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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Address To the Progressive Unionist Party Conference 2002
Davy Carlin • 4.12.03


Below I reprint a short edited version of my speech at a meeting at the PUP conference 2002, which was very well received. I believe given the ongoing debate on the issue of the 11 plus continued discussion and views on this are important. So I print below that short edited version of a quite lengthy speech in relation to this. Before that though, and at the end, I shall make but a few brief additional points.

Within my short time as a political activist I have come to an understanding that on most occasions our mostly communal form of politics has been and is a case of ‘us against them’, both in relation to political parties and specific ideologies. This being not only in the context of Unionist against Nationalist or Loyalist against Republican or indeed Unionist against Loyalist and nationalist against Republican. But also of course it then goes Unionist against Unionist, Loyalist against Loyalist, Republican against Republican, Nationalist/ Republican against Republican/ Nationalist. Then we have of course in my own particular sphere Socialist against Socialist and the left against the left.

It is in that context why many attempt to balance oneself within their particular political spheres and constituencies, yet for me it is those who attempt to reach out for engagement and understanding of a differing ‘tradition’ or ‘allegiance’, for a common good, who one then could begin to hold an element of respect for. Such is the nature of our communal set up (and the nature of politics per say) that it is on many occasions difficult to give the ‘other side’ credit when credit is due. This not only in relation to ‘different traditions’ but even to similar but differing political parties or ideologies. For me though nothing is ‘Gospel’, from religion to politics. Although I would learn and hold much understanding from and for many great revolutionaries, (revolutionaries come in many forms) through periods of history, I would, though, on many occasions adapt those theoretical and practical lessons to the present within my own practical and political life experiences and understandings. Watching and listening to some politicians throws me back at times to my childhood twenty years past (Republican and Unionist – Loyalist) as their rhetoric has changed little and for them time seemingly has all but stopped still. It is though with such similar in mindset but more progressive in attitude (realistic) that one can begin to engage with, not only from above but also more importantly from below. And with that I have learnt others can than be moved with them.

Yet even within the ‘left’ political circles in which I am an activist I have found on many occasions criticism directed towards oneself and my colleagues within Belfast for attempting at times to reach out. Of course one can expect it from the usual quarters but it becomes unfortunate when those closest to oneself or ourselves feel the need to be moved also to do so. But we have always stood firm in our understanding against whomever or whatever. I had found over time in some ‘socialist’ or left circles that if one was to state that one had spoke at the PUP conference or sat around a table with loyalists or/and republican working class community activists, faces of aghast would appear on some. If I had stated fair play to the SDLP Alliance or Women’s Coalition for a particular stand they had taken I would then have been accused of moving to the right. If I had stated fair play to a stand by various parties that had benefited working class communities Unionist, Loyalist or Nationalist/Republican I would be told by some that I had either betrayed ‘my roots’, or went back to ‘my roots’ depending to whom I was talking. I have found that this situation is reflected in many parties, organisations and ideologies. Yet those calls (increasingly lesser so) have come from the back or the sides by those who prefer to lecturer and snipe rather than talk and engage, from those who look backward not forward, those who claim to ‘hold’ that political understanding for the people, rather than ‘working’ that political understanding with the people.

Such is the splintering of politics one wonders how we move forward at all. Yet for some they (and we) have attempted to reach out for understanding of other political views. In doing so then persons have begun to grasp an understanding of those various political views, traditions and allegiances. More importantly, practically seeing persons as persons whom have on many occasions the same material concerns as one. Thus, for me, I have seen my political understanding in theory worked and experienced therefore in a practical way. One is not naïve and understands the difficulties of our situation on ‘our wee patch of earth’ yet one knows from practical experience that it is far, far easier to condemn and ridicule each other than it is to attempt to reach out for engagement and more so with and between those whom hold a ‘history’ that one is very uncomfortable with. Yet we all have a history but it is the present that will dictate our future. So it will be those who can prize open the blinkers, envisage that collective society, envisage that collective people, who then can begin to seek to effect real change for its and our collective good. Some try to do this in an initial small way while others have the remit to attempt it in a larger way. Yet, for me, the difference is not solely within a flag of a nation or of a union, but on the material need and the political freedom of a people and a class. And on that note my address.


I would like to thank the organisers of this conference for inviting me to speak on the issue of post-primary education and more especially the issue of the 11 plus (a test taken at eleven that then dictates what school one goes to, which depending on the school can on many occasions effect ones opportunity in life) that effects many of this said constituency. I start by giving a personal insight on the material base of my life, which would have been and is reflected by again many of this constituency.

