Bloody Sunday, Brexit and Brady Family Ham: modern Ireland is still soaked in the blood of our history
What a week it's been.
It began strangely, to the tune of the Wolfe Tones. A television ad, which we've all seen by now, designed to sell ham to an Irish public
The Brady Family Ham ad, a parody of rebel song 'Come Out Ye Black and Tans', is absurd. An act of grotesquerie for the ages. It's also very funny. As with all such freak-shows, we can be disgusted by it or we can be amused by it or we can be deeply curious as to what it says about us. Or we can be all three at once.
The surrealist Republicanism seen on Ireland Simpsons Fans, on Twitter and now in Brady Family Ham ads is a direct result of Brexit.
The UK's painful amputation from the EU has been conducted in such a way that its approach is now unavoidably adversarial to Irish interests. It was done without a thought for what it meant for Ireland's border communities, and now those people have been directly imperilled by it.
The British government, a supposed guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, has relegated that famous peace treaty to an insignificance. Something to be gotten around, if not ignored outright. A pesky technicality that the Irish keep droning on about. Like the noisy neighbours stopping them from getting an extension round the back, never mind that it's in our own garden.
What's most mind-boggling is that if you went to sleep the day after Brexit, and only woke up tonight - 994 days later - you'd have missed absolutely 0% progress by the British government towards delivering it.
Every single headline that's caught your eye. Every news bulletin you've overheard. Every meaningful vote that has proved to be meaningless. Every statement, every warning, every word, has been utterly without consequence. In the sense that anything can be without consequence. Of course, an utter lack of consequence is a consequence in itself.
Speaking of which.
Wednesday night's chaos was followed by Thursday's announcement that just one of a potential 17 soldiers would be charged in connection with the murder of 14 innocent people on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
In anticipation of the announcement, Morning Ireland shared audio of the aftermath, encapsulating the British military insouciance about the consequences of their actions.
And why would you be worried. More than 47 years, their actions have gone without consequence.
You listen to that mouth-full-of-marbles arrogance. You shut your eyes and it could be Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg. It could be any aristocratic Englishman assuring his people that what's being done is in their interest, for their safety and for their prosperity. That the Irish problem will be dealt with. The Indian problem will be dealt with. The French problem will be dealt with. The miners will be dealt with. The Argentinians will be dealt with. The EU will be dealt with. In the sense that anything can be without consequence.
If you listen to the audio, you will hear a woman screaming "Murderers!" You will hear Father Edward Daly tell of how a young boy was shot by a soldier as he ran for safety. Beneath the sound of gunfire and petrol bombs you will hear death in the static of your earphones.
Something in your chest will swell. You will shake your head in mystification. You will squint your eyes in a ridiculous attempt to understand the injustice.
You'll hear the murder of Irish people who wanted their voices to be heard as Britain fired its guns in an attempt to drown them out.
The statement released today by the UK's Secretary for Defence Gavin Williamson today clearly echoes that Britain of 1972. The whitewash of the Widgery Report. Things have not changed. Williamson's statement spares neither a word nor a thought for those who died, or their families — citizens as much under his protection as the soldiers who killed them. Supposedly.
"We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland," it reads. "We will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today's decision. This includes funding all his legal costs and providing welfare support."
We use the English language differently to the people who gave it to us. We are not natural speakers. Where they say "Indebted. Courage. Distinction," we say "Fourteen innocent, unarmed civilians gunned down." It seems we still cannot understand one another, despite so many centuries of lessons at their hand.
Immunity for shooting innocent, unarmed, fleeing civilians. Six of them children.
That is what the British government stands for, David Cameron's 2010 apology be damned. An apology not worth mentioning given the position they assumed today.
The decision of the Public Prosecution Service, and Williamson's comments, follow those of Karen Bradley (Northern Ireland Secretary), who last week said that killings committed by British armed forces during The Troubles were soldiers "fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way."
Dignified. Appropriate. Barney McGuigan shot in the head while waving a white flag, attending to Patrick Doherty. We don't speak it the same.
— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) March 14, 2019
There is no dispute that British armed forces instigated the events of Bloody Sunday, fired the first shots, and killed 14 civilians. This is well-established in the UK's own Saville report.
Williamson's statement today says, plainly and clearly, that the institutions and government of the United Kingdom steadfastly maintain their right to kill Irish people if they believe it is called for. Without consequence. In the sense that anything can be without consequence.
English people will not march in the streets for Irish justice. They did not think to do so before Brexit sent Northern Ireland back to the brink of the hard border at the heart of The Troubles, and they will not do so now. We should not expect it
The British public, en masse, is by no means to blame for their state's attitude towards Ireland. But to say that justice in such matters is a priority for them would not be true.
And if Irish people were to march in the streets for their own justice, well. Maybe 47 years from now their children will be seeking justice for them.
As children, we think of history as another planet. As if long enough can pass that we sever the nexus between now and then. A solider on one knee, taking aim. Black-and-white photos of a priest waving a white handkerchief. All that death. It feels like another world. But it's just a yesterday of a yesterday of a yesterday.
We put our history in books as if we can tell it like a story with a beginning and an ending. As if one final shot rings out and a conductor pulls the violent symphony to a close between his index and his thumb. But the gun-smoke and petrol is fresh in the lungs of those who marched through Derry today, vainly seeking justice for their loved ones who were killed in 1972.
History is more like a painting, where all the colours drip together and mingle like blood on the streets of the Bogside. Bloody Sunday bleeds into Brexit and bleeds back into Bloody Sunday. The consequence of a consequence of a consequence.