The strange case of the Nationalist who barked in the night
2nd November 2005
Every now and again a fissure opens in everyday social relations. The lies and conventions that enable the everyday obfuscation of conflict are broken apart and someone says what they really think.
Nowhere are lies and conventions more needed than in the bigoted hell-hole that occupies the North-eastern corner of Ireland, and for that reason an immense storm broke on October 12th when Alex Reid, the Catholic priest who observed the final IRA act of decommissioning, responding to hostile questioning from far-right loyalist William Frazer, compared the Unionist community to Nazis for their treatment of Catholics under the old Stormont regime.
Reid was wrong on a least two counts. Unionism is not fascism and to compare the two is to cheapen the word and devalue the suffering of those who lived under the Nazi jackboot. He was displaying the bigotry of Catholic nationalism when he talked of the Unionist community persecuting the Catholics rather than the Unionist party, ignoring the Protestant radicals and trade unionists who suffered under the Stormont regime.
As Reid immediately apologised there was then no discussion of the real nature of the Stormont regime. This is a pity because, while the old Stormont regime was not fascist, it bore in miniature form many of the characteristics of apartheid South Africa, the American Deep South or the current Israeli regime. There was massive gerrymandering of local government, territorial and job apartheid were publicly advocated by leading figures in the Unionist government, Catholic unemployment that reached 20% in some areas and a massive housing crisis caused by the Unionist refusal to build houses and thus award a vote in the then system of local government. To keep the sectarian state secure an armed Protestant militia, an untrained rabble, was frequently mobilised and special powers gave the state unlimited power of repression – including the right to refuse inquests on its victims. It actually is a fact that South African white leaders envied the unionists the limitless powers of repression contained in the Special Powers Act.
The issue is important because Reid’s comments were not born in a vacuum. He was giving details of the final surrender of the IRA and was under attack from Frazer and other loyalists who subjected him to a range of sectarian taunts because they were unwilling to accept that surrender. Frazer routinely labels the republican movement as fascist and the Shankill Mirror newspaper, with which he is associated in a loyalist ‘Love Ulster’ campaign, thinks nothing of inventing a history of unremitting sectarian massacre by republicans which it unblushingly compares to the Holocaust. The sheer chutzpah of unionism is shown on 1st November when the DUP, authors of the historical revision which tars republicanism as fascist, passes a motion at Belfast City Council condemning Reid. No-one seems to notice or complain, in part because the British are trying to conciliate a movement whose programme is nothing less than the return of their own wee Ulster and the vicious sectarian Stormont regime that Reid condemned. This time, they mutter in private, there will be no more Mr. Nice Guy or concessions to the Fenians.
So what is the response of Irish nationalism? Is it Reid’s attack or Reid’s apology? We are offered a clue from Irish President Mary McAleese, who not so long ago got herself into similar hot water when, in a January Holocaust commemoration, she compared the transmission of anti-Semitism from parent to child in Nazi Germany to the transmission of anti-Catholic bigotry in the North. Again, she apologised immediately.
In reality Nationalist policy is not hard
to fathom. Reid has spent his entire life in opposition to republicanism
(a fact given by another Catholic cleric whose attack on Reid from the
republican perspective was largely ignored). He claims a large part of
the credit for forcing the IRA to disband and is committed body and soul
to a settlement that preserves unionism in the leadership of a northern
state. Similarly McAleese is widely known for her friendship with UDA ‘brigadier’
The fact that nationalist leaders can’t resist expressing their real views shows just how unstable the whole scheme is. The harder they struggle to shore up the rabid, irrational and decaying corpse of unionism the greater the long-term threat to their own position.