Death has been on my mind these past few weeks. Sometimes ,in life , we are assaulted by death and ask ourselves will there be no let -up .There have been many deaths of iconic, 381cultural, populist figures in this past year ,but closer to home I have also been touched by too many departures recently.That’s the way it sometimes is and the older we get , the more it becomes apparent how precious our friends are.At times like this ,life seems even more precious to us ,but life obviously isn’t always precious for everyone.
Many talk easily about “the sanctity of life” but not everyone really believes that when you take a look at our history. With this thought in mind I find myself wondering just how many people involved in the Norneverland Irish “Troubles” were simply sociopaths in plain sight.To many , death seems to have been no more than a passing amusement and a life just so much throwaway dross. There is so much confirmation of this swaggering, aggressive form of psychopathy, evident in the hard cold figures of our history.The Irish have a vision of themselves as sociable, musical,artistic, literary people but we are also very good at violence too. Never mind the supposed reasons for all the killing, there seemed to be some degree of relish involved in the committment of the various depraved deeds themselves, in some cases. The thought occurred to me recently while watching the now infamous UDA leader Dee Stitt’s interview, in which a swaggering bravado, bordering on childish idiocy, was evident as he boasted like some feeble schoolboy about his little band of “defenders”. It was as if an entire society had been twisted out of shape and some of the really damaged individuals had bubbled to the surface like so much soured cream and were then given full reign to pursue their own unholy , hate-filled killing agenda within the safety of a compliant and supporting host community ; a cancerous deformity within the community-body allowed to grow and twist its tentacles . That’s not to say that Dee Stitt is a violent man per se.I have no idea about that at all, but I can readily see where his kind of attitude has led to in the recent past.
During that conflict, which ended a generation ago ,although there were many deaths , there was even the slaying of those with no real association to any of the two seemingly- warring tribes. Some murders appear to be nothing other than acts of profane hatred with little or no political agenda at all . Many were slain for their perceived religion , alone and not for any kind of political reason. I’m thinking of the many Catholics who were literally butchered by the likes of the Shankill Butchers and also the murders in the Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church in Darkley in 1983 .A group calling itself the” Catholic Reaction Force” claimed the attack and subsequent killings.I can only imagine that the term “Catholic” was an unholy black joke in those circumstances.This was supposedly an immediate response to an equally unholy “Protestant Action Force”. The IRA were not involved in this one but the INLA apparently had some input. We used to refer to this kind of thing as” tit-for-tat-killing”.It’s hard to fathom whether or not there was any sense of religiosity on either side.I’m not too sure that there could ever really be, but people are capable of justifying many odd ideas..
Many others found a fetid glamour in the killing espoused by these sociopaths but simply stood back and watched it all happen anyway ,as though this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. The sometimes random killing was very obviously supported by many in the community beyond, too. For a so-called overtly religious or even Christian society , there seems to have been a keen delight in the killing of one’s fellow-man. If truth be told , some fellow-men were not even viewed or perceived as equally human , even as they were hunted down and sometimes eviscerated by some of the killers as if they’d been on a fishing- trip.
Given the tiny size of the conflict zone , a “war “by any name was in process .The land was replete with the paraphanalia of a war-zone , with soldiers patrolling constantly , jeeps and fortified police vehicles always evident on the roads and streets , armed personnel everywhere in daily life, stopping and searching civilians and their vehicles, barbed wire and concrete bollards outside every business, security barriers and search areas … and the constant throb of helicoptors in the sky, either replenishing supplies to bases or scoping the areas below. The figures are quite staggering, given the small size of the area in question and the time-scale of the conflict.
Most of the Troubles’ deaths were civilians…some 2,395 of them by the year 2002. That’s only those listed in the most recent conflict ,which began in 1969.The British Army , by contrast, had 452 casualities.Irish republicans (mostly the provisional IRA) were apparently responsible for 2,151 deaths and various loyalist groupings were responsible for 1,073 deaths The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) ,which was formed in 1966, three years before the Troubles actually began and well before the Provisional IRA was formed,were the most active loyalist group and began by planning a series of sectarian murders in Belfast.This group alone was eventually responsible for some 552 murders.The British Army, the UDR(Ulster Defence Regiment), the Royal Irish Regiment and the police(RUC) were responsible for 58 official deaths although there is a widely- held belief that some of them colluded with both loyalist and republican paramilitaries within those organisations and their masters from the top down are also responsible for associated deaths inspired by their hand.It was to become a very dirty business.That “enquiry” has been going on for years ,but the government seems reticent to release all the information available, so we may never know everything.