My report prior to my 11plus stated among other items that I had excelled in Maths and English amongst other such topics, that I would be a cert to pass my 11 plus. Yet I failed. Why? For me I did not really think about it until I met a friend (in my late teens) who lived in another part of town, a well to do part of town. We, over time, talked of many things and one of them was on the issue of our schooling days. I had remembered quite vividly the material base of one’s life and the immediate circumstances that surrounded me. For me, at times, I would get up at 4.30am to do a milk round, after school a paper round or ballots etc. At the weekends I also helped out for a few bob in a furniture makers and of course the essential rosaries at night (that took a lifetime to do) amongst other such things. So with it all, it took up most of my pre and after school time. To do homework I had a box room shared with five others (so rarely had any peace to study) as by the time duties where done it was getting late and therefore the library was closed. Yet why were the kids not chased to give me peace? Well quite simply because as you would be aware education was not seen as a priority and also the issue of war and providing for a large family were to the forefront. And as I was constantly also reminded by my peers in my late teens ‘what’s the point of education Davy, taigs, from here anyway, don’t and won’t get jobs let alone decent jobs.’

Yet when my friend reflected on the material and social base of their life the differences were obvious. They had their own room with rows of study books with past exams, maths and science wall charts, a home computer etc. They were provided with a private tutor in the run up to exams (who specialised in passing children for that particular exam) with also even attending a summer study group and of course the home held a study room of their fathers which resembled a mini library; and in it a piano for extra curriculum marks. Therefore it was an ‘educational home’ not only in the way it was kitted out but a home driven on an educational mindset which provided moral and financial support which stressed and rewarded success. If despite all this advantage if they were to still fail the 11plus then the parents would of course pay for the school of choice so they would not miss out on such opportunity whatever the case. Being out of the war (although living in Belfast) their circle of friends and peers lead a completely different life only miles from where I was growing up. Their circle of friends had similar upbringing having had the continual stressing of the need for high educational standards and being provided with every material need to attempt to ensure it. Emphasis was on success, and the talk of ‘steering’ towards a chosen professional career was often a topic of discussion from early age. Their after school activities on offer ranged from horse riding to scuba diving or they could have extra courses in music or the languages.

For my mates and I (mid teens) our outlook on life was to look forward from weekend to weekend where we could have a few beers. Although I did eventually go to college (and had initially got laughed at by my peers, as many believed ‘what was the point?’) I, though, left after two years to start working as I at the age (‘should be paying my keep’). So finance in large part again, like many others, directed my opportunities in life. I got a few part time jobs then got a full time job, which was stacking toilet rolls in a newly opened store in West Belfast. Then three weeks before Xmas after several other names called over the intercom to go to the office I was handed my last pay check (paid weekly then) and told I was surplus to requirement as they had taken on too many staff. The brutal way in which this was done three weeks before Xmas was bad enough for me but there were married men with kids who came out of the office almost in tears, with even one almost begging the manager to keep him just till after Xmas. But it moved him not and therefore was to no avail. But it taught me a lesson.

For myself and my mates our concerns were ‘immediate’ - this due to the socio-economic conditions of ‘our community’, the political situation and the structures of a discrimination-based society that offered us little chance of change. On the other hand my friend and their peers thoughts were not only on the ‘immediate’ but also on preparation and concentration on ‘a future.’ Fortunately my friend urged me to continue my studies, take up a part-time job or find a more secure full-time job and to get space on my own away from the ‘troubles. With that for a time I moved out of West Belfast and found it easier to get more job interviews (different postcode, similar to when I was advised to put down Dunmurry instead of Twinbrook on application forms to secure interviews, as postcode discrimination was rife). It also enabled me to meet more of ‘those prods’ I had often heard about. I eventually got a job, which was flexible enough for me to do what I had always wanted to do, but thought I would never do, and that was to travel. So for several years I travelled to many parts of the world meeting different persons, cultures and traditions, and found how they were able to live and work together and incorporate differing understandings and beliefs into society. Yet I was aware of the root causes that caused our instability. But the question I began to eventually ask one was how does one then attempts to end that instability.

So on those experiences it lead me to draw a number of conclusions.

Firstly the material base of one’s life and immediate surroundings along with the structural make up of society and one’s position within it, will to a large part determine one’s opportunities in life. This is furthered by the legislative educational directive that discriminates against the less well-off and further rewards financial well-being with the privilege of decent education and more advantageous educational outcome.

