolution was probably the single most important development in shaping contemporary British democracy, which in turn has been an inspiration for many other States across the globe. In that respect alone it deserves to be celebrated by all

However it do not establish religious freedom, in the modern sense, rather a victory of one religious tradition over another, which was then excluded from influence, reinforcing resentment that still simmers today.

I’ve yet to meet anyone anywhere today who believes that Catholics or Protestants or dissenters should be excluded from the vote and banned from Parliament or forced to attend a church that is not of their choice. So maybe we should find a little time to celebrate that as well, to make it clear that when we mark the great events of the past, we are not necessarily endorsing every single aspect of what was said and done in a distant time in a world we would not recognise today.

If we are prepared to look coldly and dispassionately at the past we often find that things were not always quite what they seem.

 

 

liberty?
liberty?

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson made an inspiring and quite brilliant appearance on the Nolan Show a few days ago.

He was speaking about the burning of Polish flags on 11th night bonfires and attacks on the Polish community.

He told listeners of a letter he had received from a woman in East Belfast who described watching a Polish fighter pilot defending Belfast during the Blitz. His plane was hit, and had caught fire, but instead of bailing out he flew straight into a German bomber, destroying it. He had given his life to save the citizens of Belfast.

Donaldson demanded that those who claimed to be loyalist and indulged in racism should take a little time to study their real history, and when they did so they would be ashamed and appalled at attacks on people from a community that had done so much, at such great cost, to protect ours.

He went further and reminded listeners that the Twelfth itself was a celebration of the Glorious Revolution and that was essentially about the establishment of civil and religious liberties.

This is a really fascinating thing for him to have said: after all where else in the world do you get politicians of all hues, invoking the distant past in order to make sense of the present?

And wherever else do we have such a confused interpretation of what actually happened which so distorts our behaviour today?

Many historians have always known this. FSL Lyons famously wrote at the outbreak of the Troubles “to understand the past is to cease to live in it”.

So let’s very briefly look at the Glorious Revolution.

When Charles II died in 1685 his brother James II who had converted to Catholicism came to the throne and he started to exercise more and more power without reference to Parliament. English parliamentarians were alarmed as they suspected him of wanting to re-establish an absolute monarchy. When his son was born, opening up the prospect of a Catholic dynasty, secret negotiations were established with his daughter Mary and her husband William, the Stadholder of Holland.

Essentially the deal that they cut was that William and Mary would be offered the crown. In exchange they would effectively sign up to new constitutional arrangements that would establish the supremacy of parliament.

In 1689 these provisions became codified in the Bill of Rights, which to this day is the foundation stone of parliamentary democracy. Never again would monarchs be able to exercise arbitrary power. The Bill of Rights was the main inspiration for the US Bill of Rights after it established declaration in the next century.

So the Glorious Revolution was a critical turning point in history, shifting power permanently to parliament, whose members were guaranteed freedom of speech.

However two groupings were excluded from the general liberating impact of the fall of James: Catholics and Protestant dissenters. James had granted religious freedoms to both these groups. After the Glorious Revolution Catholics were excluded from the vote, not permitted to stand for parliament, and legislation was passed which was only revoked last year barring a monarch from adopting Catholicism.

It is important to remember that the 17th Century was still an age of religious conflict. To Catholics Protestants were heretics and in Catholic countries heretics were persecuted, and many were tortured before being burned at the stake, so that their sins could be cleaned with fire. In 17th Century England, the same treatment was handed out to Catholic priests.

The very notion of religious toleration was novel and why, indeed would you tolerate a creed that you believed to be inspired and motivated by the Anti-Christ?

The Glorious Revolution was probably the single most important development in shaping contemporary British democracy, which in turn has been an inspiration for many other States across the globe. In that respect alone it deserves to be celebrated by all

However it do not establish religious freedom, in the modern sense, rather a victory of one religious tradition over another, which was then excluded from influence, reinforcing resentment that still simmers today.

