Mourning the Past


OK... After getting the events of the last few days in Sligo off my chest yesterday, let me return to last week's overnight consultation with other folks involved in loyalist areas... Actually, if truth be told, I probably felt more mentally and spiritually stimulated in that 24 hours than in the 4 days I spent at Re:Call, but that is the way it goes sometimes...

But one of the questions raised a couple of times last week is what happens when we lose "sacreds"? Those solid, facts of life... Things that we implicitly and explicitly build our lives upon. In many ways the world economy is experiencing such a loss at the moment and the classic symptoms or stages of loss as identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are there to be seen:
DENIAL: As exhibited by bankers and governments right up until and beyond the Lehmans Brothers Bank collapse.
ANGER: see France!
BARGAINING: see the big 3 auto-manufacturers in the US or our own little PMS crisis.
DEPRESSION: see the look on most newsreaders faces.
ACCEPTANCE: we're not there yet!

But within Loyalist/Unionist communities over the past 40 years there has been an enormous sense of loss. Not only the loss of individuals (which £12000 cannot begin to acknowledge never mind compensate) but old certainties: Stormont - a protestant parliament for a protestant people, first taken away by Westminister, but then eventually restored with (alleged) IRA men having a role in government. Britishness - the trappings of Britishness (flags, crests etc) being removed from civic spaces, and a clear sense that the rest of Britain wants nothing to do with us. Our RUC - the removal of the "royal" being another stripping away of Britishness, and the rebranding of them as PSNI seeming to be a turning away from the tradition which saw the RUC as brave defenders of the crown and the Protestant people in the face of IRA aggression. This is not how the RUC would perhaps describe themselves, but it is, at times how they were portrayed and percieved. Old Moral Certainties - Crown forces, good, republicans bad. The drip-drip, drip of enquiries and journalistic scoops, has exploded the myth that evil acts were all one-sided, and that the forces of the Crown, in general, had their hands clean. Jobs - an education and social system that was aimed at producing boys for heavy industry, and where your dad, could "get you in to..." produced easy employment pickings for almost unqualified protestant boys, especially in the Shipyard or in the Aircraft factory.

Now, so much of that had to change to help bring about some kind of a shared future... But in loyalist areas that shared future is a frightening future... Because so many of the old certainties, the old sacreds have gone. And again we see many of the characteristics of loss as identified by Kubler-Ross:
DENIAL: See the rearguard action in defence of the 11+ by Unionist politicians, even though selection at 11 and the general attitude to education in loyalist areas results in a disproportionate disavantage to working(?)-class loyalist kids. (But more of that anon).
ANGER: see the demeanour of any Unionist politician, the violence following the postponed and re-routed Whiterock parade a few years ago and the venom that pours out of many loyalist areas when a microphone is put in front of them concerning anything affecting them...
BARGAINING: see the various economic package deals that have been cooked up for loyalist areas over years, including Renewing Communities and the late unlamented UDA/UPRG Conflict Transformation Initiative.
DEPRESSION: see the prescriptions doled out by Doctors in loyalist areas.
ACCEPTANCE: we're certainly not there yet!

In seeking to address the legacy of the last 40 and more years, as last week's Eames-Bradley report seeks to do... We cannot simply address the issue of individual loss... But the loss experienced, or at least perceived by entire communities.

Recently those working in the field of bereavement have tended to shy away from the work of Kubler-Ross, because it can tend to suggest a "stage"-based bereavement process (which is not what Kubler-Ross suggested). Instead, many people are looking at work like that of Robert Neimeyer, who suggest that instead of seeing bereavement as a process it should be seen as a story, and a "healthy" bereavement involves the integration of loss into a person's story without obsessing on it. This is helped by the integration of stories about the one who has been lost.

This, perhaps might be played out in helping loyalist/unionist communities address their losses. perhaps it already is, with gable ends "celebrating" the old certainties in the form of stories such as the Titanic and the Somme (although the problem is that both of those were glorious failures - metaphors for Northern Ireland?) Again, I may well return to this issue of these classic myths.

But we need to give some of the old certainties a decent burial... Perhaps the high rised buildings being erected in the Titanic Quarter are at one and the same time gravestones for an old way of life, and milestones on the road to a shared future.


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