Say ‘Bushmills’ and what do you think? Whiskey, of course. Black Bush and all that. Irish whiskey, what’s more. Been going for centuries. But Bushmills is well known for something more than whiskey. Something that leaves a sourer taste in the mouth. It’s called bigotry. There was a good instance of it recently. But bear with me - the story’s not all black.
It seems that the Chair of Moyle District Council, Cara McShane, was to be at an unveiling ceremony in Bushmills recently. She was met by a protest group, led by Bushmills loyalist Derwyn Brewster, who is the chair of something called the Bushmills Residents and Environmental Group. They were angry and protesting, he said, because Sinn Féin were attacking Orange culture. The police had to hold back protestors from crossing the River Bush to where the unveiling ceremony was taking place, but they managed to unfurl a banner saying ‘No Sinn Féin in Bushmills’ and shouted insults at the Council delegation.
So what about the chink of light? That came in the form of DUP councillor Robert McIlroy, who had the courage to stand by the council Chair during the protest. In fact, Chairperson McShane described him as ‘a real hero’ for his backbone, and for putting his head above the parapet. She added that remarks posted on Facebook about her and Councillor McIlroy were disgusting.
There’s a pattern emerging here. Belfast’s Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir a few weeks ago was met with even more hostile protest, which ended in an attack which left him and several PSNI officers in need of medical treatment. What we’re seeing now is legally-elected public representatives being hounded, insulted and even attacked if they show their faces in parts of their constituency. This is done in the name of defending loyalist culture.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that a DUP councillor like Robert McIlroy exists. He said there was ‘no reason in the whole world’ why the Chair and Vice-Chair shouldn’t go anywhere in the Moyle district. It was time, he said, to get rid of the ‘broken-ness’ and time to get rid of all bigotry. Councillor Willie Graham (Ulster Unionist) said he’d like to ‘strongly condemn’ the Bushmills protest.
Nationalists and republicans sometimes feel uneasy when faced with men like McIlroy and Graham. They are aware of the political courage required for speaking out but they feel that to praise them may add to the hatred their response might arouse in the unionist community. That’s to undervalue both the courageous men and the unionist community. There are unionists - a considerable number, I believe - who are sick to death with the insistence on tired, nasty attacks on everything that doesn’t fit a narrow vision of the world. People like McIlroy and Graham have put their shoulders to a door which could open on a door on a better future, not just in Moyle, but throughout this state. They have guts and vision, and they are in fact serving the interests of the Union much more effectively than their benighted colleagues.