By Jamie Bryson
That many moderate unionists, and those who never lived through the conflict, will have cheered Karen Bradley’s comments to the rafters is an indication of just how frustrated and angry the broad cross-generational spectrum of the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community have become at the one-sided legacy narrative.
The comments, which were undoubtedly wrong in law, will have given many people reason to cheer- mostly as a release valve for the growing fury in relation to the legacy scandal. We hear nothing but a narrative which is designed to present the IRA as the liberators and the British Army- and the unionist community- as the oppressors.
This one sided narrative, which is advanced by nationalist legacy activists who shamelessly and relentlessly push their agenda against state forces and loyalists, simultaneously effectively demands blanket immunity for the IRA. This hypocrisy infuriates even the most passive unionist.
Karen Bradley’s comments simply hurled equally questionable propaganda back at nationalist legacy activists and in terms of our most basic human instincts, it undoubtedly felt good and liberating to hear.
Nationalism has hi-jacked legacy and victims issues because re-writing the past is a key strategic objective. There simply isn’t a single unionist I speak to that doesn’t explode in an outburst of fury when the issue of legacy is raised; our community are simply sick, sore and tired of the one sided narrative being rammed down our throat every single day.
If it isn’t a demand for inquiries, it is a demand for British soldiers and loyalists to be prosecuted and jailed. This whilst IRA terrorists have OTR letters and Royal Pardons and many feel that ‘pro peace process’ republicans have been shielded from the criminal justice system as a ‘reward’ for ceasing their campaign of terror.
My generation of unionists are increasingly feeling the growing hatred and resentment of previous generations, not because we lived through the evil inflicted by the IRA, but because nationalists of all generations are using legacy as a vehicle for which to moralise in the present and to, quite frankly, ‘beat it up the prods’ and present the IRA as a glorious revolutionary army whilst demonising unionists and state forces as wicked evil oppressors.
In 1972 there were 200 civilians, 103 British soldiers, 26 UDR soldiers and 17 RUC officers murdered by the IRA. For my generation of unionists our most primal instincts identify those people as “our side”- perhaps an uncomfortable fact for those promoting the utopian neutrality of the ‘peace process generation’. Where is the inquiries for those victims? Where is their justice? And most of all, why are those lives from ‘our side’ worth less than the lives of those killed on the ‘other side’?
That is a very simplistic way of presenting it; but as a most basic human emotion- it is an accurate reflection of how many people within the unionist community feel.
Then there are the older generations of unionists, loyalists and those who served in the armed forces. These people physically experienced the terror inflicted by the IRA; they carried the coffins, saw the bodies of their fellow citizens lying in the street and witnessed the devastation and bloodshed caused by the IRA. It is doubly difficult for those people who actually lived it to swallow the prevailing narrative; they are witnessing lies become truth before their very eyes and sitting back in stunned amazement at the hypocrisy and arrogance of nationalists who are trying to present the legacy issue as a struggle between British oppressors and a great liberating army called the IRA. It is infuriating, it is stomach churning and it is the catalyst for ugly emotions of hate and resentment.
That then shows itself in the kind of comments articulated by the former Paratrooper that described Bloody Sunday as a “job well done”. That is clearly an offensive, insensitive and completely unacceptable comment to make. However I would dare say that rather than being a genuinely held viewpoint, it is simply the product of an explosion of anger and resentment at the unfairness and the imbalance when it comes to legacy.
The paratrooper in question may recall his 103 British Army comrades murdered in 1972 by the IRA and feel rightly angry and aggrieved that those persons have not received truth or justice, rather it seems they have been discarded as a lower class of victim in comparison to victims from the nationalist community. Thus his unacceptable outburst may have simply been a release valve; a means of somehow striking back against what many feel is a one sided witch hunt and grave injustice.
What makes the life of a nationalist victim worth anymore than that of a British solider, or vice versa? What makes a nationalist victim more deserving of justice? If the mantra is equality, then where is the Saville-like inquiry into those murdered and maimed by the IRA?
Whilst nationalists keep pushing, prodding and seeking to use legacy as a means to advance their present political agenda then they will only succeed in poisoning another generation of young people- from both sides of the community- who will grow up with a visceral hatred of the ‘other side’ based along the battle lines of legacy.
The most primal human instincts urge us to ‘pick a side’. The ‘peace process’ generation are no exception to that worldwide truth. The British Army, the UDR, the UDR and loyalists are ‘our side’. The IRA is ‘their side’. That’s an uncomfortable truth and flowing from it is the reality that the legacy battle will force this generation to pick sides. That is the natural outcome because an attack on the legitimacy of previous generations from ‘our side’ is an attack on our legitimacy in the present, and vice versa.
This article could undoubtedly be more considered and more tailored to play into the popular discourse in terms of how we are supposed to think; but that isn’t its purpose. If many people are honest, deep down they cheer when the ‘other side’ get a bit back- such is the toxic legacy of what is commonly known as ‘the troubles’.