“But most importantly, the tactic is out of state control. The mainstream media is vetted and controlled. Putting
a message on the mountain breaks that near-monopoly of the state. It disrupts their message that the partition of
Ireland is normal. You have to look at it and you have to think about it; whether you agree with it or not.
It does what the state does not want to happen: it prompts people to ask questions.”

Gerard ‘Mo Chara’ Kelly, 2019

07    The Mountain


Black Mountain

© Sabine Troendle, 2020


Something you can’t miss on your visit to Belfast is the vast amount of murals. Some political, some militaristic, some artistic and some just genuine graffiti. It’s a landmark to this day, and you can book a Black Taxi Tour to get an idea of the history of these murals. But if you happen to be in town when GAEL FORCE ART take to the Black Mountain, you’ll get a glimpse of the most genius and beautiful form of public activism and art. Using huge letters and flags and emblems, all cut and stitched up by the group and its community, the message they have for Belfast and the world is towering over the city for a few hours, before it’s taken down again.

It all started during the first Hunger Strikes in 1980. In a climate of a hostile government and an ignoring media-body towards nationalist views. It was a time, when a good part of the population simply didn’t have a public voice, not in Stormont, not in Westminster, not in Dublin and for sure not in the British media. Not having the media on your side or worse, having a media that’s working against you, is a disadvantage. The ethos of the British media was: The British army and the British government are fighting a terrorist campaign, they are the good ones, never the baddies. It’s all ‘democracy’ against ‘terrorism’. And the world was going to adapt this narrative – except for 1984 communist Albania who saw the conflict in Ireland in another perspective:

“The freedom-loving forces of Northern Ireland are responding to the savage violence of the British police and occupying forces with a resolute struggle.”

The lived experience of the nationalist working-class community, the discrimination, unemployment, poverty and foremost the constant harassment by the state forces were rarely talked of. The journalists often got their information from the army’s media office and only few took the effort to seriously scrutinise it. However, a member of a nationalist working-class community was not to be trusted. It had to be somebody not so ‘other’, a priest maybe, or a well educated middle class Catholic, if any credence was to be granted to their story. Sociologist Frank Burton, who spent several months living in Catholic Ardoyne, noted:

“In Ireland this category of the credible contains, preferably, the non-Irish and the professional classes. Thus, if allegations of British army brutality are to be taken seriously by the media, either the reporter should have personally witnessed the incident in question, or the condemnations should be voiced by an ex-British soldier living in the North, or by a doctor, lawyer or priest.”

It’s the colonial approach of misinformation about what’s going on and silencing a community by bans and total disregard in order to keep them inferior. As a consequence, the complex voice of Irish Nationalism is trapped and represented through the outsider’s distorted narrative. And as it’s widely known, the media has a very strong influence on public perception.


To not have a voice, to not being recognised, you’re becoming a victim. Art is an important tool to give the silenced a voice. To express their feelings. It’s the community voice. Republican prisoners understood that the struggle will continue post-prison and skills were needed to pursue a non-violent conflict. Educating yourself in arts, history and the Irish language was seen as an act of resistance. Ex-prisoner of war Gerard ‘Mo Chara’ Kelly taught himself how to draw whilst jailed in Long Kesh.    

“The British media were never going to fairly represent our point of view. So we needed to do it ourselves, in the murals, presenting republicanism and Irish identity in a positive light, standing up to the anti-Irish propaganda we were hit with 24 hours a day, every day. You weren’t in it to be an artist, you were in it to get the message out.”  Gerard ‘Mo Chara’ Kelly

It was during the first hunger strike in 1980 that nationalist Belfast saw murals in favour of the republican struggle go up. But Mo Chara wanted to reach out beyond his community. He felt that the whole of Belfast and indeed the rest of the world deserved to be informed about what was going on in the prison of Long Kesh. To highlight the hunger strike, a group went up on the Black Mountain, dug a 10 x 6 meter big ‘H’ – the shape of the prison-wings in Long Kesh – into the ground and filled it up with lime. The huge ‘H’ was telling the world that there was support for the prisoners and ultimately, that there was another story to be told than the version of official bashing news. That’s how the Black Mountain became GAEL FORCE ART’s recurring canvas for highlighting human rights issues in the 40 years to come.

BBC Broadcasting House

© Sabine Troendle, 2020



The mountain

© Sabine Troendle, 2019



The flag

© Sabine Troendle, 2019



The gorse

© Sabine Troendle, 2019



The slope

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


GAEL FORCE ART, through murals and messages on the mountain, is regularly highlighting issues that affect the community. Sectarianism, military occupation, discrimination, unemployment, MI5, collusion, ‘shoot-to-kill’-policy, lethal plastic bullets, Diplock courts. But also Independence for Scotland, Catalonia, Irish language, Palestinian rights, the Queen, RIP Mandela and Justice for the schoolboy Noah who was found dead last year. Just to name a few. And there’s a lot of issues that they still need to cover.

Mo Chara listens to the people in his community. What are their issues, what is upsetting them. It really comes from them. And it’s the community that helps by donating paint for murals, fabrics for the flags and emblems, offering their labour, and climbing that mountain or holding the scaffold for a mural. Without the community he couldn’t do it.

One does not need to go far to find evidence of the strength of social bonding and a strong sense of community identity in Belfast. During the Troubles the community would offer volunteers on the run entrance into their houses. They would remove street signs to disorient British patrols and they would rattle the bin lids to sound the alarm. When a bomb went of in west Belfast, a suspect hunted by police and army ran into a neighbour’s house, the home of an 80 year old, very fragile woman. With her consent, he lifted her up, ran into the chaos of the bomb site and told the ambulance staff that she had been injured. So she was off to hospital and he was away out of sight of his pursuers. That’s how far community relations were going and still go, also for different reasons.



© Sabine Troendle, 2019


UN 194.jpg

UN Resolution 194 – The Right to Return

  © Sean O'Carolan, 2019


The colonial structure of British power in Northern Ireland didn’t imply equal rights for Catholics. They didn’t have the same access to jobs, housing, thus no access to the ballot box, as only house owners were allowed to vote. They didn’t have access to governmental power, therefore were not able to have a voice. They were not allowed to their own official identity. It keeps a people small, if you deny them equality. Through their past experience of being treated as second-class citizens, nationalists and republicans tend to identify with other repressed peoples who are fighting for their rights.

The murals in nationalist neighbourhoods talk of armed struggle for human rights all over the world. The murals on the loyalist side talk about the struggle to defend their status quo. On both sides there are militaristic murals – reminders of the past. But there’s a tendency of new militaristic murals going up, mainly if not solely in loyalist areas. The loyalist and unionist community clearly feels under threat. They fear the possibility of a united Ireland. They fear everything Irish introduced into legislation, like the long overdue Irish Language Act. They feel – understandably – abandoned by the British mainland, with that quack of a prime minister. The common feeling is one of loss. Loss of identity, loss of once held privileges (especially the unionist political- and middle-class), loss of their way of life, their British culture. Any advance of nationalism is seen as not a right that Nationalists might hold, but as a concession that is being made by Unionism.

