It’s 50 years since Bloody Sunday, but sectarian tensions are running high

The Guardian – By Susan McKay – Jan 30, 2022

The road I grew up on in Drumahoe, on the outskirts of Derry, has been on the news lately, and not in a way that makes me proud. Journalists stand at its junction with the main road from Belfast, pointing up at the purple flag of the Parachute Regiment fluttering high on a lamp-post. They explain its significance at this time of year: it was paratroopers who killed 13 unarmed civil rights marchers in the city on Bloody Sunday in January 1972. Family members of those killed have talked about the pain the flying of these flags causes them. Politicians, including some unionists, and even the Parachute Regiment itself have called it “unacceptable”.

The flag flies because there are some in the unionist community who want to show that not everybody is mourning the dead of Bloody Sunday as its 50th anniversary is marked in Derry this weekend. It is a show of disrespect. Drumahoe has been flying this flag for years, as has the village of Newbuildings on the main road into Derry from Dublin. I saw one that had a sign pinned underneath it featuring the crosshairs of a gun – a warning to anyone tempted to remove it. In Drumahoe there are always union flags and Ulster flags flying, and sometimes there are also Scottish, Israeli and paramilitary flags. They stand like a weird forest. After the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985, “Drumahoe Says No” was daubed on a wall along the main road behind our house, the white ghosts of its letters lingering on the red brick for years after it was painted over.

Houses in Drumahoe are in demand. Lately a few developments have been built of the kind described as “exclusive”, which in estate agent language means expensive. Once the earth is cut for the foundations, however, flags appear and put a different slant on “exclusive”. Their message is: houses for Protestants. When we sold our old family home last year, someone plastered an Ulster Defence Association bulldog sticker on the for sale sign.

A woman who lives in one flag-festooned estate near Derry told me that her area is actually quite “mixed”, meaning people from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds live there. She said most did not want the flags but they remain because everyone knew the men who put them up. They were aggressive and had paramilitary connections.

Some people simply cease to notice these territorial markings. My mother once took a photo of my daughter in her garden. She was up a tree with a large union flag on a lamp-post behind her, apparently sprouting from her head. When I said it was a pity about the flag, my mother said, “What flag?”

It used to be called triumphalism, this flaunting of Northern Ireland’s Britishness. Now it looks more like desperation. When the state was set up in 1921, unionists felt secure. But the Good Friday agreement is based on power-sharing, and unionism has lost its majority at Stormont. A census to be published this year is expected to show that Catholics are in an overall majority – they already are among young people. The May election could see Sinn Féin take the first minister role.

Under the old unionist regime, the nationalist majority in Derry was disenfranchised – now it is reflected in local and UK political institutions. The old binary is breaking down anyway. Young musicians who play in loyalist bands by day go to gigs in republican areas at night – music is the shared passion, not division. While some unionists are still militant about calling the city Londonderry, and some nationalists insist on Derry, for the most part people are amiably willing to use either or both. Long, hard cross-community work on parading has taken much of the strife out of the annual burning of the effigy of “Lundy the traitor”. (He was a governor of Derry who wanted to surrender the city to Catholic King James in 1689 rather than endure a siege.)

The campaign for truth and justice for those who died on Bloody Sunday led to the Saville inquiry. Its finding that those killed on Bloody Sunday were innocent, and the prime minister’s apology in 2010, led to attempts to prosecute some of the paratroopers for murder. Soldier F, as he was known, was to be tried in Derry. In 2019 senior DUP figures, including Gregory Campbell, who lives in Drumahoe and is MP for East Londonderry, along with local Northern Ireland assembly member Gary Middleton, posed under a banner that had the Parachute Regiment’s insignia on it along with the claim that loyalist Derry is “still under siege” and the slogan “No surrender”. The Soldier F case collapsed in 2021. This year, Middleton saw sense and called for the Parachute Regiment’s flags to be taken down.

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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