(That your Grandad had to fight so you could fly)
An audio play in approximately one act set in early January, against the backdrop of the ‘Flags’ dispute in Belfast, 2012/2013
Scene: Monday morning on a busy street in East Belfast filled with traffic noise, car horns and the loud morning conversations of shoppers and commuters. English Journalist, Mark London, having been despatched to the city by his media organisation to report on the roots of the dispute, begins by recording a short introduction to the source of the conflict and the wider history of the country, assisted by his sound technician, Gordon.
GORDON: Okay, Mark? In 5,4,3,2…
MARK: The noise you can hear behind me at the moment is exactly like that which you might hear on any high street in any big town or city the length and breadth of The United Kingdom. It’s a damp and somewhat dreary scene notwithstanding the odd shop front still illuminated by the, yet to be taken down, Christmas decorations. But this is not any old part of the British Isles, this is Belfast and more specifically, this is East Belfast, the epicentre of the protests against their own Council’s decision to remove the Union Flag from The City Hall for all but a number of designated days. However, for the average man or woman in Britain to understand what causes so much anger over one piece of cloth, they must first understand the mechanics of the region as a whole.
The entity comprised of the six north-eastern counties of this island, officially known as Northern Ireland, is the home to just under one and three quarter million religious zealots, divided fairly equally in to two warring camps. One side is as bad as the other and no matter how much evidence to the contrary exists on any given dispute, it is imperative that we apportion the blame for the ensuing violence and disruption equally. Equally that is, apart from understanding that, at the root of every disagreement is the evil and unprovoked terrorist campaign of the Provisional IRA.
Whilst the erstwhile leaders of that organisation jet off around the world to be interviewed as celebrities on glamorous chat shows, no one ever hears the voice of the plain, God-fearing Loyalist who stood meekly by for four decades as the Republicans attempted to bomb and shoot his treasured province out of existence. Unbeaten and unbowed, we attempt to speak to the ordinary Orangeman on the street and hopefully, at long last, allow his voice to be heard.
How was that Gordon?
GORDON: Hundred per cent, mate.
Recording ends and restarts immediately.
MARK: I’m joined now by a local man who we have decided to call, ‘John’ to protect his real identity…
JOHN: I’d prefer ‘Johnny’?
MARK: Yes indeed, sorry, we’ve decided to call him, ‘Johnny’ to protect his real identity…
PASSER-BY 1: [Shouts from a few feet away] All right Billy, what happened ‘The Glens’ on Saturday?
JOHNNY: [To Passer-By] They’re shite! That’s what happened them!
PASSER-BY 1: Who’s that you’re talking till there, Billy?
JOHNNY: Some gipe from The BBC. Wants till know all about the flegs.
PASSER-BY 1: Fit him better he had a look at what’s going on in his own country, see ye later.
JOHNNY: Aye, no boller, big lad.
MARK: Actually we’re not from the BBC, we’re from OCD, a national independent media outlet but can we ask you about the current trouble in the city?
MARK: Can you tell me in your own words, why have Unionists of so many shades been protesting, intimidating, blocking roads, stopping people going about their lawful business, singing sectarian songs and attacking Nationalist areas and the Police?
JOHNNY: Simple, it’s cause the Fenians tore down the fleg of our country off of our City hall!
MARK: But Nationalists didn’t tear it down; they wanted to remove the flag completely but agreed to an Alliance Party compromise which decided to fly it on designated days, in line with equality guidelines and in line with the vast majority of British councils, public buildings and royal palaces.
JOHNNY: Alliance is Fenians now too. It’s our City Hall, we let themmuns in and now this is how they repay us!
MARK: But surely the councillors are democratically elected and entitled to ring changes to reflect the views of everyone living in the Belfast City Council area?
JOHNNY: Yes but they only got elected cause they voted about ten times each and our people didn’t come out and vote in sufficient numbers.
MARK: But if Unionists don’t come out and vote, you can’t blame Nationalists?
JOHNNY: I don’t! I blame the Unionist parties who have let the people down.
JOHNNY: By letting this happen and doing nathin till stop it.
MARK: But how can they do anything about it if Unionist people didn’t elect them in sufficient numbers?
JOHNNY: It was themmuns agreed for till sit down with terrorists.
MARK: And surely you know that it was in fact The DUP and UUP who started this protest with the delivery of 40,000 leaflets over the east of the city, attacking The Alliance Party’s decision?
JOHNNY: Aye, I blame The Alliance Party.
MARK: But you said…never mind, it was The Alliance Party which stopped the Union Flag from being removed altogether!