The basic problem is, that the nationalist/republican community is in a struggle and the unionist/loyalist community is in a struggle. They have very different political views. They have different understandings of the past and they are promoting different ideologies. The two struggles are diametrically opposed to each other. So defining a shared vision – it’s also a struggle.


Mural by GAEL FORCE ART in Springhill

© Sabine Troendle, 2017



“In passing this mural, pause a little while, Pray for us and Érin, Then Smile”

© Sabine Troendle, 2020



“Still Loyalist – Still British – No Surrender”

© Sabine Troendle, 2017



“We are the pilgrims, master: We shall go always a little further”

© Sabine Troendle, 2017


After the peace process, the militaristic murals began to be a problem and the British government started to pour large sums of money into a ‘re-imaging’ programme: doing away with murals that reminded people of the Troubles and replacing them with pleasant, positive imagery more appropriate to a ‘normal society’. Replace them with flowers, abstracts, happy school children, historical events – anything that doesn’t challenge the state. Just get rid of political murals as they raise dangerous issues.

But to worry about what’s on these walls is denying that there is still conflict. There is still division. And it’s not only ideologies, that divide the people. It’s also serious economic and social neglect as well as the failure to tackle legacy issues in a meaningful manner. You’re not gonna change anybody’s mindset by painting over paramilitary murals. You need to feel safe to question your attitude and the respective communities need to feel confident to stop being on the watch. People need to have a future, have a choice. They need to be accepted and respected for who they are and what they represent. The murals disappear when the community decides that their job is done and other issues need to be highlighted. And maybe, some need to stay. They are part of the history of these communities. That doesn’t mean that flowers and colourful abstracts or smart graffiti shouldn’t have its place, but if there’s a town with enough walls, it’s Belfast!

New Lodge

© Sabine Troendle, 2020


Liz Curtis, The Propaganda War, 1984
Gerard ‘Mo Chara’ Kelly, A Larger Canvas, NVTV, 2015
Seosamh Mac Coille, Cathal Woods, An Pobal a Phéinteáil, 2019
Tim Maul in Interview with Willie Doherty
David Miller, Don’t Mention the War, 1994
Peter Shirlow, Jonathan Tange, James McAuley, Catherine McGlynn, Abandoning Historical conflict?, 2010
Valeri Vaughn, Art of Conflict – Murals of Northern Ireland, 2012/13, Youtube

06    Journey

“As horrible as the conflict was, something good came out of it: a very strong sense of community. It’s not that evident today, probably due to technology and individualism. But people here are very good in social bonding.”

Gary, 2017



© Sabine Troendle, 2019


March for Truth

A Bloody Sunday March for Justice has taken place in Derry on Sunday, 27th of January 2019. The shooting and killing of 13 unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry by the Parachute Regiment on Sunday, 30 January 1972 has gone down in history and is known all over the world as Bloody Sunday. Movies have been shot and songs have been sung and books and poems about that day have been written. And finally, after decades of campaigning and fighting and refusing to be silenced or appeased, the families of the murdered see the British Army in court in the form of an ex-paratrooper in his seventies, known as Soldier F.

Soldier F was a squaddie in the Parachute Regiment, a regiment with a reputation for using excessive physical violence. The commander was General Robert Ford. And whilst Ford died in 2015, Mike Jackson, second-in-command and present throughout the whole shooting, is still very much alive. Jackson made sure that the media’s version of events was in favour of the army, claiming that they only returned fire. His narrative went around the globe and innocent civilians were branded IRA combatants shot in action. Their innocence was eventually vindicated, but Jackson never admitted to any fabrication of evidence.

Sir Mike Jackson has since risen through the ranks to become boss of the Parachute Regiment, commander of the British Army on the Rhine, NATO chief in Kosovo, then Chief of the General Staff – Britain’s top soldier. He is still interviewed in the media about military action and the morality of war. Unsurprisingly, the top brass gets off scot-free while the lower rank take the rap. Jackson and his fellow senior officers were far more to blame for the massacre than the men who pulled the triggers. Soldier F is nobody that matters.


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Support for Soldier F in the Shankill area


© Sabine Troendle, 2020


Millisle Stands With Soldier "F"

Many unionist and loyalist communities show their support for Soldier F but they are not asking for the commanders and generals to be in his place. The controversy over Soldier F’s trial is not about shifting responsibilities, it’s an outcry against denouncing the British Army in general and goes all the way back to green and orange and to the question of who’s got the right to be a victim.

The British government is keen on white-washing numerous atrocities committed by the British Army during the conflict in Northern Ireland. One of its favourite instruments is playing innocent and dumb, incorporated beautifully by former Secretary of State Karen Bradly, when she was stating that killings during the conflict by soldiers and police were not crimes and that they acted under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way. While she was speaking, the court in Belfast under Justice Siobhan Keegan heard evidence from a man remembering what he had seen on the day he was shot as a nine-year-old child by a British soldier during what has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

On the morning of Monday 9 August 1971, a heavy handed army marched into Catholic areas arresting men indiscriminately, on unfounded claims of IRA affiliations. The British government had launched Operation Demetrius, the introduction of internment, which resulted in a three-day shoot-out by the Parachute Regiment – one of the most elite units in the world, trained for high intensity warfare and with the motto ‘Ready for Anything’, and the death of ten civilians. Then army captain Mike Jackson briefed the media with a fairytale about an IRA battle implying that the dead were volunteers killed in action. Only that they were not. They were ordinary civilians. They were:




An eleventh man, Paddy McCarthy, died from a heart attack after some soldiers subjected him to a mock execution. Eleven families lost loved ones and 57 children lost a parent.


© Sabine Troendle, 2017


Mural of the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971

The Ballymurphy Massacre is not as well known as Bloody Sunday but momentum has risen since the Attorney General ordered a re-opening of the inquests into the circumstances of the deaths, army procedures, the significance of the media, and more. After a major delay the hearings started in November 2018 and for a hundred days Coroner Justice Siobhan Keegan heard evidence from hundreds of civilian, military and forensic witnesses. The most senior former soldier to testify was General Sir Mike Jackson. But not even hardened human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield got him to admit to obvious breaches of the British Army’s policies and allegations of cover-ups of what happened in Ballymurphy. Jackson thought it all preposterous and concluded by saying that the British Army don’t do conspiracy. Which earned him dismissive laughter from the audience.

For the families the hearings were an emotional rollercoaster, as John Teggart, whose father was among those killed, puts it:

“We thought we were hardened campaigners who had heard everything and knew everything, but it was an emotional rollercoaster from the very start once we entered the court and heard the finer details from eyewitnesses about how our loved ones died. When you heard their details and saw them reliving what they had seen, you could see that they were traumatised by what they had seen.”

On one occasion there was a two hours delay because M156, a former soldier, tried to get full anonymity while in the witness box. Most of the witnesses from the army enjoyed partial anonymity, meaning that their names were encoded and they were screened off to the public during the hearing, but visible to the immediate family members in the stand. While waiting for something to happen, the people around me were chit-chatting about the looks of Grace Kelly and Michael Mansfield. An old man in elegant outfit distributed sweets and another man snored heavily in his chair. It was an overall warm and relaxed atmosphere, as if they’ve met for coffee instead for hearing about the killing of their loved ones.

