For over thirty years, the Monaghan-born politician John Taylor, who sits as Lord Kilclooney in the upper house of the British parliament, was a central figure in the unionist politics of “Northern Ireland”, the United Kingdom’s last scrap of colonial territory on the island of Ireland. During his long career in the Ulster Unionist Party he gained infamy as a senior member of the one-party regime at Stormont during the final bloody years of its existence, before becoming the deputy leader of the ousted organisation, representing it in the House of Commons and the European Parliament during the 1980s and beyond (in the latter legislature he was aligned with the short-lived Group of the European Right, founded by the explicit fascists of the French National Front and the Italian Social Movement).
For most Irish people, north and south, he is indelibly associated with the McGurk’s Bar Massacre of 1971, when pro-UK or loyalist terrorists allied to the British Army* bombed a pub in Belfast, killing fifteen civilians, including two children. The then Minister of State at the Ministry of Home Affairs was one of those who spread the false story that the bombing was an “own goal” by the Irish Republican Army, a premature explosion taking the lives of its activists and supporters. Despite an official 2011 investigation into the historical atrocity dismissing the allegation, and uncovering the true sequence of events, the now retired representative continues to claim that the premises was a “drinking hole for IRA sympathisers”, outraging the bereaved as late as last year.
In recent times, John Taylor has become fixated with Leo Varadkar, the leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach na hÉireann. In particular, the Dublin TD’s mixed parentage, Irish and Indian, has become a source of constant commentary and ridicule for the ex-UUP man. Again and again, through a new-found enthusiasm for Twitter, the British parliamentarian has fired racist barbs at Varadkar, obsessing over his perceived and innate cultural – or biological – failings. This has culminated in his most recent tweet, featured below, where the so-called Lord Kilclooney describes the Taoiseach as a “typical Indian” because of some imagined slight or act of “disrespect” against the pro-union minority on the island.
For those who understand the dog whistle chauvinist language of British unionism in Ireland, this is much more than an appeal to straightforward racial animus. It fits with the whole “south of the Border” rhetoric favoured by some unionist leaders and commentators. The occasional lapses into the apparently pejorative use of “Mexicans” to describe those who live outside the partition-frontier surrounding the UK-Occupied Six Counties. The lowly natives beyond the Northern Pale. Through such terminology, and his popularity, John Taylor illustrates the irredeemable nature of a strand of supremacist and ethno-sectarian unionism. It is beyond reform or reconstruction, an ideology that can be made no more civil – or civic – than one can mainstream or tame neo-fascism or alt-rightism.
*Note: The atrocity at McGurk’s Bar in December of 1971 was carried out by a gang from the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in Belfast, a terrorist grouping in the city closely linked to the Military Reaction Force (MRF). This was a secret British Army death squad which carried out numerous assassinations and drive-by shootings during the period. The MRF directed and armed the UVF bomb-team, clearing the way with the removal of checkpoints and patrols by the regular British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary; the counterinsurgency police.