When I was 11 years old part of the English lesson was producing a newspaper. The idea was that the English double period on Friday was spent putting together THREE newspapers. One for each row of twelve boys. For the record, my newspaper was called “Topic”.
It was hardly cutting edge. Mostly I remember cutting pictures of politicians, sports people and pop stars out of newspapers and magazines and pasting them into our newspaper. Cutting and pasting…literally.
One morning there was a discussion about “news” and our teacher explained that it was not just about newspapers …there were magazines like the “Economist”, “Time”, “The Spectator”…..thats where real journalism and real news was. Essentially a murder, a bank robbery or a fatal car crash are only news for a few days and real journalism is the ongoing stories.
So watching “Newsnight”, we see in depth coverage of major events and somehow the stories affecting ordinary people get devalued.
So tonight I was watching the local UTV News which led of course with the formation of our New Executive. It was a depressing enough feature…a pantomime … Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (SF) and Simon Hamilton (DUP) nodding and agreeing with each other about facing serious challenges ahead.
But the second item on the News was the 1976 Kingsmill Massacre…and the inquests forty years later. A massacre of Protestant workmen. The testimony of the sole survivor was chilling. How he heard an 18 year old victim call for his mother..seeing the boots of a murderer as he walked among them, finishing off the wounded.
So much happened in those years. I think we rationalised it. That when we heard the first item of news on the radio….”a body was found…”.
We needed to find a reason that it could not be me. Thus a British Army soldier or RUC man killed by bullet or roadside bomb could not be me. The men drinking in a bar…couldnt be me…the men in the “IRA Active Service Unit” or the alleged tout found hooded on a border road. None could be me.
I had different and precise fears about abduction and being tortured to death in a Shankill Road “romper room”. Some things are too painful like the girl I knew…a professional singer abducted and tortured to death after being made to watch the torture and death of the young man abducted with her. …he had only just met her that night and was giving her a lift home. The loyalist killers promised they would spare them if she sang for them.
Back then, Catholics like myself carried a “Prayer to St Joseph” petitioning that we “would not fall into the hands of our enemies”. Because thats a phrase that still chills me….”falling into the hands of your enemies”. It does not end well in Iraq and it does not end well in Syria….and for that girl I knew, it didnt end well in Belfast…..and it did not end well for ten men at Kingsmill.
So forty years later, the sole survivor gets to tell his story. His humanity comes thru. He has lived with the true facts, having saved the bereaved from the information that their loved ones had not died instantly. We owe him a debt….and owe others like the Bloody Sunday, Claudy, Ballymurphy and La Mon victims a debt.
You might tell me that “we should move on” or maybe just tell me that I should move on. But we do not deserve to move on because increasingly we have neglected victims and frankly we chose to believe that “our people were not as bad as their people”.
There will be no court cases of course but the very least that the Kingsmill bereaved deserve is to know the names of the killers…the murderers. Will anyone allow that to happen?
DUP and Sinn Féin now share the spoils. This is a coalition….there is not even any pretence as Arlene and Martin stand shoulder to shoulder. Frankly I cant see this latest farce not having consequences for Sinn Féin. Máirtín ÓMuilleoir will be implementing Austerity and piously talking about finding new solutions in Health. Of course there are five long years ahead and Sinn Féin will be hoping that with DUP blessing that they can go to West Belfast, Mid Ulster and South Down with something to show.
But really hard to see how this “new, young” Executive deserves more attention than Kingsmill. Disturbingly local BBC and UTV will be as supportive of this coalition as they were of the old unionist regime fifty years ago. The media will be as uncritical of Mairtin Ó Muilleoir, Simon Hamilton and the rest of the Government as much as they were uncritical of Terence O’Neill and William Craig.
The virtues of Stability will be fed to us. Arlene Foster is the new James Chichester Clarke and Martin McGuinness is the new Brookeborough.
Maybe the English teacher was wrong in 1963. Publishing three newspapers might have prepared us to read a broadsheet like The Guardian instead of a tabloid like the Daily Mirror. Or have us watch Channel 4 News instead of Jeremy Kyle or locally we might be sophisticated to watch Mark Carruthers rather than Stephen Nolan.
Maybe the cutting and pasting I did to produce a newspaper in 1963 is not that much different to writing “Keeping An Eye On The Czar of Russia”.
But how insular we all are in the Norn Iron media and Blogosphere….how gossipy …how irrelevant…covering minutiae.
We miss the real story.
It is nice of BBC Norn Iron to run off to Coleraine Grammar School to interview Claire Sugden’s Politics teacher. Didnt she do well? But what was happening behind closed doors at Stormont over the past few weeks and months is probably more interesting.
“Move on” they tell us.
The Ministry of Truth…our own little 1984….where the voices from Kingsmill and Ballymurphy count for nothing.