Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

From the Armalite to the Strawberry Smoothie – 21st Century Ireland, North and South.

Reginald Maudling once spoke of ‘an acceptable level of violence’ in Northern Ireland. Reading both the newspapers, and Colours, it’s evident that the absence of clear politically motivated violence hasn’t led to a peaceful society. Has the Good Friday Agreement just changed the levels and context for ‘acceptable violence’?

No it has led to an Apartheid style society. I am working on a

story for the Observer this week about an integrated school being established

in the most religiously tolerant area of Northern Ireland, ie Mid Down. One out of

every five marriages in this area are religiously mixed. And yet the school

has faced a wall of opposition mainly from unionist politicians afraid that

their power base will slip in the area if Protestant and Catholic kids are

educated together. Imagine that! In 2006 there are still bigots opposed to

schools designed to unite little children regardless of their religion. And

that’s in the most tolerant area of Northern Ireland. It sums it all up. Peace

yes, but no love or understanding.

The Republic has been cited worldwide (including in the recent Italian election campaign) as an economic example to follow. The pros and the cons of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ have been discussed extensively already. What, though, has the effect been on communities in the North? Nell McCafferty once said that, in the absence of discrimination, she would have been quite happy to see herself as a British citizen, given that the economic benefits outstripped those in the Republic (healthcare, education etc). Would economic prosperity lessen the blow of a united Ireland for unionists?

In a word, no. Unionists buck the Marxist trend of history – they

are not directed by economic determinism. The only thing that may propel

them towards a United Ireland (and this is a view I support) is the

realisation that they could have enormous political power as the permanent

king-makers in an Irish parliament. That is of course on the back of also

realising that they have no real power anymore within the British State.

The problem however is that there is a widespread love of the British way

of life.

It seems obvious that there are huge cultural differences between unionists in Northern Ireland, and the people of mainland Britain. What are the cultural divides though, in your opinion, between Irish nationalists north and south?

There are equal divides between nationalists in the north and

those in the south. Let’s take religion as a start. Catholics in the north

are known to be more socially conservative in terms of sex for instance

than their southern counterparts. Northern Catholics are more likely to

believe their priest and be less questioning towards the Church hierarchy.

Northern nationalists are also more hostile towards unionists. Familiarity

breeds discontent!! When I go to watch the Republic of Ireland soccer team,

it’s the northern Catholic fans who sing the IRA songs, start the booing of

foreign players who used to play for Rangers etc. They are like the Bosnian

Serbs…more Serb than the Serbs themselves.

A slight side issue – you’ve written recently about the decision by Republican website The Blanket to publish the Danish cartoons. How strongly felt is the ‘clash of civilizations’ in Northern Ireland? Was The Blanket‘s decision opportunistic?

In my opinion, The Blanket‘s decision was heroic. Their logic

was that how can one debate the merits of these cartoons unless its readers

can see them and then make up their minds. It’s basic logic, simple, crystal


Throughout Colours you manage to dig below the surface, looking at various groups that are outside the traditional dichotomies of Irish life – ‘Republican/Nationalist/Catholic/Southern – Unionist/Loyalist/Protestant/Northern’. For example, gays in both the North and the South. What kind of reaction has there been in Northern Ireland to legislation allowing for homosexual civil partnerships? Do you really think, as mentioned in the book, that “there is no widespread public anger on issues like gay marriage/unions” in the Republic?

The reaction to the liberalisation of the laws on homosexuality

has been muted. Most people in Northern Ireland are tolerant or becoming

increasingly tolerant. At last year’s Gay Pride march in Belfast shoppers

including OAP’s, mothers with children etc, clapped and cheered the gay and

lesbian marchers. In contrast they either ignored or were hostile to the

small protest by a handful of bigoted fundamenalists. And yes, there is no

widespread anger in the Republic to gay civil unions.

What effect has the ‘war on terror’ had on Ireland? For example, the word terrorist for so long was almost exclusively used to describe Irish, Basque, or Palestinians, and now it’s used almost exclusively to describe Islamists. Has the obsession with Al-Qaeda, to some extent, whitewashed the collective memory giving parties like Sinn Féin an extra veneer of respectability?

