In 1944, as an Englishman, I was welcomed into an Ulster Protestant family with liberal views, and if you read a piece entitled James, you will see the level of that liberalism. This is not a detailed sortie into Irish history, just a preface to the pieces concerning the Northern Ireland troubles which will be posted in the next few weeks.
Everyone must know that the troubles started long ago even before, Cromwell, The root of them is that the original indigenous population was invaded by the Brits, and later the Scots and others settled here for various reasons, mainly economic and political. There have always been outside influences which have sculpted and moulded politically, mostly to the detriment of the inhabitants. That situation is believed to be still evident by both factions in this country, and this is the nub of the problem – the political perspective is always distorted, and not necessarily always by the inhabitants.
The real flare-up might not have happened if there hadn’t been heavy-handed precipitate action, politically and militarily. My father-in-law told me that often we had been on the brink and drawn back. This time it was for real, and on a percentage basis the majority of the population might have had strong views, but it is my belief that they were not in favour of what was being perpetrated either in their name, or by the other faction. Even if you have strong views, finding a coffee shaking in its cup, on a restaurant table, because a bomb has felled a building in the street behind, and you know you’ll be late home again that night, can cool your ardour. Having officials running their hands over your body in car parks, shops and office entrances is something you will never become accustomed to.
I have been threatened that my house would be burnt down, held up by both factions when I have been on my own and therefore vulnerable, I’ve been threatened to be shot by the Royal Marines, for no reason other than they didn’t like me insisting on the correct search procedures, amazing especially as I was English and a senior civil servant. I look back over the senseless waste of life, time, materials and know that it shouldn’t have happened, because, on a comparative basis, in 1969 I know Northern Ireland was in a better state financially and socially than a large proportion of Great Britain. On the whole I believe that in 1969 there was less cross-political animosity than there had been at any time in my experience. There were definitely wrongs that needed to be righted, but none were so grave as to warrant all that killing or the level of destruction.
No matter what it said in Stormont, nor the political mouthing of platitudes by the UK government, out problems, I believe, have been painted over for appearance’s sake, but deep down those who feel there is opportunity in maintaining what used to be the status quo, will wait. Criminality reached massive proportions during the troubles, eradicating that will have to be the first step, and as some of it is cross-border, and I don’t necessarily mean solely in the South, there is an uphill struggle, which the majority of the men in the street are to war weary to care about.