This mood would change to agitation and anger once M156 made an appearance and started his statement by retracting from what he once said and not remembering anything. According to a former sergeant it would be standard practice for soldiers not to cooperate with inquests by saying they had no memory. Another way of non-cooperation would be ignoring the invite to the hearing and therefore delaying it. Let the victims die and then it will be over with.

I was in court for three days and heard several former soldiers, one of them an army chaplain, resort to their bad memory. Whilst I don’t think it impossible to forget certain things in the course of almost half a century, many claims of bad memory just felt wrong. How can you forget whether you’ve seen somebody being shot or not. Statements are not logic, contradictorily, evasive. The chaplain cannot explain why he didn’t go to the hall where the dead were to give them their last rite, the soldier forgot his password when confronted with a computer, and another one changed his mind about what regiment he was in altogether. The three D’s: Delay, Death, Dementia.

Not everyone was so unhelpful. A former army medic remembered being asked to plant bullets on the clothes of the civilian victims. He refused to do so but didn’t report it to the higher-ups. You just didn’t do that, go behind your own. It would have been difficult to stay in the battalion, not playing along.

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


March for Truth, North Belfast section

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


March for Truth, North Belfast section

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


March for Truth, North Belfast section


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


March for Truth, North Belfast section

Families and communities walked from almost all parts of Belfast to the city centre demanding truth and justice after continued failure of implementing the  Stormont House Agreement struck in 2014, defining mechanisms for how to deal with the past. The deal included provision for setting up a Historical Inquiries Unit (HIU) in order to investigate Troubles-related deaths, an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval an an Oral History Archive. But London is keen on limiting historical investigations and would rather see an amnesty for British soldiers than prosecuting them in courts and admitting to strategic, callous behaviour. So the institutions are not in place, the money is not secured and the families are confronted with yet more delay.

The human drive for truth and justice doesn’t decrease in the face of injustice and it doesn’t go away with generations dying. The trauma is passed on to the next generation and the next, building on that intergenerational trauma so well know in Northern Ireland. Many activists for truth and justice were born after the conflict. They’ve known their murdered relative only from stories. And yet they feel the pain and want their families to be respected. They keep on the fight, campaigning and making themselves heard.


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Michael Mansfield and Padraig Ó Muirigh, solicitors


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Activists of the Springhill Massacre Campaign

“People power is grassroots movements of which there are large numbers, and they have grown over the period I’ve been practicing. To get communities to come together to press for justice because there was this unspoken belief the British system of justice will produce the goods but of course, gradually people realised: the system wouldn’t do it. The system will be forced to do it, if those usually who have been the victims of injustice decide not individually, but collectively, that they will stand together to shame authorities eventually into doing something. Because of course you want the truth for yourself but that is a truth you want to hand on to the next generation. You provide an example to the generation and all those generations that comes behind. That actually, you can do something. It’s not the ballot box, at the end of the day, nor is it the armalite that actually brings about the change. It’s the conscience of people deciding that they not gonna take no for an answer. The Bloody Sunday families did the same in Derry until eventually they got cross party support for a public inquiry. And a public inquiry which actually at the end of the day had a very distinct finger pointing exercise at certain members of the military of what was done on the streets of the United Kingdom. Truth and justice they go together as Martin Luther King pointed out many times.”  Michael Mansfield

These were the words of Michael Mansfield, the human rights loyer involved in the Ballymurphy Massacre, at the launch of the Springhill Massacre campaign at the Cultúrlann in February 2019. After the Bloody Sunday campaign made it as far as an actual court trial and the Ballymurphy Massacre campaign to the re-opening and conclusion of new inquest, the Springhill Massacre campaign is waiting for an inquest hearing date.

After disturbances in Lenadoon, where the army prevented Catholic families from moving into their allocated houses, because of threats by loyalist paramilitaries who regarded the estate as their own territory, the situation quickly escalated with soldiers firing rubber bullets. On Sunday 9 July 1972, the ceasefire that was in place between the IRA and the British government ended. While the fighting in Lenadoon raged, other areas of Belfast remained relatively quiet. Until around 9pm, when without provocation or warning several British army snipers opened indiscriminate gunfire on residents moving about the Springhill area. By the end of the night five innocent civilians were dead. What followed is just all too familiar with the army distorting the course of events and calling the victims gunmen. They were:




© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Mural of the Springhill Westrock Massacre in 1972

Time and again, the British army escaped justice. It is widely accepted that had they been stopped and exposed by the judiciary, other massacres could have been prevented. But with the British army’s narrative on fighting gunmen and the legal system’s unwillingness to scrutinise the army’s version by ignoring eyewitnesses statements, the same regiment that was responsible for the Ballymurphy massacre, only half a year later travelled to Derry leaving their mark in form of Bloody Sunday. Springhill followed a few months after and in 1973 it was the New Lodge Six that went down in the state killings’ history book. And this is just to mention the events that so far have been granted leave to a new inquest. Never was there any arrest, the state could kill with impunity, either in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries or single-handedly.

Since then many books have been written about state killings and several inquiries have been conducted, uncovering bit by bit the extend of the state’s involvement in sinister undertakings. But there’s still a long way to go and the government needs to fully accept its responsibility in the conflict. It’s still the case that evidence is being destructed or concealed by the Ministry of Defence and the Police in order to hide their part in deaths that to this day are undissolved and brushed under the carpet. Legacy is at the centre of the entire criminal justice system and politics, as Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice says. As long as these cases are not looked at, as long as the families are denied justice, there will be no reconciliation and no peace in this society.


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Mural of the New Lodge Six Massacre in 1973


© Sabine Troendle, 2017


Memorial of the McGurk Bar Massacre in 1971


© Sabine Troendle, 2017


Victims of state killings and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries

Ballymurphy Inquest, Facts and Figures Briefing, 2018
Ciaran Cahill, Reports from the Ballymurphy Inquest, Facebook, 2019
Kelly McAllister, A Report from the Ballymurphy Inquest, 17 January 2019
Michael Mansfield, Speech at Springhill Massacre Campaign Launch, 26 February 2019
Padraig Ó Muirigh, Ballymurphy Independent Panel / Solicitor’s website
Mark Thompson, Speech at Springhill Westrock Commemoration, 7 July 2019
Springhill Westrock Massacre July 1972, Time for Truth Pamphlet

BBC, Belfast Telegraph, Guardian, Hotpress,
Irish News, New York Times, Rebel, RTE

05    1861

“The fundamental issue is not not that they speak for the voiceless. That voice has thundered through the ears of women for hundreds and thousands of years. That point of view is not voiceless. It has been the predominant voice of Hierarchies, of Church, of Patriarchy, of State, of Imperialism, of Racism, of Capitalism, for as long as they have been here. These people who control that voice, why are they afraid?”

Bernadette McAliskey at the Rally for Choice 2019



Handmaidens in Lisburn

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


At midnight on 21 October 2019, abortion in Northern Ireland has been decriminalised. The Victorian-era, 158-years-old Offence Against the Person Act (1861) had to bundle up and leave the stage and the agonies of a woman facing a jail sentence of up to five years for obtaining online abortion pills for her teenage daughter – or in the words of the charges ‘procuring and supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage’, were over. For the first time in six years, the woman could go back being the mother she was before the weight of the looming judgement started to hang over her every minute of every day of her and her family’s life. She could finally move on.

