The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

True Faith

"I have been following events in Northern Ireland for the last fifteen years because I have ancestors on both sides of the conflict. For much of the time I have found The Blanket difficult to pigeon hole and that is a good thing. The articles by Dr. John Coulter have been an eye opener to many of the deeper currents in NI politics. He gives reason for hope about the future. Respect for people's differences and an understanding of how their views were formed can only lead to a less sectarian attitude. I hope you will continue to give him space." - Ian Eggleston

Eamon Sweeney • 3 September 2006

This was a letter penned by a reader (Ian Eggleston-August 5th) recently praising Dr Coulter's contributions to 'The Blanket'. Until now, I would have echoed the letter writer's thoughts. I will continue to support John Coulter's writing in any forum.

Let it be said at the beginning of this that I am not an apologist or supporter of the current Sinn Fein leadership and I am certainly not a fan of their policies with regard to basically anything. My political views are broadly nationalist and as an Irish nationalist my aspirations echo those of those who use the term Republican to describe themselves. I want to see a united Ireland.

The transparent and woefully demeaning spectacle of the Hunger Strike rally in Belfast a few weeks ago is the latest reason I have to be annoyed with Sinn Fein. I have, for example, received confirmation from the Antrim County Board of the GAA that the name of Casement Park is actually not going to be changed to An Pairc Nuremberg!

John Coulter has taken umbrage with the appointment of Martina Anderson as the Sinn Fein Ambassador to Unionism. It is easy to see why this does not sit well with people of John Coulter's persuasion. When, events like the one in Casement Park are flung in his face whilst simultaneously the hand of full co-operation between the two traditions at a political level and at other levels is put on an official footing by Sinn Fein, it is easy to understand his reaction.

Dr Coulter's writings have caught my eye on dozens of occasions. I believed that this was a man who in the finest and truest principles of Protestantism, was a free thinker, a dissenter! I thought here was a man who has long held faith and strongly held principles but is not afraid to think outside the box. From his analysis of the current political situation, such as it is, to a wide-ranging variety of topical debates in a capable and understandable manner I enjoyed and more than that took on board some of his thinking. To me he represented a future of tolerance and mutual respect. Coulter, or at least his writing, came to symbolize if not embody that most hackneyed and malodorous political phrase of the 1990's, i.e. 'parity of esteem'. I thought wrong.

In November 2004 an article appeared on 'The Blanket' bearing the introductory legend, "Radical Unionist political commentator Dr John Coulter maintains the only way the republican movement can disband the Provisionals without causing a major split is to form an Old Comrades' Association similar to the Royal British Legion."

In July this year came…"Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have moral duties to save DUP deputy boss Peter Robinson from being politically mauled by Paisleyism's religious hill-billies and Rednecks. Throughout 2006, Robinson has become the Unionist family's Great White Hope - the man who possessed the wisdom, vision and courage to form a power-sharing Executive with Sinn Fein before Northern Secretary Peter Hain's 24 November deadline. London and Dublin must face up to what everyone in the North already knows - the DUP is irreparably split under the surface despite the party's glossy spin and propaganda about being unified."

When taken in its entire context this type of conciliatory delivery was sometimes presented in an almost jovial manner. In May this year Coulter wrote, "The Shinners can deliver a massive confidence boost to the ailing peace process by announcing they are formally cutting their links with the Provos in much the same way the Ulster Unionists have axed official links with the image-battered Orange Order." That's fine and dandy then, as simple as ABC. The sentiment, although drenched in naivete, could not be lambasted for its simple honesty, or its intentions to cement a non-violent settlement in this state.

In the last edition of 'The Blanket' however, the good doctor seems to have lost his ecumenical spirit. In an epistle entitled 'An Open Letter to Martina Anderson' Coulter expands large on his bemusement that the high-ranking Sinn Feiner has been appointed as Sinn Fein's Ambassador to Unionism.

The move has been mooted as Sinn Fein opening an all-encompassing engagement with Unionism, inside and outside the political arena. The genuineness or otherwise of the scheme has little to do with Coulters attack on its figurehead, Martina Anderson. Coulter attributes the move as a publicity stunt to entice Fianna Fail into the belief that Sinn Fein will make acceptable coalition bedfellows after next year's Irish general election. This is simply unlikely.

The acceptance, en masse, of the erstwhile P.IRA political wing into the bosom of Leinster House, is more likely to be as a result of favorable reports from the IMC, or more likely again, the southern electorate putting Sinn Fein in that position. Indicators to date are that the last factor is entirely possible, but there is many a slip between the heart and the hand etching a mark on a ballot paper. The opening of a focussed dialogue with Unionism as a Trojan Horse ploy to achieve southern political domination is as transparent as it is ridiculous. That Sinn Fein are thinking, 'this is just mad enough to work', belittles the scheme to a purely cynical exercise. John Coulter may well be proven correct in this respect, but I had credited him with enough intelligence to let time and investigation become the ultimate arbitrator with regard to this plan.

