Belfast Telegraph

Jude Whyte: Best people of Northern Ireland can hope for is to live in parallel universes of barely tolerating each other

Jude Whyte, a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum for eight years, explains why he so pessimistic about the prospects for a shared future and outlines six reasons why he believes there will never be any meaningful investigation of security force killings during the Troubles

Jude Whyte
Jude Whyte
Peggy Whyte
Her family at the funeral
The scene of the explosion at University Street, Belfast, that killed Peggy Whyte in 1984

On September 5, 1972, I was walking to school from the lower Ormeau Road to St Mary's Christian Brothers' grammar school at Barrack Street. I was 15 years old exactly, it was my birthday.

At 8.45am a UDR patrol pulled up in front of me at the top of Ireton Street between Botanic Avenue and Wolseley Street in south Belfast.

After a few minutes when they established my identity and the Christian names of both my parents, Margaret and Isadore, I felt dark clouds coming down quickly.

A young member of this regiment then casually put a pistol at my mouth, told me to open wide, the way a dentist tells you to do it, and called me a "Fenian b******".

It's hard to believe that, until that day, I didn't really know what the word Fenian meant, and as for the word b******, well never let your mother hear you say such profanity.

My mother Peggy Whyte was murdered by the UVF in April 1984. She was from the Markets area of Belfast.

My late father was called Isadore, the patriot saint of Barcelona, I have since learnt. Both were decent people, not unlike your ma and da or that favourite auntie who gives you a few shillings on the sly.

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It appeared that the name Isadore had provoked some members of the UDR to believe my father was from Italy and a Catholic, he was the latter but not the former. Rasharkin is nowhere near Italy, I am reliably informed.

I believe on that day childhood innocence evaporated in the hatred that I felt from these public servants, tattooed, smelling of alcohol and, of course, in the main from the unionist community.

The years that followed, 1973 to 1994, are well documented in any history book involving the Anglo-Irish conflict. On a macro level this part of Ireland imploded and on micro level thousands of families just like ours, the Whytes of 139 University Street, fell victim to bile, toxicity, hatred, prejudice, and straightforward no nonsense discrimination.

So, what was the nature of this hatred?

It involved endless raids on our home, direct job discrimination, specifically in the public sector, repetitive harassment at road blocks and of course the usual expected sectarian filth from those who should have been protecting us.

I often wonder if the parents of these protectors felt proud of their children.

As you read this I suspect many thousands of people can identify with the general story.

Don't get me wrong, I cared little for the UDR or the RUC. To me they were the armed wing of unionism - crass, rude, a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace to any civilised liberal democracy, paid to intimidate, suppress and humiliate Catholics.

Over the years I met a few decent cops, and I must say in many ways this state has been good to me - three university degrees, a solid job, children educated. As my late mother would say: "Ten family allowances. You couldn't find a better place to have a family."

It is in the context of this brief experience that I, Jude Whyte, a member of the victims' forum for eight years, have come to the conclusion that as we sit here, nearly 50 years since this conflict broke out, that we are no further on in building a united society, in resolving our ethnic differences, or in simply tolerating the diversity that this small place manifests in everyday life.

The vast majority of us live apart, are educated apart, play different sports, go to different places on holiday, and somewhere deep in our heart, no matter who we meet or where, an awful thought goes through one's head: "I wonder are they one of us, or one of them."

This takes me to the point of legacy and dealing with the past.

Can we as a society go forward if we don't deal with the outstanding issues of collusion and the inescapable fact that this state and some of its paid employees are guilty of murder of unarmed civilians, both Catholics and Protestants, men and women, even our children.

There will be, in my opinion, no meaningful legacy or investigations by this state of the actions of many of its military and civilian employees.

The reasons are very simple. I apologise in advance to victims. The truth is hard to write.

1: There is no political will or agreement on the nature or cause of this conflict.

2: The UK is the strongest multicultural liberal democracy on Earth. In order to defend those values it - without apology or explanation - went outside the rules and values of law and order to defend itself. It asked its security forces to defeat an enemy within at any cost.

The next insurgency will be met with an equally vicious counter-insurgency from the security forces, its gangs and counter gangs.

It is beyond any rational argument that people will be prosecuted for defending their realm. Let's face it, who will defend the realm in 10, 20 or 30 years' time from Isis if we prosecute members of the security forces now?

3: Even if point one was agreed, the collective power of 18 MPs in Westminster is irrelevant in matters of national security. Seven of the 18 do not take their seats.

4: The process for discovery of documents will always be hindered by national security, which is an all-embracing spurious term to block any serious investigation into state murder. It also is used to deny people who served time in this conflict access to a variety of jobs, travel and other services.

5: The collective will in Westminster and in Dublin is a line in the sand that must be drawn, these events put into the dustbin of history. Both Governments have the power to do this under various pieces of legislation, for example offences against the state and anti-terrorist legislation.

6: The current generation, that is anyone over the age of 45 like me, if the truth be told, are all recovering to various stages from our own trauma. Hence our objectivity, rationale and ability to openly analyse events is lost.

I consider myself a recovering bigot who will take years of extensive exposure to decency to finally sleep at peace in my bed, if ever.

I am bitterly sorry for places like Ballymurphy, the New Lodge Road massacre, Kingsmills, as well as hundreds of lesser-known individual murders that will remain unsolved, unaccounted for, and except for the families involved, unknown to the outside world.

My late mother is one victim among thousands, 53 years of age, a grandmother at the time. She then had two grandchildren, and she now has 27.

I can't bring her back, I can't bring her relatives back, and eight long, dreary years on the Victims and Survivors Forum has taught me that we live in the most hate-filled, hateful, poisonous society, totally a place apart from the real world.

I believe the best we can hope for is to live in parallel universes of barely tolerating each other.

It's time to move on, it's time to forgive. If the dead could speak to us now, they would say "forgive".

Belfast Telegraph


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