The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
West Belfast – Childhood and the ‘Wars’
Davy Carlin • 11. 10. 03

After my comrades and I having played the leading role in initiating and bringing about the North’s largest anti war march on Feb 15th in Belfast city centre, where tens of thousands had marched through Belfast’s streets, it brought me to increasingly think about ‘war’ as a whole. My particular part in building such a march and engaging with the many diverse organisations that had played a part gave me access to many organisations mindsets on a whole layer of issues and more especially on that of Imperialism. (Building an Anti War Movement Part 1 and Moving to Action Part 2 can be found on the Blanket)  This particular march was against the war on, and the subsequent American and British occupation of Iraq. It was a march and a movement understood and termed by most of the leading mainstream press here in the North as being Anti Imperialist. Yet as a child I had been on and witnessed many Anti Imperialist marches against the occupation of Ireland. For oneself now I have developed a firm understanding on the nature of Imperialism and the history of those Imperial powers both at home and internationally and have on occasions witnessed the brutality of its war at close hand. At this time I do not wish to go into great detail of that as a child I had witnessed or known in relation to this, and may not for several years if ever find that I shall pen such intense experiences. Yet for now I shall give but a taste of Childhood, West Belfast and the wars.

I had moved to Sevastopol Street in 1974 -75 with my mother and stepfather and lived between there and 40 Glenalina Road where my Grandparents lived. Our house had been ‘kept’ for us as was the tradition in many such cases at that time and handed on to those next in line. I had learnt that a person who had lived in my childhood home previous to myself, that of 6 Sevastopol Street was a man now famous in the annals of Republican history, his name was Seamus Twomey. He had gone on to become a renowned IRA leader and its chief of staff. He was involved in the now infamous escape from Mountjoy prison where he was airlifted out by helicopter.  Such was the nature of the times and our street then that many houses for me would hold a figure or an event of notoriety in relation to the war within those times. I had and have much family that comes from the ‘West’ (of Belfast) with my great grandmother Carlin for example also coming from Sevastopol Street. She was a staunch Republican in her day as had been many of my ancestors and relatives and was also a fluent Irish speaker. Like many such families the war impacted on much of us directly and we responded in various ways to it especially as being and living within the heart of the beast.

The war for me had seen me witness death, mutilation and much more. It had me seeing Brits, volunteers, innocent men, women and children in death. Some laying in pools of blood, others with arms and/or legs hanging or blown of, more with their insides being displayed openly to the world while others in coffins and other coffins again simply not being opened as the persons would have been unrecognisable. War for me from the age of seven became an understanding that it was a war imposed on a people by a brutal state, of a people who endured but who would endure such no longer and for many felt the only alternative was to strike back physically, seeking in many cases only equality and justice.

The seventies where called the ‘dark days’, so let us then go back to those dark days. It was the mid seventies.

‘What is it son,’ my mum had asked with a worried face.

‘A man has been shot,’ I replied.

I had just started school at this time and later on in life my mum was to tell me it was the first time she had remembered me stating I had seen such attacks or death. It had stuck in her mind not so much as because of the shooting (as I had told her as a child of such attacks and death witnessed until I chose not to say anymore as it increased her worries for the kids) but because the man who had survived was to be murdered several years later had also became a renowned figure. He was an INLA man and his name was Ronnie Bunting, Ronnie Bunting was the son of Major Ronald Bunting, a one-time aide to Ian Paisley. He was a once Belfast commander and a senior chief on staff of the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) while having also been a founder member of the IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party). Bunting was to be the only Protestant to be interned without trail in 1972. He was eventually killed after several attempts on his life along with Noel Lyttle in 1980.

Such shootings and events were common but such was the times and the people within the community, that solidarity and support was to the fore. Yet I remember the times of the feuds and I had always thought to myself even as the child how such were doing the Brits dirty work for them, that is, when they were not employing loyalists or others to do that work for and with them.

