An intro from a Northern Irish guy.
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06-12-2012, 08:25 PM
An intro from a Northern Irish guy.
Hello there!

Morondog suggested that I start an introduction thread to give people an opportunity to ask questions about my experiences growing up at a time and in a country that was victim to Sectarian religious-political violence. This thread will also give me a chance to find out more about this forum and its users although I have been following The Thinking Atheist podcasts for the past couple of years. I figured it's about time I actually reach out to the community properly and at the very least say hello.
Starting a thread will allow me to be very detailed and if you are patient with me I am happy to answer questions just don't be surprised if I take my time over writing the responses. The problem with Northern Ireland and growing up there is that it is difficult to understand the problems unless you lived them; ergo context is very important.

Some Background

By birth I would be considered to be Protestant. My parents were both born in the Protestant faith, though only my mum believed. In Northern Ireland the other major denomination was Roman Catholic. About 700 years ago Ireland was a free land, but as with many lands at the time it became the target of interest to the British. Ireland has always been strongly affiliated with Catholicism, the problem with Ireland is that although southern Ireland is refered to as Eire the free state, for many decades it was considered to be little more than a puppet of Rome. In the north there was a saying 'Home Rule (being Dublin Rule) is Rome Rule' the North had a population that was mainly protestant. It is for this very reason that religion became synonymous with a political ideology. Roman Catholics sought re-unification of Ireland ruled by Dublin. Protestant Unionist/Loyalist people in the north wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Celebrating British Culture

It is interesting to note that Unionist/Loyalist people in the North like to celebrate their Britishness by participating in an annual parade season. They consider it to be a major component of their heritage and culture, though anyone from Britain would be hard pressed to identify any of it as being particularly British. The annual parade season known by those that live in Northern Ireland as the 'silly season' is a series of parades and marches that mark the outcome of a battle held in 1690 when King William of Orange defeated the Irish natives. Needless to say these parades do little more than reinforce the deep cultural divisions that continue to push a wedge between the two disparate populations.

For my part I truly believe in a United Ireland and I have always felt that the division of the country is more a historical accident than anything else. However, I also feel that in order to facilitate such a political union it is necessary for Ireland to limit its linkages to the Vatican and become more truly independent. Of course any such outcome will need to be put to the populations of both the North and South.

A modern tale

Now that I have set some light context and a very small amount of history, I will outline briefly what life was like at the time I grew up. I have to go back a few years before I was born, the year was 1971 and the British Government had re-introduced the policy of Internment in Northern Ireland quickly followed by Operation Demetrius which saw a series of raids conducted against 452 suspects of which 342 were arrested.

The suspects were all Roman Catholic and all were assumed to be members of various republican paramilitary organisations which had been murdering civilians and civil servants across the UK at the time. Those who escaped where top level members of the IRA who were very well informed. by the time the policy of Internment was suspended in December 1975 almost 2000 people had been detained under the policy, and most of them were Roman Catholic. I was born the month before the suspension of Internment.

What is internment?

Internment refers to the arrest and detention without trial of people suspected of being members of illegal paramilitary groups. The policy of internment had been used a number of times during Northern Ireland's history. It was reintroduced on Monday 9 August 1971 and continued in use until Friday 5 December 1975. During this period a total of 1,981 people were detained; 1,874 were Catholic / Republican, while 107 were Protestant / Loyalist. That’s right, suspected not proven, suspected. A judge was not required, a jury was not required, if you were accused of suspicious behaviour (say if a cop didn't like you very much) you could find yourself in prison indefinitely.
As a policy Internment was a complete failure, the people whose homes were raided had their names sourced from a list provided by the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch. Special Branch was the unit that specifically dealt with paramilitary cases, and needless to say their operation was filled with so many holes that those who were listed were generally warned beforehand.

The lists were so out of date that 104 people had to be released within forty-eight hours.… The army quite often simply picked up the wrong people, a son for a father, the wrong ‘man with a beard living at no. 47’ and so on. But by the time they were released, a number had suffered quite brutal treatment, as had those still detained … Internees were beaten with batons, kicked and forced to run the gauntlet between lines of club-wielding soldiers. And that was the security services, the police and the army.