The 'Open Letter' descends into a catalogue of slaughter in the in the 1970's and 1980's. The hurt expressed in the IRA slayings are self-evident, it is real. Dr Coulter describes the murders of one of his relatives and two of his friends in that period and attributes a remarkable back tracking attitude from the outstretched hand that he had verbally painted in an impressive number of articles.

That the killings happened at all are as regrettable as the day is long. I'm sure that there have been plenty of long days and nights contemplating these deaths. Yet, the fact is that in the few years I have read his work, I can never recall these events being mentioned before. If I am mistaken, I apologize. The point I am making is basically why after imparting tolerance and no shortage of sense in that period has the mood changed? Is it the case when there is a chance, only a chance mind you, that the theorizing has to stop and real engagement with Fenians might actually occur, the true colours are beginning to emerge?

The letter implores the following, "tell the Prods the Provos have permanently disbanded and Sinn Fein is a purely political organization like the now defunct Irish Independence Party." I assume the implication is that which is based largely on wishful thinking. It is clear that John Coulter believes that the only strength that Sinn Fein has or had was lodged in the military campaign of the IRA and that the political wing was merely a publicity conduit for the justification of violence. His hope therefore that Sinn Fein will now automatically slip into electoral history and obscurity and irrelevance like the IIP is so far off the mark for a political analyst it is astonishing. Whether you agree with them or not Sinn Fein will be around for a long time.

Also, the failure to recognize that the acceptance of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 by Sinn Fein was probably more to do with the recognition and shift to politics as the primary outlet for Republicanism as it was with negotiating a settlement with Britain is also baffling for a journalist who operates at this level.

As someone who has worked within the Unionist press I read with interest the complete proposal from Martina Anderson when it was published in full some weeks ago in the 'Londonderry Sentinel'. Having worked in their offices I was fully aware that despite substantial political progress in the north in the last decade there is an abject wariness of dealing with Sinn Fein. This does not emanate from the editor or indeed the reporters who work there. It does however matter to an extent when in the predominantly Unionist catchment area of the 'Sentinel' readership there is notable nationalist representation from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Therefore despite the past tetchy relationship with the paper and the Republican movement it was a conciliatory gesture for Martina Anderson's proposals to be published. To elucidate on the history of the strained relationship between the paper and the Republican movement in Derry may be of use.

Established in 1829 the paper showed its editorial line immediately by launching blistering attacks on Daniel O'Connell as the campaign for Catholic Emancipation reached its zenith. Based on the West Bank of the Foyle, at one stage actually on the Walls of Derry, it eventually found a home in the 1970's on the Strand Road. It resided happily there, being published every Thursday, and being bought, no matter what anyone says now, by Catholic and Protestant alike.

The paper undoubtedly retained an Unionist ethos while reporting widely on events on both sides of the community until at some point in the mid-1980's the Provisionals in their 'wisdom' flattened the office with a bomb. The owners and predominant readership took this a 'slight' indication that their paper would no longer be welcome on the city side of the river and promptly relocated to the East Bank. As time passed the views narrowed and the papers outlook was transformed from a worthy cross community read to a wholly Unionist affair. As the UUP were supplanted in Derry by the DUP the paper again reflected a more dogged Unionist line. Throughout this time and to this day, the paper maintained a tradition of employing Catholic born journalists. This was entirely in support and trust of the concept that reporters can be objective, or at least keep their traps shut in the face of opposing propaganda. This is something Dr Coulter has failed miserably to do on this occasion.

Therefore it could be contended that it was a courageous move by the paper to print Ms Anderson's essay on the development of firmer bonds with Unionism. To date as far as I am aware, no Unionist or Loyalist representative in the city, or any reader has responded negatively to the article. These representatives too have experienced the wrath of Republican violence. Of course it could be that it is considered so far to be totally unworthy of response as far as the Unionist community in general is concerned. Yet it could also be the case that a positive response is being formulated away from the glare of publicity.

As a Catholic, and a journalist who has written wholly objectively for an Unionist publication, I have dealt with most of the main Unionist figures at work in the north-west political arena. I have to say that almost exclusively I have found them to be earnest and considerate representatives who fight hard for all of their constituents. I am also all too aware of the concept of Protestant alienation in Derry City and the idea that the majority of Protestant people believe that at many levels the city council is operating discriminatory policies against them. Perception and reality blur in this state to a dangerous mixture. In Derry this is also true. Recent spates of interface violence emerged again in Derry this summer. Behind the scenes I am aware that both Republican and Loyalist figures busied themselves trying to halt the rot.

Martina Anderson makes no effort to disguise her long-term role as an Irish Republican. Charged in 1981 with possession of a firearm and intent to cause an explosion she went on the run, before being arrested in Glasgow in 1985 and given a life sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK. Incarceration saw her inhabit some of the toughest jails that the British penal system had to offer, including Durham and Brixton. Her time was not wasted. Vigorous campaigns at prison reform in these institutions invoked the wrath of successive governors and saw her spend a considerable time in 'punishment' blocks. It did not however prevent her gaining a First Class Honours Degree in Social Sciences.