Many stories are and have been handed down through the years of the war, most of them word of mouth where persons reflect on or remember times gone by. Yet everyone has a story to tell and for me it was always one of the promises I had made to myself in life. I vowed to tell a story of a childhood within the context of such wars, simply because I believed that it needed to be told. Yet I have found especially more so now as I have seen in my latter years how revisionism, historical and otherwise is a tool that some use for their own ends. Therefore I shall write several more accounts in this series before again coming back in the years ahead to finish the story, my story, as I wish to do more detailed works and writings on a number of other various issues in the time ahead.

I have always thought that it is great when one has the chance to hear at first hand personal accounts of various instances, but I find it more interesting when they are accounts that those of my generation rarely come across and are not regurgitated through many accounts. I had enjoyed hearing from one who may be very close to ones self how he boarded a burning bus and drove it away from houses that it was moving forward to. Of another who had accidentally possibly saved Jim Bryson, a renowned IRA volunteer from the Murph. The person in question may have set a van alight and with its flames and the light it shone, the volunteer in question was able to suddenly see Brits coming towards him sneaking through the fields in a possible ambush. Or of having heard of a similar situation in relation to Tommy Toland, another IRA volunteer, although both killed eventually but by differing forces. Yet again hearing of the supposed ‘fair digs’, (fair fights one to one and unarmed) where the Paras or residents would challenge each other and on so many occasions when the Para whom had challenged or was challenged if they were getting beat then their other Para mates would all jump on the one person. So many personal stories and so much history within a small community yet so much more remains still untold.

Many such accounts are told yet for me an understanding of not only the war as in the war against the state but also the war amongst those different organisations all looking for on many occasions similar changes, had and has taken my interest. Therefore I came to understand while living on the Falls that there were various wars ongoing, with the Brits, with loyalists, with other organisations and with even each other at times. So with the feuds and the hatred that ran amongst such organisations and indeed amongst and still among once comrades I had drawn a lot of lessons from this. With that then and my seven years or so as a left activist in Belfast I will touch on a topic with the help of learning the lessons of the past both in knowledge and experience. The issue is of what I consider a taboo issue but it needs to be raised, debated and discussed if we are to move forward, as I have in my own small way attempted to break it down, it is simply that of:

The political wars within the Left - a personal question, and a practical answer.

When I first became an activist my politics was limited to my own experiences and of the papers and the books I had read which were all quite localised.  Much of the initial meetings I had went to, to be honest, were over my head but I was hungry to learn and had many questions. It was two comrades who borne the brunt of my questions, Mark and Colm, and it was their patience over time that had given me a base on many subjects. With that I went and read up on many other subjects as my thirst for knowledge was expanding into science, philosophy, the arts and much more. Within politics I read much on international issues with finding also a thirst for local politics and economics along with the interest of studying tactics and strategies of various wars and campaigns. With this underway I became engaged in activity and this was to be where I got my eyes opened for the first time to the political sectarianism and protectionism of many of the Left, Socialist, and Republican groups and organisations. Many of those whom were the most forward in this political sectarianism had been around politics twenty or thirty years and held ‘their own’ organisations. So let's then go back several years to when I became political active.

I had been around the SWP only for a very short time when a strike had happened in a mixed workplace in Belfast and I went along to show solidarity. On arrival I was met by ‘the leader’ of a Socialist Party in Belfast and he, knowing that I was ‘new’ and was around the SWP, a different organisation, started to talk to me immediately about the SWP and not about the strike. I found this bizarre, as his priority was to tell me everything that he thought was the matter with the SWP and talk not once about what we were all there for which I had naively presumed was to give solidarity to the strikers. This took an even more bizarre twist when out of his bag he produced a copy of the SWP's paper from the sixties or the seventies and with his eyes wide open started talking about what they had said thirty odd years ago. I honestly thought at the time that the guy was not all there. When the man was moved to having saliva actually coming out of his mouth due to the force of his points, and because I was only casually listening to him, I eventually said ‘listen mate, I wasn’t even fucking born then’. With this he eventually moved on to another person with the same pressing issue and I thought as to why would some one wish to attempt to cause division while we were here to show solidarity? Nevertheless this situation was my first real engagement with others on the left, I had therefore been baptised into the real world of left politics in Belfast and was later to find that it would be and is replicated elsewhere.

