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- Carson’s last Stand
- Greater Shankill ACT in poignant tribute to those who dedicated their lives to fighting republicanism
- John Downey: Double murder accused released on bail
- Leaked email shows PSNI offered secret deal to the republican Felons club
- The Letter to Leo: the Evolution of an Earthquake – By Niall Murphy
- The arrested Loughinisland massacre journalists are pawns in a legacy struggle
- Sinn Fein activists win no prizes for spending Halloween dressed up a ‘civic nationalists
- CHASING AN ELEPHANT IN THE SNOW – By Brian Rowan
- John Downey case once again shines a spotlight on OTR scheme
- Donegal Orange Hall reopens after destruction in 2014 arson
Category Archives: Loyalism Today
Dublin Central Mission 1984
“Where’s the FUCKING sweets?”
Mothballs for Cola drops.
Boys of the book
kicking the bean ball
jumping, screaming, laughing
for a Cola drop.
From a musty pocket-comes
a sticky Bible tract.
BOLOX…. I wanted sweets.
The man of the book.
Chris Thackaberry is Dublin born and bred in the North Inner City. Past Master of Dublin & Wicklow LOL 1313 and former Hon. Sec Manager Dublin Conservative Club. Chris is living in Belfast for over 5 Years and he is a Progressive Unionist Party political activist in East Belfast.
“Nothing better than a few jars in a pub with no TV or tourists to melt ya head; talking history and Labour politics, anything and everything and out of that and a life lived. Comes words and thoughts. These 12th of July poems are part of a collection of thoughts scribbled down from 1995 to present”
Mini 12th 1st July
July ladies My Lady’s Road
Blonde cheers of loyalty
under a siege of flags
double stitched for strength.
Against crimson orange sky
blue wicked girl skips a curb
wee man in tow – tin drum in hand
reaches out to meet mine.
12th JULY 1998
Elijah’s call for biblical barbarity.
Three kidder – ablaze
between towers of silence.
Bearing thy old suit
among sleeping masters.
You take rest – unsettled
stranger – with fraternal hand.
Upon this unholy alter
of flesh of flesh- blood and bone.
Chris Thackaberry is a protestant born and bred in Dublin. He is an Orangeman and sits on the Central Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge. He works in Belfast but is regularly in the city of Carson. Thackaberry is on the Central Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge.
Shutter front pound can
Blue bag – bodies deep
Mass grave of side drums
Spill out from wall
A salient of illegal gatherers
No eleven plus one required
Skinny girl clearing table
Giggling out the penny
Her boy – ‘burrrbs’ out
“A light shown in the night”
Swaggering polyester uniforms
Cut the smoke
Ash trays – cheap beer- spray tan
Loyalist tunes – urban voice
Grained out of jax door
Pen and ink proclaim
To educational disavantage?
No big houses in the inner East
Only – red, white, blue – people
Bonfire management schemes have been somewhat commonplace over the past number of years. Most Councils deploy some form of scheme whereby they attach conditions to the bonfire, and as a reward for adhering to such conditions, there is a financial incentive.
This, of course, was all well and good in the formative years of the peace process when everyone was happy enough with a nod and a wink, but times have changed. In recent years we have seen Councils go to great lengths to claim they do not fund bonfires, but instead fund associated community festivals.
Ards & North Down Borough Council take the ludicrous approach of saying ‘we do not fund bonfires, but for entry into our scheme you must manage a bonfire and adhere to certain conditions’. To further compel the ridiculousness of that particular policy, Ards & North Down Council award extra funding if you have a particular form of bonfire, and a lesser amount if you have a traditional bonfire. This all the while maintaining that they do not fund bonfires. The back-door bonfire funders!
This is all well and good until someone antagonistic towards bonfires makes a complaint to the PSNI in relation to some aspect of a bonfire. The PSNI’s first port of call is to see who has responsibility for the bonfire, therefore the same council that has designed the so called management scheme would be under a statutory obligation to hand over minutes of meetings, documents or a record of who received funding to manage the bonfire. This demonstrates the ridiculous nature of councils attempts to ride two horses.
As a strong advocate of bonfires I have long argued that Unionism should not engage in any statutory body led bonfire management schemes. I always believed that these schemes are, in reality, more about chipping away at bonfires and trying to blind the bonfire groups with financial incentives.