Refusing bodily autonomy leads to nothing but suffering. In 2012 Savita Hallapanavar was diagnosed with an unavoidable miscarriage but was denied an abortion because the doctors were afraid to intervene as long as there was a foetal heartbeat. They could have faced prosecution for illegal abortion. That climate of fear cost Savita her life.

In 2014, a pregnant woman was declared brain-dead but again, because there was a foetal heartbeat, the doctors could not switch off the life support system as this would cause the death of the foetus. Instead of having an end of life with dignity, the woman’s body became an incubator for the foetus. The family had to go to court to end that grotesque situation.

Nevertheless, in 2019, the unimpressed DUP health minster in the north tried to alter the prison sentence for health professionals who failed to adhere to the restrictions or didn’t report (suspected) illegal pregnancy terminations from five to ten years.


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Pro Choice rally through Belfast

It was a momentous and historic day, the 25th of May 2018, when the south of Ireland repealed the 8th Amendment and made abortion accessible to pregnant people and it was clear by then: the north – the only place in Europe besides Malta still dwelling in earlier centuries – is next. The fight against the establishment, against sexism, against austerity and against oppression has seen the formation of one of the most dynamic and youthful movements in Ireland. A movement that unites Protestants and Catholics alike.

The fight for the basic human right of bodily autonomy has seen protest marches, acts of civil disobedience, artistic comments and performative activism. The socialist-feminist group ROSA was aiming to raise awareness of the availability of abortion pills online by staging a protest at the Belfast Laganside Court where the trials of the women who took or procured the abortion pill took place. Some activists took safe but illegal abortion pills in public. The police tried to arrest one of the women but had to give up with all the commotion going on around the protest and contented themselves with arresting the robot that deliver the pills instead. To be honest, I don’t think their heart was really in it.


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Pro Choice rally at Laganside Courts


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Arresting the robot


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Attempt to arrest a protester

You cannot force people to be pregnant when they do not want to be. Yet, all executive parties except for Sinn Féin are either quiet or openly against the law that since 31 March 2020 allows abortions under all circumstances up to twelve weeks. And yet, even for Sinn Féin to join the pro-choice campaign took quite a while. Gerry Adams made it quite clear that only if it can be of use to Sinn Féin’s primary cause – a united Ireland – will they campaign for other issues like abortion:

“I merely point it out as an example of an issue which cuts across the strategy of a successful national liberation movement which must be to rally the broadest mass of the people around certain fundamentals and upon an easily grasped programme of points on which people can agree. We need to avoid issues which are too local, partial or divisive.”  Gerry Adams

Ok, that was in the 1980s and Sinn Féin have changed their stance on several issues meanwhile, but nevertheless, it only jumped the pro-choice-wagon once it was well rolling and once it realised that its original anti-abortion stance doesn’t sit well with their younger voters.


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill at a Pro Choice rally at City Hall

Sinn Féin MLA Francie Molloy missed the train. He kept loyal to his views, opposing abortion even in the case of risk to health for the pregnant person. His stance earned him a visit from the handmaidens who were travelling on ROSA’s Bus4Choice through the north towards Derry. Sadly he wasn’t in his office when they arrived in Cookstown, nor were his co-dinosaurs Edwin Poots, Paul Givan and Jefferey Donaldson from the DUP in Lisburn. Thank god for the likes of Jim Wells, who in his one-man performance explained that dinosaurs never have existed and that every pregnancy was a gift of God. The irony of the dinosaurs was lost on him and so was Topcats – God love him.

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Topcat Jim Wells in Lisburn

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Handmaidens in front of Sinn Féin office in Cookstown

Jim Wells sounds like I choir boy when you have to listen to other DUP officials such as Ballymena councillor John Carson who claimed that the coronavirus pandemic was God’s judgment on Northern Ireland for introducing abortion and same-sex marriage and that the Covid vaccines were made from the stem cells of aborted foetuses. And whilst Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland admitted that Carson was wrong, she affirmed that they will do everything in their conscience to protect the lives of the unborn. (I find it very interesting how the DUP and cohorts demand to have parity with the UK and seem to accept new threats of violence if the Irish Sea Border is going to stay, now that Brexit-reality starts to dawn on them, yet, they cry the loudest when it comes to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland which treats the people of Northern Ireland equal to the people of Britain. One people, one Union. A United Kingdom. This deserves deeper scrutiny.)

Even though abortion on request up to 12 weeks is now legal, abortion services have not yet been set up. Delaying access to abortion services in the north keeps pregnant people from the north travelling to Britain or the south of Ireland to have an unwanted pregnancy terminated. But not everyone can afford to travel. Not everyone can be absent for several days. Not everyone has the mobility or the right to travel. It’s a slap in the face of those who are already disadvantaged and underlines the discrepancy of middle-class and working-class realities. I’d like to quote Judge Horner’s comments in the Belfast High Court in 2015

“If it is morally wrong to abort a foetus in Northern Ireland, it is just as wrong morally to abort the same foetus in England. There can be no doubt that the law has made it much more difficult for those with limited means to travel to England. The protection of morals should not contemplate a restriction that bites on the impoverished but not the wealthy. That smacks of one law for the rich and one law for the poor.”  Judge Horner

The pro-life voices are fighting the new law with all their might. The DUP, the Presbyterian and the Catholic Church, all kinds of activists and a former ombudswoman are calling for the repeal of the hard won abortion legislation. They say that an already beleaguered health staff should not, on top of a pandemic, have to cope with the introduction of abortion and they encourage them to refuse to take part in terminations stating their religious believes.

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Pro Life rally on Customhouse Square

The pro-life group PRECIOUS LIFE lately took the fight against the new abortion legislation back to the streets, setting themselves up in front of City Hall, holding up placards with very graphic images of aborted foetuses. Some of these images can be pretty gruesome and certainly have the potential to retraumatise women who have had miscarriages or abortions. But of course, that’s the point. I could not disagree with these groups more, but I guess they have the right to make their voices heard. The freedom of expression is one of the most important and fundamental human rights and people do not have the right to not being offended.

But it’s reassuring and encouraging to see how many young, colourful, loud people counter them in joyful celebration and take to the streets every time there’s a call. At the Rally for Choice in 2019, Bernadette McAliskey said something that resonates in Belfast more than anywhere else:

“The faces I’m looking at are gloriously young and female. Young women in their twenties, straight people, gay people, bi people, trans people. The majority of the people waling into the other direction were older. And male. That’s a new interface. The new interface isn’t about which geographical location in Belfast or Northern Ireland you came from. What electoral district you might be in in terms of sectarian interfaces. Very clearly this new interface is between those who fundamentally believe in the right of individuals and human beings to exercise freedom of choice.”  Bernadette McAliskey

01_38_2017-10-14 14.58.06.jpg

© Sabine Troendle, 2017


Pro Choice rally through Belfast city centre


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Pro Choice rally at City Hall

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Pro Choice rally through Belfast

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Bernadette McAliskey at Pro Choice rally on Writers’ Square


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Pro Choice rally through Belfast city centre

By the way, the Catholic Church did not always condemn abortion totally. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that in the case of a boy the soul entered the body at 40 days of pregnancy and 80 days in the case of a girl. And even if intentional abortion was always an offence against God in his view, until before the point of ensoulment it was less so.