I was also to find out that various Republicans were at that time also just the same. On many occasions while offering solidarity I was told ‘why don’t you go and have your own march or meeting’, while on other occasions being on the receiving end of harsher and more abrupt language. My crime again was as a perceived ‘naive new young activist’ was to attempt to offer solidarity while being in a differing organisation. Over the first few years as a small but growing organisation in Belfast we were kicked out of venues due to words stated by other leaders of other organisations; our posters were taken down by other organisations, and at times it had come to my attention that it had moved to more sinister and more dangerous situations for our members by words to others by such persons. Yet despite this we were not to be deterred from our work by such political sectarianism. Yet for me I came to realise that like society as a whole, things needed to be changed and I came to an understanding as to how to move this situation forward.

Having now reached the real world of the then left politics in Belfast I was amazed how other organisations seen the main problem as being with other left organisations rather than the state and the system. Yet I was to learn this was to be the case in many cases around the world leading at times to disastrous outcomes as we had witnessed on too many occasions throughout history. I had decided for my part to not let oneself sink into the political sectarian cesspit I was witnessing within other organisations around me. So it was then with a new and relatively young Belfast leadership that we collectively embarked to seek change, always learning from the past while moving forward, as opposed to looking to the past and seeking to remain there.

We had started off modestly and learning from some of our mistakes within relatively successful but modest initiatives as we went along.  This included the five day occupation of Queens University against tuition fees, the Campaign Against Selection (CAS) against the 11plus which had brought eight National Trade Union banners onto Belfast centre streets, and the mobilising of several hundred young anti capitalist activists for direct action around Belfast city centre. This as well as our initiatives and mobilisations around the various wars, amongst other issues. We of course made mistakes both tactically and in some parts strategically, but learnt quickly. While those other organisations sniped from the sides or wrote purist polemics on what we may have done wrong and how they would have did it so right we kept our heads above the cesspit. We would let our actions and our political clarity and vision speak for us while we continually looked and moved forward.

I had written on the Blanket an article around sixteen months ago entitled Belfast Political Sectarianism and the Left. In this I had went into some of my experiences and understanding in relation to this. Yet I had also wrote my first conference document for the SWP outlining the need for united fronts and also the working with others in already established campaigns. My understanding had developed to seeking to work with others on the left and with progressive forces within society through firstly initiating campaigns, and then as importantly to work with others within already established campaigns. We were to reach out in a fraternal way seeking to work in solidarity for a commonality of purpose and in doing so building up relationships while breaking down perceptions amongst the genuine and progressive forces on the left in Belfast. This would be done by being hard working, by being open and fraternal activists on the ground, while having sharpness and clarity in our spoken and written words. The first example of this enabled us to quickly mobilise over one hundred activists from various organisations in which we where working with others, to travel to Dublin for a demonstration.

Yet we needed to move further forward and my most recent conference document went into detail on how I believed that that could be done. Although I did have reservations as to how fast we could move forward on such, nevertheless when we progressed forward with the knowledge and experience we had acquired, despite many of us though only a short time in politics, that knowledge was still invaluable. Eventually we were to create a space from where a new form of working together, engagement, open discussion between various organisations and mobilising on common cause would take place. It would be where the left and progressive forces were taking unified and mass actions on common beliefs, and a new working relationship between most of such organisations could and would begin.

