James Bennett | Magazine Contributing Editor
On Friday the 18th of January I interviewed Willie Frazer, unionist activist and leader of FAIR, an organisation that works with people whose relatives were killed by violent nationalist groups. His profile has risen recently due to his involvement with the Union Flag protests in Belfast, and he made waves in the Republic when he announced that he was organising a group of unionists that would come to Dublin and stage a protest outside the Dáil. The following is the text of our conversation:
You are most well-known for your work with the organisation FAIR. Could you briefly explain what FAIR does?
FAIR is a victims’ organisation that represents innocent victims from along the border area. It also has been heavily involved with other victims’ organisations in all parts of Northern Ireland. We are probably the biggest victims’ group in the whole of Northern Ireland.
Another organisation that you have been linked to more recently is the Ulster People’s Forum. Can you explain to me what the Ulster People’s Forum is?
The Ulster People’s Forum has come out of the frustration with what is going on in Northern Ireland. The flag… Well the flag was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back. But certainly it is not the only reason for what has taken place. There are numerous things. And especially the whole issue of how victims are being dealt with. That’s being overlooked, but that is one of the big problems. And there seems to be a continuous demonisation of anyone from a unionist or law-abiding background. And Sinn Féin IRA are out there to re-write history, and to do that they have to demonise us.
Do you have a specific position within the Ulster People’s Forum?
I am the spokesperson for it. I was asked to be the chairperson, but I turned down any committee role. I just have too much on.
You have been quoted in your capacity as spokesperson for the Ulster People’s Forum as calling for a return to direct rule. What was the idea behind that?
Our own government has failed us. Basically, something is not working. They will say that under direct rule it would be worse. Well if it is worse at least we can’t be blamed for voting for it. At the minute, the DUP continually say to us that this is what the people voted for. Well it’s not what the people voted for.
When people argue that the Union Flag has been taken down by democratic means, you disagree with that?
Yes, I disagree with that because basically what has happened is that over the years the DUP, and before that the Unionist Party, built up their own wee empires in places such as Castlereagh. They were happy to take power away from Belfast council and move it to Castlereagh council. Castlereagh should come under Belfast council boundaries.
“If it wasn’t for constitutional reasons I would put the guards in charge of policing up here”
What is your opinion on the violence of recent weeks over the Union Flag row?
We have called continually for protests to be peaceful. And in fact, 99% of them are peaceful. The media seems to have missed the fact that so many of the protests are peaceful. On one night, there were 75 protests in Northern Ireland, in different villages and towns. And there was no bother.
There is a video of you on Youtube sayingthat protests over the flag will always be peaceful “except when certain elements who are working for the British government get in and create violence.”
Well if I said it that way I probably meant that whenever people attack peaceful protesters they will defend themselves. I was talking about elements within the republican movement… but also elements within the police force. Not every police officer though, because 99% of them are good.
Are you saying that members of the PSNI have purposefully incited violence?
Yes. I’ve seen it myself.
How have they done that?
Well, for example, if you hit a woman who is standing on the street who is seventy years of age… If you hit her with a baton…
Is this recently?
Yes, in the last few weeks. That’s only one. I’ve seen a lot of women being beaten to the ground.
By police officers?
By police officers.
Is that what you meant by “certain elements who are working for the British government”? Police?
Yes… Well there’s that, and as well… a certain element that are trying to create a bad image of these protests.
How would they be working for the British government? Who are they?
They’re creating the violence to try and turn the… They know there’s great support out there for people that have taken to the protests. The support among the majority of the Unionist community is way above anything they expected.
Just to focus on that quote… You’re saying that the British government is paying people to go out and cause violence in peaceful protests?
Well I can’t prove that they’re actually paying them. What I am saying is that the peaceful protests are working. Where there is violence there is more than one reason for it. Some of it is down to bad policing. Some of it is down to republicans coming out and attacking peaceful protesters. Some of it is down to bad people on the loyalist side who see an excuse for creating violence. But also it has to be asked… Why did they create violence? There were people out there causing violence. And nobody knew them! It turned out that they weren’t from the area at all!
In The Telegraph on the 12th of January, Terry Spence, the leader of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland is quoted as saying “We’ve got no doubt whatever that this is coming from the UVF”. Do you think there has been UVF involvement in these protests?
Well I know for a fact that the UVF is not organising it. But I’d only be a fool if I said that there weren’t people from the UVF involved, because they live in those communities. It’s a bit like Alex Maskey saying that if he had been down the Short Strand he’d have been out throwing stones. He’s an MLA… You know, a republican MLA… So to say that there wouldn’t be anyone from the UVF out doing the same you’d want to be a hypocrite.