JOHNNY: I blame the Fenians!
MARK: You can’t blame Catholics or Nationalists or Republicans for the violence which has accompanied the protests; they have largely ignored them despite the difficulties they have caused.
JOHNNY: Well, I don’t! I blame the Police for that! But it’s about a lot more than flegs anyway.
MARK: Really? What else is it about?
JOHNNY: Themmuns have got everything out of the so called ‘peace process’ and we have got nathin! They get all the money and all the jabs!
MARK: Well official statistics would suggest that Catholics are still much more likely to be unemployed, in lower paid jobs and under-represented in senior posts within almost every branch of the public service?
JOHNNY: That’s just cause they’re lazy, work-shy bastards who are all on disability!
MARK: Are you unemployed?
JOHNNY: Yes, I haven’t been able to work since I hurt me back lifting a tree across the road during Drumcree 3.
PASSER-BY 2: [Shouts from a few feet away] Ye right there, Billy? Are ye for the 5-a-side the night?
JOHNNY: [To Passer-By] On it like a car bonnet, pal!
MARK: Ahem… yes, Drumcree. That was when Loyalists protested, intimidated, blocked roads, stopped people going about their lawful business, sang sectarian songs and attacked Nationalist areas and the Police in an effort to walk down a road where the local community did not want them?
JOHNNY: That’s her; we showed them we weren’t for lying down any more.
MARK: But you’ve been stopped from parading there since 1997?
JOHNNY: Ah 1997, that was a good year. Back when we had a proper Police force what knew who the good guys was. Now they’re all Taigs and most of them are from the south. Some of them is just Gardas that are here unofficially you know?
MARK: Again, the fact is that the vast majority of Police officers are still from a Unionist or Protestant background, only a tiny percentage are from the Republic and none of those are also members of the Gardaí.
JOHNNY: Well, they still have 50/50!
MARK: What’s 50/50?
JOHNNY: It’s a rule what says all Protestant Policemen have to retire at 50 and must be replaced by 50 ex-IRA men.
MARK: That’s a ridiculous, uneducated falsehood.
JOHNNY: Uneducated? Is it any wonder? The IRA took away our 11+ and closed 7 schools in East Belfast alone!
MARK: That’s just because it’s inefficient to have secondary schools with fewer than 18 pupils.
JOHNNY: Only cause Protestants are too busy working to have big families.
MARK: Have you and your wife any children?
JOHNNY: I have seven children, two of them with her. But you keep trying to get me away from the real problem.
MARK: What is the real problem then?
JOHNNY: Themmuns trying to take our culture away!
MARK: What culture?
JOHNNY: Protestant culture!
MARK: Now we’re getting somewhere, tell me, what type of Protestant are you?
JOHNNY: A good one!
MARK: No, I mean what denomination; Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist?
JOHNNY: I’m an Ulster Protestant.
MARK: That’s not a real religion!
JOHNNY: You trying to take away my culture too?
MARK: No, no, Johnny, I mean culture is more than your religion. There’s your nationality for a start.
MARK: That’s not enough; there are tens of millions of British people from hundreds of cultural backgrounds.
JOHNNY: I’m an Ulster-Scot, through and through!
MARK: Really? Your surname doesn’t sound Scottish, in fact, if I’m not mistaken, your surname is Irish.
JOHNNY: You fancy a bat in the mouth? My forefathers came to The Newtownards Road during the plantation and we’ve been here ever since.
MARK: That’s so interesting; you can trace your family back so far. Do you know how they came to relocate to Ulster?
JOHNNY: I do, they came on the Larne/Stranraer Ferry!
JOHNNY: Yip, My grandfather fought with King William at The Battle of the Somme so that we could speak Ulster-Scots and have our parades when we want till.
MARK: Um…err…ahh…if you don’t mind me saying, it sounds to me like you are speaking English…kind of.
JOHNNY: Of course I’m speaking English, I have to or yousuns wouldn’t understand what I was saying but if me mates was here, you wouldn’t have a clue what we were goin on about.
PASSER-BY 3: [Shouts from a few feet away] Hey Billy, did your Rab get bail?
JOHNNY:[To Passer-By] Nah, bastard Judge remanded him for threatening to do wan a the witnesses. Him and half his battalion too. Friggin Brussels if you ask me. [To Mark] See, bet you didn’t understand a word a that?
MARK: I got most of it but did you say something about Brussels?
JOHNNY: Aye, Brussel sprout…tout. That’s Ulster-Scots for ‘squealer’.
MARK: Remarkable! Tell me some other ‘Ulster-Scots’ phrases.
