As usual, what goes on in Northern Ireland stays in Northern Ireland

by Kevin Meagher

So thirty-two police officers were injured, an MP was knocked unconscious by a projectile, hundreds were rioting in the streets, water cannons and baton rounds were used against civilians in a British city and yet it didn’t make the top five news stories on Friday night’s BBC Ten O’Clock News?

Welcome to Northern Ireland; that far-away place full of violent Irish people who seem to actually enjoy fighting and causing trouble. This is at least seems to be the default view of Britain’s political and media classes, that’s of course when they’re not completely ignoring the place.

There’s more attention paid to disturbances on the other side of the world than there is to the same thing happening in our own backyard. British politics long ago became acclimatised to Northern Ireland as a ‘little local difficulty.’ Not an eyelid does it now bat.

Friday was the “Glorious Twelfth” – the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when Protestant King William III of Orange defeated Catholic King James II. It’s a big deal for Ulster’s protestants and marks the high point of the “marching season”. In the rest of Britain, the celebration of royal occasions are either marked by street parties or, better still, studiously ignored.

Not in Northern Ireland, but the historical significance is merely a footnote. It’s unlikely that the loyalists throwing golf balls at police officers are history buffs, despite waving ceremonial swords in defiance of the parades commission’s ruling that a contentious Orange march could not proceed through a nationalist enclave in north Belfast.

This is where Democratic Unionist MP, Nigel Dodds, was struck by a brick and knocked unconscious. He was booted out of the Commons chamber the other day for implying the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, was lying; so he’s not had a great week. Normally, our politicians are only used to metaphorical brickbats being hurled in their direction. In response, the police fired water cannons at the protestors. In Britain the use of kettling is enough to cause liberal apoplexy.

When blasting high-pressure water jets at civilians is insufficient, the police rely on the wonderfully euphemistic Attenuating Energy Projectile instead. These are sometimes called baton rounds, which is itself a euphemism for plastic bullets. Twenty-two were fired at protestors on Friday night alone. Many of them were children and a 14 year-old was among those eventually arrested. Throughout the Troubles, seventeen people – ten aged under 18 – were killed by plastic bullets, yet their regular tactical use merits little more than a passing remark in the British media.

Last night saw another bout of violence. As the BBC nonchalantly puts it this morning: “Officers were attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks, laser pens and stones in the Woodvale area. Police fired 10 baton rounds and deployed water cannon.”

While Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, it is surely not unreasonable for people there to be treated to the same standards of civilised policing that apply in other British cities? Northern Ireland’s frequent civil disturbances are serious and well-organised and the Police Service of Northern Ireland usually feels justified in suspending Marquis of Queensbury rules when it comes to ‘sorting it out’; but their tactics would be unconscionable in any other part of the UK.

Indeed, if this was rioting in Bristol, Manchester or London it would be the main preoccupation of our political elite. But where is the meeting of COBRA? Where is the demand for an emergency debate in parliament? Where are the comments from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband about this weekend’s carnage? Ne’er a word from any of them, it seems.

After all, what goes on in Northern Ireland stays in Northern Ireland.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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14 Responses to “As usual, what goes on in Northern Ireland stays in Northern Ireland”

  1. Julian Ruck says:

    To Kevin Meagher,

    Believe me, what goes on in Wales stays in Wales too, until Uncut came along.


    Julian Ruck

  2. John Reid says:

    How many of those under 18 killed by plastic bullets were unlawfully killed, how many ,were seen acting violently when they were hit?

  3. swatantra says:

    It doesn’t; it spills over onto our streets, everywhere.
    When you all thought that it was safe to go out on the streets …. When will these ***** Unionists learn not to provoke by marching up and down and through ‘Catholic’ districts? Its not a right but an absolute disgrace. Its about time the Govt banned these Orange Marches and incarcerated the ringleaders in jail, starting with a few Ulster politicians. Its an absolute disgrace, and its about time Labour came out strongly against this kind of incitement to disorder on our streets.

  4. McCurry says:

    What do you do to stop it, Kevin?

  5. McCurry says:

    That is, what is your policy solution to this never ending ruckus?

  6. bob says:

    swatantra: Until both communities, grow up and become ‘normal’ and stop indoctrinating their children about the past and leave religion where it belongs in the church mosque temple or synagogue, this will continue ad in finitum. If you were a police officer on the front line, and had people throwing objects including ‘Molotov cocktails’ at you would you not want to defend yourself by being able to be able to push them back beyond throwing range. They are lucky there is not a shoot to kill policy as in some countries for petrol bomb throwers.

    Politicians and religious leaders have to bear the responsibility for these disturbances. Is devolution working, some would say not. maybe this is time for an ALL Ireland referendum about

  7. bob says:

    joining together and leaving the UK.

  8. John Reid says:

    Bob, and if the majority of Catholics and Protestants in Noethern Irealnd don’t want that

  9. Allan says:

    … and what goes on in Scotland stays in Scotland too (unless of course there’s a heavy defeat for Labour). Indeed, you wouldn’t know that there was the (distant) possibility of the UK breaking up next year if you took in some of the Anglocentric media.

  10. bob says:

    Maybe the Hong Kong solution and hand the north over to the south and have a one nation two systems approach.

  11. John Reid says:

    Bob, we we lent Hong Kong, in a deal 110 years ,ago,after the 1916 uprising when the south of Ireland separated,what’s the pont of handing over Northern Ireland,they stopped Cali,ing it was theirs in97′ the majority of people on Northern Ireland don’t want to, financially both side don’t want the change,and then that excludes the fact that the Protestant community in Northern Ireland would be crucified

  12. uglyfatbloke says:

    Hong Kong…not quite the case John. Hong Kong was granted in perpetuity along with a tiny strip of the mainland – though there continued to be strip of Chinese sovereignty within that area, The larger chink of the mainland known as the New Territories was leased.
    Swatantra – so long as labour is brown-nosing the Orange Order in the west of Scotland Ed etc. will never stand up to them anywhere else.
    As for things in Scotland staying in Scotland…recent experience would suggest that if the Tories make a statement attacking the gnats it gets a lot of mileage with the BBC. When the Tories claims are discredited it passes by the newsdesks unnoticed. …recent statements by senior Danish politicians about Scotland, the EU and NATO being a case in point.

  13. Julian Ruck says:

    To John Reid,

    Over the years I have read an inordinate number of books on Northern Ireland.

    I remain as perplexed as ever.

    Ancient Cromwellian malfeasance to Papist ignominy.

    The answer? The solution?

    I simply don’t know.

    Julian Ruck

  14. Tafia says:

    Having lived in Northern Ireland for over 6 years the one thing people on the mainland fail to realise is that the overwhelming majority og the population of Northern Ireland wish to be British and that includes the majority of the Nationalist/Catholic community including (somewhat bizarrely) a sizeable chunk of Sinn Fein’s voter base.

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