Letter to ATN

Letter to the Andersonstown News Paper regarding the Editorial about the suggesting that it would be wrong to counter-protest against the MoD march through Belfast City Centre – letter was published in the edition of the paper on Thursday 30th October 2008.

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A Chara –

Last Thursday’s editorial reflects the mature, democratic and open nature of healthy debate within our community and should be welcomed. Whilst being the first to recognise how the ATN has supported families affected by the British army nevertheless I disagree with the editorial.

Had the ATN wrote an editorial in favour of the protest regarding the British army’s planned march on November 2nd then Mairtin O’ Muilleoir would not have been invited into the BBC to run top of its lunchtime programme – Friday 24th October – or other media. Unfortunately ATN editorialised against a protest and were duly hosted by the BBC which in a sense is at the heart of what is actually wrong within our society – the double standards.

For example I don’t hear or see the MoD or unionists being asked by the BBC to account for the implications of their decision to march. The threat of violence we are told resides within this community without a mention of the actual violence perpetrated by the British army – sounds familiar. As usual the singular focus being exclusively about what this community decides to do by shifting the emphasis away from the MoD.

The simple facts are that there exist no protests regarding unionists or loyalist marches through Belfast City Centre by nationalists or republicans. Unionists/loyalists regularly enjoy the City Centre space despite the overtly sectarian nature of their marches. And if we happen not to see or hear these marches then the good old beeb will transmit highlights with running commentary – of course making sure to edit out the blue bag brigade.

There were no objections to City Hall grounds being used recently for the jingoistic right wing celebrations that are the ‘proms in the park’ by the BBC. Maybe the BBC, as it does every twelfth, planned to broadcast the British army march – who knows.

The facts regarding facilitating space and providing recognition within our city are that Sinn Fein Mayors have lain wreathes on Nov 11th, nationalists and republicans recognise the impact of the conflict on unionists, and have outreached to unionists at every opportunity whilst unionists consistently refuse to reciprocate or recognise killings by the British army and RUC. Instead a section of unionists, mostly those pushing the British amry march, seek to defend the indefensible actions of the British army and RUC in which the accompanying vilification of victims of state violence appears to be a pre-requisite – for them this is the central motivation of the march.This is unacceptable.

City Hall, allegedly a shared space, is bedecked with all sorts of regalia commemorating the UDR, RIR, RUC, et al including dedicated stain glass windows whilst there is no recognition of their notorious record in Ireland or of those they killed.

Despite this there is no objection to a civic reception for the British army and those unionists that genuinely seek to mark the event. Rather there is rightly an objection to the coat-trailing and nose-rubbing sought by some unionists, and the British MoD, to be provocative which is precisely why there should be a protest in this instance. This triumphalist approach is from the same unionists that also drive an anti-Irish agenda denying linguistic and cultural rights whilst funding Twelfth bonfires.

This is a time for peaceful and dignified expression of our collective disgust through protest. It is only through such expression that awareness and change around rights and equality can be achieved. This is not an agenda or choice of ours but rather a necessary response. The onus needs to be on those who seek humiliation and victory to be responsible and to pull back from the brink finding a consensus on how best to genuinely mark this event in a way that is both achievable and non-contentious. I believe that this is achievable. The choice is theirs.

If the IRA were to march through the City Centre I would be the first to say that it would be wrong.

Belfast is a changed city emerging from almost four decades of conflict in which the British army were a key protagonist. Therefore it is not acceptable for them to march in this city. Belfast has had its fill of marching.

Sometimes we just have to call it for what it actually is – domination, sectarianism and inequality. Therefore we need to take a stand.

Do we want to share the space as a city of equals? Yes and that is currently the case – Do we want to be insulted and offended in our own city by promoting those responsible for murder, collusion and torture? No.

Can there be a genuine celebratory home coming event that would not cause offence? Yes.

This can be best achieved by holding the civic reception, using rate-payers money, without the need to march.

On a concluding the past and its horrific implications are an everyday reality in the lives of those bereaved and injured and especially so for those families still seeking truth and justice, families seeking inquiries and facing inquests. There will be a truth commission and an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane which is a necessary and important part of transition. The past must and will be addressed.

I fully understand the sentiment and message of the editorial but on this occasion ATN called it wrong.

Is mise le meas

Mark Thompson