Monday, July 8, 2013


Where to start? This is partly because I thought I might offer some interesting insight for those wanting to understand it a little more, but also, it's for selfish reasons so that someday soon when we come back to Kansas City, at least a few of my friends will have a slightly better picture of the struggle of the place we've been living in this past year. I purposely don't dwell on these things on social media, so most of my distant relatives and casual acquaintances are pretty sure I'm married to a prince and that we live in a palace in London (because all of the UK is really London, right? And all of life is what you see on Facebook, right?) That said, please don't share or reference any of this on Facebook because I have added friends from Northern Ireland on there. And everyone in Belfast has a strong feeling about all of it, and it's both a reality and an embarrassment for many of them. Most have relatives that were very much tied up in the Troubles, so it's best to never make a direct comment on it. It still feels like nearly every interaction, spoken or unspoken, is still connected to the sectarianism.

Anyway, I thought at first I'd wait and read the whole book and then comment, but then I was afraid I'd forget some of the things I wanted to reference. So in no particular order, here are the things that came to mind after reading the chapter, "para bellum." This chapter references spring of 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed with the help of George Mitchell, who I just read was also later appointed by Obama for peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East and served as chairman for The Walt Disney Company a few years after that. Maybe there was more tension between Mickey and Minnie than we really knew about? (wah, wah....)

Much of this chapter was set at Stormont, the beautiful government building about a mile and a half up the road from us. I think it's one of the prettiest places in Belfast.

Strange that some of the political names in there (Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, etc.) are still the hot political names in the press today.

Regarding the Good Friday Agreement itself, I've pasted some major components from Wikipedia that go a long way in simplifying a very complex social, religious and political dynamic:

The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement (IrishComhaontú Bhéal Feirste or Comhaontú Aoine an ChéastaUlster-ScotsBilfawst Greeance or Guid Friday Greeance)[1] was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s. Northern Ireland's present devolved system of government is based on the Agreement. The Agreement also created a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
The Agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998:
  1. a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland's political parties;
  2. an international agreement between the British and Irish governments (the British-Irish Agreement).
The Agreement set out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including:
  • The status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. (Strand 1)
  • The relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Strand 2)
  • The relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. (Strand 3)
Issues relating to civil and cultural rightsdecommissioning of weapons, justice and policing were central to the Agreement.
The Agreement comprises two elements:
  • the legal agreement between the two governments, signed by the leaders of the two governments; and
  • a more substantial agreement between the eight political parties and the two governments.
The Agreement acknowledged:
  • that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom;
  • that a "substantial section" of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland.
Both of these views were acknowledged as being legitimate.
The agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under "a binding obligation" to implement that choice.
Irrespective of Northern Ireland's constitutional status within the United Kingdom, or part of a united Ireland, the right of people in Northern Ireland "to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both" (as well as their right to hold either or both British and Irish citizenship) was recognised.

So on the one hand, the issue is about the Unionists (the extremes are called Loyalists)/Protestants/those that identify with the UK and want to fly the union flag:

and the Republicans/Catholics/the extremes associated with the IRA/those that identify with Ireland and want to fly the tricolor (they say it "tricola") flag:

But on the other hand, it's divided into many, many, many more factions. Note the list of active political parties here. The list of inactive parties totals 58. 

Unionist and loyalist[edit]

Nationalist and republican[edit]


So while the Good Friday Agreement did make real progress toward peace and recognizing the identities of both sides, it was never going to erase the decades of anger, violence and partisanship that already existed. We live in East Belfast, which is almost entirely protestant, and there are several such murals in our area. (At least the Catholic areas have more colorful militant tributes in their areas! :)  

It really did tense me up at first to be living daily life around these murals, but they became part of the landscape quickly. And then the first week of December 2012, the politicians at Stormont voted to not fly the union flag at city hall every day of the year, but only on 15 designated days a year (which is really all that it's flown even in England...) But it was perceived as an attack on the identity of the Loyalists, who then came out in numbers every night for at least two months to protest, which often led to rioting. The police and politicians who supported the decision were the ones targeted by the violence, in addition to the unfortunate pocket of Catholics that live in the mainly Protestant area. All of a sudden, union flags were flown everywhere. They'd pop up in communities over night, showing who was staking what claim to which areas. Those flags still make me nervous, especially because they're creeping much closer to us because of the time of year it is.  

The beginning of those protests also paved the way for a crazy lady to become something of an icon in the protests. It was strange to read the phrase "No surrender" multiple times in that chapter, because obviously they are words that have stuck through the years:

Because most of these protests happened within two miles of us (and therefore hindered bus routes/was right where I went to the gym/made me worry for Michael coming home in the evenings), I was relieved to escape off to England for our wedding and away from the daily helicopter sounds and constant armed police presence. (Funny thing about the police - they mostly just stood there and tried to avoid the bricks and petrol bombs thrown at them. Because if they really made significant arrests and shut down the city-stopping protests, then as individuals they/their families would be targets of the violence.) Anyway, I was sure that all of it would have quieted down by the time we returned, but the protests/riots lingered I'd say at least through March. They said the last time it had been this bad was in the late 1990s, about the time of the Good Friday Agreement. Then they reared up again at Easter because of historical significance, which also kicked off "marching season." Since then there have been random acts of violence attributed to the sectarianism - someone shot, a petrol bomb thrown in a Catholic play area, etc., but not a lot of massive group protests.

But marching season really comes into it's own this week, so many businesses are closed and people get out of town to avoid it all. The cafe where I'm working has closed because of it. On Thursday night, the Eleventh Night, there will be the bonfires to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. In several neighborhoods the Loyalists have been building massive piles of wood and tires and guarding them at night to set them ablaze on Thursday night. They'll also burn the tricolor flag, which helps to rile things up for the The Twelfth on Friday, which is when parades and marches will take place all over Northern Ireland. It has something to do with the Orange Order, which I don't really understand, but I know has to do with William of Orange rather than the orange in the tricolor flag. Lots of different protestant groups will have actual marching bands that come out in full uniform and drum roll and parade down the streets. It should be quite a spectacle. However, it's also a taunting device, in that they'll parade past certain landmarks and Catholic churches and play certain songs that will express their supremacy and their hatred for the other side. So I will go watch during part of the morning and then come home, as violence and riots are expected to kick off later in the day. (With all of the riots, as long as you don't go around them when you know they're happening, you're safe.) The protests and riots are then expected to continue through the summer, tapering off at a final point in September.

So to bring it back to the book, it was very strange to read this chapter. In some ways, it felt entirely distant and watered down, but maybe the way he subtly described the desperate hope of the people with pain still fresh in their eyes was the most accurate. While there are a lot of people still fiery with hatred, a whole lot of other people just want to move forward in peace. Much of it still feels the same today.

Hopefully that paints a broader picture and a continuation of the story!

Hugs to you all,

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