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Sunday 5 March 2006

Riots expose shame of our bigotry and ignorance

AT LAST an issue on which pretty well everyone agrees. Last Saturday's riots were a victory for unionism/loyalism/Love Ulster and for FAIR (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives) and its spokesman, Willie Frazer - a man whose loss of five relatives to the IRA explains but does not excuse his occasional incendiary language and his connection with some loyalists as dodgy as those with whom our President and her husband consort. Here are three unlikely bedfellows.

"The people who covered themselves in the tricolour and threw stones and petrol bombs at the gardai on Saturday have set back the cause of a United Ireland by years," said DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson on Question Time. "They've done more damage to their cause in a morning and afternoon than the whole forces of unionism could have done over a decade."

"The rioters on Saturday have set back the cause of Irish unity and further alienated mainstream Irish society from engaging in the northern question," wrote the SDLP's Tom Kelly in his Irish News column.

"This was a victory for Willie Frazer," wrote Bairbre de Brun, Sinn Fein's forbidding MEP, in the tribal Daily Ireland, "who came to Dublin looking for a negative reaction - and he got just that."

A politically incorrect republican, who provided an alias instead of his real name, took a slightly different tack in his aggrieved entry in the guestbook of FAIR: "They should all have been shot dead in Dublin instead of running for there [sic] lives back in to the occupied part of our country which very shortly will not be a safe haven for them, send them all on a one-way ticket out of Larne Harbour then an hour into there [sic eile] journey sink the boat."

From unionist friends, the strongest sense I get is a grim amusement that what they believe to be the sectarian underbelly of the south has been put on show before the world. If there's one thing that drives even the most enlightened of them crazy, it's nationalists' smug and self-deluding insistence that the south's much-vaunted pluralism extends to unionists.

Not only did unionists/loyalists/Love Ulster/FAIR/Willie Frazer win, but the republican movement lost. Sinn Fein has been damaged by association. All but the most ignorant voters know that the Dublin violence was a mirror image of many an anti-parade riot across the border organised by the Provos in recent years.

For better-informed voters, there's also the sobering knowledge that republican oratory stoked up hatred and prejudice in advance of the parade, painting these unionist victims of the IRA as Orange/loyalist/bigots thumbing their noses at victims of loyalism.

Sinn Fein TD Sean Crowe spoke of "a provocative and sectarian march", and Daily Ireland, and other predictable mouthpieces majored on spreading negative information as well as downright disinformation about some of those expected to attend: "Loyalists may carry Dublin bomber pictures" was a much-repeated Daily Ireland contribution. This Friday, its loathing for Frazer was shockingly demonstrated by a headline "I'll be Back", accompanied by a doctored photograph showing him as part Terminator.

Much of this propaganda could have been countered had our political leaders had the moral courage to acknowledge the terrible suffering of many unionists at the hands of the IRA and actively welcome them to Dublin. Michael McDowell's courtesy in agreeing to meet the organisers has been undone by his party leader's description of the Orange Order - some of whose members came south in plain clothes - as "a sectarian and bigoted organisation".

As the Reverend Brian Kennaway pointed out in Thursday's Irish Times, the Order in its beliefs and language is no more sectarian and bigoted than the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Church of

'Much of this propaganda could have been countered had our political leaders acknowledged the suffering of many unionists'

Ireland and the Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. Perhaps, he suggested politely, "the Tanaiste should get out more and meet some of us and not willingly accept the caricature of generations of bigotry."

We are shamed and exposed by our ignorance and prejudice. Is there any possibility that we will make it up to the victims who have been insulted in our streets by showing some humility and begging them to give us a second chance?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards