Letter: Face to face with Ulster's politics of fear

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Face to face with Ulster's politics of fear

Sir: Your leading article (16 July) rightly throws out a challenge to those of us in Northern Ireland who want peace but seem to do too little. I live comfortably as an early-retired professional on an inherited Protestant farm. Last Tuesday morning I left my drive to find the road blocked by seven Orangemen. They were not neighbours. One had a mobile telephone and was obviously linked to something much more powerful than his besashed platoon.

The RUC were there, courteous as usual, but as spectators. These seven were blocking the approach to one of only five bridges across the Lower Bann. I was incensed to see hundreds of people turning, mostly in quiet anger, and abandoning their planned route. I parked my car and invited the nearest policemen to join me as I made a strong verbal protest to the Orangemen about the violation of my right to go about my lawful business. I was asked, in menacing tone, was I "a Brother". On answering "No" I was told that the Drumcree march was none of my affair and dismissed in terms not for print.

I felt anger and impotence, but above all I was scared. The police were merely onlookers, clearly under instructions not to interfere. The Orangemen were behaving like some dictator's army. My home was just behind the wall. My worry, and that of my family, was what this exchange, which would have been innocuous in Surrey, might provoke. I am a known member of the Alliance Party. My house was not flying the Union Jack. Although in English terms I had hardly lifted a finger of protest I felt real fear, and not for the first time, from my own Protestant community.

Why such fear? Because Northern Ireland politics and daily life on both sides are fuelled by fear.

What we saw last week was as predictable as a bullfight. The invisible matador in the Drumcree bullring was, of course, Mr Adams. He had plenty of notice. We had all been warned for nearly a year that the Orange bull was preparing to fight at Portadown. And when the green cape was dangled on the Garvaghy road the bull behaved exactly as programmed.

It is all too easy, in Ireland, to start and continue chain reactions of violence. The problem is that the rest of us are as powerless as a crowd at a bullfight. This may seem pathetic to our patient countrymen in Great Britain. But a peace-talking matador with an army at his back is as frightening to the loyalists as is the Orange Order in civil disobedience mode to nationalists. A bull looks very different when you can smell the breath of his rage.

Adams, Trimble and Paisley are fearmongers. They have had a good week. Until the Unionists muster enough self-confidence to tell a green cape from a nuclear warning and to talk to Sinn Fein rather than charge to its tune I and thousands of others in Northern Ireland will continue to live in fear. That will not, of course, happen until the bombs and bullets secreted in the matador's cape have been put aside.

The key next step is for the joint managers of the Irish bullring complex, Sir Patrick Mayhew and Dick Spring, to stop their squabbling and decide how to deal strategically with the Sinn Fein matador and the Unionist bull. Until then I and thousands of others will do our pathetic best to earn your continuing patience, for we can do little else in the face of such skilfully orchestrated fears.


Ballymoney, Co Antrim