I’ve yet to meet anyone anywhere today who believes that Catholics or Protestants or dissenters should be excluded from the vote and banned from Parliament or forced to attend a church that is not of their choice. So maybe we should find a little time to celebrate that as well, to make it clear that when we mark the great events of the past, we are not necessarily endorsing every single aspect of what was said and done in a distant time in a world we would not recognise today.

If we are prepared to look coldly and dispassionately at the past we often find that things were not always quite what they seem.

 

 

Ross Kemp on our Extreme World

Welcome to Northern Ireland Ross!
Welcome to Northern Ireland Ross!

There’s a burly bald guy on the TV wearing shades and he is jogging down a street looking like he means business. And then you look a bit closer. That’s not a real hard man – just look at the clobber for a start – you don’t get that kind of gear in TK Maxx. When he takes his dark glasses off he just doesn’t have the eyes. You know what I mean: the cold, dead, merciless eyes of people who have done seriously bad things. We have that kind everywhere, even in government.

Yes, that’s not a gangster. It’s the actor turned journalist Ross Kemp. And look, aren’t those the Ardoyne shops, just to the right of the screen? Yes indeed they are. For Mr Kemp is in town to film the latest episode of his Extreme World series.

Extreme World is about “the most dangerous places in the world” The current series takes us to Lebanon, Papua New Guinea and the slums of Rio. Last time around he was in the Congo and Pakistan. But today, right there on the telly, this is “Our Time, Our Place” and there’s Ross with his camera crew at Twaddell Avenue watching teenagers throw rocks at cars.

This was not quite what the powers that be had in mind when they said they wanted to stimulate the film industry here. Nor will the scenes that followed be repeated in the Tourist Board’s marketing materials. In terms of dismantling Northern Ireland’s positive image, this was about as damaging as it can possibly get.

But it is worth watching again and again, if only because it gives us a compelling insight into what the rest of the world, especially people in the rest of the UK actually think of us and if this sort of programme does not help to wake politicians up from their collective inability to resolve conflict nothing will.

Let’s start with just one minor detail: the supreme irony that in the very week that a senior Orange man went to war on the Irish language, that an English broadcaster felt the need to use subtitles when interviewing loyalists in north Belfast. That in itself is worth thinking about. I doubt it would happen in Newcastle, Birmingham or Liverpool. The use of subtitles is a sign of just how much viewers regard Northern Ireland as an alien place, certainly not part of their world, a very different Extreme World.

The reality is that people can fly the flag and feel as British as they like, but many fellow Brits regard them as strange, alien, and yes, let’s be frank about this: frightening.

Then there were the interviews. It was almost as if Kemp’s research team had scooped up all the most incoherent, illogical and plain stupid contributors from the Nolan Show and then got them to tell us what Northern Ireland is all about, aided, as previously noted, by the occasional use of subtitles. Frankly anyone watching from anywhere else in the world must have concluded that we are all deranged.

The programme shifted from Derry/Londonderry to Belfast. In the Maiden City Kemp gulped at the damage from shrapnel and RPGs at a police barracks, before heading off in his black Mondeo to chat to Gary Donnelly of the 32 Counties Sovereignty Committee who told him why dissidents would continue with “armed struggle”.  In between we heard about punishment shootings and the activities of Republicans Against Drugs.

Then we were on the peace walls in north and west Belfast. Viewers from elsewhere will have been horrified to note that there are now more than there were before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. And surely too, they would have been astonished to notice how many people were up so early on the morning of the Twelfth both to be offended and to give offence.

What a place!

Of course many people here will argue that Kemp doesn’t understand. He has no real insight into their grievances and issues. That is not the point at all.

What we were getting was an insight into how others see us, it is nothing whatsoever to do with how we would like to be portrayed, or indeed how we truly are. And what others will have taken from the show was that Northern Ireland is a divided, bitter, violent, ugly, hate-filled place locked in its past, and dominated by a tribal rivalry which is utterly incomprehensible to the outside world and totally alien to it.

When you strip it all down that is how we were portrayed and that is how we will continue to be seen unless and until outstanding issues are resolved.

What will especially have struck those in the rest of the UK is the cost of the rioting – £25 million. At a time of massive cutbacks in public services why on earth, they will say to themselves, should we continue to subsidise a place we prop up, in order to help fund the cost of mayhem?