It had started back at the time when Daniel McColgan, a postal worker, was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. Our comrades with others pressed for action within the unions including that of the CWU (postal workers union) and within wider society. With the then postal worker walkouts and a ground swell coming from below, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) was moved into calling for action. With that we worked relentlessly to build the march. In W/Belfast for example we went into shops, colleges, workplaces and community centres and argued for walkouts. We met trade unionists and addressed groups of workers who wanted to know more. Our poster ‘Shut Down Northern Ireland’ went up in shop windows, community centres, bars, work places, colleges etc the length and breath of the West. This was being replicated by comrades in other communities, trade unions, workplaces colleges etc. The press then carried half page pictures of Socialist Worker posters on the day of the stoppages, including on the front pages of the North’s largest papers, while comrades also spoke from platforms on the day. Our work having being recognised not only within aspects of the media, communities and workplaces that day, it was also eventually acknowledged by the ICTU. We knew that such a demo eventually, thirty thousand strong, in Belfast was a vitally important issue and we had thrown everything into it with others to make it come around. We had seen people in their tens of thousands rally on a common issue and we had played a not unimportant role in it. This was reflected afterwards where the SWP hosted a meeting after the rally and despite hiring out the bottom floor of Robinson’s club we still had to unfortunately turn away over one hundred persons who had wanted to listen to what we were saying, but no overspill rooms could be found.  It was a lesson though we were to take into the following year and the Anti War Movement, that of a unity for a common purpose and of building for mass mobilisation.

So then towards the end of last year we prepared to mobilise against a possible coming war in Iraq but at the same time the firefighter strike loomed, again we, and myself on a personal level, were to witness and to feel the increasing brunt of party political sectarianism directed toward us and increasingly myself. With the strike taking of we established the W/Belfast firefighter Support group (on Blanket site) which seen a few months later us establishing the W/Belfast Anti War group (The Blanket). Both were to eventually mobilise marches from working class areas on those issues.  It was on the firefighter support march that a Shankill Rd trade unionist and I went around together attempting to build support and which because of its eventual make up was termed ‘historic’ by the local media. The ‘Falls and Shankill’ march seen a number of activists helping with the groundwork such as leafleting etc including leading members of Sinn Fein. I had though witnessed on this issue such political sectarianism and abstraction by no less than four differing organisations in four different ways with which I will deal with as it had helped me to a firmer understanding on such matters and how to then deal with it.

The first political sectarianism was from one left organisation that actually just did not want to see it happening and so they played no role in it. They made this quite clear in no uncertain terms at the time and if they had got their way they would have actively seeked to see it fail rather than work, but they did not get their way. The second was from another organisation which was more bizarre. It began when the SWP’s more artistic comrades had made the lead banner in which I had led off with, it read 'Falls and Shankill in support of our fire service'. I still have it at home. So while a member of the CP, myself and the Shankill Trade Unionist, and an independent socialist lead off with the banner, the independent Socialist had to leave urgently. With that a ‘socialist leader’ made a dash to hold the banner then instructed his party’s organisers to take pictures of him holding it the last little while. I was to discover later that while he printed a picture of the march and himself in their paper, I was taken out of it. In fact 'airbrushed', in his terms, for his own sectarian interest, out of its history.

It mattered not to me why his group had done this yet I state it as I had got yet another glimpse into such a sectarian mindset which then helped me to understand how then to eventually begin to deal with it. Thirdly there were those who initially welcomed the initiative yet played no role in attempting to build for it, but came out and criticised it afterwards in a personalised way. Fourthly I repost a left analysis of the march and my reply, as it is important to see how abstract this understanding really was and more importantly as to why it really was. It came from a once Belfast councillor now within a small grouplet of like minded thinkers. The march had around one hundred and sixty on it and was patrolled by police either side openly carrying machine guns. It was not the biggest of marches but the fact that we were able to bring it about was a start. As I have always said one always seeks to move forward however small those initial steps are.

His Report, 'Hidden Agenda Mars Fire Brigade Support March'

A march in support of local fire service workers lost much of its force because of its small size. Approximately 130 marchers, of who about 50 were members of the Fire Brigades Union, marched along Belfast’s Springfield Road.
The small size of the demonstration was linked to the isolated location, on a notorious sectarian interface miles from the city centre. This in turn appeared to be linked to a growing climate of economism on the Belfast left – a belief that the glaring political divisions in the working class would disappear with a few calls for higher wages or better public services and that the task of the left was to avoid politics rather than confront the imperialist hand behind sectarian tensions.

This at least was the report given by Davy Carlin, a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party, following a secret meeting some weeks ago involving a number of loyalist paramilitaries. A new unity was about to be forged involving both Loyalists and Republicans, both eager to work together on ‘bread and butter issues’. The march, organised behind a largely anonymous community group front, appeared to be one fruit of the meeting.

