Today in York there is a march calling for Justice for Northern Ireland veterans. This has been organised by former soldiers with support from UKIP, the DFLA and other right wing organisations. As anti-fascists we need to recognise the need to be anti-imperialist and be clear in not supporting the armed wing of the British state.
I feel at this point I should give some background to this opposition as I generally find that English people are naïve and uniformed around the political situation in the north of Ireland. The British military has been in Ireland since the 1100s, but for the purposes of this article the last 50/100 years are the most relevant (you can find a slightly more detailed background here). In 1922 the new state in the north of Ireland was given a curtailed version of Home Rule, which actively discriminated against those from a Catholic background. It pitted sections of the working class against each other on the basis of religion and set up the B Specials, a sort of protestant militia.
The British army were officially sent to the north of Ireland in 1969. The two most defining moments of why we should oppose this ‘march for justice’ happened in 1971 and 1972 with the Ballymurphy Massacre and Bloody Sunday respectively. In both these events the army gunned down innocent civilians. The Saville enquiry found the shootings at the peaceful civil rights protest on Bloody Sunday to be unjustifiable and that the soldiers lied in their accounts of what had happened.
As anti-fascists we seek to learn from history. We need to ask why is the ‘march for justice’ seeking justice for those who carried out atrocities in the north of Ireland and not those who were victims of the British state? Surely alarm bells should start ringing when we see who supports these events. The far right often latch on to causes which they feel the general British public support and use them to further nationalistic sentiment and the British army can’t be any more nationalist if it tried. Being anti-fascist means that we need to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and that is working class in the north of Ireland, not the British army. In the UK there has been much anti-Irish racism from the post WW2 “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish” to the vile abuse of James McClean for refusing to wear a poppy.
Many people will say that we should support the “ordinary” soldiers of the army, that it is often young working class men that join and are then blamed when terrible incidents happen. We hear this all the time, not just from the north of Ireland but in more recent times with Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, it is often these soldiers that are scapegoated for the army’s actions with those higher in command avoiding consequences. However people need to take responsibility for their actions and realise the destruction they bring to the communities they have ‘served’ in. We need to remember the victims of Ballymurphy, Bloody Sunday, Abu Ghraib and so on and their families. It is them who deserve justice, them who deserve our support and them who deserve our solidarity.