We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

The ghosts of Northern Ireland’s violent past haunt Brexit

4 98 146

Watching the Brexit vaudeville show from faraway, I can’t but remember my days as Belfast correspondent of The Times. The early 1970s were among the nastiest, violent and most dangerous of years in Northern Ireland. But what struck me most was not so much the battles between the British Army and the IRA, and all the innocents that both killed, but the dark, brown-shirted presence of the Protestant paramilitaries.

It wasn’t the uniforms of the so-called Ulster Defence Association that worried me so much – not even the sadistic massacres of Catholics, with or without the assistance of the so-called British “security” forces. No, it was the creepy, outrageous way in which the educated, constitutional Unionist politicians of Northern Ireland co-existed with these thugs, supporting them with talk of sectarian warfare, disowning their violence with pious horror yet all the while relying upon the fear they created to maintain their own support among the Protestant community.

I’m not making immediate parallels with the present-day Democratic Unionist Party, although their current sectarianism and greed might make comparisons all too relevant. It is, rather, to point up the way in which elected Northern Ireland politicians were prepared, almost half a century ago, to piggyback on racist bigotry; and of how today, at Westminster, our legally elected – and often profoundly well-educated – pro-Brexit MPs ride the waves of the racist, anti-immigrant elements of the hard right.

From 15p €0.18 $0.18 USD 0.27 a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.

The Protestants of the north of Ireland perfected their stagecraft rather well in the 1970s. Some demanded an "independent Ulster" (a kind of Ulsterexit even more preposterous than the UK version we are now supposed to endure) and they flaunted the Union flag, demanded to be called "loyalists" and threatened the British government with violence if it did not sever all links with the Irish Republic. I recall sometimes admiring this very tiny minority of UK citizens who were prepared to hoot their derision at the all-mighty and largely English public school Westminster government which imposed a colonial direct rule upon them in 1972.

But such admiration was a luxury. What actually happened was extremely........

© Independent