Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Evil mix of myth and longing that could bring back the dark days

The electoral defeat of Peter Robinson in East Belfast effectively spells the end of political Paisleyism in the city. And Paisley, rather than the Provisional IRA, was perhaps the true begetter of the Troubles.

They began at his command. They ended when he went into government and he was able to bring about what no government in Dublin, London, or Washington could achieve: the disarmament of the Provisional IRA.

In other words, a return to the status quo ante, for the IRA was effectively a disarmed force when Paisleyism unsheathed the sword of Protestant bigotry nearly 50 years ago.

And on the nationalist side, he had a most obliging enemy in that small band of republican lunatics who believed that you could befriend a political community by murdering enough of its members. Between them, these conjoined twins ruined thousands of lives.

Now they have slouched off into the history books, without recant, regret or remorse.

But they haven't gone away - these political vampires wait in their tombs for the sunlight of reason to fade again, as it has faded so often before, and then they can slide the stone slab aside and once more stalk the earth.

For such is the credulous nature of nationalist memory that a baseless myth, conveyed with suitable powerful conviction, will sweep aside historical truth.

This is especially true in west Belfast, whose mood of semi-permanent hysteria is sustained by a diet of mood-altering myths. What revelations, one wonders, would cause the electorate to reject Gerry Adams?

They know about Jean McConville. They know about Bloody Friday. They know about claims that he shielded his brother from child-rape allegations. It makes no difference.

They worship myth there. Even when I lived in Belfast, children spoke lovingly of the Raglan Street ambush in 1921. This was nothing, a dismal gun-attack on a Crossley tender and the murder of a single police officer (Thomas Conlon, a Catholic from Roscommon).

Protestant attacks on Catholic areas then led to 20 deaths. The lesson from all these murders should surely have been: do not kill members of the security forces within such a bitterly divided community. Instead, republicans settled down to a decade or so of whingeing, balladic victimhood, before starting more of the same.

One of the myths that was celebrated by both Adams in his fact-free autobiography and Brendan Hughes in his tape-recorded reminiscences - now available in Ed Moloney's Voices from the Grave - is the much-vaunted 'coup' against the British Army's undercover unit, The Four Square Laundry.

A huge number of British intelligence officers were allegedly killed. Untrue. Just one soldier was killed, as the Army admits. But that's it: no more.

I know. As a young journalist hot on the trail of a story, I broke into the abandoned flat in Antrim Road, where an IRA massacre of British operatives had occurred.

To my immense distress, I found no blood, no bullet holes, no disturbance, and worst of all, no story - just shiny Ministry of Defence toilet paper in the loo and tins of MoD beans in the kitchen.

Hughes triumphantly spoke of the IRA's "execution" of two unnamed SAS captives. Let me name them now - Captain Dent and Sergeant Davies. Fantasy again. Both men escaped.

The greatest hallucination of Hughes's recollections was the imaginary conspiracy which led to the actual murder of eight 'British agents' (the so-called 'Heatherington gang') by the IRA and UDA, working together in an ecumenical project that was pure Kafka. To deny membership of the conspiracy was confirmation of one's participation. To admit it was to die.

Hughes confessed to the IRA's cigarette-end torture of gang-suspects. But, of course, these revelations have escaped the censure of that curiously elastic moral organ, the conscience of west Belfast. Yet as Hughes ruefully reflected: "As everything has turned out, not one single death was worth it."

Well, what a surprise.

It never is. All republican violence in Ireland has failed in its aims.

No one in 1916 wanted what we have today: a divided Anglophone island with British rule in the north being implemented by one set of heirs to the Rising and limited self-government being implemented in Dublin by another set of heirs.

Meanwhile other, more marginalised, heirs chafe in their covens, waiting for the day when they can kill again.

All they need is another Paisley and another triumphalist 1916 commemoration. They have the latter slated for 2016.

Is another Paisley gestating in Ulster's toxic womb? We have six years to find out.

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