Repatriated to Maghaberry in 1994 and released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, she has worked at Stormont for Sinn Fein and been elected to the party's Ard Comhairle. In short she is not exactly a lightweight and it is unlikely that she has been ordered to construct a nefarious campaign to lull Unionists into donning tricolours and skipping up the Andersonstown Road hand in hand with Adams or McGuinness.

Indeed this work is backed up by Ms Anderson's work at this year's Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. In proposing a 'Bill of Rights' she said: "I believe these motions to be central to the whole course of the republican struggle as it must evolve, and as it has evolved over the past century. An Ireland of equals has to be based on the premise that All of us on this island, without regard to distinctions of religion, race, gender, simply in virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, have equal rights.

"That is our campaign, to engage with all the people to enshrine the rights of all in a judiciable Bill of Rights for all Ireland and a forum for participatory governance where the current governments could not dismiss the need to consult - Imagine all that. These are the stepping stones to an Ireland of Equals."

In his 'Open Letter' Dr Coulter says: "And don't try to bluff and insult the Prod community, Ms Anderson, by feeding Unionism some well-spun Sinn Fein crap that suffering, injustice, and grief are exclusive to republicanism."

I don't think that this is the case at all. Well spun it may be but I don't think in a political epoch defined by spin, that this is a crime. On July 17, 2002 the IRA released a statement apologizing and offering its condolences to families of all the civilians who died as a result of its campaign of violence. A report carried by the BBC said: "The IRA used the term "non-combatants" in the statement, to mean those who are not members of any paramilitary organisation, members of the police, Army or anyone connected with the security forces. The group said there had been "fatalities amongst combatants on all sides". We also acknowledge the grief and pain of their relatives. The future will not be found in denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who have been hurt. That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non-combatants."

This would seem to put pay to Coulter's contention that, "Forgiveness for victims is not one-sided. As well as a willingness to forgive, there must be the willingness to be forgiven - and the latter has never been shown by the republican movement."

Or what about, "And so Ms Anderson, its time to put your money where your mouth is. Tell me when Unionism can expect the IRA's willingness to be forgiven and its apology for the generation of genocide? I await your response with interest."

Or better still, "Protestant families need closure on the death and maiming inflicted on their loved ones. If, Ms Anderson, you want genuine Unionist trust, you need to instill in republicanism a willingness to be forgiven for the crimes the movement has committed and to publicly apologise to Unionism for the hurt and harm it has dished out over the years."

It is a powerfully assured being indeed who can request that people must acquiesce to an unlimited rate to be subject to forgiveness. This would be acceptable only if there was a solitary aggressor. The use of the word conflict by its definition to describe what happened here, shows that this was not the case, as Dr Coulter knows very well.

It is an even more powerful entity that speaks for an entire population and demands that supplication and repentance is a pre-requisite to acceptance into society. Despite my original beliefs in moderate Unionism as a positive entity in this sorry place that we call home, is Dr Coulter a typical example of this entity? That is, is he representative of a brand of moderate Unionism that is superficially sincere, when underneath beats a compulsion for the "sackcloth and ashes" brand of Unionism?

I would venture to suggest that the above is not the case, at least I hope so. Acceptable only as one off piece of ill-considered, but somewhat understandable anger I would hope that Sinn Fein would respond to his 'Open' epistle. However, if I were he I would not be holding my breath. Dr Coulter's letter may merit the lack of response it richly deserves. What price is true faith in progress these days?



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

3 September 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Sinn Fein: Or the Party of Symbolic Republicanism
David Kruidenier

Public Commitment or Public Relations
Martin Galvin

Suits You, Sir
John Kennedy

False Memory Syndrome
Ray McAreavey

True Faith
Eamon Sweeney

Not the Cathal Goulding I Knew
Liam O Comain

Dark Days Ahead
John Kennedy

Return to Conflict No Alternative
David Adams

Sir Reg's Party Games
Anthony McIntyre

A Secret History of Irish Music
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Unionism's Favourite Nationalist
Dr John Coulter

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 7
Michael Gillespie

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 8
Michael Gillespie

Trotsky and the Ghetto of the Sects
Mick Hall

Global Conscience Not US Capital: The Case for Liberal Intervention
Gabriel Glickman

Letter to Bertie
Michael McKevitt Justice Campaign

27 August 2006

The Price of Our Memory
Anthony McIntyre

In the Balance
John Kennedy

The Time for Revolutionary Marxism is NOW
Darren Cogavin

No! To A Holy War
Liam O Comain

Rendition Collusion
Eoin McGrath

Rendition Flights
John Kennedy

An Open Letter to Martina Anderson
Dr John Coulter

An Honest Writer: Cristóir Ó Floinn
Seaghán Ó Murchú

A Dual Presidency: An Improbable Solution to the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Michéal Mhá Dúnnáin

Petition Calling for a Referendum on Irish Unification
Patrick Lismore

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 5
Michael Gillespie

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 6
Michael Gillespie

Number Crunching
Dr John Coulter

PFI Ventures Show the Con in all its Sordid Splendour
Anthony McIntyre



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