That is not the whole story , of course. Death is a final thing, but the Troubles were not simply about who could score the most “kills”. There was also an all-pervading atmosphere of latent , paranoid violence everywhere, which was more depleting than anything else. That went on for years. Paramilitary groups were soon seen to have seized the role of community “protectors” in their own home areas, especially in urban areas or in huge , sprawling housing- estates. In this they became their own self-appointed policing force , especially in republican/nationalist areas which were usually the main target for police and army attention. Most of that policing violence took the form of punishment beatings ,without resorting to fire-arms at all, although there were obviously beatings and sometimes kneecappings where a bullet was fired into the back of the knee -joint to incapacitate the offender . If the police were not to be trusted , then regular crime such as petty theft, drug-dealing or “anti-social behaviour ” did not end with the usual day in court , a fine or a sentence.These punishments were regular , almost daily news- stories in the press and on television, usually accompanied by film of some damaged , minor local villain ,in whose mouth butter -would- never- melt .If they were not “clipped” in this way , there was always the threat of banishment.
That in itself , gave these protectors considerable power and as the Troubles continued, that power grew as citizens brought their problems to them like some mafia capo in the film “The Godfather”.Between 1981 and 2002 there were recorded some 2,096 of these incidents. The numbers are uncannily close in that there were 1,052 on the republican side and loyalists were pipped at the post with eight less at 1,044 .An Extraordinary conclusion,really.
By 2002, Loyalist paramilitary groups were involved in 656 gun-related incidents.Republicans had been responsible for the greatest number of murders at 741 and the loyalist score read 347 murders.Since the 1990s, loyalists began the process of catching up, even as the actual overall murder total began it’s decline on the republican side.By the turn of the century, as the new 21st century began, loyalist murder increased ever more ,even though republicans had already declared a ceasefire some years before, in July 1997.For them the “war” had already ended.
All this killing and murder is in one way or another supported by the two communities in some form .For practical or expedient reasons , one side or the other will support some form of violence if the proposed political goal , or some form of “revenge”,looks like it might be achieved…even though the political expectations are poles apart.Sometimes one side will even copy the other side’s tactics. This has applied to both the political leaders and the general population too, across the board.This kind of behaviour has happened ever since the foundation of the Northern Irish state.There is hardly another country in the known modern world which has shared this kind of support for contemporary terrorism…should that be unionist terrorism or republican terrorism. It is apparent that in Irish history ,physical force for political ends , has always worked in the past , either for one side or the other. Politicians have witnessed this fact too and they have consistently acted on it..
Very few people in the Norneverland, Ireland can say that they have not been touched in some way by the violence of the latest conflict.It has been suggested that one in five adults have had a family member , close relation or friend, killed or injured in the violence. More than half the population personally knew someone who was killed or injured and some twenty five percent of the population have seen an explosion , a shooting or a riot. Many others have literally been involved in some kind of Troubles-related violence. I can think of at least a dozen people whom I knew who are now dead and that stretched right across the board. As for witnessing or hearing explosions , they were almost an everyday occurence at one point. Living and working in Belfast during 1971 and 1972 was something of a challenge, for example. Something like 15,000 families in Belfast alone ,were driven from their homes by either intimidation or bomb-damage during the 1970s.That makes it on a par with one of the biggest population movements since the last world war ended in 1945.It really is a wonder how people can talk about “victims and victimhood “without thinking twice.A whole generation of children grew to maturity with all of this mayhem as a background noise.I’d maintain that an entire generation were traumatised….and then took it for granted that this was some kind of normal way to live.
Above and beyond what you might call this “normal socio-political rivalry” of two opposing tribes ,with opposing agendas, there is another level of killing and killers working within these terrorist groups.The earlier mentioned psycho-killers who find heroism and atavistic release in the act of killing itself. The Troubles were a perfect hiding place for them. In truth they didn’t really have to hide at all. They come into the same remit as those like the recent killer of the Batley MP Jo Cox. These are the deranged killers like the Shankill Butchers the evangelical , Billy Wright who believed that he walked with “God and the Devil” , just as the Yorkshire Ripper believed he was a servant of God with a mission, or the Rambo-obsessed , Michael Stone . There is much to study in their psychiatry and the weird and twisted mindsets of these kinds of killers. There is so much baggage to be sorted out too ,much of which which has already been lost by death. They, too ,were supported by their communities in either word or deed , even though it is evident that they were deeply disturbed individuals by any reckoning . Some, like Stone were part of the boastful culture of instant celebrity who crave any kind of recognition.In Stone’s case he sold locks of his hair to gormless female admirers who obviously had no problem becoming the groupies of a killer, just as the Yorkshire Ripper had female penpals.
The latest in this ego-driven desire for celebrity is the UDA’s Dee Stitt.He really has currently hit the big -time, in that he’s even been photographed with the First Minister, dressed in a shirt and tie ,as though to buy credibility and respectability as CEO of the latest governmental giveaway .He’s being being paid big money too…some £30,000 annually . Was he a killer ? If he didn’t personally kill , he is tightly involved with a very violent armed gang and was previously gaoled for crimes which included storing UDA weapons and possessing firearms. He certainly shows the same boastful signs of braggadocio that Stone exemplified. It seems to be the kind of thing that finds easy support even right at the top echelons of government.
Psycho killers….we love them.