Supremacism In The North Must Fall

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From top: railings at the Jellicoe Avenue entrance of Grove Park in north Belfast; Colm Dore

Among the statues of supremacists which have fallen in recent days, that of King Leopold of Belgium points to the lie that people in the past didn’t understand supremacism.

Roger Casement became famous for his exposure of injustice in colonial Congo under Leopold. He also lived the maxim that all politics is local, as his concern for justice fed his interest in Irish culture as it, too, struggled to emerge from a long history of colonial subordination.

The GAA’s promotion of Irish sports was part of that emergence. Casement was one of the organisers of the inaugural Feis na Gleann in his home place, County Antrim,

in 1904. A tenant farmer offered to host the playing of Gaelic games but this angered his Unionist landlord whose threats meant that the only available field was overgrown with weeds. There is a metaphor-ready photograph of Casement taking a scythe to it in order to enable its use.

The statue protests articulate the view that there has been, and remains, a denial of power relations: a denial of present-day disparity and its historical roots. To borrow an expression from James Baldwina failure to corroborate the reality people are living.

June 15 saw the display of an exclusionary, supremacist, banner and graffiti at Belfast City Council’s Grove park in north Belfast. They threatened users of the public park who might be identified with Irish sports.

This was a crude expression of an ugly reality which is both denied and enabled by mainstream discourse which perpetuates the very disparity which prompted the creation of the GAA in the first place.

This is the disparity which treats Irish culture as though it doesn’t belong in the north-east of Ireland. It’s the politics which deems the visibility of the indigenous language to be “divisive” there. Like an iceberg, this politics is visible to some extent, but below the surface to a large extent.

It’s uninterrogated in the framing of discussions which accept – as a starting premise – that the political acceptability of inclusivity in the north (e.g. bilingual signage to include the indigenous language) has to be looked at by presenting “both sides”.

Inclusion and rejection of inclusion are presented as equivalent positions, with the purportedly neutral position favouring the status quo by “not taking sides”.

Angela Davis has said that neutrality on disparity is siding with disparity. That presents a challenge for purported centrists in the north who (with the support of Dublin establishment parties) stand to benefit from “both sides” false equivalence.

Discourse in the north-east has these characteristics because it wasn’t arrived at in a vacuum. It’s a product of unequal, historically-rooted, power relations.

On foot of a complaint from the Unionist Stormont regime, BBC radio simply stopped reporting GAA results.

The embedded longevity of that culture was such that BBCNI didn’t broadcast any GAA on television until the ‘90s, even though Ulster championship matches routinely attracted attendances larger than the populations of County towns like Omagh, Armagh, and Enniskillen.

BBCNI has never broadcast a camogie or hurling match. These cannot be dismissed as matters of broadcasting rights.

In 2018, that station’s drivetime radio programme featured an extended discussion of what winning the Superbowl meant to the people of Philadelphia. It has never had such a discussion about what reaching the hurling summit has meant in Galway and Limerick. Such discussions don’t require broadcasting rights.

In the north, the historically dominant traditions main daily newspaper continually gives credence to Unionist “concerns” about University students wearing GAA tops in lecture theatres. What politics does that feed?

Meanwhile, there are calls for leadership, for conspicuous opposition to the sort of supremacist hatred that catapulted Holy Cross primary school girls into global consciousness twenty years ago.

Even in that case, the existence of supremacism was equivocated about by respectable voices in Ireland, north and south, while instantly recognised by global audiences who saw powerful resonance with the ordeal of little Ruby Bridges in 1960s New Orleans.

This, too, points to a challenge for centrists who decry “our local squabble”, yet simultaneously reduce it to a mere provincial matter by refusing to characterise it in terms with which they would immediately characterise expressions of supremacist exclusion abroad.

The problem that Casement had, the problem cultivated under the old Stormont regime, still stands. Denial of its existence makes it difficult to address.

Colm Dore is a Belfast-based political commentator who has appeared on BBCNI radio and television programmes. Follow Colm on Twitter: @ColmDore

Top pic via Twitter

28 thoughts on “Supremacism In The North Must Fall

  1. Charger Salmons

    Meh, who gives a monkey’s ?
    The real bust-up this summer is Rebecca v Coleen. This is going to be the fight of the year.
    Word is Coleen has sacked her legal team after they told her that her case against Becky ‘isn’t very strong’ and may have ‘mistakes’.
    Popcorn time.

