Sunday Independent

**At last, something true in the Irish Not-So-Independent

McAleese spoke for me - and I'm not sorry


receiving a flying-kick to the stomach on my way home from school. I still remember the grey-black mitts on the hands of a guy who was wearing them as he punched me repeatedly. I remember the spittle that I would regularly locate by running my fingers through my hair, the suspicion that I had attracted a bit of "incoming" being proven correct once again.

I don't remember getting knocked unconscious, being hospitalised for five days and losing a day out of my life. But that happened too.

Generally though, I like to think that I carry my wounds rather lightly - a brief mention to show that I have suffered, a lingering little gaze into the middle distance, followed by a breezy apology to my companion for going-on so about the bloody North while her gin and tonic is finished, and she hasn't had the chance to tell me anything about herself.

I was surprised then to find myself so pleased by Mary McAleese's comments on Morning Ireland. I knew that she would be forced to apologise, but I was still glad that she had said them.

Frankly, it's nice to have the fact that you had the shit kicked out of you simply because you were a Catholic acknowledged now and again. Inevitably, Protestants were not quite so pleased with the President's remarks and equally inevitably she had to apologise because of the offence that they took.

However, that doesn't mean that she was wrong; which again is not the same thing as saying that sectarianism doesn't flourish among both religions in the North.

The thing that made Protestant sectarianism so dangerous was that it combined a state-based system of discrimination with an irrational fear of the perceived enemy within.

'I always got the feeling that Protestants hated us a lot more than we hated them'

People who hold massive power but still fear those over whom they wield that power tend to be very dangerous indeed.

One should of course be dubious about a Catholic who tells you that Protestant sectarianism was much worse than Catholic sectarianism, but leaving aside the fact that one was, by its very nature, more potentially dangerous, I always got the feeling at school that Protestants hated us a lot more than we hated them. I remember when I was about 16, a group of about 10 of us were returning from a school sports day - apologies for the incongruity - when we were ambushed by a group from a Protestant school firing an impressive barrage of rocks, stones, and broken-up fencing with nails in it.

A tactical retreat was necessitated and we made our way towards our school by a different direction. Within a minute or so, however, we came upon a single pupil from another Protestant school. Somebody jostled him but was immediately told by the group to leave him alone, as he had had nothing to do with the attack. It's no big deal of course, but looking back on the incident it does seem an immensely restrained response from a group of teenagers who had been in pretty serious danger moments before.

I am certain that many Protestants could tell their own stories of sectarianism - and the Troubles was no cake-walk for anybody - but equally I didn't get my beatings because of my attackers dislike for the Smith nose - which my brother once had re-arranged because of his own affinity to the Pope.

So while I am not exactly voiceless, I was glad to hear Mary McAleese speak out for me, even if middle class Northern journalists now living in Dublin must rank somewhere lower in her list of priorities than being an advocate for the homeless. And I don't really care if the Orange Order were offended.

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