Gerald Dawe said:
"I come from a Protestant background, but as a young fellow I had lots of Catholic and Jewish friends, and non-religious friends. We all used to hang out together, and we used to go to dances together, we used to party together, we used to go on holidays together. It was a very mixed group. But by the early ’70s all that changed. I used to walk girls home over to west Belfast and it never was a problem, but when The Troubles really started to dig in, that kind of freedom disappeared. I mean you’d take your life in your hands… Belfast became a very dark and dangerous city. People didn’t go out after 7 or 8 o’clock at night. It was pretty grim … It wasn’t the same city that I had known growing up."Gerald also said:
"[Belfast’s nightlife] is today indistinguishable from Bristol or Birmingham, or, for that matter, Temple Bar. We all live, more or less, in the same postmodern heaven."Alex Kane wrote:
"People in Northern Ireland are much more liberal, laid back and genuinely cosmopolitan than the main unionist parties realise."Newton Emerson called Belfast's Culture Night a "middle class Twelfth":
"Inching down the jammed streets [in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast for Culture Night] I was taken aback - as I am every year - by how many extremely middle-class people there are in Belfast, where public gatherings are otherwise of the less salubrious variety. Credible estimates have put Culture Night’s crowds at 50,000 - one-fifth of the city’s population and more than the total number of Alliance voters across Northern Ireland. Most would not have looked out of place at an artisan food fair in Richmond-Upon-Thames."Marie Jones said to Jo Egan on NVTV:
"It was like 1967, 1968, it was before the Troubles. We were going into town at nights, walking home, we had boy friends; boy friends from Turf lodge. We could go to Turf Lodge, get two buses up to Turf Lodge, how exciting, because we weren't allowed to go with Catholics, but who cared, there were no Troubles.Your parents said it, society wasn't saying it. And we were all working...
Everything was kicking off then. From 1969 to the seventies it was kind of like mayhem. Communities were more polarised than ever. I could no longer go as a young person, I had a boy friend in Turf Lodge, everybody just went like that [Marie Jones acts out a great split with her arms]. It was dangerous out there. We thought that shouldn't stop us, that should inspire it."
Born in 1945, Van Morrison grew up in East Belfast, a city he recalled in 1986:
"East Belfast was totally Protestant, there was a couple of Catholics. But… There wasn’t any problems, there wasn’t any friction or anything like that."In the book on Van Morrison, it was said:
"There was a dramatic rise in the number of clubs and boutiques catering for young tastes as Belfast displayed its own determination to be part of ‘Swinging Britain’."
"When I was in my teens there was a strong sense of the divide in our community, but there was also in my own case and in my family’s case, and in the milieu I was in around home in Co Derry, a very easy and well-maintained relationship and friendships between, as they say, both sides of the house – farmers and so on. There was a lot of standoff from Stormont to put it mildly, but at a micro-local level everything was fine and continued to be so, despite a lot of things, with our own neighbour friends around there."
Mary McAleese, who was called Mary Lenaghan until she married, lived happily in Ardoyne with her extended family and a close knit community. For a period the Lenaghan family were the only Catholic family living in Mountainview Gardens before another family moved in. Most of the President’s childhood friends were Protestants and she said despite the bubbling sectarian undertones she was largely unaware of the tensions that were building within the community. This changed.
"But then from the mid ‘60s onwards there was sectarian incident heaped upon sectarian incident. The horrible killings, the Malvern Street murders, the bombs that were conducted by loyalists to create the impression that it was the IRA. from then onwards there was a growing sense of tension.
1968 was a dreadful year, you could really begin to feel the tension mounting, 1969 was atrocious. That was the year I got my A level results.
That night I went out to celebrate with Fr Horonius from the chapel, he took a girl called Eileen Gilmartin and myself out to celebrate getting our A levels – she got into UCD and I got into Queen’s, we were both part of that new generation benefiting from free second level education and forming an ambition to go to college.
We came home that night to chaos and it was a chaos that of course took 40 years to evaporate. We came back and the B-Specials were burning down Ardoyne. A dreadful appalling scene that really no one should ever have to witness."
David Trimble said in 2012:
"We would have regarded in 1969/1970 the leading members of the SDLP as carrying a heavier responsibility than Paisley for the onset of the Troubles. I’m not sure I would hold that view now, but I’m telling you what I thought then."Ken Maginnis said in a 1997 interview with the Irish Times:
"Northern Ireland was a wonderful place. And it will never again be the place it was just after the second World War. Even with the unemployment and the hardship then, it was a decent place. Nobody would have got offended with a poster that said: Decent People. I lived with Catholics and Protestants and we gathered potatoes and threshed the corn. We did it together. We whispered about each other and went to different churches and played different games. And we were not integrated in the way we might be today but there was an understanding. There was a common morality."