JOHNNY: Well there’s, ‘Bout ye’ that means ‘hello’ and ‘shuck’ that’s a ‘drain’.
MARK: I have heard that word before actually, out in the country but it was pronounced ‘sheuggghhh’ you know with the deep throaty sound. The harsh Belfast accent doesn’t appear capable of replicating that rural, guttural inflexion.
JOHNNY: What are you goin on about? The gutterin’s the bit roun the roof on yer house ye eejit ye.
MARK: Is your connection to Scotland just about your accent?
JOHNNY: No, it’s a lot deeper than that. There’s the lads from Glasgow that come over for The Twelfth, there’s Highland dancing and me mate got married in a kilt.
MARK: But like the dancing, kilts are more often associated with the Highlands of Scotland which has a Gaelic culture, not The Lowland people who brought the Scots language to Ulster.
JOHNNY: Huh! Fenians stirring it up over there too then? First they want a united Ireland, now they want to take Scotland.
MARK: But evidence would point to the fact that the Scottish Nationalists are predominately Protestant and that Catholics there are wary of breaking away from The UK.
JOHNNY: Disability again! It’s the same here, all the polls show 90% of the Taigs here want to stay in Britain.
MARK: I’m not sure that’s the case but if you do believe that, then why do you also say that they want to take away your country and why do you hate them?
JOHNNY: Would you trust anyone as two-faced as that?
MARK: I think we’re going round in circles now.
JOHNNY: [laughs] Aye, just like us outside that chapel last year!
MARK: Anyway, you were telling me about your culture. What else would you describe as your culture?
JOHNNY: Oh loads a stuff…marches…parades…bating big drums outside chapels…Remembrance Day…or Remembrance Month as I like to call it.
JOHNNY: Well we have this thing over here on 9/11 where we remember all the dead UVF men by wearin poppies but I wear mine from Halloween till Christmas, winds the Fenians up no end!
MARK: But we have Remembrance Sunday in Britain too?
JOHNNY: Do you? Nice one, didn’t think you lot gave a shit about the UVF.
MARK: Is there anything in your culture which doesn’t involve walking up and down streets and roads?
JOHNNY: Course there is…there’s the muriels.
JOHNNY: Aye, muriels you know, paintings on the gables of houses, like that one behind me.
MARK: “Sandra McClatchey takes it up the…”
JOHNNY: No no, the picture above it…and that one…and that one…and those two…and that line of ones down there.
MARK: Goodness, they are very militaristic.
JOHNNY: Not all of them, that one is about the Titanic.
MARK: But there appears to be a Loyalist paramilitary standing on the deck.
JOHNNY: Aye, it was our lot built her. But hi, if Sinn Féin/IRA get their way, they’ll paint bloody leprechauns over the whole lot. Sinn Féin/IRA don’t want us about the place. Sinn Féin/IRA want to…
MARK: You keep saying Sinn Féin/IRA, surely The IRA have decommissioned and disbanded?
JOHNNY: Ha! There’s that many IRAs on the go now they’re going till run out of letters for till put in front of it. They split that many times it’s a joke.
MARK: But there are still Loyalists gangs active, surely you know people in the UVF, is not your brother currently remanded in custody for terrorist activity?
JOHNNY: Go to hell! The UVF? Bunch of twats, No, our Rab is UFF, me da was Red Hand Commandoes, couple a cousins in the UDA, Uncle John was LVF but I think his boys are Orange Volunteers but one of them might be Red Hand Defenders…only cause the YCV booted him out mind. Anyway, we’re not the ones out flaunting things and trying to force our culture down anyone’s throat. [Johnny’s phone rings –ringtone, God Save the Queen] Ah sorry, Mark. I’ll phone him back later. [Rejects call]
MARK: Getting back to ‘culture’ Johnny…
JOHNNY: It’s not all about culture you know?
MARK: What else is it about then?
JOHNNY: Pat Finucane!
MARK: Pat Finucane?
JOHNNY: Yeah, him and all the other enquiries. If our soldiers kill anyone, their lot demand an enquiry. Look at Bloody Sunday; a pile of rioters shot and now the soldiers is all going to spend 30 years in jail! What about Bloody Friday? What about Bloody Monday? What about bloody all the other ones?
MARK: What about McGurk’s Bar, Loughinisland or Greysteel?
JOHNNY: Ach, that’s just ‘whataboutery’!