  2. Scundered

    There will always be nutjobs on both sides putting up nonsense banners here and there, I think they’re best ignored as the support for it is so small, I wouldn’t bother giving them a platform, though then where do you draw the line with free speech? I can’t help thinking if the media would stop publishing stuff we all should be outraged about, society might not be so divisive and intolerant right now. Is it purely to drive people to violence and make more news to capitalise on, you decide ;)

    1. Boj

      I get your point, however, who decides what is outrageous and what is not? Should that poor immigrant child washed up on a beach not have been reported on? Or the hanging of Sadam? Or..just Trump in general? For something to be free it must have no oversight, so in reality, nothing is free. Free markets…pfft, yeah right. Free speech…I think all you poopy pots can agree that does not truly exist. Just give the facts please, FREE from manipulation and opinion.

      1. Scundered

        Narrative driven journalism, it’s a scourge on everyone, look at the race war developing in the states in recent weeks, even though all sides agreed the initial murder was reprehensible. Now we have countless more murders and streets on fire all over the place. In my opinion the media really stoked up that fire.

  3. Truth in the News

    How many of the Unionist diaspora that were part of the planter class of the
    American Colonies were slave owners, would make an excellent documentary
    for the toffe nosed BBC NI and the revisionist RTE to make jointly

  4. jamesjoist

    There are many sporting organisations in Ireland besides the G A A . With it’s supremacist attitude the acronym G A A is often cynically rendered as the ‘ Grab All Association ‘

    1. ReproBertie

      Are any of those other sporting organisations as big as the GAA? Are any of those other sporting organisations so indelibly linked with Irish culture?

  5. Gabby

    Some people say Keep Politics out of Sport. Other people say Keep Sport out of Sport.
    Have a calm summer by sticking to ludo and ice cream.

  6. Gearóid

    Thought-provoking piece, particularly on BBCNI.
    Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, broadsheet.ie comments are not engaging.

  7. A Person

    True blue Dubs fan, the whole family are a member of a GAA club. I think it is one of the best organisations in the country. However, you cannot ignore its past either. If you played soccer or rugby, you were banned, RUC officers couldn’t be members etc. Not exactly squeaky clean. And there are still some aspects remain to certain members in my club: only hurlers are true Gaels, even the footballers are considered as playing a foreign sport.

    1. ReproBertie

      Sure football’s just a way to keep hurlers fit when they don’t have a match.

      Those bans no longer exist. They are meaningless to anyone looking to start playing now except for people who want to drag them up to beat the GAA for not being all inclusive from day one to now. Not saying that’s you by the way. Rob’s comment below about the naming of clubs and grounds is more of an issue.

      1. Vanessanelle

        Gaelic Football was only introduced into the GAA as an organised sport after its formal foundation

        Partly because they set out to develop and protect the traditional Irish games of hurling, handball and rounders so they started out with those codes in their founding Charter

        Football was inserted a few years – not many mind, later
        Camogie then – later again, maybe about 30 years on

        Although there is history of Football being played in Ireland prior to the founding of the GAA
        They developed the formality of the Rules and Competitions themselves
        And mainly to be an equivalent for their members who may be tempted by the foreign games like Rugby and Soccer

  8. Rob_G

    While nationally, the GAA is a really open an inclusive organisation, the county boards in Ulster don’t exactly go out of their way to engage with the unionist community – why would anyone from a unionist background be head down to their local club to sign up when, in the north, they keep naming clubs, pitches, and competitions after dead IRA and INLA terrorists?

    BBCNI has never broadcast a camogie or hurling match.”

    No offence to Antrim, but the counties of NI aren’t exactly titans in either of those codes, so rarely progress to the level of competition where these games would be televised – I imagine that RTÉ would not televise too many Ulster hurling matches, either.

    1. scottser

      st brigid was in the ra? janey mack, who knew?
      i knew st theresa was handy with the ould semtex though.

