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The sooner Love Ulster disappears the better

(Susan McKay, Irish News)

Victor Sloan's recent video, The Walk, shows a slow-motion Orange walk, in which the Orangemen in their sashes and suits seem to plod on until they disappear into a mirror. Their voices are slowed down, too, like groans. In the end, the last shiny black shoe disappears and a silent streetscape remains. They have taken themselves into oblivion.

I thought about this fine and melancholy work last week as I read, with mounting horror, the Shankill Mirror's 'Ulster at Crisis Point' special edition, which introduced us to 'Love Ulster'. This shameful publication was brought ashore at Larne harbour in a heavily symbolic re-enactment of the landing of the guns with which Carson's UVF intended to fight Home Rule in 1914.

The papers were unloaded by Jackie McDonald and other leaders of loyalist paramilitarism, even though the organisers had claimed they had no such connections. The spokesman for 'Love Ulster' turned out to be William Wilkinson, a former DUP election candidate.

The paper is DUP through and through. Protestants are the innocent victims of a genocide nobody else has noticed. The unionist family must unite against the common enemy. There is a conspiracy to deliver us into a United Ireland. I remember interviewing PUP leader David Ervine once, something to do with Drumcree, most likely. I put it to him that Ian Paisley had just said that this was Ulster's darkest hour.

Ervine sighed. "Again?" he said.

I grew up hearing people talking about how we'd been "sold down the river". That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s among Protestants in Derry. I heard a young woman say it on the Shankill Road just a few weeks ago. "We've been sold down the river," she said. Again.

I drove up the Shankill one night last week to pick up a copy of the special edition Shankill Mirror. It was dark and there was no-one on the road except a few groups of men in baseball caps walking fast and a few solitary men leaning in doorways, watching and talking into mobile phones. The masked men with guns on the gable walls were a menacing presence. Good people are struggling to keep communities and families together here but this is a ruined place and 'Love Ulster' won't save it.

The authors, several of them from the south Armagh Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (Fair) group, detail IRA atrocities, their stories graphically illustrated with photographs of mutilated bodies and bloodstained floors. La Mon. Darkley. Kingsmills. Enniskillen. Teebane. Bloody Friday. The Shankill. The grief, pain and anger of the victims and their families is vivid and heartrending. Their stories should not be forgotten. They have been terribly wronged.

But the use to which 'Love Ulster' puts these stories is deeply questionable.

Catholics feature almost entirely as IRA murderers. It is not whataboutery to point out that loyalists carried out atrocities too, as did the British army and the police, and that there are hundreds of innocent Catholic victims. Or that there was significant collusion between loyalists and the security forces, not least among UDR and RUC men in south Armagh.

The Civil Rights Movement was not the IRA in disguise. It was Catholics demanding basic rights which unionism had denied them.

For all its grandiose declarations about human liberty, 'Love Ulster' is simply calling for sectarian ethnic solidarity and for Protestants to continue to be armed against those who are trying, according to one article, to push them into the sea. (Catholics) Stop the 50/50 recruitment policy in the PSNI. Bring back the RIR, the RUC, the UDR, the B Specials and the UVF (of 1914, of course).

The re-enactment of the gun running represents a profoundly depressing nostalgia for the mythical Ulster of the good old days. 'Love Ulster' wants to do it all over again without the mistakes. Keep the Catholics in their place, this time.

It can't be done. It isn't in the interests of Protestants either and many Protestants, some of them victims of republican violence, reject this bitterness. This isn't the first time a new Ulster covenant has been produced. A similar document was distributed in Ballymena the night before journalist Martin O'Hagan was murdered (by loyalists who didn't like what he was writing) in 2001. UDA leaders distributing 'Love Ulster' are still trying to intimidate the Sunday World into silence. This latest covenant finishes up, "enough is enough". That much is true. 'Love Ulster' is marching into the mirror and the sooner it disappears into oblivion the better.

September 7, 2005

This article appeared first in the September 6, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

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