Friday, 29 August 2014

Northern Ireland ceasefire legacy: ‘Some are more equal than others’

In Derry opinion is divided about what has changed since the Provisional IRA declared a cessation of its armed campaign in August 1994 Peace and poverty for survivors of the Troubles.  in Derry.
A mural in Derry commemorates the battle of the Bogside, the riots in August 1969 often seen as one of the first major confrontations in the Troubles. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
When the Provisional IRA declared a cessation of military operations on 31 August 1994 the republican faithful celebrated the announcement as if it was a strategic victory. Processions of IRA and Sinn Fein supporters drove through west Belfast and the west bank of Derry in cars and vans, waving Irish tricolours, giving clenched fist salutes and V-for-victory signs. Many in the republican base had been told the ceasefire would deliver a British declaration of withdrawal or even a united Ireland within a short time.

Twenty years on, Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom and Sinn Fein shares power in a devolved government with unionists whose departments rely completely on the economic link to the British Treasury. In Derry, where the Troubles first erupted in 1969, two people from either side of the river Foyle give their perspectives on how much has changed since that historic day.

People have been badly let down by the Good Friday agreement and its promises have not been not delivered, says Pauline Mellon, a Catholic. Photograph: Paul Faith
Pauline Mellon, then 19, was too busy curling her hair to notice the klaxons and the cheering from IRA and Sinn Fein supporters outside on the afternoon of 31 August 1994. Although her life had been marked by the Troubles raging on her doorstep on the sprawling Galliagh housing estate, she was more concerned about looking good for her night out with her future husband.

“It was only when my mother came upstairs and told me that the IRA had called a ceasefire that I realised what had happened,” she said. “And then I remember thinking ‘well, brilliant but that was long overdue … by about two decades.’ Later that day what I hoped for was a chance for change, a chance for our communities to get better.”

Mellon recalled that she was “more relieved than in any way euphoric” that the Provisionals’ armed campaign had come to a historic stop.

Unlike many of her neighbours on an estate that produced many republican figures – including the Irish National Liberation Army prisoner Mickey Devine who died in the 1981 hunger strike – Mellon did not expect the ceasefire to deliver a united Ireland.

Two decades later Mellon, the founder of a blog called the Diary of a Derry Mother, can see from her front window the mural commemorating Devine. Beyond that, she said, she sees nothing but deprivation and lack of hope in her community.

She believed John Hume, the then MP for Foyle and future Nobel peace prize winner, when he said the ceasefire he had fought to secure would result in massive international goodwill and huge economic investment in places like Galliagh.

“Of course I wanted to believe that because even a year before the ceasefire there was a lot of foreign direct investment in the city. But what I noticed about the post ceasefire period was a complete downturn, as you started to see the main industries shipping out of Derry. They were going further afield to other places where they could get the best business in terms of cheaper labour. Businesses were not sentimental just because there was a ceasefire,” she said.

As she returned from her back kitchen to check out reports that youths had lit an illegal bonfire on a green behind her home, Mellon continued: “When I look around Galliagh and other areas of Derry I see things going into reverse in terms of employment. Derry currently has the highest unemployment in the north of Ireland with every third child, according to the official statistics, living below the poverty line.”

The mother of three boys, all under the age of 15, said she feared for their future in terms of jobs and prospects. “I don’t see a future for my children in Derry because when I look around me the majority of celebrations or parties taking place involve seeing off young people, wishing them well as they are about to emigrate.”

She stressed she is not a supporter of republican dissidents and has called for an end to their armed campaigns. However, she is scathing about what she claims is a Sinn Fein-controlled network of community jobs and opportunities those who back its party line.

“In this city, in places like Galliagh, everybody is more equal but some are more equal than others.”
On overall job prospects in recent years, she pointed out that 1,200 people in Derry applied for three jobs at a new hotel on the eastern side of the Foyle.

Mellon said she voted for the Good Friday agreement in 1998 that not only “locked down” the paramilitary cessations of violence but also led to devolution and power sharing.
“Would I vote for it again given the chance? Not at all. Because the people have been badly let down by it and the promises were not delivered.”

Asked about the positive legacy of the ceasefire and the negative developments of the years of relative peace, Mellon added: “The violence is now on such a small scale that you feel reasonably safe going into the town for a night with no fears of bombs and more freedom of movement with the British army off the streets. The new, negative things have been the increasing drug problems and the rise of suicides in our community.”

Nigel Gardiner, a Protestant and former soldier, says: ‘As for any so-called peace dividend, in the areas like this where the battles were fought, I don’t see any evidence of it.’ Photograph: Paul Faith
The one major thing Nigel Gardiner is relieved about 20 after the IRA ceasefire is that he no longer has to check under his car for booby trap bombs or fear that he will be killed outside his front door. As a former member of the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment he was a regular IRA target and on several occasions was warned there were plots to kill him.

Sitting in a cramped office upstairs in Bonds Street, Derry (as an Ulster loyalist he calls the city Londonderry), Gardiner also remembers seeing the victory celebrations in IRA strongholds on 31 August 1994.

“Initially I thought it was just another propaganda ploy. I had lived through previous IRA ceasefires that never lasted and so was sceptical that this one would hold.”

However, the 1994 cessation, endured eventually and led to the IRA disarming most of its weapons.
“I know a lot of unionists and loyalists thought differently back in August 1994, but to be honest I never actually believed the union was under threat and that there was no secret deal between the IRA and government.”

But for Gardiner, who is now a community activist helping former loyalist paramilitary prisoners reintegrate into society, working class Protestants have lost out on two fronts: the economy and the so-called culture wars.

“The IRA and Sinn Fein opened up a new front by targeting Orange and loyalist culture. By seeking to ban and re-route loyalist parades and denigrate our culture. The move to restrict flying the union flag at Belfast city hall is just the latest in a long strategy to hollow out Britishness in the province.
“One thing that has gone full circle is the Protestant, Unionist, loyalist community’s attitude to the police. The PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) now only uses heavy-handed tactics to deal with loyalist protests whether they be about the flag issue in Belfast or a banned Orange Order parade. The police don’t dare do that with republicans, even dissident republicans, the latter who are even allowed to march through Belfast city centre glorifying their ongoing violence unchallenged.
“As for any so-called peace dividend, in the areas like this where the battles were fought, I don’t see any evidence of it. The republican community has done better in terms of getting infrastructure into their areas.” Asked if he believed people in Bonds Street were less well off economically or socially than in Galliagh, he admitted: “Well no, not all. The overall deprivation levels in the old war zones are there across the board. But the standard of housing say in Protestant working class areas in Northern Ireland is second class compared to nationalist areas.”

Looking outside into a small loyalist enclave clinging to the east bank of the river Foyle, with its Coronation Street style terrace housing and union flags flying from lamp-posts and houses, Gardiner accepted that poverty rates in republican areas on the west side were as bad if not worse than in loyalist districts.

On the jobs front, Gardiner said it “was a reality” that the public sector comprised mainly Catholic employees. “Protestants tend to be at a major disadvantage in many ways like history going into reverse when at one time Catholics in this city couldn’t get jobs in public services.”

Gardiner agreed that education had been a missed opportunity for the loyalist working class. “If you examine the GCSE and A-level grades in the Protestant parts of the Waterside the grades are not as high as the ones from Catholic schools in this city. That is an area where we will have to get our act together.”

But Gardiner believes these and other problems amount to an existentialist crisis for unionists. “I still firmly believe just like I did on 31 August 1994, that for a whole lot of reasons like the euro, the southern Irish economy and our own firm belief in the union, a united Ireland is still as unachievable as it was back then.”

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