Last week I was inspired by various instances of self-delusion, belligerence and lies at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis to write about the reality of what the Provos did to Northern Ireland. After an interesting week of public abuse and private and public support, I thought I'd return to some unfinished business – Padraig MacLochlainn's remark about the "apartheid state" he claimed Northern Ireland was in 1969, when the IRA returned to the gun.
I've met MacLochlainn and he isn't thick, so there's no excuse for ludicrous comparisons between the treatment of Northern Ireland Catholics and South African non-whites. Hey, Padraig, here are a few facts. From 1948, when they embarked on that filthy policy, the South African national government introduced a raft of legislation to enforce segregation, which included prohibition of marriage between whites and other races and of extra-marital sex between black and white, the creation of different residential areas for different races, compulsory segregation in all public spaces, the requirement for blacks always to carry a pass listing e.g. tax payments and encounters with police, and to obtain a permit to move from a rural to an urban area. Oh, and non-whites couldn't vote.
Nor is there any comparison with racial segregation in America. Unlike Rosa Parks, whom he claimed as a role model, Gerry Adams didn't have to ride at the back of buses. Everyone was equal under the law. As in the south, where we had an imperfect record in dealing with non-Catholics, there was indeed some discrimination, but it was at local and individual level and it certainly didn't remotely compare with what women had to put up with at the time. Even in England, to which I emigrated at 21, I was refused jobs because of my gender. I didn't, however, reach for an AK47.
What's more, the demands of the civil rights movement which the IRA subverted were all achieved by 1972, and the next quarter-century of blood and torment was for a United Ireland, which is now farther away than ever. Why do you think 94 per cent of voters in the Republic voted in 1998 to remove the constitutional claim on Northern Ireland? Yes, they approved the Good Friday Agreement, but decades of violence had turned them right off the idea of Irish unity.
In Northern Ireland, a poll last year about a border referendum revealed that only 4 per cent wanted unity as soon as possible and only 22 per cent wanted it in 20 years. Among Catholic voters, the figures were 13 per cent and 27 per cent.
Yes, guys, your campaign of murder and intimidation has copper-fastened partition.
It also, of course, exacerbated sectarianism by destroying trust. In rural areas, for instance, Catholic and Protestant neighbours who had rubbed along in amity were turned into two – often armed – camps. And to all the grief and bitterness caused by the shootings and bombings was added the effect of the culture wars that began in the mid-1990s, when Sinn Fein launched an all-out attack on Protestant culture and the Orange Order.
After the first two years of deliberately instigated mayhem, death and injury, Adams bragged to an internal Sinn Fein conference in November 1997: "Ask any activist in the North, did Drumcree happen by accident and they will tell you 'no'. Three years of work on the Lower Ormeau Rd, Portadown and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and in Bellaghy and up in Derry. . . went into creating that situation, and fair play to those people who put the work in. They are the type of scene changes that we have to focus on and develop and exploit."
The exploitation goes on. Why do they continue to wind up their loyalist counterparts and deliberately alienate decent unionists by publicly celebrating killers who preyed on them?
If Sinn Fein disapprove of apartheid, why, for instance, are they not taking a stand against segregated education, which 68 per cent of the population believe should be a priority of the Executive?
Fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, with centrist politics destroyed, Sinn Fein and the DUP have carved up Northern Ireland into two fiefdoms, there are more peace fences and walls than ever to separate warring communities and frightened people on either side want to keep them.
I wrote last Sunday about the misery to which the Provos have reduced communities they control – particularly west Belfast, where though he's no longer MP, Gerry Adams is still the main man.
A few days later, on a blogsite featuring fearless women like Catherine McCartney and Ann Travers – sisters respectively of the murdered Robert and Mary – telling embarrassing truths about paramilitaries from both sides, an ex-resident of west Belfast described in detail how the Provos destroyed their own people, not least by taking over community groups to steal their money and use the structures for party purposes and jobs for the boys.
The anonymous writer is hard on loyalists and the police too, but she argues trenchantly that "republicans must take responsibility for their part – a large part – in ensuring that ghetto-like areas – with skewed views on crime and law and order – became so out of control that the legacy of lawlessness will thrive for generations to come.
Republicans created their own genie that exploded out of the lamp, and no matter how hard they try now, it is proving next to impossible to disappear."
Nothern Ireland wasn't the best place to live in 1969, Padraig. Like the rest of the island it was narrow, provincial and sectarian. But compared to what the paramilitaries turned it into it was paradise.
If I were you, I'd shut up about apartheid. Pots and kettles come to mind.