Eleanor Crossey Malone, The Socialist, 2018
Madeleine Johansson, YES for REPEAL, 2018
Bernadette McAliskey, Speech at Rally for Choice, 2019
Susan McKey, Pro-Union Non-Unionists, 4 March 2021
Peter Tatchell, Talkback BBC Radio Ulster, 25 Feb 2021

BBC, Belfast Telegraph, Guardian, Irish News,
Jacobin Magazine, Rebel, Workers Hammer


04    Tell

“There is no human situation so miserable that it cannot be made worse by the presence of a policeman.”

Brendan Behan


11_145_DSC_9040 copy.jpg

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Before I took two months off to come to Belfast to work on my photographic project on divided societies – which of course was nowhere near finish after the two months, in fact, I’m still here – I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I loved the danders to the library through early morning Zurich, descending to the underground levels of the old building and walking through endless corridors of shelves full of books. Politics, history, military, art, literature, law, anything broadening my mind regarding Irish complexities was welcome. The history of Ireland is primarily a history of exploitation, famine, migration, and demands for independence. After so many dives into stories of colonialism, miscarriages of justice, doomed battles and human suffering, I subconsciously read my way into the literary section, though ignoring Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, straight into crime fiction’s haven. Probably muttering on an even deeper subconscious level Walter Benjamin’s

"No matter what trail the flaneur may follow, every one of them will lead him to a crime."

When I walk into NO ALIBI on Botanic Avenue – THE bookshop for crime fiction, THE bookshop for inspiration, one of the few survivors in this neoliberal rage against small business and independent thinking – I can choose from a wide range of award winning local crime fiction writers. That hasn’t always been the case. For a long time crime fiction was snubbed upon, wouldn’t have been accepted in the grand world of high literature, and the same verdict fell on romance, science fiction or graphic novels. This literary bias mirrors an underlying class bias, a much bigger issue here in Belfast than in Switzerland. (I have to say that my mum, a professional bookseller herself, looked down on crime fiction wholeheartedly, though this had nothing to do with class snobbery but with her inability to bare the suspense.) The situation has considerably improved and it’s widely accepted by now, that the best crime novels are written by working-class writers and feature working-class heroes with working-class villains that chase each other in blue-collar towns and estates.


© Sabine Troendle, 2017


Until the early 1990s, many thrillers on Irish matters were written by non-Irish people characterising the Irish as the jolly ploughboy, the Irish rebel, the romantic gunman, the brutal and misguided terrorist. In prison for bombing the Brighton Hotel in 1984, Pat Magee wrote his PhD on the representation of Irish Republicans in Troubles fiction. Most striking, he found, was that

"Britain is rarely depicted as part of the problem; never mind, as republicans would argue, the problem. Various permutations of the formula reveal a blarney-spouting thug with a ‘ferrety look’ and halitosis or ‘the Fenian world of rotten teeth and puffy botched skin’. In this murky light, the violence attributed to republicans results from an ingrained bloodlust and is not the effect or symptom of profound political grievances."

It’s much harder to explore and express what has happened by drawing from experience, talking about things that you know, feel, smell, fear, live through than helping yourself to widely recognised and accepted narratives. But cliche is dangerous and turns quickly into banalities. It is important to contest prejudices and stereotypes by humanising the characters and correct misrepresentations for the sake of adequate understanding.


© Sabine Troendle, 2017



© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Belfast, an economical mecca in the empire turning provincial backwater after partition and war-zone during the conflict. A bleak, eerie, ghostly place, with military structures, soldiers and helicopters, eternal rain and fog, bomb sites and a dying industry. A place where suspicion, fear and violence were moulding hearts and minds and dark things were happening – a perfect location for crime stories. But there was a very defined lack of interest from editor, to writer and reader to delve into dark things when what you had outside your door were dark things happening and where you had to consider your word carefully.

“Many of us walked a tightrope with the IRA at one end, and the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries at the other. You had to be careful abut what you said and wrote. Words could kill. If you said the wrong thing, you might never be seen again. The phrase whatever you say, say nothing was a mantra for survival.”  Sharon Dempsey, writer

(Something that journalists, solicitors and politicians still need to consider today, if they don’t want to get into the backsight of officially disbanded but still existing paramilitaries.)

But it’s not just the paramilitaries or non-Irish upper-class that made it difficult for the crime fiction genre during the best part of the last century. There was also State and Church. Rigorously they spread their protective wings over a potentially mislead people by confiscating immoral crime novels from ferry passengers at the ports. There you go.

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Over twenty years into the peace process, society based on tit for tat, based on revenge and vengeance merge into a more civilised society where the responsibility for revenge is passed to the state. Writers obviously feel more at ease to explore the violent past in a new imaginative form, navigate this potential minefield and retelling the story of Belfast. With time and distance it’s easier to tackle sensitive issues that haven’t completely gone away. People have suffered, people live with trauma as a result. It’s not something to make light entertainment out of. And it’s not something that a portion of Irish humour would shy away from. Something I learned at NOIRLAND, the crime fiction festival that in 2017 took place at the most bombed Hotel in Belfast – the EUROPA.

© Sabine Troendle, 2017


Adrian McKinty grew up in a Protestant housing estate during the Troubles but eventually moved to Australia, where, in order to write, he pulls down the shades and puts on a soundtrack of gusty rainfalls.

He is the author of the Sean Duffy thrillers, a series of books where the hero, a Catholic policeman in the 1980s is confronted not only with a civil war in the streets of Belfast, but with sectarian skirmishes from within his workspace and threats from the republican as well as the loyalist paramilitaries. During an interview with Martin Doyle, book editor of THE IRISH TIMES, Adrian pointed out how much fun it was for him to create

this character:

Was Sean Duffy always going to be a Catholic policeman?
Oh absolutely. I was going to put him up in my house where I was born and grew up, I was going to put him in my street as well, with all my neighbours under fake names and I thought: What would annoy those neighbours the most? Well first of all, he’s gotta be a Catholic. That’s gonna really really tick them off. Second of all, he’s gonna be a policeman, they’re not gonna like that. A Catholic and a policeman, he’s gonna have authority over them, that’s gonna tick them off. And third of all I’m gonna make him bohemian. This middle-class guy, bohemian, he knows who the Velvet Underground are.”

During the Troubles, Catholics made up only around 7% of the police force. For Catholics, it was a dangerous career move, not only because policing in a war zone IS dangerous, but because it wasn’t in the IRA’s ethos to take part in protecting a state that in their view – and in the view of about a third of its population – was illegitimate. Or as Sean Duffy in GUN STREET GIRL stoically puts it,

“It certainly didn’t help that I was a Catholic. A Catholic in Carrickfergus was bad enough, but a Catholic policeman? My life expectancy could be measured in dog years.”

Whilst this line really makes me laugh, the situation today is not altogether different, if not as harsh, not as obviously absurd anymore. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is now the Police Services of Northern Ireland and Catholics make up around 32% of the organisation. On the upper echelons Catholics (as well as women, but that’s not a Belfast speciality) are a rare species.