Secondly I believe that education should be a lifelong issue where answers are not given - then 'told' to follow through a strict curriculum - but persons should be allowed to develop understandings through reasoning and acquired knowledge from many quarters. Education should be prioritised for the development and betterment of a person rather than the main of providing further fodder for the various aspect of the production line of society.

Thirdly equality of education and of opportunity should be a democratic right in a supposedly democratic society, and not a privilege for that person who can afford to buy that right for their children.

Finally working class children have as much to offer as any other in this society, therefore the privilege of birth should not dictate the educational opportunity of life. Therefore the old boys club guarding the chalice of privilege should not stand in the way of social justice and educational equality.

For me I have come to an understanding that rather than the 11plus being an accurate gauge between ‘the gifted’ and the ‘not so gifted’, it can be used as a gauge on many occasions between poverty and wealth. It is not a coincidence that year after year that the worst results in this exam comes from working class areas where only 7% of grammar school places had been filled by children from not well-off backgrounds.

Yet the inequality pre-selection is also reflected post-selection. Research has shown that the opportunity to those ‘afforded that chance’ to be selected for grammar school enhances their chances for better GCSE grades to almost sixteen points. This is coined ‘the grammar school effect’. Such schools also on many occasions have smaller classes and better facilities again aiding both exam success and widening the after school curriculum.

I listen and have read different reports and studies on this issue and the still ongoing debate yet for oneself I have come to an understanding that an education system based on equality of opportunity, founded upon the principles of social justice and inclusion, will embrace all of our children. So on that basis I would call for a fully funded, integrated, democratically accountable system of comprehensive schooling. So if it is so that our children are ever to be ‘judged’ as they still are (and as many have been in the past) that they are then ‘judged’ not by what their parents have in their bank accounts but by what they have in their heads through their progressing talents and developing abilities.


This was but a short piece of that talk which was the first I have given at a party conference outside my own. For a person born into a Socialist – Republican extended family there are those who would wonder why I had spoken at such a conference or to those that represent a loyalist and Protestant working class constituency, yet what are the real ideals of ‘Republicanism’ all about? What were the United Irishmen all about? It was about reaching out for the unity of Catholic Protestant and Dissenter.

So without attempting to break down the political walls and mindsets the material walls will always remain. I read and hear of political parties that seek votes from working class unionist areas, these from parties who then call to retain such an unjust system of educational apartheid that discriminates against those very peoples children. They use the question of the union to attempt to cloak the issues that affect both working class people’s daily lives and their opportunities in life for themselves and their children. While many of those working class families continue in many cases to eke out an existence, such political leaders will go back to their homes in leafy suburbia. It is those who want to bring about an end to social and economic exclusion, those who want to see a betterment of people lives that such persons should look to. Those that wish to retain the 11plus are in effect attempting to cement the discrimination and inequality of education that will effect working class children’s opportunity in life, thus in all likelihood remaining in the generational cycle of poverty. Of course we all know how the flags are used by many as the issue of priority yet we need to move to a stage where people begin to ask such questions as ‘surely this is not benefiting our daily lives or securing a life for our children to get out of the poverty trap’.

As a socialist I would advocate persons voting for a socialist candidate in all future elections. Yet if there is no socialist candidate in an area why not for a change vote for those that will seek to make real change in working class peoples lives? Those who in combination will fight for a better public service, those who attempt to put the people above party politics, those who look to reach out across communities, those who want to end social and economic exclusion, those who seek to tackle poverty. And of course those who wish to see the end of the 11plus, which discriminates against working class children, and seek to replace it with something that offers equality of education for ‘all’ our children regardless of wealth.

We need to move forward against the politics of those looking to go backwards. For me I hold a vision, it is when I can look forward to a day when myself and my partner have kids and go up upon the side of our mountain (Black mountain) as we often do, and we look upon Belfast and the surrounding mountains on a clear day and can say to our kids:

‘See a united and equal city, see a united and equal country, see a united and equal people, see it all - and be proud.’






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

4 December 2003


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Act of Conscience to Spark an Act of Congress
Matthew Kavanah


No Surprise, No Change

Eamon Sweeney


The Global Justice Movement's Take on Sustainable Development
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Canvassing for the Socialists
Anthony McIntyre


Address to PUP Conference
Davy Carlin


The Current Situation
Gerry Ruddy


30 November 2003


Anthony McIntyre


Special Election Coverage:


Ignore the Headlines

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Doing Well for Themselves Alone
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Our Day Has Come. . .
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'RSF satisfied with outcome - time to consider alternatives'

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Republican Sinn Féin


Poll Result Highlights Flawed Agreement
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Election Comment




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