      1. Cian

        The chief executive of Ulster GAA has said it remains the right of clubs to name their grounds and competitions after IRA and INLA members.

        […]

        Asked how naming GAA clubs, grounds and competitions after IRA and INLA members was compatible with being anti-violent, Mr McAvoy said the individuals had often played for the club and been viewed by members as “one of their own”.

        “A lot of the grounds would be historic in terms of people who were identified with issues in the last century,” […]

        “The clubs that made that decision, they would see them as one of their own.

        “You’ve got to remember that some of them date from the 1981 hunger strike which was a very emotive time for everyone.”

        https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/gaa-clubs-free-to-name-grounds-after-ira-and-inla-insists-ulster-chief-37049176.html

        1. scottser

          back to the whitewashing of history debate again. if the ascendency street names and statues stay, then so should the pairceanna.

          1. Johnny

            -can we have a goodwins law for the RA/IRA/INLA please, its every day same people-we can call it Rob or Cian’s Rule of IRA Analogies)

            -what about those Redskins in DC and don’t get me started on the Kansas City Chiefs..

          2. Cian

            @scottser; I see your point and yes, if the NI government keep all the ascendency street names and statues they are not being fully inclusive. I’m not aware of any street names/statues that are named for people involved in the Troubles – but I’m open to correction.

            However Rob’s first point was that by the GAA allowing/keeping contentious names on their parks the GAA isn’t being inclusive.

            @Johnny. Do you not think Rob’s post was relevant to the topic? it’s not just random ‘RA bashing.

    2. yupyup

      Finalists in ’89. Narrowly lost the ’91 semi. Their club teams are very competitive. Slaughtneil camogie lost the All Ireland final this year where they were going for four in a row. Loughgiel won the men’s version only 7 or 8 years ago. And before you go saying they are not inter county examples, neither is Institute V Limavaddy in the Irish Cup in front of 50 people which can and does get a TV slot.

      1. Vanessanelle

        That 89 semi was one of the Classiest days in the GAAs entire history
        I even made a big deal of it in that buke

        Still 30 years on, it remains an emotional memory
        One of our greatest days as Gah’ people

        Hon’ da’ Clute (◠‿◕)

  9. Rob_G

    btw, the author is the spit of the young Tory parliamentary assistant from ‘The Thick of It’

  10. Vanessanelle

    In fairness
    the writer’s ‘hands off’ view of Ulster GAA and the Ard Comhairle actually helps his piece

    And Ulster GAA too

    So I’m inclined to leave it at that
    Other than to add that it is generally accepted that in the years in the lead up to that meeting in Hayes, Gaelic Games were rapidly declining as Ireland emigrated, or suffered the consequences of the Famine, and indeed – got more Anglicised.
    There is also direct evidence that the games fell away with the departure and diminishing of the landlord classes, many of whom managed and owned teams; and ran leagues amongst themselves. (Making it a professional sport kinda up until the GAA took a grip of them)

    From day 1 the GAA used Affirmative Action to great success
    Their ban on foreign games being the easy spread example
    But for the writer the ban on British Army lads and RUC etc is more relevant to his view from the dignitaries box.

    With regard the rest of us, I only need to say “Crossmaglen” to demonstrate the actual truthful relationship NI has with the GAA.
    Which still exists, albeit not as cynical or dastardly as it once was
    Like pipe-bombs left in club grounds, blades planted into the sod, or following lads to and from training for an opportunistic ambush.
    The GFA never really addressed this, but it wasn’t supposed to either.

    I think you’ll find the recent flaming is a doubling-down from hardcore loyalists who are already struggling to stand by their political front in the DUP, if they can even reach them.
    Then there is the loss of their parades this year (and their VE day celebrations did them no favours)
    So banners like this were to be expected
    Its all they’ve left to have a good oul’ vent
    and to try and convince themselves they are something to be reckoned with

    Watching BanJo trying to answer Sammy in WH yesterday with a straight face pretty much summed it all up.
    They are going down shouting.
    And that’s what that banner is for.

    FYI Yuppy, the Apres lads do a great skit of the SportsNews on Nordie telly
    and BTW, anyone know what happened to my oul pal Jerome?

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