By Jamie Bryson
The gunmen that murdered Lyra McKee were almost certainly part of my generation; a generation that has grown up in a Northern Ireland where peace, quantified as the absence of large scale violence, is almost taken for granted.
It is perfectly legitimate for young dissidents to be anti-agreement, to campaign against it and to work- peacefully and within the law- to undermine it, but they must do so without recourse to terrorism and violence.
Loyalist violence during the conflict by all accounts was reactionary, designed- rightly or wrongly- to terrorise the terrorists. The nature of loyalist violence was from a defensive positon, namely defending the union and the community from a terrorist campaign. Everyone can take their own view on the rights or wrongs of that, but it is clear that loyalist violence was never about waging a campaign to gain something, but rather to simply preserve the status quo. Hence when the IRA stopped, loyalists stopped.
The loyalist organisations, via the Combined Loyalist Military Command, expressed “abject and true remorse to all innocent victims” during their 1994 ceasefire announcement. These words served it would seem as an acknowledgement that no innocent person should have lost their life during the conflict, whilst maintaining the legitimacy of loyalism’s response to the IRA campaign.
It is important however that young loyalists do not look at the activities of young dissident republicans and believe that the way to respond would be to similarly engage in violence. The ‘New’ IRA are a small group of aging terrorists with young inexperienced teenagers being warped into believing they are fighting for a cause. The way young loyalists should respond is to gain education, to seek out debate and discussion and to challenge the likes of the young dissidents to take of their masks and explain themselves. It is easy to randomly fire a gun a shout ‘Up the RA’, it is a lot harder to sit down in a television studio or across the table in a debate and to have the so-called justification for your actions tested in the fires of intellectual scrutiny.
I believe the loyalist response to the IRA during the conflict was legitimate, but this isn’t 1969. The security forces are largely capable of dealing with the dissident republican groups. There would be no need, no strategic value and no justification for young loyalists to mirror the behaviour of young dissident republicans. That is a message that needs hammered home within the loyalist community. The real war is in council chambers, in the courtroom, in TV studios and in debate- that is where the threat to the union exists, not via a gang of republican thugs trying to use old and defeated strategies in a new war. No one used bayonets during the Cold War; things evolve.
To young dissident republicans in Londonderry and elsewhere, who believe you are fighting for a cause when those old and washed up terrorists put a gun or a bomb in your hand and send you out to shoot into your community or at armoured land-rovers, I say this to you; your ‘leaders’ were offered onto the biggest Radio show in the country, the Nolan Show- they refused. Your ‘political’ wing operates a social media account that has been unable to engage in any form of debate with the community, instead blocking anyone that challenges them. Take a moment to consider that, if your ‘leaders’ are so sure about the cause for which they are sending you out to fight, then why can they not publically engage in debate and justify the cause for which they are asking you to risk your freedom and potentially your life?
Equally the nightly interface fighting in Belfast that we hear much about on social media. What purpose does this serve, for either side? Can any of those engaging in such activity, which by all accounts serves only to terrorise residents living in such areas, come forward and explain how such violence advances their cause, whatever that may be?
It is fine to be anti-agreement, I am anti-agreement. It is fine to oppose the Belfast Agreement process; it is not fine to oppose peace. Unless and until you commit to peace, then the credibility of your challenge to the process is fatally tainted, and here is why; you cannot argue for democracy and ‘equality’ on one hand, but then try to overturn democracy by violence on the other. If you want violence to trump democracy, and that is the undeniable logic of the dissident position, then at least be honest enough to say that- make that argument.
Why don’t those young dissidents opposed to the agreement do one of two things; firstly ask your leaders to explain to you the strategic direction of the cause for which you are risking your future. Ask them what was to be achieved by firing at an armoured PSNI land-rover, specifically you could ask them whether the bullets they asked you to fire could have caused more than a scratch to your intended target. If you conclude that you could have inflicted as much damage to your intended target by walking up and running a key down the side of it, then surely you must question the strategic wisdom of your leaders who ordered you to fire into a crowded area of civilians to try and inflict the same amount of damage as could have been inflicted by running a car key down the side of the land-rover. Was that worth a life? Was that worth life in prison?
Secondly, why don’t you come forward and have a public debate, or ring a radio show, or even sit down with an Iphone and record your own You Tube video explaining your strategy, your cause and the justification for the actions you take in pursuit of that.
I am in the minority on the majority of political issues in Northern Ireland, not least of all my staunch opposition to the Belfast Agreement, but I am part of the vast majority when it comes to one thing; peace. No one with an ounce of sense wants violent conflict; no one could seriously want to live like that. I speak all the time to ex loyalist prisoners and I have yet to hear one of them glamorise the conflict, I have yet to hear one say they wish they could go back to the way it was. That doesn’t mean they do not believe in what they done, it means that they do not want this generation- and our children coming behind us- to face the same choices and horrors as they did. Let us be wise enough to heed their warnings and learn from their experiences.