Where do I come into this?

What do I have to do with all this? Simple really, my dad was a British civil servant at the time, and even now I can't actually tell you what his job was. He currently
lives in Ireland in a house that has bullet proof and blast resistant reinforced windows.

There really were four sides to the battle in Northern Ireland, there Roman Catholics associated with Republican paramilitary organisations shooting people, there were Protestants associated with Unionist paramilitary organisations shooting people, there were the British security services shooting people, and then there were people whose general role was to try to not get shot. Sometimes people weren't shot, they just disappeared. You could be working with someone and the following day they wouldn't be there. You could come home to discover that your mum or dad just simply wasn't there. This happened a lot, so how do you protect yourself?

The Northern Ireland Survival Guide (unwritten)

1. Never tell anyone your real surname.
2. Never tell anyone your real address.
3. You can talk to people about your job as long as it was not government.
4. Never reveal your religious background.
5. Never grass (dob).
6. Never reveal your family history.
7. Never discuss politics.
8. Never be seen near or in the company of a police officer or member of the security services.
9. Never attract attention from anybody.
10. Be wary of your own accent in towns that you are unfamiliar with as it can tell people who may want to kill you where you are from.

Where does Atheism come into this?

Northern Irish communities prided themselves on using the two different monotheistic doctrines (Catholicism and Protestantism) to highlight polarising political stances. People were proud of their abject ignorance and hatred directed at the other community who returned the favour in kind. If you want to know what evils men do in the name of religion I'm more than happy to talk to you about it. In the middle of all this sat the media.
I always viewed the media in their quest to attach labels to things as a major part of the problem. As they claimed this protestant group shot at this group of Catholics
or vice versa, they instilled and drove the wedge further that split communities and heightened mistrust. They also highlighted the fundamental differences between the two sides. I made the most logical choice, to not have a side. The media got only one detail right, in that there were two sides to the Northern Irish conflict, but they weren't catholic or protestant, they were criminals and everyone else.

As soon as I made the choice that I would not follow a doctrine it became apparent that it was not a sky fairy that directed my thoughts and actions, it was just me. Logically speaking if this is the case for me, then it is the case for everyone and no one was being directed by a sky fairy in this, they were all making their own decisions to pull the trigger and rob someone of their life, of their husband, son, daughter or wife. Religion is a reason used to conduct conflict and is used to alleviate the responsibility of the self for conducting it.

It's a bloody poor excuse and a disservice to those who have been needlessly executed in the name of a doctrine. Free Ireland, fine, unite the kingdom fine. But don't kill
people because of their sky fairy. The outrage of the events culminated with a bomb that was detonated in Omagh.

In 1998 a bomb was planted in Omagh and what usually happens is that the organisation that planted it will deliver a coded warning to the security forces so that they can clear the area. This happened, only the paramilitary organisation gave a false location. People were directed into the path of the device which detonated and reduced men, women and children to a collection of assorted burnt body parts. Bombs are indiscriminate, and in this case Spanish children who were visiting for a school holiday were killed, in the name of a doctrine that to me seems bereft of value and morality.

I made my decision to ditch religion completely when I was 8. By the time I was 15 I had an incredibly serious and logical mind because these situations force you to
become adult quickly because the situations get very bloody and real quickly and if you don’t possess the inner resources to deal with it you are not going to last. I left Northern Ireland in 2003 after my parents received a death threat in the form of a bullet and a sympathy card informing them that the next one would be 'In your fucking head.' This was 3 years after the peace process really took hold. Fortunately my parents are still safe, and both are doing well. Don't get me wrong I love my home country it's beautiful but underneath the veneer of the peace process lies a deep rooted hatred that I hope will become extinguished one day. I know it’s too late for my generation can only dream of this, but maybe the next one won’t have too.

I am thankful for a place that has social stability. And I am only too happy and proud to campaign for reason over the insanity of religion. This really is only a snippet of life over there, the battle for Northern Ireland raged constantly for decades.

To finish off I'll share an advert that was aired in the 1990's. I think it will give you an idea of the generational nature of the cycle of hate ingrained in the culture.

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An intro from a Northern Irish guy. - Kosmos - 06-12-2012 08:25 PM
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