From the Editor…

Published in Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2005), Letters, Letters, Volume 13

A factory of grievances?

Fr Alec Reid’s recent remarks, comparing the treatment of Catholics under Stormont to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, have been widely, and rightly, condemned. While critics have been generous in their acknowledgement of Fr Reid’s role in the Peace Process, they have made the more general observation that his remarks (and a similar gaffe by President Mary McAleese earlier in the year) reflect a deeper malaise at the heart of Irish, and particularly Northern, nationalism—a deep-seated persecution complex. Is this simply a matter of perception? Isn’t it the case that most analyses of Northern Ireland have concluded that nationalists were persecuted? Clearly, it was not on the scale of the Nazis, but are assessments of tyranny, here or anywhere else in the world, to be forever measured against the very high bar set by the Nazis in terms of brutality and bestiality?
Fr Reid qualified his remarks by observing that nationalists would have done the same if they’d been in the unionists’ shoes. This elicited less media attention but is worthy of exploration. What other course could unionists have taken in the face of a large disaffected minority who opted out of involvement in the Northern Ireland state? That lack of engagement confirmed nationalists’ disaffection in the eyes of unionists, and round and round it went, the infamous ‘factory of grievances’.
When the civil rights movement challenged the unionist status quo in the 1960s, it reflected a desire by nationalists to participate as equals in the government of Northern Ireland, not to overthrow it. But unionists misread the signals, and instead branded it an ‘IRA conspiracy’, a self-fulfilling prophesy as matters transpired. Surely it is time to decommission this ‘factory of grievances’ and to break out of the endless cycle of persecution complexes and siege mentalities. This demands not only a self-critical examination of our ‘own’ traditions and history but also a degree of empathy with the ‘other’, to see it as others see it.

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