Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: How republicans require a sense of victimhood as it helps them to justify the Provo terror campaign

However, at least some people had the sense to regret their youthful provocations, argues Nelson McCausland

Protesters in Hong Kong shield themselves from tear gas with umbrellas
Protesters in Hong Kong shield themselves from tear gas with umbrellas
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

Street protests and riots seem to be a constant factor in the news this year. On October 1 Dutch roads were jammed with thousands of farmers driving their tractors to The Hague. However, other protests have been more violent.

In France the "yellow vests" (gilets jaunes) have been protesting every week for the past year. Last Sunday was the first anniversary of the French protests and they show no sign of slowing down.

In the centre of Paris cars were overturned and some rioters targeted banks and shops.

Over the past year there have also been violent protests in Greece, where 60,000 protesters clashed with police in Athens and elsewhere farmers blocked roads in solidarity with the protesters.

In Spain there were violent clashes between supporters of Catalonian independence and the police. Then, last month, French firefighters took to the streets to protest about working conditions and were met with tear gas from French police.

Those examples are all from Europe, but there have also been violent street protests in many other countries, from South America to the Middle East and the Far East.

The current focus is very much on Hong Kong; there have been regular street protests since March, and in June organisers claimed that one million people attended a protest march on June 9.

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Over this time the violence has escalated, especially since one protester was shot in the chest by a police officer in early October.

Some protesters have thrown petrol bombs, rocks and acid at the police and the organisers have employed a mobile and agile form of protest that is difficult to police.

Tactics vary from place to place, but one of the most common is the attempt by hardcore protesters to provoke the police into a reaction (or even an over-reaction). The protester then becomes the ‘victim’, and we live in an age that values victimhood.

Provocation becomes a tactic and governments struggle to know how to deal with the riots and the tactics.

One of the most striking features of such situations is the fact that, even with the most modern equipment and with large numbers of police, it can be almost impossible to control such situations.

In Hong Kong the police are struggling and admit that they are being pushed to the limit.

Last week I took part in a panel discussion for history students from a number of secondary schools. It took place in the Ulster Museum and we were reflecting on the events in Ulster 50 years ago.

Protest and provocation are a tactic around the world today and 50 years ago the same thing was happening in Ulster.

When Eamonn McCann organised a march in Londonderry in 1968, his aim was provocation. As he wrote in his book War And An Irish Town: “We had, indeed, set out to make the police over-react.”

The same tactic was used in Londonderry in August 1969 when the IRA organised an attack on the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh, who was an IRA education officer in the city at that time, later admitted: “The IRA had made their decision to attack the Apprentice Boys march to provoke the RUC.”

Thereafter Northern Ireland soon descended into a cycle of violence that brought more than 3,000 deaths.

Contrasting the events in Londonderry in 1969 and the situation around the world today, one of the most notable contrasts are the limited number of police who were available in 1969 and how poorly they were prepared and equipped.

In France there is a fairly stable society and it will survive, whereas Hong Kong is much more unpredictable.

But, in Ulster, the provocation and reaction led on to decades of death, destruction, bloodshed and misery.

Sinn Fein and the IRA, on the other hand, will look back with approval, because they need that victimhood when they attempt to justify the IRA’s terrorist campaign.

However, some of those associated with those provocations have come to regret them. They look back at the years of terror and tears that followed and admit that they should have done things differently.

As we struggle to deal with the past, a better understanding of what really happened would serve us well.

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