The threat against Catholic police officers from dissident republicans, who didn’t buy into the peace process, is still ongoing. In 2010, a bomb under constable Peadar Heffron’s car exploded and left him with an amputated leg. The year after, constable Ronan Kerr was killed and in 2009, constable Stephen Carroll responded to an emergency alert where he was shot dead. In this specific case it’s not so clear who really was behind the attack. Two men are in prison, but the case is weak and talk of miscarriage of justice is loud.

© Sabine Troendle, 2017


After the PSNI replaced the RUC in 2001, a 50/50 recruitment policy – one Catholic recruit for every one person from a Protestant or other background – was set in place, it ran until 2011. Today the numbers of Catholic recruits are falling dramatically and the call for a return to 50/50 comes not only from nationalist politicians, but from the Catholic Primate Eamon Martin himself. Another plan to push the numbers is to establish a Catholic Police Officers Guild to provide pastoral care for practising Roman Catholics in the police service. And by the way, with only a few more Catholics, the PSNI GAA might even survive.

Back in the days, local authors were told to place their stories in Glasgow or Liverpool. Nobody wanted to be reminded of Belfast, that desolate failure of a town, that awful place where all the terrorists come from. They didn’t see how inspiring this – in their view – societal and cultural backwater was. How an artist could meander through the darkness of a society pushed to the extreme, and explore it forensically. How a talented writer could turn horrific realities into suspense and entertainment without trivialise the actual event. Crime calls for a dark city full of lost and hopeless souls. Belfast lends itself to crime fiction.


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


With the end of daily acts of sectarian violence and relative peace in the streets of Belfast, there is now space for dark writing.



Paul Burke, Nothing in Isolation: Irish Crime Fiction, The Troubles and The Last Crossing, 08/05/2020
Sharon Dempsey, Nordy Noir Knocks at the Door, 01/01/2019
Aaron Kelly, The Thriller and Northern Ireland since 1969, 2005
Patrick Magee, My Troubles with fiction, 22/10/2015
Adrian McKinty at NOIRLAND, 28/10/2017

03    Lost

“And then you start calling them ‘wee bastards’ because they keep you awake at night. Part of you wishes they’d just crash and get it over with, and let you go back to sleep.”

Belfast Resident H

"This is Gerry Adams..."

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


When Gerry Adams made his election stunt for Sinn Féin, driving through the neighbourhood with a soundsystem on top of the car, he was met with flying recycling bins by local youth. I wouldn’t read this as a political statement from young people to the former president of Sinn Féin, former internee at Long Kesh, partisan for the nationalist cause and crucial contributor to the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. I don’t think, that these kids are interested in politics. I think they are bored out of their heads. And I know from experience that boredom can foster your fantasy, it’s a good precondition for creativity.

So if some youngster came up telling me, this was all performance art, well, why not. After all, trying to kill some politicians up in Stormont was said to be performance art and I must say, the leftovers of my wheelie bin are beautiful objects. Though as little the Stormont performance artist’s performance was appreciated by the public, these boys and girls fall on deaf ears in the neighbourhood when it comes to their art.


Wheelie Bin


© Sabine Troendle, 2019


A group of kids have dedicated themselves to bring havoc into the neighbourhood. They steal cars and motorbikes using them for joyriding. They take your wheelie bin and burn it in the middle of the street, trying to attract the police in so they can have a wee riot. They hijack cars at knife-point and they beat each other up at interface flashpoints. Masked boys and girls, some aged as young as eleven, attack police with bottles, bricks and petrol bombs. They have no fear of any authority.

You can find it in every city of the world, you’ll find it in the deprived areas of these cities. Young people in deprived areas tend to have a hostile relationship with the police. What’s different is the situations that spark those events and the readily politisation of it. Summer is always a good time, when Loyalists and Unionists celebrate an event that four hundred years ago resulted in the subjugation of the majority of the people of this island. And when Republicans and Nationalists commemorate the introduction of internment in 1971, which resulted in people being locked up for an indefinite time, the majority of them innocent.


Bonfire in Cluan Place

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Both events are marked with bonfires. One community celebrates, the other commemorates. And whilst the bonfires in the protestant areas widely enjoy the support of community and politics, the internment-bonfires are anathema to most Catholics. As the peace process proceeds, they’re no longer deemed necessary and indeed, have been replaced with the Félie, the west Belfast Festival. So when a bonfire emerged in the New Lodge in 2019, it was no political, cultural or identity statement – the kids wouldn’t be able to explain the history of internment and the Troubles – it was a demonstration of power. UTH. Up the hoods. Orchestrated by some shadowy figures, performed by the kids. And of course, the kids got into trouble when the police tried to remove the bonfire, as it was dangerously close to two highrisers.

The same problem occurs in some loyalist areas every year, when they try to outdo each other with the size of their pyres. And when they burn tyres. And the Irish flag. And the picture of Martin McGuinness. (Or dead police and prison officers respectively in catholic areas). The problem is not celebrating their culture, the problem is that some of these bonfires got hijacked by the UVF. And when it comes to paramilitaries, law and order tiptoes around in circles.


Cluan Place

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Trying to remove bonfire


© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Interfering with bonfires on either side of the divide is a difficult task, and more often than not leads to serious trouble and rioting. For days and weeks the bonfire in the New Lodge in 2019 filled the papers.

18-year-old man left in critical condition after being stabbed when fighting broke out close to the bonfire site.

Three police officers injured after crowd hurling missiles in the hours before the bonfire was lit.
Two teenagers charged after week of rioting.
Police withdraw after contractors attempt bonfire removal.
Women and children used as shields in violence, residents told to evacuate homes.
Police apology for bonfire removal failure

In east Belfast, the council invested in environmental changes to the location of a contested bonfire, to prevent it from being put up so close to residents’ homes. In another occasion the police sent anonymous and masked contractors in to dismantle a huge pyre. When the names of some of the hired hands started to appear in threatening graffiti on the walls, the contractors didn’t come back anymore.

I can’t help but thinking of the bonfires on the first of August, celebrating the birth of Switzerland in 1291. Innocent wee things, widely secured, surrounded by people who don’t have a clue what it’s all for, but greatly enjoying a bank holiday. According to the Newsletter of Swiss Vistas,

We gather around the fire, stick lanterns in the ground, play Schwiizerörgeli –Swiss accordion, dance a little and sing our national anthem while waiting for the fire to subside so we can start grilling Cervelats – a Swiss Sausages – over the remains of the fire.


Bloomfield Walkway

© Sabine Troendle, 2020



Kill All Taigs (Catholics)

© Sabine Troendle, 2018



New Lodge

© Sabine Troendle, 2019


Antisocial behaviour is a noisy affair, but a disrupted night’s sleep is nothing new for the people of Belfast. Back in the days, raids by police and army and noise of rioting, gunfire and helicopters were a familiar feature in many working class communities. In recent years it has been screeching tyres, power-roaring engines and the smell of overheated clutches that make the residents’ feelings run high.