The assumptions of the SWP and the even more economist Socialist Party are simply twaddle. There is widespread public sympathy for the Fire Brigade workers but this falls far short of political action. At the political level their attempts to draw an equal sign between loyalists and republicans fly in the face of history. The republicans have a history of sympathy with labour, which, however, puts the cause of labour firmly in second place behind their own interests. The loyalists are far right organisations dedicated to sectarian killing and the sectarian division of the working class. A few of the more cynical claim to be socialist – but only as long as they get to define what socialist means. So it proved on the march. The loyalists never appeared, their time absorbed by yet another violent loyalist feud. A small contingent of republican ‘lefts’ turned up, but the bulk of the march, outside of FBU members and a small layer of the trade union bureaucracy, were the economist left themselves.

There is yet another hidden story. The SWP and SP have had a role in the past in providing a critique of the trade union leaderships. That role appears to have evaporated. When Jim Barbour of the FBU declared that the union would win no-one asked why they kept calling off strikes. When Peter Bunting of ICTU spoke no-one asked why, if ICTU supported the demonstration, they had not endorsed it, led it and organised to bring thousands of trade unionists along. Even less was anyone willing to mention his role in delivering Southern workers into the hands of social partnership or fulsome capitulation to loyalism in the Holy Cross dispute.

Clap-happy sentimentality and wishful thinking are no substitute for political analysis. The latter can at least educate a cadre of workers in the hard political fight required against both the government and employers and their own leadership. The other leads political militants into dreamtime, striking poses miles away from the working-class solidarity they want to arouse.

My Reply –

As my name Davy Carlin was referred to I feel I should at least reply to the posting.

The author firstly refers to the location of the march as an isolated location in West Belfast. Firstly a community activist from the Shankill Rd and the West Belfast Fire-fighters support group, in conjunction with support from the Belfast Trades Council and the FBU agreed to march this route.
As the author has not attended any support group meetings just to let him know that the central FBU support group split up into various groups to take independent initiatives north, south, east, west etc. It is therefore not strange that the West Belfast group organised a march in west Belfast to the west Belfast fire station.
His second point of it being organised by a largely anonymous community group front shows just how detached the author really is from it all.
Apart from the group being supported by the above it has appeared regularly in the local press and its previous initiatives included a collection in West Belfast accompanied by over a dozen rank and file fire-fighters in full uniform from the local station {and yes with a big red fire engine outside} local rank and file trade unionists from other unions, well known and respected local non party aligned community and trade union activists as well as others. The 'group' collected almost one thousand pounds in less than two hours and received massive vocal local support.

If the author had of missed this maybe he might have seen similar actions by working class ‘Protestants’ on the Shankill and other cross community collections done recently.
As to who attended I know personally of several protestant working class community and trade union activists who attended along with many rank and file trade unionists from Nipsa, Unison, FBU, CWU etc from around Belfast.
He then talks of a secret meeting with loyalists. I presume he is talking about the forum that initially brought together around thirty of the leading left republican, socialists, and left wing community activists along with well respected and known trade union and working class activists and parties from around Belfast? Is this the same secret meeting that was reported even in the mainstream media, or indeed the same meeting that the author by some was asked if he wanted to attend?

The author calls the Belfast SWP economist. hmmm?

I will let the Belfast SWP comrades know who, with others have in the past been on, and with some having had got their skulls smashed on, the Galvaghy, Ormeau or Springfield roads know this. Or those who helped initiate the recent Belfast anti war – anti imperialist marches or those in unions who have actively initiated, built and supported anti sectarian rallies or those who showed active support recently at the interface areas etc etc etc. The author then points that no one spoke out when Jim Barbour or Bunting was speaking. Two points here.

Firstly if the author could have pulled him self away from running up and down the march in a frenzy taking bucket loads of pictures he may have had time like SWP comrades to engage with rank and file fire-fighters or even take the lead and raise his concerns fir himself. For Belfast SWP comrades and myself we are raising the arguments for mass mobilisations and action but we do it while providing, building and marching in solidarity with their cause rather than solely ranting from a distance and dishing out abstract polemics. We will talk and urge and push forward ideas on how to win but we will also at the same time walk and stand side by side them while actively building solidarity and support for their cause.

