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Catholic rights are secondary to unionist needs

(Jim Gibney, Irish News)

The most disturbing aspect of the comments attributed to Ballymena DUP councillor Roy Gillespie about the murdered school boy Michael McIlveen is that they are widespread although usually unspoken among sections of the unionist and Protestant people.

Gillespie's reported remark that 15-year-old Michael "will not get into heaven" is sourced in his biblical belief, which is reflected in the same statement that, "the Pope is the antichrist and is head of the Catholic Church, which is not a true church or faith".

Although such views are outrageous, insulting and insensitive to the murdered youth's family, friends and the Catholic community of Ballymena and beyond, Gillespie is unlikely to face censure before the law for incitement to hatred or be disciplined by the leadership of the DUP.

Michael McIlveen was hunted down as if he was little more than an animal on a savannah who wandered into a gang of predators hungry for a 'kill'. He was pursued relentlessly, separated out from his friends, his only source of protection, harried for half-a-mile, surrounded, cornered and then bludgeoned.

Michael was killed because he was a Catholic.

Although to many within the unionist and Protestant population Catholics are every bit as threatening as nationalists or republicans.

There is a danger that negative influences can be received through political parties, churches and organisations like the Orange Order and loyalist paramilitaries.

Sectarianism weaves its way insidiously through sections of the unionist and Protestant population.

It emerges publicly in an attitude which sees Catholics as less than full human beings.

Sectarianism, in its most extreme theological form, exists inside the Bible-based Free Presbyterian Church led by Ian Paisley. It is politically expressed by his party, the DUP, which is an extension of his church.

Ian Paisley did not create this mix of politics and religion. It exists among Protestants and can be traced back through various firebrand clerics for at least two centuries.

Paisley inherited this mix and shaped it into a formidable political force.

Sectarianism in its rawest form kills and the death of Michael McIlveen is the most recent example.

He is the third young Catholic killed in as many years by gangs of Protestants.

Fifteen-year-old Thomas Devlin was stabbed to death on Belfast's Somerton Road and James McMahon (21) was kicked to death outside Lisburn Council offices.

Sectarianism also exists among many Catholics, nationalists and republicans and has resulted over the years in Protestants being killed and attacked.

Partition and the consolidation of the unionist and Protestant population into the six counties led to sectarianism being institutionalised and legitimised with state authority.

This led to a prevailing attitude that Catholics lives are expendable in the face of the denial of perceived Protestants' rights such as marching down Garvaghy Road.

It matters little that several Catholics including the three Quinn boys were killed because the Orange Order insisted on marching this road.

Other Catholic children such as those in Holy Cross felt the fury of sectarian abuse from Protestants while David Trimble spoke about Sinn Féin needing to be "house trained".

This week the UUP covered in a cloak of unionist respectability an organisation of dedicated Catholic killers, the UVF, when they absorbed the PUP leader into its Assembly ranks.

This UUP-UVF alliance confirms the experience of northern Catholics – their rights have always been secondary to unionist needs.

Although there are many individual unionists and Protestants challenging sectarianism in their own community Catholics like Michael McIlveen will always be in danger until that sectarianism is rooted out of mainstream unionism and Protestantism.

May 19, 2006

This article appeared first in the May 18, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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