 

Victims are not in the Past

Gerry Adams: under pressure
Gerry Adams: under pressure

It’s very hard to try to be objective about such an emotive topic. But let’s try to examine the impact on Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein and, the peace process of the BBC’s powerfully moving documentary about The Disappeared.

To date Sinn Fein has performed well post conflict: it has usurped the SDLP to become the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and it has made significant gains in the Republic, transforming itself there into a major political force.

Ousr was an especially squalid and dirty conflict in which many innocents died, and it was fought with a ferocity and ruthlessness that it is easy to forget in more normal times. Unlike most conflicts, however it did not end with one side victorious and the other defeated, regardless of how various elements tried to spin it at the time.

Essentially the Good Friday Agreement was a compromise, and underpinning it was an agreement that the various paramilitary groupings would cease activity, and in exchange the security forces would cease to pursue them. As part of the deal many paramilitary prisoners were released early from prison.

One of the main architects of this deal was Gerry Adams, who, along with his allies in the party persuaded the republican movement to support the new political structures that the Good Friday Agreement put in place.

Since then Sinn Fein have entered government at Stormont, and as referenced become an important force in the Republic, campaigning on opposition to austerity cuts, a popular agenda there.

The future has looked positive and we’ve all been encouraged not to dwell on the past.

However, there is a big problem with that. If you were a victim of the conflict and suffered serious injury or bereavement, your suffering is just as much in the present as it was in the past.

And as the government at Stormont geared up to celebrate a decade of centenaries, to encourage us to respect each others’ pasts, there were those, including myself, who pointed out that this would also lead to the marking of anniversaries some would rather forget about: the Abercorn Bombing, Bloody Friday, Greysteel,  Loughinisland and the Shankill Road bomb: the list goes on and involves members of all communities.

These events were all in the past, but they are still being experienced today, many of them were atrocities of the most appalling nature.

Recently there have been renewed allegations of security force linkages with loyalist paramilitaries. We are all familiar with the allegations being raised against Gerry Adams and some of his colleagues in Sinn Fein.

They may be carrying out different roles these days, but the past still hangs around them.

In Adams’ case this is a double difficulty. In the case of The Disappeared he has made several appeals for more information about those still missing, but he steadfastly denies his membership of the IRA and the role he played in the dark days of the past.

This does not just damage his credibility with political opponents, as the BBC documentary clearly showed it has also caused resentment amongst republicans.

But there is a problem here. Republican ex combatants have a simple rule in talking about their activities. If they were convicted they will talk about their actions, if not they won’t. And the reason for that is simple enough: were they to admit to committing serious crimes they would be liable to arrest, prosecution, trial and imprisonment.

So Adams is in a difficult position. He simply won’t change his stance when asked about IRA membership and his early days in the Republican movement. But nobody believes him, and in the Republic in particular that is a very serious problem amongst new voters, attracted to Sinn Fein by their economic policies.

And as far as dealing with the past goes, that’s not possible when some of those involved won’t speak openly about their roles, indeed lie about them: that’s a serious problem for Sinn Fein as it is very hard to have a dialogue where one side is not engaging properly: it also undermines their calls for  investigations into alleged outrages committed by the security forces.

So this is probably the most difficult problem of all faced by Richard Haass and his team as they attempt to negotiate a way forward. Many have called for a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation process. That would require an amnesty from prosecution. Are unionists going to agree to that? It seems unlikely.

In the meantime we need to bring more focus to the victims themselves. By this I mean bringing more practical help.  Let’s take those seriously injured as just one example. Many of these people need lifelong care, and help with both physical and mental conditions arising from injury and trauma.

Yet for those who were hurt in the early 1970s, the compensation they received has long since run out, for many their carers are now elderly and they are at crisis point as they face up to the rigours of Welfare Reform. Surely all parties and all persuasions could at least agree on this: that notwithstanding who knew what and when and who exactly did what to whom, whilst this debate is raging, an even more pressing issue is not being fully addressed: ensuring that all victims have the right level of care and support from the State. It’s the least we can do.