A generation of journalists cut their teeth in Northern Ireland covering the Troubles: from Robert Fisk, Max Hastings, Jeremy Paxman, John Simpson and Kevin Myers. Christopher Hitchens was in Belfast in the 1970s (1973-1979). The fearless writer and public intellectual left Oxford and joined the staff of the New Statesman, and in 1973 was sent to that "moral and political slum that was Belfast".
Christopher Hitchens said in his 2010 debate with Tony Blair:
Christopher Hitchens said in his 2010 debate with Tony Blair:
"400 years and more, in my own country of birth, of people killing each others’ children, depending on what kind of Christian they were, and sending each others’ children in rhetoric to hell, and making Northern Ireland the place, the most remarkable in northern Europe for unemployment, for ignorance, for poverty and for, I would say, stupidity too. And for them now to say, "Maybe we might consider breaching this gap.” Well, I should bloody well think so. But I don’t see how.
If they had listened to the atheist community in Northern Ireland, which is a real thing, and if they had listened to the secular movement in Northern Ireland, which is a real thing and I know many people who have suffered dreadfully from membership in it, not excluding being pulled out of a car by a man in a balaclava and being asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” He said, “I’m Jewish atheist, actually.” “Well are you a Protestant Jewish atheist or a Catholic Jewish atheist?""
Brian Walker wrote:
"“The jackboot heel of the of unionism” is an absurd exaggeration. The RUC had only 4000 officers and the B Specials of the post war, post 1956-62 IRA campaign were barely in existence as a disciplined force. It might have been John Bull’s political slum, but it was a sleepy slum most of the time. And as for the downtrodden? Who am I to deny them, but as a student at the time I had learned the maxim of Tocqueville, the peerless early historian of both the French and American revolutions, that revolutions happen among people on the rise."
Patrick Murphy wrote in The Irish News of January 4 2013:
"With no disrespect to our American guests, the talks were irrelevant to our daily lives and a smokescreen for a failing system of government.
Does anyone believe, for example, that designated days for flying flags are relevant to the thousands of our young people who labour every day under the flags of Australia, the US and dozens of other countries around the globe? The generation which has been failed by Stormont may never return to this country. When will their designated day come?
... The talks once again placed normal politics in deep freeze, apparently absolving Stormont of its government responsibilities."
"Americans of these times are concerned with the outcome of the next generation, not the next election..."
We can say that of the people of Northern Ireland.
Briedge Gadd wrote in The Irish news:
"We are becoming a more divided society. But it is not divided by religion. The divisions deepening daily are between those who want to live in the future and those who want to keep the past violent period of our history alive and kicking."
"The vast majority of people are sick to the back teeth with it, fed up with it," Matt Bagott said. "Most of unionism just looks away" said Fionnuala O'Connor. Mark Rodgers whose father was shot dead by loyalists after shankill bomb said, "We need to sort this country out. We need to move on."
Cara Park in her Stormont address said,
"I am a product of both the Protestant and Catholic communities. I relate to both and belong to neither. I am not a republican. I am not a unionist. I am a humanist.
I believe we are so distracted by tribal rituals that we forget to address the real inequalities, oppression, racism, gender discrimination that some of our laws uphold."
"[The DUP] As the largest party... they're the ones who keep squashing all attempts to inch Northern Ireland towards even the most basic, starter-kit form of equal rights for all. It's their fault. Right? No. It's ours. The DUP's quintessential comeback line, when challenged on any of their thuggishly repressive practices – such as twice tabling petitions of concern to block votes on gay marriage in the Assembly – is that they have an electoral mandate to act as they do.
They are speaking for the people. By voting them in as the largest party, this – a benighted little statelet, left behind, nursing our prejudices, as the rest of the world goes marching on – is what the majority of people in Northern Ireland effectively choose. We give them permission to act in our name.Which gives the DUP, and its allies, impunity to go swaggering on in their customary way, cutting a self-righteous swathe through the loving same-sex couples who just want to get hitched [etc.]."Fionola Meredith continued:
"Yet again, the benign majority view of gay marriage isn't reflected in what transpires at Stormont. There is a glaring discrepancy between what we say we believe and what actually happens in government."She concluded:
"For Northern Ireland to join the rest of the world, elections must be about more than the usual grim old carve-up. The implicit endorsement of discriminatory practices must end, but it will only do so when we start speaking up about them on the doorsteps, calling the parties to account for their actions and inactions."Mike Nesbitt said:
"After the flags decision those normal party meetings about the regularizing of politics stopped and have not been resumed."Peter Geoghegan said:
"Northern Ireland is increasingly Janus-faced. The paramilitary insignia and national flags are unlikely to be taken down on Shankill Road and its republican equivalent across the peace line any time soon. But a kilometre or so away in Belfast city centre, young people mix freely without any talk of religion or politics.