If the author wants to raise points with scores of rank and file fire-fighters or their leadership including Andy Gilchrist come along tonight to the solidarity function for them arranged by those sinister ‘hidden groups' I am sure they won't bite if you actually talk to them.

So such a person gives polemics from the sides having played absolutely no role what so ever in its building. There fore his understanding was abstract due to being detached from the real and practical work and activists now take what such person states or says with an extra big pinch of salt despite his ‘thirty years experience’. I have seen such polemics in many instances yet I no longer reply to such. Why? Well quite simply I had learned other lessons from that march. Firstly we had moved and were continually moving to more open engagement with large sections of the trade union movement and community organisations. We were also hard working and active on the ground while reaching out for a working arrangement with others. With that our ideas then did not seem abstract as we were relating them to practical activity while involving and working with others. Those who sit on the side line spouting polemics based on theory without any practice, I have therefore seen become even more irrelevant through their own doing.  Secondly there are still those who harbour real political sectarian mindsets yet I have found and more so increasingly that when one has build a representative campaign on whatever issue that most of those persons either attempt to hide such mindsets under the carpet or don’t speak at all. This not because they may or may not want to but because they have to, as those representative progressive forces will see them for what they are.

Yet in the begining I had found such persons and organisations would approach those we were attempting to engage with or work with and fill them in with their understanding towards us. Some did this as having been known as having many years experience in comparison to us relatively new activists. One even felt the need due to our growing work and influence in some quarters to write a mini book, in effect attacking the history of the SWP.  This was pressed into many hands of those we were attempting to work with. But through our constant work, our ideas, and the way our young leadership and cadre fraternally operated we had moved from a stage from some raising concerns to now letting us know each time such sectarianism was and is raised against us. This has been reflected in the many organisations who we now work and engage with and I have now seen that such sectarianism had in fact not worked against us but had in fact eventually now worked against those that directed it. Despite the perception held or the stories such groups told, the people who dealt with us were well aware that they were not talking about us, as they knew of our real workings and knew our Belfast cadre. So it was eventually to be seen in the context as to the real reason as to why it was written. Therefore methinks a not well thought out tactic, but that’s what political sectarianism I believe does to one.

Apart from the more overt types of sectarianism there is of course the subtle types. Yet as I stated before when one initiates or becomes involved in a representative campaign there is little breathing space for such sectarianism. At times though abstraction or what I term as ‘political inevitability’ that is when one actually knows some one is going to or will eventually say something, as one knows their mindset . Therefore one can plan ones own, or predict others actions or re –actions, when it comes to the fore. Or it can be when in a certain period or given a certain situation that one knows that a mindset will attempt to pigeon hole something into a perceived required formula. A recent situation of this seen a representative meeting to finalise details against the war in Iraq. A debate ensured between myself, an ICTU spokesperson and one other.

Firstly though we need to set this in the context that two separate schools organisation had been involved in school walkouts in March of 2003. The first school walkouts the media stated that several hundred came out from around the North while the second one saw (the Schools Against War [SAW] feeder marches, the march upon and action against the U.S consul, the same press stating that 1200 -1400 took part in Belfast alone) I had suggested at most that on the first walkouts it was two or so thousand which was stretching it to the limit but this was to be eventually the consensus of most of the anti war activists (one to two or so thousand). Yet this person’s organisation had at first stated a few thousand (fair enough) then this rose a while later to ‘several thousand’ then a while later to ‘ten thousand’. As the debate continued I waited patiently for the coming of ‘political inevitability’. With hands in the air he almost shouted ‘We (alone) brought 15,000 school students out on to the streets! (This in relation to the first school walkouts as they had played little part in the second). Some smiled and looked towards me, others looked at the ceiling, more including his colleagues looked at their shoes, yet many had been prepared for such. We all in the room as anti war activists knew who had been involved and how many came out, so with his frantic outburst I needed not to speak anymore, I knew that my argument had been won, although the debate still continued. His veiled threats to ones self, yet again had lead him to be calmed down by his colleagues after the meeting. For me though such outbursts or threats from certain persons over time on many occasions has fussed me not, as it had meant, quite simply, that the debate had been won. Therefore political sectarianism and abstraction some may use as they think it gives them strength, but I have over time found many of its weakness.

