July 14, 2020
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Days of death and mayhem with the jolly old Ra

‘Up the Ra’ sounds like a jolly sort of cry, the sort of thing you might playfully shout in support of your favourite football team.

A good friend of mine had her life destroyed by the jolly old Ra. She was shopping in Belfast when a bomb they had planted blew her across the street.

Nine people died on that day, 21 July 1972, victims of 19 bombs unleashed on my native city by the playful blokes in the Ra.

My friend was one of the 130 injured. She lived but was scarred both mentally and physically. She became a virtual recluse at the age of 25. She married but it didn’t last and she never held down a proper job.  She died young.

My friend never did any harm to the jolly old Ra. She supported, broadly speaking, their aims for Northern Ireland, though not their means of achieving them.

I agreed with her then and I guess I still do. But I cringe every time I hear someone utter that cry.

The jolly old Ra planted their 19 bombs that day in full knowledge that they would slaughter civilians. They placed them at a bus station, a train station, near shops and offices. There could have been no other consequence.

David Cullinane had not been born in 1972 when the chaps in the Ra unleashed this terror on Belfast, so maybe he doesn’t understand how much offence he caused with his ‘Up the Ra’ rallying call to supporters celebrating his election victory.

It was, he says, an emotional moment and he was recalling events from the past. He appears puzzled by the uproar and does not seem to grasp the hurtful extent of his outburst.

It might help Mr Cullinane’s understanding if he put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine if Arlene Foster, in an emotional moment, decided to regale her supporters with a verse of the Billy Boys: “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood – surrender or you’ll die”. Or if one of her MPs decided to celebrate an election victory with that jolly old loyalist gesture of holding up five fingers to mock the five Catholics murdered in an attack on a bookmaker’s shop in Belfast.

Would Mr Cullinane be reassured if they told him they were only recalling events from the past?

The TD’s outburst has detracted from a magnificent election performance. He swept the board in Waterford, breaking all records. More than 20,000 people gave him their first preference votes.  I don’t think many of them were voting for the jolly old Ra.

This Ra rumpus has added to a concern I have about how Sinn Fein in government might affect relations in the North.

The Irish and British governments are joint custodians of the Good Friday Agreement and the Executive and other institutions that flow from it. They are meant to be honest brokers. But if  Sinn Féin is in power in Dublin can it really be expected to impartially police the activities of Sinn Féin sharing power in Belfast?

The northern agreement was put under similar pressure when the DUP went into an alliance with Britain’s Conservative Party but the Executive was suspended at the time and so the issue was never really tested.

I hope Sinn Fein’s double grip on power does not cause problems but it is easy to see how it might shake unionist confidence. Shouts of ‘Up the Ra’ will not help.

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