Joyriding used to be a real problem during the Troubles. People in the streets got killed, joyriders got shot dead by police and army or were punished by paramilitaries. Many young men started out in life with a prison record. With the peace process in place it has slowed down somewhat, but never completely gone away. According to an article in The Irish News in November 2019, antisocial behaviour had tripled within two years, mainly in interface areas. With so many insecurities that Brexit, Tory politics and wild lockdowns have brought along in the last few years, antisocial behaviour and joyriding is back in the streets of Belfast.




© Sabine Troendle, 2019



The Baby Survived. His Mummy And Daddy Didn’t. JOYRIDING. Where Is The Joy?

© Sabine Troendle, 2017


I was very impressed with the boy depicted in the mural, who lost his parents to joyriders when he was just a toddler and was then raised by his aunt. He made an appearance in order to raise awareness about joyriding. A teenager by then himself, he addressed and challenged the hoods of the community. It takes some guts in a climate where you risk being exposed if you don’t fit in or threatened if you don’t play by the book.

The pain of losing someone through a criminal act, the hurt and loss lasts forever and voices of those broken families left behind are mostly unheard. But antisocial behaviour will not magically disappear. The many problems that deprived communities are facing need to be tackled on a political scale. In 1988, west Belfast’s answer to antisocial behaviour was a festival. Féile an Phobail – The Community’s Festival. It was a huge dance night, with DJs from all over the place and free tickets given away to young people across Belfast, encouraging them to stay away from the bonfires. It’s still going strong. (That is not to say that west Belfast is free from antisocial behaviour, far from it. And sadly, it’s still deemed one of the most deprived areas in Europe.)

There are still a few of these places in the city, in catholic and protestant working class areas, with highrisers and council flats, where the council deposits trouble-makers, mainly young men who were driven out of their own community. Young, disfranchised people with mental health issues, no education, no jobs and no perspective of any change. Just thinking, that’s life. That’s all there is. The dole office, then benefits and then – 

‘Welfare reforms brought in by the Conservative government have pushed many young people out of the benefits system entirely. They find themselves entitled to nothing at all unless they can show that they have been actively seeking work for 35 hours a week. Some simply stop registering. The state agencies have lost track of 40 per cent of those leaving the register. Literally, a lost generation.’  Eamonn McCann

‘ They need intervention. They need intervention socially, they need intervention medically, for mental health, addiction issues, and they also need some sort of hope and pride in the place they live. If you have pride in the place that you live in, you wouldn’t be trying to destroy it.’  Allison Morris


New Lodge Road #1

© Sabine Troendle, 2020


Belfast now exhibits loads of fancy hotels and restaurants. The gentrification
of the city centre is going ahead and the annex of the Ulster University is about to be completed. The  movie industry is flourishing, series like Game of Thrones, In the Line of Duty or The Fall have been filmed here. Tourism is getting big, especially in the summer months and you can even get a hamburger from McDonald’s meanwhile. But as Colin Coulter, professor of sociology at
Maynooth University observes,

‘The signing of the Good Friday Agreement was meant to signal an era of economic prosperity for those working-class communities that suffered most during the Troubles. Over two decades on, this much vaunted ‘peace dividend’ has yet to materialise. A combination of persistent economic stagnation and the onset of austerity has ensured that the poverty and inequality that marked the era of political conflict continue to blight Northern Irish society.’

With the money coming from Europe and the British government, they want to invest it in something that shows. They want things to look good. Want to show progress. And the politicians play along, make the various institutions build show-programmes in order to draw that money in. They want the world to see that the people in Northern Ireland are coming together. So projects that give a strong and easy proof of progress are more likely to be funded than others. The communities outside the centre and out of immediate visibility are not the premium target.

Despite all promises. No news on that side, really.

But there is no longer much to worry about, with Brexit, that money will probably stop coming in anyway.


Colin Coulter, Northern Ireland’s Elusive Peace Dividend, 2018
Heather Hamill, The Hoods, Crime and Punishment in Belfast, 2011
Eamonn McCann, The Irish Times, 27/04/2019
Allison Morris, BBC Talkback 08/08/2019


02    Quiet

“And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they
depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?”

Margaret Thatcher, Speech to American Bar Association, July 1985​

There’s a bit of a routine I’ve developed over the years. I listen to the radio. Talkshows. Mostly about everyday political and current affairs. It’s entertaining and it gives me an insight in what’s going on in this place, the mood of everyday life and citizen but also the role of the media, mainly the BBC. Its need to appear impartial, always operating on the equality ethos. Which of course is not possible, given the fact that we are talking about a British Network, paid mainly by the British and a handful of Irish taxpayers. Not many programs made in the North of Ireland would spark a flame of interest on the British island. Not too many people over there really care whether this wee country belongs to the United Kingdom or not. They probably think they’d be better off without it. Brexit is the latest proof of how the British live in oblivion when it comes to that part of their precious union. When even the secretary of state doesn’t know about the two main entities and their affiliations either to the Crown or to the Republic down south, well, it just seems a little bit upity to me. A bit of a colonial hangover maybe?

During the Troubles in the 70s, 80s and 90s, any journalist with a desire to keep the job, would only

report from Northern Ireland with certain safeguards in place.  It was easy to get on the wrong page of the British government’s upper echelon so eager to portray itself in a positive light. Ever the peace corps, the good samaritans, coming over to settle an argument between two rivalling native tribes. Law and order fighting a terrorist gang. A friendly army drinking tea with the locals. That was the kind of picture they wanted to imprint in the spectator’s mind. There was no room for an alternative narrative, no room for reports about young unarmed men killed by soldiers, ill-treatment and torture in Castlereagh, shoot to kill policies and collusion between the army and loyalist paramilitaries. And there was certainly no room for the republican voice that could evoke the so dreaded question of WHY. To protect the people from being informed, a new legislation was introduced.


From 1988 until 1994, the Tory government put a ban on broadcasting the voices of all those who support terrorism. They were particularly concerned about television, its huge audience and the great impact of visual images. The BBC was said to be more influential than Parliament, the press, trade unions, the civil service, the monarchy and the church together. Eleven loyalist and republican paramilitary groups were listed, however, the real target was Sinn Féin, a democratically elected party and an integral part of the political process. They practically disappeared from television with a few moments of airtime that could just as well have been an episode in Monty Python’s FLYING CIRCUS. Not banning someone’s ideas, but banning the voice, it’s so bizarre and yet beautifully absurd.

REAL LIVES for instance. A documentary about Martin McGuinness, former IRA member turning Sinn Féin politician, and Gregory Campbell from the DUP, two politicians from two opposing parties, only that one of the parties, Sinn Féin, was under the broadcast ban and the other, the DUP, which also happened to be the leading party in Northern Ireland, was not. So whilst Gregory Campbell was free to promote the shoot to kill policy, Martin McGuinness and his wife had do be dubbed – at least partially.

“It was all really non-sensical. When you have Martin McGuinness’ wife speaking as the wife of an IRA commander, her voice is done by an actress, but when she sighs, she sighs in her own personal capacity, so it’s her real sigh.” 
Keith Baker


© Sabine Troendle, 2017


From 1988 until 1994, the Tory government put a ban on broadcasting the voices of all those who support terrorism. They were particularly concerned about television, its huge audience and the great impact of visual images. The BBC was said to be more influential than Parliament, the press, trade unions, the civil service, the monarchy and the church together. Eleven loyalist and republican paramilitary groups were listed, however, the real target was Sinn Féin, a democratically elected party and an integral part of the political process. They practically disappeared from television with a few moments of airtime that could just as well have been an episode in Monty Python’s FLYING CIRCUS. Not banning someone’s ideas, but banning the voice, it’s so bizarre and yet beautifully absurd.

