Sunday, September 25, 2011
Several posts ago I made note of the sheer amount of political and paramilitary personalities from the early years of the Ulster Troubles that are now deceased. In turn, the death of former Ulster Volunteer Force leader Gusty Spence this week is of particularly historic importance in light of his connection to the very first fatalities of the entire conflict in 1966. I will return to the subject of radical loyalist voices in a later post – these as qualified by the broader morality of political violence and its interface with the dynamics of the peace process.
Spence’s political odyssey and political legacy alike - against the sheer madness of the Ulster Troubles and the loss of so much precious human life for so little political gain – is naturally open to a host of moral and ethical questions. A relative of the second victim of the Troubles openly queried his status as a peacemaker following his death some days ago as indeed is her fundamental right as a direct victim.
Gusty Spence’s significance in the long narrative of the Troubles is however of unquestionable importance from leadership of “heavily armed Protestants dedicated to this cause” in the mid-Sixties to the proffering of “abject and true remorse to all innocent victims” in the 1994 loyalist paramilitary ceasefire statement.
In turn – alike some other members of the Official Republican movement and the UVF prison leadership of the early to mid-Seventies – Spence deserves at least a worthy footnote in the history of socialist thinking in the British Isles as opposed to the public schoolboys and political shysters that have degraded its political honour in recent times to the point of ridicule.
The firestorm of the Ulster Troubles lasted from 1971 until 1976. The subsequent year, with a significant drop in fatalities, can be seen the beginning of the second broad half of a conflict that at most times seemed likely to run and on forever. Or, to quote one female Protestant OAP referenced by social scientist Sarah Nelson in 1984:
I seen it before, before ever Ireland was divided, and in the twenties, and each time after that: and Ireland will never be at peace, or us and them stop fighting, till the end of the world.
It was in 1977 that Spence delivered an extraordinary speech from the Maze Prison on the 12th of July which analysed the bitter politics of social division in Northern Ireland with huge intelligence, clarity, focus and inclusivity.
Over two decades before the murders and intimidation and destruction would end for good - and that within the context of dialogue and compromise - the sentiments standing as the most sobering of political reflections. That upon one of the most meaningless and unnecessary civil conflicts in European memory and at a particular moment of hopeless stagnation.
History shall be the judge of these words:
We never tire of celebrating the advent in history when William of Orange achieved for us in 1690 Civil and Religious freedom. We, the Protestants of Ireland, were the persecuted in those days and now things are somewhat reversed. But is persecution necessary for the establishment of the inherent freedoms of mankind? Has persecution ever changed a person’s views? Do we really want freedom and the pursuit of happiness at the expense of some other unfortunate soul?…I submit that it is fear which makes one people oppress another…We are living in the most socially and legalistically oppressive society in the Western Hemisphere…Polarisation complete with one section of the community cut off from the other except for some middle-class contacts which appear to be more concerned about their class than community…WE are a police state with the accompanying allegations of torture and degrading treatment to suspects undergoing interrogation…Even yet we still have men nonsensically counselling that victory is just around the corner. Victory over whom – the IRA? Or do they mean victory over the Roman Catholic community?…The fears of Roman Catholics will not go away because bigoted Unionist politicians say so. We in Northern Ireland are plagued with super-loyalists…If one does not agree with their bigoted and fascist views then one is a ‘taig-lover’, or a ‘communist’…Unfortunately, we have too many of these people in our own ranks. No fascist or bigot can expect sympathy or understanding in the UVF compounds…The sooner we realise that our trust has been abused, and the so-called political leadership we followed was simply a figment the sooner we will attempt to fend for ourselves politically and to commence articulation in that direction…ours was a sick society long before the fighting men came on the scene. Life in Ulster before the troubles was artificial…We want employment and decent homes like all human beings, and Loyalists will no longer suffer their deprivation stoically lest their outcries be interpreted as disloyalty…The politicians seemingly cannot or will not give us the peace we so earnestly desire, so I therefore call upon all the paramilitaries to call a universal ceasefire. To open up dialogue with each other in order to pursue ways and means of making such a ceasefire permanent. Eventually Loyalist and Republican must sit down together for the good of our country. Dialogue will have to come about sometime, so why not now? There is no victory in Ulster, not for the IRA, or the UVF, the police or the army. There is only victory for humanity and common sense.