Unloved Loyalists Fear ‘Surrender’ to Catholic Ireland With AM-Northern Ireland
LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Three pale young men, one sporting a ″Make My Day IRA Scum″ T-shirt, sat glumly watching television in a pub.
For these Protestant lads, the news was too grim for words: British officials were being cheered in Parliament after admitting months of secret contacts with the Irish Republican Army.
But their smiles returned when the Rev. Ian Paisley, bellowing voice of hard-line Protestantism, appeared on the screen being kicked out of the House of Commons for calling a Cabinet minister a liar.
″That’s the spirit, big Ian, ye boy ye 3/8″ one of them called out. All three hoisted their glasses and shouted with sozzled sincerity: ″No surrender 3/8″
That backs-to-the-wall cry is both the potent myth and a way of life for Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority, ever on guard against a Catholic community they fear is conniving to drag the six counties of Northern Ireland into the Irish republic.
But even as the British and Irish discuss formulas for mollifying Northern Irish Catholics and the outlawed IRA, a process that continues Friday with a summit in Dublin, they know that Protestant resistance and violence could scuttle any progress. Paisley, who disrupted Parliament on Monday, could be a potent force in mobilizing mass resistance to changes, as he has done in the past.
Defiant feeling is particularly acute in Londonderry, the walled city where a Protestant garrison, starving and abandoned by English relief ships, held off a Catholic army for eight months in 1689.
Each August, 15,000 members of the Apprentice Boys, a Protestant fraternal order, march through the town center’s battlements in a ritual demonstration of tribal tenacity.
Londonderry was at the heart of the convulsions that triggered the past quarter-century of conflict. Catholics marched in the 1960s to protest poor housing, lack of jobs and the gerrymandering that kept local Protestants in power.
Police and civilians attacked Catholic protesters in the Protestant Waterside district in October 1968. Worse rioting in the deprived Bogside district the following August brought British troops onto the streets.
John Hume, the dominant Catholic politician in Northern Ireland, marched here. Martin McGuinness, a leader of the Sinn Fein party and prominent figure in the recent contacts between the IRA and Sir Patrick Mayhew, Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, lives in the city.
So did two young Protestants charged with killing seven people in a rural Catholic pub in October, the worst single atrocity by ″loyalists″ in more than 20 years.
In a generation, the Protestant minority of Londonderry has seen its political dominance and economic muscle stripped away by British reforms and an assertive Catholic community, which insists on calling the city ″Derry.″
Protestants now live almost exclusively in the Waterside district east of the River Foyle, across the water from their legendary walls.
Hume has lured U.S. investment to Londonderry, and Catholics are the main beneficiaries. New housing built by the British government covers the once- shabby Catholic Bogside.
″I’ve always been an abused minority,″ said Gregory Campbell, the most prominent of five Democratic Unionist city councilors in Londonderry’s east side.
″They say unionism can only thrive when it’s oppressing nationalists. I’ve been oppressed all my life by those selfsame nationalists. And I thrive on their oppression.″
The so-called ″loyalist″ paramilitaries have killed 43 people this year, versus 32 by the IRA.
″We’ve seen the IRA slowly getting what they want through violence ... Protestants can see that violence pays,″ said Irwin Dougherty, 24, standing among the crowd at a recent concert.
Like most Waterside Protestants he supports Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. His uncle, a high-ranking officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was killed by the IRA five years ago.
″The way things are going, there will be an attempt to force us into a united Ireland sometime, maybe soon,″ said Dougherty, a security-systems salesman. ″The Roman Catholic politicians are pushing for it all the time, and our own friends - well, we don’t seem to have any friends - but the British want to sell us out.″
If it comes to that, he said, ″there’ll be civil war. The Protestants are a military people. We will not lie down.″
But David Davis, a Protestant lord mayor in 1991, accepts that his side will never again run Londonderry and says he has no fears about British contacts with the IRA.
″Hume and Adams and Mayhew can talk morning, noon and night - but if they can’t accommodate the Protestant community, nothing will get anywhere,″ Davis said. ″That’s our great strength. The Protestant community will always have their say.″