REAL LIVES for instance. A documentary about Martin McGuinness, former IRA member turning Sinn Féin politician, and Gregory Campbell from the DUP, two politicians from two opposing parties, only that one of the parties, Sinn Féin, was under the broadcast ban and the other, the DUP, which also happened to be the leading party in Northern Ireland, was not. So whilst Gregory Campbell was free to promote the shoot to kill policy, Martin McGuinness and his wife had do be dubbed – at least partially.

“It was all really non-sensical. When you have Martin McGuinness’ wife speaking as the wife of an IRA commander, her voice is done by an actress, but when she sighs, she sighs in her own personal capacity, so it’s her real sigh.” 
Keith Baker

But my all-time favourite is the IRA sausage scene in Peter Taylor’s documentary THE ENEMY WITHIN where several loyalist and republican paramilitary prisoners are speaking un-dubbed about their situation, their lives, their views and so on. As they speak in their purely personal and private capacity and not as official representatives of the IRA, UDA or UFF, talking about their membership in a paramilitary group doesn’t bother the observing censorship board. But beware, it definitely gets ticklish when the IRA food spokesman comes in, his voice had to be silenced:


The thing about the sausage rolls... they’re getting smaller. In terms of size and all that there, you know. The quality is still alright.
PRISON OFFICER               

The quality is good but they’re a bit small...

IRA FOOD SPOKESMAN              

They’re getting a bit small you know.
PRISON OFFICER             

Yeah but they taste a bit better.

IRA FOOD SPOKESMAN              

Getting a bit better.
PRISON OFFICER             

They were made frozen from the British one, there’s nothing we can do with this thing, just how they’re made.
IRA FOOD SPOKESMAN               

Right. There’s two things you put on, the stir-fry for the main meal last week and the fish cod type thing. ...


According to Steve Foster, the right to freedom of speech is a fundamental right, basic to human worth and dignity. Not granting that right is like treating someone with less value. It causes pain and distress. It violates their dignity as an individual and it’s damaging to society as a whole. There is a public benefit in the prohibition of torture or arbitrary censorship or discrimination. Article 15 of the European Convention – which was not yet in place during the time of the broadcast ban – recognises that different considerations may apply to the safeguarding of human rights in times of war or other situations of emergency. Any measure will need to be passed or carried out for a legitimate, and objectively justified, purpose and will also need to be reasonable and proportionate.

What personal effect the ban had on Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Bernadette McAliskey, or anybody else who was silenced, I do not know. But with the actors perfecting their accents and local mannerisms, and them coming across much more articulate than they might have in their own voice, viewers tended to pay more attention to what was actually being said. In fact, it was a big boost for Sinn Féin, as they knew how  to turn the whole sorry farce to their advantage by promoting their case in America, where attacks on freedom of speech didn’t go down very well. So when Maggie in hindsight said that –

“I have no doubt that not only was it justified but that it has worked, and there is reason to believe that the terrorists think so too.”

– well, I just like to quote Keith again: “It wasn’t – aah – but they have to say that.”


Keith Baker, Interview on 6 September 2017
Liz Curtis, The Propaganda War, 1984
Brice Dickson, The European Convention on Human Rights and the Conflict in Northern Ireland, 2010
Steve Foster, Human Rights and Civil Liberties, 2008
Paul Hamann (Director), Speak No Evil, 2005
David Miller, Don’t Mention The War, 1994
Peter Taylor (Reporter), The Enemy Within, 1990

01   Welcome

“Sir, - Ireland is an island surrounded by water. It has 32 counties and four provinces. One of these provinces,

Ulster, has nine counties, six of which are occupied by a foreign country. The occupation of these six counties was forced on this country by a threat of war. This all happened in 1922, after the first World War when many Irish

men had been killed and the Irish leaders had been executed in 1916.”

    Reader’s Letter to the editor of the Irish Times, 18/06/1996​

© Sabine Troendle, 2018


Welcome to Northern Ireland, The Occupied Territories, The Six Counties, Ulster, Our Wee Country, or the North of Ireland, where the use of place-names indicates where your allegiances are and whether or not you think that the British presence on this part of the island is legitimate. Without having expressed any political view, you give yourself away. Thank goodness there’s a wee bit of leeway for the immigrant, caught up in this terminological minefield. The island has been colonised. The loss of personal, national and ethnic identity has ignited many violent conflicts – wars – with the most recent one lasting a good 30 years. About every aspect of cultural, political, societal and personal life is somehow defined by US and THEM. Despite the ongoing peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, the lack of reporting on the region abroad, peace and quiet it is not. I've been in Belfast for three years now. I've spoken to many people, read book after book, worked with local NGOs, got in touch with organisations dealing with legacy issues, walked the city from north to south and east to west. I'm doing my best to understand the pun, the craic, Belfast-English, and I've discovered a rich place. Full of history, ancient and not so ancient. Wonderful people, funny, with stories to tell that are not funny at all and empty buildings, waste land, unobstructed boardwalks along the river, the city with the most car parks in the world, thanks to the steady bombing campaign back in the time, as the local saying goes. There's so much here and I love every aspect of it, even if there's a lot to despair about. Political zero-sum-situation. Numbness. Exasperation. Injustice. Poverty. Mental health issues. The solidarity within communities and sometimes cross-community, the grass root activism across the age spectrum, the protest culture and unions that still deserve the name are an answer. It feels like people care.


The neighbourhood I live in has had it bad during the war. The Troubles. There's murals, plaques, a Remembrance Garden, annual commemorations and the Hunger Strikers on top of the tower blocks to remind and remember. On my way to a meeting with ex-prisoners I was chatting to a neighbour. She lived in this neighbourhood all her life and she was almost disgusted that I, a Swiss woman, wanted to get involved with any of it. She just couldn't understand. I've been asking myself this very question many times and never found the one catchy explanation. But it made me remember a photograph of my uncle's first child's christening – or was it his wedding? However, my grandparents stand at the very edge of the frame and don't look too happy. Apparently they were extremely upset with their son marrying a protestant girl and raising the children in the protestant tradition and they only attended the christening because my uncle threatened to cut all ties with them. I never thought much of this until I came to Belfast. It's here that I've learned about inequalities and oppression on sectarian grounds. And it's here that I've started to ask more questions about my own family background. This is not the answer to why I'm getting involved with a culture that's not mine, but it's an unexpected result of it.

I grew up in Basel, a border town to France and Germany. There was a house where you had dinner in Switzerland and went to bed in France – it's always this bit of  fascination with borders. But you cannot underestimate the power of borders as well. Especially if it's an arbitrary one. People's livelihoods and human rights are in question and the consequences of that can be seen in Ireland as well as in other places of the world, such as Palestine or Cyprus. Politics are everywhere, in health, education, sports, festivities, environment, architecture, city planning and economics.

It's a question of identity.

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