MARK: Surely the difference is that everyone knows it was The IRA who carried out Bloody Friday and no one is claiming that those who were killed were anything but innocent civilians? Nationalists want enquiries to establish the innocence of the victims and prove that the government was complicit in and even directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of people? In some of the cases for which you demand the truth, the guilty parties have already been found, tried and have served their sentences!
JOHNNY: And now they are in government. We want to know the truth about all the murders.
MARK: All of them?
JOHNNY: Every one!
MARK: That’ll require a truth commission where Loyalists, Unionists and the British Government will have to tell the truth about the violence in which they were involved?
JOHNNY: No! We don’t have to cause we didn’t start it.
MARK: Well The IRA didn’t start it either, The UVF were killing Catholics before ‘The Troubles’ even began.
JOHNNY: Only cause they knew what was coming. But you are deliberately taking me away from the real problem again.
MARK: I thought you said it was Pat Finucane?
JOHNNY: Nah, that’s what you’d like to believe.
MARK: So what is it then?
JOHNNY: The media! They are all pro-IRA and they never want to know what the ordinary people think.
MARK: But I’m talking to you now?
JOHNNY: Aye but you haven’t a clue.
MARK: So the media are at the heart of it all then?
JOHNNY: Wise up, man, they’re not the biggest problem.
MARK: What is?
JOHNNY: Easy, the Unionist leaders don’t care about us. That’s why we have had to rise up of our own free will.
MARK: But it was The DUP and UUP who brought you out on to the street?
JOHNNY: Maybe so, but now we have our own leaders. They are just ordinary Christian Protestants who have sat there for years but they’ve decided to lie down no longer and finally make a stand.
MARK: But your street leaders are not ordinary people, they are a mixture of Loyalist paramilitaries, Far-Right British extremists, public tit-suckling community workers, failed politicians, mentally ill, sectarian motivated campaigners with years of experience agitating on the periphery, former glue-sniffing, extremely suspect pastors and semi-literate, self-publicising, would-be authors and indeed, senior members of both the DUP and the UUP.
JOHNNY: Aye, they’re a great bunch a lads! Oh could you take out that bit about ‘authors’? Makes them sound a bit gay.
MARK: Does respect for each other’s identity come in to it at all?
JOHNNY: Oh aye! But they don’t respect our fleg. It’s a sad day that people can’t have a wee bit of respect for a fleg which people have fought and died for…that’s why we burn their tricklers!
MARK: You talk about respect for your fleg…sorry,’ flag’ but this is the flag that flies in tatters outside chapels, is wrapped around the faces and shoulders of looters, has slogans scrawled across it in felt-tip and is incorporated into everything from comedy hats to neoprene jump-suits?
JOHNNY: Does your heart proud to see it but you’re trying to get away from the real problem again aren’t you?
MARK: [Sighs] Which is?
MARK: Johnny, thank you.
PASSER-BY 4: [From a few feet away] Oi Billy! Fancy a bevvy before the riot?
JOHNNY: [To Passer-By] Ace, pal! [To Mark] Aye here man, have tae go, strategy meetin.
MARK: [To Gordon] Gordon, let’s wrap this up with a conclusion.
GORDON: Okay Mark, In 5,4,3,2….
MARK: And there we have it in the world’s largest nut-shell. The cause of the protests is ever-changing and therefore, cannot be addressed. The reason it changes is that it is a skimpy piece of red, white and blue cloth which is being pulled in several directions at once in an attempt to cover up the paranoid sectarianism at the root of something which is not new at all. It’s the same festering, malignant sore that brought us Holy Cross, Drumcree, The Third Force, The UWC Strike, Burntollet Bridge and the decade by decade pogroms which have blighted this artificial state since its undemocratic inception.
Scene: Radio newsroom in Britain, a few days later.
NEWSREADER: Mr Cameron added that his government would do all in their power to ensure that Britain’s military intervention in Luxembourg would be a temporary affair.
Meanwhile in Belfast, there was a further night of unrest after continuing protests by Loyalists against the decision of the council to restrict the flying of The Union Flag above Belfast City Hall to seventeen designated days. We have a special report from our correspondent, Mark London.
MARK: The latest violence came following dozens of peaceful protests across the city which saw traffic grind to a standstill, businesses close early and masked protesters refusing to disperse when asked to nicely by the Police. Several hundred Loyalists converged on the small Nationalist enclave of Long Shore where they were attacked with bricks and stones by residents. We spoke to one protester who gave us his assessment of the events.
JOHNNY: Themmuns have got everything out of the ‘so called’ peace process and we have got nathin! They get all the money and the jabs!
MARK: Indeed, it’s just the same old story. This is Mark London, reporting for OCD News, East Belfast.