UK news The Troubles: The Tele of 1969 saw the eruption of violence as a storm that would pass last news
MetiNews.Com - Back in the early days of the Troubles it was all so very different. One of the indicators of that for me is the response of the Belfast Telegraph at a time when rioting was eroding the business prospects of people in our cities and towns; people were being injured, burnt out, killed.
Breaking News ! "Back in the early days of the Troubles it was all so very different. One of the indicators of that for me is the response of the Belfast Telegraph at a time when rioting was eroding the business prospects of people in our cities and towns; people were being injured, burnt out, killed. We didn’t know then that this would last for decades. It would have been a smart reporter or newspaper editor who would have predicted the trajectory of growing sectarian violence. Indeed, in a similar way, few today have a clear backward vision of how ugly it was back then. Otherwise we would have less glorification of it, less rationalisation of murder.But let’s freeze time at a moment when city streets are littered with broken glass, the glaziers are the only people doing well and many business owners see the prospect dwindling of their continuing to trade and thrive.People are fleeing their homes and taking refuge in schools and church halls or taking over the houses vacated by people fleeing from the other side.It was at that moment that the Belfast Telegraph set up an Innocent Victims Appeal.That’s a phrase that brings you back to the present, in which the concept of what constitutes an innocent victim, which seemed so obvious then, is now at the heart of political discord.Today it is simpler to blame bad history for a conflict that involved everybody, to claim we all had a responsibility for it.Back then it was all so simple. Good innocent people had suffered as a by- product of the vicious antics of others who should have known better.The paper started the fund with a donation of £1,000 to buy food and clothing for families in distress after the rioting in Derry and Belfast in August 1969.No one was interjecting then to say that the people who suffered were also part of the problem that produced the violence. That would have been an outrageous suggestion. It has often been said since, that the failing was in the whole of society, not just in truculent segments of it.The good news is that the fund did well. It raised nearly £75,000 pounds, an awful lot of money back then. And the British government donated another quarter of a million.I can read a couple of things into the decision to organise the fund.First, the setting up of the appeal for help for innocent victims expressed a sense of a newspaper’s role being more than to report the news and sell advertising space. It had a social responsibility beyond that.It implied that the paper was on somebody’s side. It was standing four square with the innocent victims and it had no difficulty defining who they were, no foresight into a day like ours when that question would be at the heart of political deadlock.This social responsibility campaigning isn’t such a radical idea in our own day when newspapers have run their own appeals but for the Tele then it was an assertion of its commitment to the welfare of the ordinary people who bought the paper.It was probably good marketing as well to reach out a helping hand to the suffering tradespeople who might be approached later on and invited to advertise in the paper. Nothing wrong with that.But there are other implications.
.That seemed simply obvious at the time and no one foresaw that it was apolarity that would be questioned. The common word then for the good people was ‘moderate’. The bad people were ‘extremists’.The Tele was on the side of the moderates. It represented a view of life in Northern Ireland as wholesome and potentially good for all. There was the truculent few who would prefer disruption but, all in all, most of us weren’t like that and good sense would prevail.Malcolm Brodie’s book on The Tele quotes a paragraph from the outgoing editor Jack Sayers in 1968 which struggles to put the blame for trouble on a few while recognising that unjust political conditions produce violence. He seems to have been a little torn between two theories of the violence, the few- bad-people version versus the sick-society version.He wrote: “The enemies of Northern Ireland are a very small body of extremists of one kind or another; the great majority of the population are responsible citizens, all of whom have a contribution to make and all of whom must have equal rights.”Painful changes would have to be made, he said, “but they will be less painful than periodic outbreaks of disorder.”So there were only a few bad people causing the disorder but, paradoxically, their behaviour was an inevitable result of the denial of rights.Sayers argued that if Northern Ireland could not be kept in the Union by fair means “it can’t be kept by foul.” And he told unionism what it did not want to hear. “The threat ... comes from Protestant Ulstermen who will not allow themselves to be liberated from the delusion that every Roman Catholic is their enemy.”The paper in the late sixties did not see Northern Ireland as a place that needed a thorough social and political upheaval. The granting of rights to those denied them would be sufficient to restore peace and good government. Nor did it predict that such an upheaval was coming.Otherwise it might have been more circumspect about raising hopes that it would always be there to appeal for money for innocent victims whenever streets were aflame. If so, it would have had little time for anything else. But the suffering had only just begun and it would be more than what he called “periodic outbreaks of disorder”.The Tele of 1969 cannot be criticised for being out of step with thinking today.Sayers was a brave editor confronting Protestant unionism with its responsibility to change, while criticising the rabble on the streets, and even going so far as to imply that violence was inevitable if the sectarian blinkers weren’t removed from the eyes of people who thought of themselves as good citizens.Today, the inheritors of political power are the forces which he saw as extremist when he hoped and firmly believed that Northern Ireland had a moderate centre that could hold. The paper, like most of its readers, saw the eruption of violence as an uncharacteristic storm that would pass.And maybe, if managed differently it would have done."
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