Parade for Bloody Sunday Soldier F a reminder that we remain caught in history's crossfire
Once upon a time it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire...
That was a lie, and now that the sun is well-and-truly sinking, it is Ireland that must stand cold in the shadow.
For those too young to remember even the Omagh bombing or the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, let alone Bobby Sands or Bloody Sunday, the recent deterioration in Anglo-Irish relations seems a strange and gruesome thing.
What once masqueraded as a jokey rivalry has hardened and gnarled and rotted away to reveal something much more sinister. A facade that has faded, exposing the tapestry of bitter enmity painted beneath.
Brexit, by imperilling Ireland's hard-won peace, has uprooted whatever growth had been achieved in the last two decades.
It is in this climate that a parade was held last week for Soldier F. The former paratrooper faces two charges of murder over his actions on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, and he cannot legally be named.
Also honoured was Dennis Hutchings, a former soldier who has pleaded not guilty to murdering John Patrick Cunningham, a man with learning difficulties who was shot in the back in 1974 as he ran away from an army patrol.
According to the Daily Mail, at least 7,000 bikers attended the parade to show their support for Soldier F. Organiser Gavin Wragg described the decision to prosecute him as "one of the crimes of the century." The burgundy Parachute Regiment flags were waved alongside the Union Jack as Dennis Hutchings rode through London atop a tank, accompanied by other ex-servicemen.
One of the crimes of which Soldier F stands accused is the murder of William McKinney, a young man who was also shot in the back as he fled from the bullets. McKinney attended that day's march in the role of an amateur photographer. Soldier F is further accused of the murder of James Wray, a 22-year-old. Shot in his body, and in the back.
Clip via Paweł Janczewski
As the procession made its way towards Westminster in London's West End, perhaps it's only right that theatricality was in plentiful supply.
The parade is part of a group called Rolling Thunder. This specific demonstration was called Operation Zulu. Their stated mission is to "educate the public on what is really happening following the Good Friday Agreement (and its hidden agenda)."
Their mission statement concludes: "Soldiers do what they are trained to do… FIGHT… The only equipment they were supplied with to protect themselves and innocent members of the public were battlefield weapons."
John Patrick Cunningham, William McKinney and James Wray were innocent members of the public.
What's most disturbing is that this attitude has also been championed by high-profile figures within the British government. When it was announced that there was enough evidence to charge Soldier F with murder, then-Minister for Defence Gavin Williamson immediately said that the state's coffers would pay for his defence.
"We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland," he said at the time.
"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."
Williamson is now the Minister for Education, having been appointed to the role by Boris Johnson.
Here's a map showing what a 10 mile buffer zone along *both* sides of the border would look like.
There are over 625,000 people living in the zone. pic.twitter.com/tCsmNwIsEw
— Richard Cantwell (@ManAboutCouch) October 1, 2019
In the days following the demonstration, a leaked report suggested that Johnson's latest alternative to the backstop involved customs checks near the border on either side, carving the island of Ireland in two with hard infrastructure. Authorities, guards with guns, pulling over vehicles and having a good root around.
The Brexit deadline may be on Halloween, but Irish people will certainly recognise the hard border in so flimsy a costume. Even the diagram made the proposal look like the monster that it is.
Boris Johnson and the Tory party are less concerned with the "hidden agenda" of the Good Friday Agreement and more preoccupied with getting around its protection for the peace in Northern Ireland. The proposal was met with such immediate revulsion that Johnson was forced to disavow it instantly. The disavowal would be much easier to take at face value if there was any suggestion that Johnson has any proposals whatsoever that will actually spare his neighbours the inevitable violence that will be stirred by a no-deal Brexit.
With this in mind, the parade for Soldier F reminds us that history does not end, and we do not escape it. History simply continues and we remain caught in its crossfire, with a target on our back.