Yet such abstraction from the reality I have heard on a number of occasions, although a brilliant 30,000 came out against the slaughter of Daniel McColgan in Belfast in which we played a not unimportant role some claimed 100,ooo ! This has been reflected elsewhere on many occasions and issues. I have found over the years how such sectarianism and abstraction alienates people, that was why I seen it as a priority to break down both it and the many perceptions held against socialists.

Finally I had found that those persons who play no role in initiating, building and working for solidarity who then come along and state, this is how it should be done or that there was not enough people etc find little hearing. For me an activist will put in the work on the ground as well as carrying and having interventions in debates and discussions. Our comrades in Belfast bar none put up posters, hand out leaflets, put in all the donkey work, we hold no elitism or elitist ideas within our ranks. I have found though that even within broad campaigns that such groups and organisations will not do such work on the ground as they want only to talk the talk. Fortunately we have found that there are many progressive organisations and individuals that not only talk the talk but like us believe in the walk. Such a person who gives polemics from the sides having played absolutely no role what so ever in its building is one I personally have no time for.

So within a few short weeks of the Falls and Shankill march the war on Iraq was to begin and with that we knew we had to mobilise and mobilise big. For a detailed account of the anti war rallies, actions, student and work walk outs, the feeder marches from around Belfast, the direct action etc, it can be found on the Blanket. (Building an anti war movement part one and two). Yet it was our collective understanding in the North that we needed to push out on this issue. Although as per the anti war articles there were concerns and worries we nevertheless reached out for engagement and for working relationships on this matter as our priority was unity and mass mobilisation.

With the movement we had brought together we knew if successful it may possibly begin to open up a new space for such larger workings together. So we seen the tens of thousands that had marched and as importantly seen all those left and progressive organisations that took part in the historic marches and actions. We had reached out to the left, to communities, to individual trade unions, and now to the trade union movement as a whole, in the call of unity for an issue of common belief. So with this we had opened up the possibility for a space for both raising working class politics and secondly to take yet another step forward in our  seeking to work will many others on issues of commonality. It had been but a few years since I remember walking into a cold drafty room and introducing oneself to the five other activists that sat in that Belfast room. As we sat discussing how we were to relate, how we were to build, and how to look to seek change it seemed abstract to one self at that time. Yet with our growing cadre since then, with our vision and clarity of ideas combined with our graft on the ground - we had stood above the sewer of sectarianism, we had stood strong, and in doing so, had reached out.

It has now seen in the last few months many new initiatives. One being worked on by Eamon McCann and others is seeking to form an electoral alliance and left unity to bring working class issues to the fore in such elections. A recent meeting brought together nine left political parties and organisations along with trade unionists, community and anti poverty activists amongst others to aim to stand in all eighteen constituencies in the North. Such a project in that context has never been done. Although it has its difficulties it came about after Feb 15th demo and what ever the outcome further aspects of unity will have again been forged. The establishment also of an Anti Racist Network bringing again together trade unionists, many of the main ethnic minority support organisations, NGO’s, political parties, asylum practitioners and various others. This to stand collectively against the growing racial attacks and again many whom had participated in the anti war activity are involved. We have also seen recently the formation of the N.Ireland coalition against the water charges which as I had raised (the Blanket, Anti War Movement, moving to action – at the summing up) that it should be again the trade unions working in combination with the communities, with us already having held successful trade union and community meetings.  This has seen yet further cooperation of the left and progressive forces. We have also seen the Belfast anti war movement again marching and looking to reach out to yet more activists. We will see the working together to mobilise for the ESF and for George Bush's coming visit to London. It was but a short few months ago when thousands of us had marched against his arrival in Belfast. This and much more issues of engagement and seeking working partnerships on issues of commonality are coming to the fore

