Monday night saw us take to the road at Hillsborough.
It seems that the only time I am ever near the town
is to protest about abuse of one form or another.
Just before Christmas I found myself standing freezing
outside Hillsborough Castle gazing on a frosty faced
Northern Ireland Office official who had belatedly
emerged Dracula like to collect a letter of protest
from Orlaith Dillon. A small number of us had gathered
on the 22nd anniversary of the ending of the 1980
H-Block hunger strike to oppose the treatment of republican
prisoners in Maghaberry. You dont need
to know my name the NIO witch told Orlaith.
Nameless alright but at least the NIO for once had
a face on it even if not a nice one. It made a change
from the days when they all seemed both faceless and
nameless. The NIO says no was a message
invariably delivered from some jail governor, in response
to even the most innocuous and mundane of requests.
nights protest was on a vastly different scale
and was directed against incomparable violations of
human rights by the worlds most powerful forces.
Organised by the Coalition Against War a crowd of
around five thousand made their way along the road
from Sprucefield Roundabout to RUC lines which were
the first line of defence to ensure that George Bush
and Tony Blair didnt have to see or hear the
denim clad crowd. Only those who wore the uniform
of the establishment - suits - were welcome behind
RUC lines where the brothers-in-blood
were busy planning the prosecution of their aggressive
a mile short of RUC lines we came across the speakers
platform. A lorry had been strategically placed in
the middle of the road by the less militant Coalition
Against War leadership to impose distance between
ourselves and the armed forces of the Northern Ireland
state. We were having none of it. It would only have
muffled our voices even more than they already were.
Not even the RUC would have heard us. Sweeping past
the lorry we made our way right up to the RUC and
stood face to balaclava as they gripped their batons
and oozed eagerness to burst our heads if the opportunity
presented itself. Chants soon went up of SS
RUC and there was no nonsense talked about a
new police service, leading me to feel that few Sinn
Feiners were in the front line. Standing there, we
all knew instinctively that the RUC were still in
business and that it will remain as such even if Gerry
Kelly does become a peeler. At one point two-pro war
demonstrators joined us to make their views felt.
For the most part they were a source of puzzlement.
Apart from a few in the crowd who felt attacking them
was a better idea than either ignoring or reasoning
with them the general consensus seemed to be one of
indifference. There were bigger fish to fry.
was a wide variety of groups and political persuasions
represented on our demo. But rather pointedly Harry
Browne commented in Counterpunch that:
allegedly leading anti-imperialist party, Sinn Fein,
failed to bring big numbers the 15 miles from Belfast
and continued to defend their intention to talk
'peace' with Bush and Blair on Tuesday. We waited
a while for the promised Sinn Fein troops to materialise.
They turned up by the dozen or two at a time rather
than the hundreds - the rank-and-file evidently
as confused as the leadership.
own view was that the party that is used to puffing
out its chest as the only all-Ireland
party failed to be adequately represented at what
was clearly an all-Ireland rally. Comments from some
in the crowd echoed that sentiment. There were Sinn
Fein people there but not anything like there could
McLaughlin, the Sinn Fein chairperson, when he came
to speak or spoof, was according to those who witnessed
it heckled by many in the crowd to the point of being
drowned out. I was further up the road as part of
a crowd holding a banner which seemed to stretch right
across a roundabout and missed it. Not entirely persuaded
of the need to boo McLaughlin, I felt at the very
least people should have turned their backs on him.
A Sinn Fein speaker on the platform who was prepared
to call the party leadership to book for having the
chutzpah to maintain it was still anti-imperialist
while it wined and dined with the warmongers and also
performed as the extras in the latters much wanted
photo opportunities, would have been welcome. But
to have somebody from the leadership up on the platform
purely for the purpose of conning us seemed completely
without merit and subversive of the anti-war ethos.
Small wonder that one speaker, Aine Fox, should say
Shame on the Sinn Fein leadership when
she took to the podium.
according to Harry Browne:
had the misfortune to be followed, and buried, by
his Derry neighbour, socialist Eamonn McCann, the
best Irish agit-orator of the last 35 years
he took us quickly, brilliantly through the struggles
of the Middle East and Ireland, forecast the future
of resistance in Iraq and stabbed home the eternally
pertinent question, "What side are you on?"
To the SDLP and Sinn Fein he cried: "I ask
them even at this late stage to think about it tonight,
if word went out from this place tomorrow to George
Bush and to the world that democratic leaders here
in Ireland had said in simple, clear terms: 'We
will not bend the knee to you. We will not allow
you to use the yearning for peace of the Irish people
as a cover for your imperial adventure in Iraq!"
is a member of the Socialist Workers Party and the
party was made the object of much post-march criticism,
the bulk of it seemingly from disgruntled Sinn Fein
members who could not stand their bosses being called
to account. There is no doubt that the party will
reflect that everything did not go as they may have
wished. But the fact remains that without the SWP,
the Anti-War Movement would be largely ineffectual.
And at the heel of the hunt they will always be on
the right side of the barricades and not trying to
act Clever Trevor by being on both sides
at the same time.
that evening, we returned to Belfast as others made
their way back to further afield. The debates continued
but we were too tired to press home with any vigour
what was on our mind. Besides there was the following
day to be considered when we were to assemble at Belfast
City Hall. We didnt realise it then but the
Northern Ireland state was already massaging its batons
to deal with child protestors.
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