"What gets in the news is the Northern Ireland that is stuck in the past,” says Jarman. “What doesn’t get in the news is the younger generation wanting to move on from it”."Victor Griffin, Dean of Church of Ireland, said:
"The difference between the North of Ireland and the South. Religion is saturated by politics in the North, whereas in the Republic, politics is saturated by religion."Andy Pollak wrote:
"Southerners [in Ireland] often still fear that violence is not far beneath the surface in Northern Ireland. The reality is that most disturbances are restricted to a few socially deprived areas of Belfast; outside those areas, the North has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe."Read my previous post on the normality of Northern Ireland, featuring New Yorker editor David Remnick, here.
"My own sense from the bulk of the submissions is that the vast majority of people here are ready for compromise, are ready for progress, are ready to move on."Eamon McCann puts his faith in the normalised and non-aligned of Northern Ireland, saying:
"No solution based on reconciling the Orange and the Green will work. Fortunately, there is a swathe of Northern opinion – polls suggest it currently runs at about 30% – that does not adhere to Orangeism or Greenery. Of course, this isn’t reflected in political representation. Sort that one out and we might be in business."
Northern Ireland has two narrative silos, as Newton Emerson said:
Newton Emerson also wrote:
"Northern Ireland [is] now divided into two parallel realities."Newton Emerson wrote:
"Their ‘Fresh Start’ agreement this week recognises there will be no more money, hand-holding or special treatment - a conclusion all the more robust for both parties having to reach it alone.
Villiers deserves as much credit for this as Good Friday Agreement chair George Mitchell receives for ushering in the age of more money, hand-holding and special treatment.
She also deserves some of the sneaking admiration we give our politicians for their brinkmanship.
In the end, nobody out-brinked the Ice Queen of Hillsborough Castle."Pete Shirlow of QUB wrote:
"With secularisation there is a growing ‘1690 what do you mean’ group that is similar to the ‘1916 what do you mean’ group in the South... There is a growth in people who feel politics is too sectarian or too nationalist. They are operating a civic-shared identity through their lifestyle. They will socialise together, intermarry, go to gigs together. They are in many ways – but not completely – sectarian blind, or tradition blind... It was primarily within the unionist electorate but from my observations it is starting to grow within the nationalist community. It is neither unionist nor Irish, it is identity-less, at most pale Orange or Green."Read my blog on professor John Brewer who said that the silent majority needs to reclaim the peace process here. My blog on Fionualla Meredith who said people need to speak up and pound the streets here. My blog following Richard Haass comment that a majority want peace is here. My previous posts in "The Two Worlds of Northern Ireland" series here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Newton Emerson also wrote:
"Arlene Foster’s biography runs down the middle of these divides like a strip of double-sided sticky tape. Every unionist can adhere to it and I am no exception.
My father was a shopkeeper and hence an IRA “economic target”. He spent an hour a night for 40 years looking for the incendiary device he never found (in the end, our shop was burned down by a faulty fridge).
Throughout the Troubles, people clung to the idea that risk was minimal if you avoided certain places, jobs and activities. But families like Foster’s and mine knew the IRA needed only the thinnest of pretexts to attack a Protestant farm or business. There is no doubt this was the real “economic target” – republicans devoted the final year before their 1994 ceasefire to flattening Protestant market towns. Sly doubts are now cast on the purity of our victimhood and, in truth, we had questions of our own. Commercial life in my home town was plagued, between IRA bombs by loyalist intimidation and extortion or robbery and assault if the intimidation failed. The RUC seemed strangely unable to stop the obvious culprits. Shortly before he died, I asked my father if he had any suspicions about one case affecting his business. He said he did not. But we are not a naive people: during the Troubles, ordinary unionists wondered loudly and often why the reputed few hundred terrorists could not simply be arrested, given the enormous security apparatus arranged against them. We knew something was wrong with our view of “right”.
Foster has had no hesitation in building this into her reset of history. Last month, an allegation was made that police had prior knowledge through an informant of the IRA’s 1993 Shankill bomb. Despite outright PSNI denials of a story toxic to the unionist narrative, Foster promptly met relatives of the victims, supported their call for a police ombudsman’s inquiry and promised to raise the matter with the secretary of state. She then slotted it all back into the unionist comfort zone with the following statement: “I have been, and continue to be, a long-time supporter of the RUC and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t take away from the fact there were a few bad apples around at that particular point in time, therefore we have to get to the truth of this.”
The “few bad apples” cliche is so at odds with the thrust of modern truth recovery that it is almost a shock to be reminded of how this was the safety limit on unionist thinking for decades. Now Foster has brought it back, most unionists will realise it never went away. We all knew RUC officers, went to school with their children and had friends who joined – and they were good apples, in a solid barrel. Their impartiality was confirmed in my teenage years as they were shot at by the IRA and burned out of their houses by supporters of the DUP, enraged at the policing of riots against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Foster has so far left that detail out of her 1980s nostalgia."