But you think it’s unorganised?
It’s definitely unorganised. I’ve been about for a long time and I’ve seen quite a few riots during my lifetime and some of the people with me are ex-police officers who were actually on the other end of the riots.
Fionola Meredith writing in the Guardian called those causing rioting over the Union Flag “a band of opportunists savouring their newfound notoriety”. How would you react to accusations that you have used the Union Flag row to boost your own media profile?
My media profile has always been very good. If I was just interested in a media profile I would only have to come out and sing the praises of the powers that be and I would be the best thing since sliced bread. The reality is, the flag is what we were murdered for. So I see no opportunists. And I will not be called an opportunist. My family was butchered for that flag… and what that flag stands for.
I want to talk about the Dublin protest that was called off after a meeting with the guards. What was said to you in that meeting that made you postpone the protest?
Well we are still going to go ahead with that. The guards basically said to us: “Listen. You’re entitled to have your protest, and we will uphold that right. But if you work with us perhaps we can get it done in a more peaceful way and there will be as little disruption as possible.” And you can’t argue with that.
Do you have any idea when the protest will go ahead?
To be honest with you I was supposed to get back to them [the guards] this week but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t. So, as soon as. As soon as it suits the guards, we will go ahead with it. There was no point in pushing on with that… To be honest with you, if it wasn’t for constitutional reasons I would put the guards in charge of policing up here. Only that wouldn’t go down too well. It’s their approach. There’s no political policing with the guards, as far as I see it.
First it was reported that this protest would be a march to the Dáil to demand that the tricolour be taken down, and then people said that it was also for documents to be handed over about collusion between the Irish government and the IRA. Are you still adopting this two-pronged approach?
The flag part is a tongue in cheek attitude. It was always about the documents. It was always about the collusion. This has being going on for a number of years. We met the Taoiseach a number of months ago and he made promises to us and he broke them. They have to learn that we are not going away.
What promises did the Taoiseach make to you?
Well he promised us he was coming to… We gave him a document when we met with him… with the families who were connected to 110 murders.
Are you saying that the Irish government knew about 110 murders?
Yes… There were people… involved. Just to give you an example… We know for a fact, and it is in Irish government documents, that the Irish government authorised the Irish army to give 500 weapons out of the army barracks in Dublin in 1972 to the IRA around the border. We want to know why that was allowed to happen. That’s not hearsay; that is fact. If he can come down here and call up an inquiry into Pat Finucane, we want an answer to that. We want to why they did not arrest the men who hijacked the minibus in the Kingsmill massacre, when they knew the name of the men involved.
If the documents are the most important part of your protest, why do you need to also make a tongue in cheek demand that the flag be taken down from the Dáil?
It’s to let people know down there. People in Dublin are saying “What’s the issue? What’s the big thing about taking your flag down?” Well we’re saying, “OK well you take yours down then.” And it seems to have annoyed a lot of people. And I actually agree with the people down South. I can understand why they’re very annoyed. Because we’re very annoyed up here. Remember we were told after this agreement… After swallowing a very, very bitter pill…
What agreement? The Good Friday Agreement?
Yes. We were told that that was it, that we were part of the United Kingdom. We weren’t told that there were going to be more changes… Or a continuous erosion of our culture, of our Britishness…
Do you think that increasing poverty and unemployment have created a climate of boredom and restlessness that has caused a return to violence?
To be truthful, it hasn’t caused as much harm as the fraud that is going on in within government departments in the North that are run and controlled by Sinn Féin IRA. Hundreds of millions are going missing… Because of the actions of ministers…
Can you give me an example of money going missing?
Yes. The Land Registry… I’ve got the officer I reported it to a number of years ago, and the documentation. One of them was a senior IRA man. As a matter of fact, three of them were senior IRA men, who had defrauded millions. If they had acted then, not only would they have saved the country millions, they wouldn’t have caused a fine of 70 million from Europe. But it was not in the public interest to follow it up. It’s the same with this horsemeat. We have it on public record that we raised that five years ago.
Who raised this?
Yes. And I can introduce you to the investigating officer that I reported it to.
Why do think it didn’t come out then?
Because senior IRA men were involved in it.
The IRA were involved with putting horsemeat into beef products?
Why would they do that?
To make money. It’s the same with cows that have to be sold within a certain number of months after they’re born. Basically old fat cows that are 30 months old have been put into the food chain because the republicans have the means of getting it in. And a blind eye has been turned to it. This is the kind of thing that’s going on that we’re sick of… There is a blind eye being turned to so much fraud so that they don’t upset the peace process. That is what is creating the problems here.