Working-class British nationalists (aka ‘Loyalists’) in Northern Ireland are openly talking about violence working, and imputing that they will be ‘forced’ to use violence if they don’t get their way on the Ardoyne Orange Order march issue.
They’re also getting ambiguously-coded support from the political representatives of the wider British nationalist community (aka ‘Unionists’) in NI for these threats. That’s what the phrase ‘graduated response’ really means.
‘Graduated’ does not mean either ‘proportionate’ or even ‘calibrated by people with a third-level degree’. It is a weasel word covering for ‘a series of discrete levels of organised violence, starting at widespread public disorder all the way to a campaign of lethal terrorism, against all those we deem to be our cultural, political and institutional foes.’
These British nationalists are 100% correct about the effectiveness of violence to achieve political ends, anybody’s political ends. That’s why state power moves might and main to secure and maintain a monopoly on the use of violence everywhere its sovereignty extends. It’s not always reliable, but it usually is. The Northern Ireland jurisdiction would never have existed but for the threats and reality of political violence on their forefathers’ part starting from the early 1880s right through to the early 1920s.
British nationalist violence brought down Sunningdale back in the 1970s. In 1996, the killing of taxi driver Michael McGoldrick was part of a NI-wide campaign of British nationalist violence and terror which forced an O.O. parade down Portadown’s Garvaghy Road totally against the will of the local residents. The killing of the three Quinn boys from Ballymoney in 1998 was an act of British nationalist violence too far, that horrified the great majority of NI residents, including many British nationalists. Yet, the O.O.’s spokesmen sought to deflect its responsibility in that matter (as did much of institutional British nationalism in NI in other ways: for instance the UVF’s silence at the time re responsibility was telling) and impute that the Quinn’s catholic uncle was the guilty party.
That (alas uncommon) instance of the failure of a campaign of violence to achieve its aims has meant that the loyal orders have not marched down that road since 1998. Even so, the resort to violence and threats of violence seems to be a reflex response of most British nationalists in NI when there is effective political opinion and action deployed against their triumphalist desires.
I’m no fan of Irish nationalism either. Yes I am Irish and I am comfortable enough living with that cultural identity, but my politics are anarchist and socialist/ communist and furthermore I want to live in a world where our common humanity is the identity we all cherish above all others. But I recognise that throughout modern history, Irish nationalism has, unlike its British counterpart (which has used the violence of the state and paramilitary auxiliaries as a first resort), most often employed violence as a last resort after other peaceful methods had patently failed. Within the broad political community of Irish nationalism there has been a political discourse about political violence – whether it is justified either globally or specifically, what political violence does to the politics of the wider nationalist movement, and what sort of political grounding/authorisation is required in order to employ it – going on for a very long time indeed, since before Parnell’s time at least. There is little or nothing of a comparable self-awareness that I can see in all British nationalist circles over the same period of time right up to the present, either on this island or on the island of Britain. British violence is good violence, even when it commits atrocities. It took the British state nearly 40 years to merely apologise to the relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims, and that state still refuses to co-operate fully/at all when it comes to investigating the Ballymurphy Massacre and the Dublin/Monaghan Bombings, to name but two war crimes in which that state is clearly implicated.
The 26-county Irish state doesn’t behave much better when it wrongs its own citizens, but it does not view such citizens (or their kin/legal representatives) seeking to vindicate their human rights as implacable opponents of the state and its political dispensation. Furthermore, I have no awareness of the Irish state knowingly committing or actively colluding in acts of terror outside its jurisdiction in pursuit of its domestic state security agenda. If you have knowledge or claim of different, please bring it up and let’s discuss it.
I do fear deeply for what may happen over this ‘marching season’ for in Scotland the UK state is in existential peril because of the cumulative successes of the independence movement/Yes campaign in the Independence Referendum debate, and this dawning realisation for British nationalists of all locations, classes and stripes is profoundly destabilising. British nationalism is raging against the dying of its light (and hegemonic right), and a growing tide of opinion in Ireland and Scotland is revulsed by its violent domination of political discourse in both countries for far too long. Expect trouble, very serious violent trouble on the part of British nationalists, and don’t be one bit surprised if the UK state gives in to it, or even orchestrates a significant portion of it.
It is right, as some have suggested, that republicans/other Irish nationalists should not respond to British nationalist provocations, because the loyalists and the unionist parties alike are spoiling for violence, as they think it will create the necessary chaos for their nasty ludicrous dream of ‘re-partition’, prompt open UK military intervention, collapse the suspension of major political violence that’s miscalled ‘the peace process’, and ultimately bring back the halcyon days of Stormont Mk I. Unfortunately for unionists and loyalists, the laws of thermodynamics imply that you can’t re-create the past exactly as it was, even in microcosm, so they’re pissing against the wind out of sheer wilful ignorance of how the universe works, which is ironic since the great physicist William Thomson (aka Baron Kelvin) was an Ulsterman of their own stock. Also, ‘No Surrenderism’ and the inability to see beyond their own sectarian fences will destroy ‘Protestant Ulster’ as a viable cultural complex, the good along with the bad and the manifestly ugly. It’s a tragedy that’s been going on since 1912 and the foundation of the UVF and its arming in 1914: Unionism has refused since to meaningfully negotiate a shared culture and politics for this island with all the others who live here regardless of ideological affiliation, and all that time they had useful opportunities for serious influence over such matters were they only willing to cut reasonable deals and drop the supremacism.
The UK’s erstwhile status as a world power gave British nationalists the political cover to shout the cultural odds for the rest of us on these islands without any meaningful budging on British nationalism’s part, and these fools believe that that balance of political and cultural power in the Atlantic Archipelago is going to last forever. By the time the penny drops with Unionism/British nationalism in NI (and in Britain too), its community will have almost nothing of value to bargain with and their overall influence in Ireland (even up there) will be marginal at best. It’s a tragedy almost entirely of their own making – choices made and not made by Unionist leaderships, roads walked and not walked by Orangeism, and no-one to shout ‘Hang on a minute!’ for fear of being ‘Lundied’.
And finally to add, when a mob of people are rabidly trying to burn down the street you live on, as happened when the last ‘troubles’ broke out, it’s hard to exercise restraint, possibly too hard. The violence in NI this summer could potentially be extreme, as British nationalists really need their Irish counterparts to join the eschatological tango. And there’s any number of loyalist nutjobs out there praying for the ‘End Times’ thinking they’re some kind of political ‘Second Coming’ – for instance take a look at Jamie Bryson, the walking farce who wants to follow on from the Carsonian/Craigite/Paisleyite tragedy.
Kid Ryder 6th July 2014