Even allowing for the degree of friction within the power-sharing coalition, it’s still pretty startling stuff. Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh recently told a group calling itself United Republicans that the PSNI were engaged in a “campaign of persecution against Catholics” and that “our women and our children” were being beaten back into their homes. McVeigh said this was a disgrace and that it was the result of Nigel Dodds having the Chief Constable wrapped round his little finger. “He has to go!” McVeigh told the audience. The leader of the SDLP, Alastair McDonnell and a former INLA leader also addressed the crowd.
Scary biscuits, eh? Except I made that first paragraph up. Out of thin air. Well, not thin air exactly. The speaker was DUP councillor Ruth Patterson, not Sinn Féin’s Jim McVeigh, the charge was that the “Protestant people” were being persecuted and their women and children “beaten off the streets”. The group was the United Loyalists, and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and the PUP’s Billy Hutchinson also addressed the crowd.
I spun that fictional first-paragraph version to show how off-the-wall it would sound, were it nationalists and republicans that had held such a rally. It’s safe to say that there would have been outcry from all shades of unionism as well as from our very own British Secretary of State. But because it’s the unionist voice of Ruth Patterson there’ll be relatively little response, and certainly no outcry from republicans and/or nationalists.
Depressing, eh? Despite the Good Friday Agreement declaring that only when a majority in the north want it can there be moves towards constitutional change, despite the destruction of IRA weaponry and the effective disbandment of that paramilitary group, unionist politicians like Ruth continue to encourage unionists in their belief that their Britishness is under threat and the authorities against them - to such an extent that an outburst like the one above will as I say provoke minimal condemnation from nationalists/republicans. Had the verbal attack come from the other side, there would have been a storm of flying fur and feathers.
Which goes to support what I tend to say rather often: if you start with “One lot’s as bad as the other” your analysis of our political situation will be fatally flawed.