More than the ‘war on terrror’, 9/11 had a massive impact. I

remember vividly that day. My youngest daughter was only a couple of weeks

old and my journalistic friend and colleague Jim Cusack arrived around

lunchtime at our house to see the new baby. We were sitting down to a lunch

of Dim Sum from a Chinese supermarket, when another reporter I know well

telephoned. He said ‘Switch to Sky News right away’ and lo and behold, we

got there in time to see the second jet slam into the Twin Towers. When it

became apparent this was a terrorist attack, Jim turned to us and said:

‘Well, that’s the end of the Provo campaign’. Sinn Féin has been keen ever since

to create distance between itself and all forms of Islamism.

On a related theme : What lessons has the British Government learned, if any, from the conflict in the North, for the current ‘war on terror’?

The lessons from the British are wrapped up in subtlety. I

remember when the British troops came to Belfast in the early ’70s. After a

brief so called ‘honeymoon period’, they started kicking down doors,

ransacking houses, generally treating people in nationalist areas with a

heavy hand. That stopped in the mid 1980s. They became more effusive and of

course secretly they kept back channels to their republican enemies. In

southern Iraq clearly the British Army is trying to apply Northern Ireland style

softly-softly tactics. But where it veers away from the parallel is the

notion of secret negotiation, because, unlike the IRA, Al Qaeda is a maximalist,

uncompromising force.

Tony Blair recently made comments likening Islamic fundamentalism and Protestant fundamentalism in Northern Ireland, and in doing so predictably received criticism from Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. I would argue, though, that rather than being surprising and controversial, Blair’s remarks highlight the lack of attention that the D.U.P’s religious side has received in the media at large. What do you think about British/Irish media coverage of the DUP? Is it a necessary by-product of the peace process that the unsavory sides of Sinn Féin and the DUP are glossed over?

the DUP are over-reacting as usual. But the DUP are not to be

underestimated either. They have some extremely intelligent operators at

the top of their ranks. The DUP at grass roots is a very religious

organisation but the leadership realise that that base electorally is too

narrow. Yet another example here. A female friend of mine voted for the DUP

for the first time in her life last year. She drinks, smokes, loves the

company of men, doesn’t go to church, holidays in the Irish Republic; she is

liberal in her views on gay rights. But she felt the DUP strengthened would

send a powerful signal out to the world, particulary to Tony Blair, that

unionists wouldn’t be pushed around. This is the constituency the DUP has

just won over – middle class secular Protestants fed up with what they see

(rightly or wrongly) as too many concessions to republicans.

If anyone

therefore it’s the DUP itself which plays down its fundamentalist roots and

dedication to Bible-bashing Protestanism. The latter often lands the party

in trouble as in the case of Paul Berry, a young DUP assemblyman who it

turned out had a gay encounter with a masseur in a Belfast hotel. Hypocrisy

always gets found out.

The Internet has opened up whole new possibilites for communication, possibilities being developed by sites like Slugger O'Toole in the context of Northern Ireland – providing space for people from both sides of the community to discuss issues. What do you think of the Internet in this context? Is it naïve to see it as a tool for change – doomed like punk rock to fizzle out?

No. unfortunately punk had to fizzle out. I don’t think the same

will happen to the Blogs. They may evolve but their basic structure will

remain. Slugger, Blanket, and the late Portadown news revolutionised the

Irish media scene and gave a voice to the voiceless. This can only be a

good thing.

Finally, an impossible question to answer, but equally impossible not to ask: where does the peace process go from here?

Where does the peace process go? It’s stuck, but no one cares.

There are no bombs going off. No bodies up entries. No one in my local pub

talks about the stalled Northern Ireland Assembly. they are too busy wondering if

anyone can stop Chelsea and who can tip the winner in the next big horse


A general point is that Northern Ireland has become a very post-modernist

shopping obsessed society. Shopping has played a massive role in defeating

the armed struggle… I’m serious about this. Shopping and the expansion of

home ownwership even in areas like West Belfast, one of the cockpits of the

conflict. People have more stake in their society whether that be through

their job in a mall or their house and its rising price

There may be a

powersharing executive in five years time between SF and the DUP but in the

meantime we are all off to the shopping centre for the latest fashion, a

double latte with cream or a Mango and Strawberry smoothie followed by a

session at the nail bar or the sun bed in order to top up and look gorgeous

for that Spanish beach holiday next month.

Colours: Ireland – from Bombs to Boom by Henry McDonald is published by Mainstream Publishing

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