Sectarianism was a feature of life in Northern Ireland for as long as any of us could remember. As a child you were brought up in the consciousness of an enemy that was both invincible and everywhere. Electoral boundaries had been drawn up to ensure a perpetual majority for Unionist candidates at local elections. Social and private employment, regional policies and policing were all fervently anti-Catholic. Even today, a Catholic is still twice as likely to be unemployed as a Protestant.
Physical segregation was part and parcel of Unionist control, the effects of which persist today in towns all over the North and especially in Belfast. In Catholic warrens like The Bogside, families broke apart as members emigrated to Canada, Australia and America or sought employment in England. Those who remained, faced a life of unremitting hardship on the dole.
The Civil Rights Movement was the Catholic response to an intolerable situation, a response that initiated over 30 years of open conflict.
Penal Laws, dating from 1695, and still in force until Catholic emancipation in 1829, were aimed at the destruction of Catholicism in Ireland. Before 1690 repressive legislation had been in place since the time of Elizabeth I (1558) but it took on added force after the defeat of James II in 1690.
These laws were described by Edmund Burke as, "a machine as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man". It has to be said that they were in many ways as much a crime against Protestants as they were against Catholics.
Our painting shows the type of bills one would have seen pinned to trees in those years. It is brash, lurid and domineering to show the brutal mentality behind such measures.
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