I believe that through that strategic build up and ever moving forward through the initiation of, and working within campaigns, alliances and movements, we have in fact now helped create a space in many avenues for unified campaigns on working class and progressive issues. The positive engagements and the now working relationships developed and developing is a positive step forward and with that we have moved some that had once held party political sectarianism towards us, towards engagement. The door is opening and I believe the left and progressive forces should and will look to take further positive steps forward in the times ahead. As for those individuals that still hold political sectarianism well they have two choices, either to engage and work with ever growing numbers of others and attempt to effect genuine change, or continue to sink deeper into that shrinking cesspit of sectarianism. For those few that remain in such a mindset it now makes little difference to, and will have little effect on, those who see a world that needs changing and have set out to play there part in doing that. Therefore for me that war against the political sectarianism is all but over and I can now look forward without distraction to the real war, the continual war for political and economic freedom.

So for me there had been many wars and I have detailed many of them but once again lets go back briefly to my childhood and the war with the Brits.

I stood behind a van in Sevastopol street in the late seventies and seen a man who I can no longer remember hand a gun to a woman whom I came to realise was a volunteer. To me I had thought it was strange at the time as I thought soldiers were only men but was to come to realise the huge role that women played within the war. Yet the experience of war was not only for me concentrated in the seventies and early eighties but had still witnessed much later on, I go back just a dozen or so years, it was still though the lower Falls and I had banged into a childhood friend who invited me round to see his family whom I had not seen in years.

While in the house we heard a huge explosion and rushed outside. We made our way around to Clonard Street where I had used to walk up to, to reach the grounds of Clonard Monastery where we had had our school meals. A soldier had been blown up I think the device may have been hidden behind a piece of sheeting. His colleagues were running about in panic with one I remember vividly as being huge and black, very black. I wondered briefly what type of reception he got with his colleagues considering my experience from the Brits. Maybe though he may have been lucky and found those few like I had who had on occasion told their colleagues to wise up when they were calling me racist names in my childhood, or the other few who tried to change the conversation away from me. I actually remember these few occasions of humanity more so than I can remember the many occasions of Brit racial abuse.

The huge Brit then stopped a car that was driving up Clonard street. He questioned the driver then dragged him out of the car and punched him in the face, the drivers crime was not to get out of the car quickly enough. The Brits eyes were wild and the sweat ran down his face, he was only yards from me. Then he lifted up his gun – bang -  he had shot a dog beside me.

I seen panic, fear and hate in that Brits eyes that day and smelt his sweat as he was that close, yet I had thought I had moved away from witnessing mangled bodies or fear, confusion and war. Not so, as I was still witnessing such events although on a far lesser scale in my late teens and my early twenties. At that time many faces even then came onto the scene from childhood such as those at Milltown cemetery when Michael stone attacked it with grenade and gun or those charged in relation to the attacks on those army corporals in Andersonstown, who were eventually then taken to waste ground and shot dead by the IRA.

War for me had been witnessed on many fronts yet for oneself it is not only a question of remembering or trying to explain, but to use that experience to seek such change, so such need not arise again.

I will return again in the time ahead to childhood and to the west of Belfast.





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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

12 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Tribalism is little more than the lowest common denominator
Thomas Gore


Separation vs. Segregation
Eamon Sweeney


The Legitimacy of Our Struggle
Liam O Comain


Not Losing His Way
Anthony McIntyre


A Hero of Reknown
Kathleen O Halloran


West Belfast - Childhood and the Wars
Davy Carlin


Abduction of Republican
32 County Sovereignty Committee


RSF attend Sardinian Conference
Des Dalton


6 October 2003


Tangled Times
Eamon McCann


Heroes and Villains
Tommy Gorman


Who Was Responsible?
Michael Kearney


Costello Commemoration
Paul Little


Uncharted Waters
Anthony McIntyre


Date Change: Anti Racist Network Meeting
Davy Carlin


Coming Soon to the United States?
Toni Solo




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