Irish Issues—a commentary regarding the IRA, Ulster, the Catholic/Protestant divide, the Republic of Ireland, and more

Note from the Editor of Christian Spotlight: Several films have been produced based on the actions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) including “Michael Collins” and “The Devil’s Own.” The commentary below offers two somewhat opposing viewpoints relating to matters of the IRA, the state of Ireland, the British occupation in Ireland, and more. The purpose is to educate and, hopefully, help those of us not involved in the situation personally to understand why this topic is still controversial today.

Comments from David Renton (Scotland) and Peter O'Grady (Republic of Ireland)

Are all Irish Republican Army members terrorist gangsters?

“During the last 25 years, the IRA has taken to killing innocent woman and children. Many Americans don’t realize, however, that for every British citizen killed by the IRA, the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) kills a Catholic in revenge. Both the IRA and the UVF are outlawed by the British and Irish governments, and both are murderers, most of whom are no longer fighting for a cause.” —David Renton, Scotland

“The impression that all terrorists are gangsters on the make is convenient but dangerously misleading and show no understanding of their mind set. These people may be misguided, but most are generally fanatically convinced of the justness of their cause (were Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, ex-president Begin of Israel, indeed the French second world war resistance all gangsters? Indeed these men gave up the gun and are now seen as moderating influences around the world).” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

What can be assumed about the IRA?

“The IRA are not freedom fighters. Whose freedom are they fighting for? The Catholics in the North? How can this be? They are British citizens just like me. I’m free. I assume they are too. If they want to be part of the South they should go live there (but they don’t because the North is better off as part of Britain)… I personally know good Christian men in the North who are totally against both terrorist organizations and don’t agree with violence to solve the problem in any way… I do not want to give the impression that I in anyway back violence, but I do see a difference in fighting to defend your country and fighting without a popular mandate from the people you are fighting for. I’m sure most “good Christian men” in the States would take a similar line if someone threatened the USA.” —David Renton, Scotland

“I say unashamedly, I’m a nationalist and practise my Catholic faith (very far from perfectly, I might add). However, I do not agree with physical violence—the IRA tactics are not justified and have greatly contributed to sectarian bitterness. Many decent, God-fearing Protestants and, of course, Catholics have died cruelly (for what? so that a southern Catholic like me can exult and say we’re now a step nearer a united Ireland!!!…???—I’m so angry when I type these words). Unfortunately, to say you’re a Nationalist assumes you support the IRA. This is completely wrong. Since when does any one group have a monopoly on its country’s nationalism.” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

Who are Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams?

“In Ulster, the IRA and UVF run organized crime, much like the Mafia. Everyone here knows that Sinn Fein is the political front for the IRA. Gerry Adams is their leader and this man was given an audience by the President of the United States, probably to get Irish American votes, against the wishes of the American secret service. Gerry Adams backs and supports the IRA. He will never condemn the IRA even when they kill innocent woman and children. A couple of years ago the IRA set off a bomb in the Shankhill Road in Ulster and killed many innocent people in a cowardly act. One of the bombers killed himself accidentally in the bombing. At the funeral, who was carrying the coffin? Gerry Adams. Yet, he has nothing to do with the IRA! Sinn Fein only got about 1/10 of the vote in the north because the majority of those in Ulster who want the 2 countries united don’t even back Sinn Fein.” —David Renton, Scotland

“Mr. Renton is right about the popular lack of support for Sinn Fein (Gaelic for “ourselves alone”). In the south of Ireland in almost all recent elections their share of the vote never gets above a couple of percentage points. They are almost completely swamped by the main political parties and have no representatives in the Dail (parliament). I would say that in spite of the majority republican leanings in the south almost no one supports their violent methods. Their support in Ulster as a direct result of the cease-fire has gone up to 15% (surely a strong message about advocating peaceful means)… Gerry Adams carrying the coffin was wrong, but he’s now seen on the more pacifist wing of Sinn Fein and explained afterwards there are more hawkish elements in his party who want to see him gone and the peace process subsequently put in place soon afterwards stopped. To not participate in that type of republican tradition could have helped to seriously undermine his position, he would be seen as going “soft”. Some of the alternatives to Adams would not necessarily be pretty.” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

What is Ulster and how was it formed?

“During the 1920’s, the Catholic South of Ireland desired independence from Britain. They received it. But why, after earning their freedom, did they continue fighting? Due to settlers from England and Scotland, Northern Ireland has been largely Protestant for hundreds of years. In fact, the 2/3’s of Northern Ireland which are Protestant do not even consider themselves Irish in any way. If you were to ask them where they live, “Ulster” would be their response. Ulster has been around for centuries. Surely any claims on this land by the South are no longer valid. An Ulsterman considers himself British and desires to stay a part of Britain. Ulster, consisting of several counties, has already given two of its counties to the Republic years ago to keep the peace.” —David Renton, Scotland

* Additional note: “The Irish War of Independence officially ran from 1919 to 1921. The Civil War was from 1922-23. By the mid-1920’s, things had settled down almost completely. The Northern Ireland state was set up by the British Parliament in 1921, and was not the idea of the Ulster Protestants, who actually wanted to remain ruled directly from Westminister.
contributed by Dr. David Shanahan

…Under British administration the island of Ireland was very much one country with Dublin as its capital. When in Michael Collins' time [1920's] the Protestant majority in Ulster saw the writing on the wall, they set up their own parliament and deliberately made Ulster out of 6 counties (not the whole 9 of Ulster as that would have meant a possible future catholic majority). So hence the magnanimity of “giving” 3 (not 2) counties to the south… The word Ulster itself is Gaelic (i.e. Irish). Historically, Ireland was subdivided into 4 parts: Ulster (North), Munster (South), Connaught (West) and Leinster (East). By the 16th century, Ulster was the last truly free, 90% Gaelic part of the island not under English occupation. These Gaelic Ulstermen were a constant thorn in the side of English administration and, in an open revolt, nearly won complete freedom for all Ireland. However, Queen Elizabeth I (of Spanish Armada fame) finally subdued them. A consequence of the subsequent “pacification” policy was that the Gaelic-speaking chieftains and inhabitants were expelled to the bogs and mountains and any decent arable land was then to be divided up and given to new planters brought in from overcrowded lowland Scotland and England. This is the beginning of the problem in modern Ulster where the injustices are now folk memories and the subsequent atrocities committed by both sides in the name of vengeance have resulted in the awful polarization that now exists.” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

Why are British forces still stationed in Ireland?

