Belfast Telegraph

Weekend where both love and hate were on display in Belfast

The Pride celebrations showed us the new face of Northern Ireland, the murder of UDA leader John Boreland the old, says Henry McDonald

There were three events in Belfast at the weekend which dominated the Northern Ireland news agenda: one of them was about the future of society here; the other two were grim throwbacks to the past.

The first, on Saturday, was a celebration of life, love and liberty: the annual Pride march through the city centre.

The thousands who filed into central Belfast in their rainbow colours represented the progressive, the liberal; tolerant of the wider community.

They came together to demonstrate for equality as well as have fun in a society that once oppressed them horribly and still refuses to recognise their marriages in law.

Twenty-four hours later another parade in Belfast didn't make it to the city centre.

The dissident republican Anti-Internment League was banned from entering the central shopping district by the Parades Commission following trouble last year in connection with the rally.

While we can debate the pros and cons of banning any march (as an extreme libertarian, I prefer the American model of freedom of assembly, which must allow the Ku Klux Klan to march in black areas, or neo-Nazis to parade past Jewish enclaves), the rally to commemorate an event 45 years ago was still the antithesis of the event a day earlier.

Of course, there were probably people on the dissident republican march who had participated in the Pride parade on Saturday, but the contrast between the two spectacles remains glaring: Saturday represented the new politics that transcend the age-old binary divisions of green and orange, unionist and nationalist, loyalist and republican; Sunday was all about looking back towards the past conflict of the Troubles and the attempt to replicate the struggles of back then - to conflate the State repression of 1971 with the current situation in Northern Ireland in the 21st century.

The third major news story at the weekend was the appalling murder of prominent loyalist John 'Bonzer' Boreland outside his home in north Belfast on Sunday night.

Even though Boreland had been warned previously that his life was under threat due to an internal UDA feud, it was still shocking to learn on Sunday night that someone - anyone - could have been murdered by a paramilitary group acting once again as judge, jury and executioner.

One local man from the Sunningdale area, who wisely asked to be anonymous, told this newspaper: "We thought these days were over."

Which was - and is - the general reaction of the overwhelming majority of people living in this society.

Few want to see even an echo of a return to the bad old days of the conflict, and don't wish to see anyone gunned down in the street - even if the targets are men with a past history in violent paramilitarism.

The Boreland murder is, in all likelihood, linked to an ongoing UDA feud that in recent weeks has resulted in disturbances in Carrickfergus, as well as several murder bids on rival factional leaders, including the latest victim.

The deeper roots of this murderous factionalism lie in the federal, disparate nature of Ulster loyalism, in particular connected to the UDA and its structures.

Unlike the rival UVF, the UDA has always had a more decentralised, federal leadership, with individual areas operating on a semi-autonomous basis.

In fact, the federal nature of the UDA organisationally has always been one of its dysfunctional weaknesses.

Think back, for example, to the year 2000 and the feuding Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair provoked on that fateful August Saturday when a band parade he organised sparked a murderous shooting war with the UVF and tore the greater Shankill area part.

Throughout that late-summer/autumn feuding between Adair's so-called 'C Company', principally based in the lower Shankill, and the entire UVF, it was significant that other units of the UDA stayed entirely neutral.

As Adair and his thugs took on the UVF, other UDA gangs - including even two other companies in west Belfast - declined to participate in the intra-loyalist war.

Their refusal to back up Adair and his cronies created a well of bitterness within the north and west Belfast UDA that would bubble up to the surface and spark a second feud on the Shankill - this time within the UDA family itself - which would ultimately result in Adair being defeated and exiled at point of death to Scotland.

This writer can recall the venom in the voice of convicted UDA murderer John White, who, when asked about west Belfast's 'A' and 'B' Companies' refusal to fight the UVF, replied: "They are fence-sitters ... no, they are worse; they are guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy."

The current conflict, which has resulted in the Boreland murder, is not on the same scale as the previous feuds that ripped entire loyalist communities apart in the early-2000s.

It is, though, as depressing, pointless and cruel as all the other bouts of feuding - not only on the loyalist side, but also within the fractious family of republicanism over the last four decades.

In terms of the overall political picture, this current violence is of no consequence and little impact.

It is, of course, a tragedy for John Boreland's family and friends.

But this murder - and any future revenge killings - will not change the dynamic of Northern Ireland politics in any sense at all.

In reality, they will be seen by most people in the region as the backwash of criminality, illegality and paramilitary machismo that almost everyone here wants to leave behind forever.

Love and hate were on display in Belfast over 24 hours at the weekend.

The thousands of mainly young, sexually and socially liberal people gathered at Custom House Square were the face of the new Northern Ireland; the faceless killers who gunned down John Boreland belong in the past.

"Brutal and senseless," is how Detective Inspector Justyn Galloway described the Boreland murder.

Like so many other murders over the years.

Some people in this society never learn the lessons of history.

Belfast Telegraph


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