The Blanket

Put Spotlight on Republican Aims

Eamonn McCann • 15/8/2002, Belfast Telegraph

THE demonstrations against the killings of Gerard Lawlor in Belfast and David Caldwell in Derry raised important political questions. It seemed natural to depict the killings as two sides of a sectarian coin.

Gerard Lawlor was a 19-year-old Catholic, shot in "retaliation" for the wounding of a young Protestant in Glenbryn earlier the same evening.

David Caldwell (51), a father of four, had been working in a Territorial Army base and, like most workers at security installations, was a Protestant.

Both were innocent working-class victims of a conflict which some now despair of ever ending.

Revulsion against the perpetrators and pity for the families left behind were the decent, dominant reactions. Posters at rallies reading simply, "Stop all sectarian killings" had wide resonance.

To have raised the question of whether the two deaths were "sectarian" in the same sense would have seemed unforgiveably churlish and have given the impression that the bereavement of one family was more acceptable than another.

Trade unions were aware of the charge from loyalist groups that they had tended to react more vigorously to Catholic deaths than to Protestant deaths.

To have made a distinction between the two killings would have seemed or, anyway, would have been presented as confirming this unbalanced approach

But to recognise a difference in the political motivation for the two killings is merely to observe one of the facts of the matter.

The UDA set out to kill a Catholic. The republicans who killed David Caldwell wouldn't have minded much if their victim had turned out to be Catholic.

Their target had been workers for (in their parlance, collaborators with) the security forces.

The day after the killing of David Caldwell, Martin McGuinness challenged those responsible: Let them "put their heads above the parapet and defend their actions."

In the Irish News on August 5, Brian Feeney, author of a political history of Sinn Fein, told McGuinness he'd get no response. The killers of David Caldwell had no political ideas, he suggested.

But Feeney must know that the "dissident Republican" organisations have a very clear political ideology.

It's the ideology which fuelled Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA through a quarter of a century of conflict. This holds that the only legitimate authority in Ireland is vested in the struggle to end British sovereignty.

It was this core idea which provided sanction for the Provisional IRA killing of Patsy Gillespie (42), a canteen worker for the Army in Derry who in October, 1990, was strapped into his van and made to drive it into a fortified check-point at Coshquin where it blew up five soldiers, as well as the Catholic father of five.

What's changed over the intervening 12 years is that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA have, for practical purposes, ditched this republican ideology while the dissidents have held hard to it.

An open debate on this development is long overdue.

Acknowledging the ideas behind "dissident republican" activity doesn't necessarily mean absolving the group behind the killing of David Caldwell of sectarianism. They will have known it was highly likely their victim would be Protestant. They will have known that, whatever their intent, this is how it would be widely perceived.

They went ahead anyway.

More pertinently, republicanism in general has come increasingly to accept Britishness as an essential element in the make-up of northern Protestants.

Reverence for British emblems and loyalty to Britain's armed forces are seen as natural expressions of what it means to be Protestant.

Thus, Alex Maskey's laying of a wreath at the Cenotaph to mark the Battle of the Somme was presented and, no doubt, was genuinely intended as an act of reconciliation between "the two communities".

In this perspective, doesn't targeting a man because he works for the British armed forces have a sectarian connotation? And, if this is true now, wasn't it so in 1990?

We could do with public debate on this matter, too.







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A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.
- Adlai Stevenson

Index: Current Articles

15 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Put Spotlight On Republican Aims
Eamonn McCann


No Hierarchies Here!
Anthony McIntyre


Freedom to Dissent

Dorothy Robinson


Freedom of Whose Speech?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


Political Intimidation
Anthony McIntyre


Class War is Over!
Billy Mitchell


11 August 2002


Class War
Newton Emerson


Nationalist Euphoria - Unionist Despondency
Billy Mitchell


Silent But Lethal

Anthony McIntyre


Democratise Democracy
Davy Carlin


The Pentagon's Secret Weapon
John Chuckman




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