“The British army stationed in Ulster is there to keep the peace—they are not on either side. I will not try to deny, however, that the army sometimes shows favoritism against the IRA. But if you were a soldier in Ulster trying to keep the peace between two factions of terrorists, one side (the IRA) trying to kill you and your family, while the other side not targeting you, who would you be biased towards?” —David Renton, Scotland

“The British army is [in Republic of Ireland] to maintain strategic British interests. Obviously, the maintenance of peace is one of these [interests], but it’s a complete myth to state that it’s an innocent middleman between two warring sections of dumb paddies… Were the Israelis in southern Lebanon peacekeepers between the pro-Jewish Lebanese Christians and their Moslem neighbours or indeed the Syrians peacekeepers in the north of Lebanon between the Moslems and Christians?” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

Would Northern Ireland be better off as part of Britain?

“…if [the IRA] want to be part of the South they should go live there (but they don’t because the North is better off as part of Britain)…” —David Renton, Scotland

“This [statement] used to be the case. But in the last 10 years the South has steamed ahead, its industrial base is far bigger and more modern (20% of all personal computers for Europe are produced in Ireland—Apple, AST, Dell, Gateway 2000, etc. Sixty percent of all PC software for Europe is produced in Ireland (Microsoft, Lotus, Symantec, etc.). Seventy-five percent of microprocessors for the European market are produced here (Intel). IBM has recently announced a 2,500 job factory. Nine of the tope ten chemical companies in the world have a major factory here. The North has recently [procured] some major new industries and hopefully, if the peace holds, a lot more will come in. In the last five years the Irish economy increased by over 25% in size. The official growth rate for ’96 is now 6.8%. The average wealth per capita is now greater than that of Ulster or indeed Scotland. The cultural and sporting achievements have been considerable. The London Government gave a subvention of 3 billion pounds in ’95 to keep the North afloat, per capita this is 3 times what the South got from the European community. A lot of this money goes [toward] service-type jobs (e.g. security work, hospitals, etc.) rather than on manufacturing jobs. I’m not, of course, trying to suggest the southern Irish are harder working, smarter or whatever some racist can come up. If there was peace and stability in Ulster, of course it would do a lot better and possibly be a happy prosperous country now. To suggest that living in Ulster automatically means a better standard of living is not true.” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

Will Ireland ever unite?

“Ireland will never be one country again because the North does not want it. Even if Britain gave into the IRA and said the Republic could have the North, it would never work. The North would fight before they would join with the Catholic south. I personally know good Christian men in the North who are totally against both terrorist organizations and don’t agree with violence to solve the problem in any way. Yet, if they were told against their wishes that they were going to be given to the South, they would certainly take up arms to defend their country. A bloody civil war would erupt.” —David Renton, Scotland

“The situation in Ulster can only be resolved by people from both sides working together in peaceful co-operation and finding an accommodation within their own communities. Crucially even if a majority in Ulster wanted north and south united I think many, myself included would say no as the resulting tensions would destabilize the whole island… Was it not sad Mr. Renton’s comments that “good Christian men” would take up arms if provoked too far (surely a contradiction in terms). Where, oh where is the Christianity in that viewpoint, how can killing if it’s for “my side” be suddenly good. Surely that’s the very viewpoint of the IRA.” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

Are all Protestants British and all Catholics Irish?

“…I am a Protestant living in Northern Ireland, and I do consider myself Irish (and proud of it). Like myself there are, in fact, a number of Protestants living in the North of Ireland who consider themselves Irish. Likewise, on the other side of the coin, there are a number of Catholics who would consider themselves British. I really do not think it is very helpful to make sweeping statements of the type that says “All Protestants are British” or “All Catholics are Irish”… Concerning Protestants in this part of the country, we have the immortal motto of the “Protestant” paramilitary—“For God and for Ulster”—ringing in our ears every day of the week. I, for one, do not need the guns of a paramilitary organization to defend my faith, and it is about time that people stopped referring to these people as “Protestant” as this does more harm than good.” —Robert Miller, Portadown

“I have no doubt that one of the reasons that Ireland is such a Catholic country was a reaction to British occupation—to be a Catholic meant to be anti-British. Equally, it’s no coincidence that the most hard line Protestant views you’ll hear are in Ulster…” —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

“…if people reflected, analyzed and behaved in a truly Christian fashion to each other then so many of the dreadful problems that now surface would just disappear…

If Jesus came down to Earth tomorrow would he pat me on the back and say
“I’m glad to see you went to church every Sunday without fail -
you’ll go straight to heaven.”
I’m more fearful he might say to me,
“I was down at the homeless shelter. There was no sign of you helping out”…
“I was at the AIDS clinic. Where were you?”…
“The little old lady at the end of your road never got any visits from you”…
“The man about to join the IRA—you didn’t convince him by your actions of a nobler path.” — —Peter O'Grady, Republic of Ireland

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