Hence why if one looks at the first bonfire management scheme and looks at some of the 2016 proposals, it isn’t hard to see the logical trajectory of these schemes.
The battle for bonfires will eventually be fought out in the courts. That is a sad reality, but one which we should prepare for.
The attempts to regulate and/or devise clever legislative mechanisms to control bonfires follows the same approach as the Government used when dealing with parading. A regulatory mechanism was designed which legally compelled adherence by groups wishing to parade. This effectively cut out the judicial system and instead handed parading decision making power to an unelected quango. One need only look at how that played out for the Unionist community to realise that no good can come from any statutory scheme that seeks to wed bonfire groups to adherence to statutory led conditions.
The objective is to incentivise groups into the system with the lure of financial reward, to strip away a little bit more of bonfires each year, and once they have groups fully embedded in a statutory scheme and/or legislative regulatory system, eventually the money will stop and any resistance at that stage from groups will lead to a policy of criminalisation.
The councils should provide funding for community fun days and children’s events to celebrate the 11/12th July, however such funding should not be tied to adherence to bonfire conditions- especially as councils seek to ride two horses in terms of effectively funding bonfires but then washing their hands of it in public by saying ‘oh no we just fund associated fun days’.
Unionists should not be duped into a process that is designed to tie bonfire groups into regulatory schemes, which will end with the eventual hand over for the decision making process for such schemes to an unelected quango. Take a lesson from the Parades Commission. Let’s not fall into another bear trap.
It is a common, and at times cynically perpetuated analysis that those who are opposed to the peace process are by extension opposed to peace. Or that those who want to express their single identity culture are sectarian bigots. This simple, narrow and broad brush approach is often used by those who seek to suppress and silence dissenting viewpoints, quite often to suit their own political agenda or by those who wish to neutralise single identity cultural expression.
Republicans lament anyone from the Protestant community that dares to dissent or resist the pro peace process mood music as ‘sinister elements’ or declare that anyone articulating an opposing viewpoint is ‘hostile to peace’ or that such persons only want to go back to the ‘bad old days’. Anyone who dares to celebrate their culture- even strenuous pro agreement advocates within the PUL community- are sectarian bigots.
Common sense would tell you that Sinn Fein wants to suppress and demean any anti-agreement Unionist voices because the peace process is the greatest weapon they ever had, and they are using it to their full advantage to wage an unrelenting attack on the PUL community.
Supporting this suppression of any form of dissent we also have those who self-identify as the ‘silent majority’ or as Brian John Spencer (a blogger) referred to the group he purports to be a part of- ‘the muzzled majority’.
A respected academic remarked to me only this week that when you read Brian John Spencer’s blogs what comes through clearest is his inferiority complex, his need to cram as many unorthodox words or obscure references into his pieces as possible, so as to somehow make himself feel like everything he wants to be.
This need to attach cliché after cliché to everything that comes from his mouth could be best summed up by his car crash appearance on UTV. Reviewing the papers with Allison Morris he left the presenter, and most of the viewing audience, speechless with his horrific performance.
The supposed vehicle for this muzzled majority group of people to unshackle themselves from the so called ‘us’ and ‘them’ politics was NI21- and look how that has turned out. It has largely been left to Basil McCrea, and his assistant at Stormont Gary Kirby, who has went from an administrator of LAD to an employee of NI21 at Stormont- paid with tax payers money!
The muzzled majorities, LAD and NI21’s of this world are acceptable, the sub culture of civic society demands that they have a voice and that their voice is respected- but loyalists are fair game. It is fine for ‘satire’ sites such as LAD to make the speech of loyalists- flag becomes fleg- or the spelling or academic ability of those engaging online, the butt of their rather tedious jokes. What those hiding behind this sort of ‘satire’ fail to grasp is that whilst many within the PUL community may be unable to write an essay with all the correct spelling and grammar- they are not stupid people.
Those who may appear intellectually inferior via social media quite often are people with real social skills, real life skills and a sharp brain. On the flip side of that coin I have encountered many of the ‘bloggers’ or online superheros- and they have zero social skills, they walk along with their shoulders hunched and head down and are unable to hold a conversation, their online ‘profiles’ are everything they want to be- but in reality what you see and read from these people is put through the filter of their own vision of how they want others to see them, and using the tool of a computer- they often succeed in portraying themselves as something they are not.
The most venomous trolls are more than likely people who have sadly been bullied at school or who suffer from deep anxiety. They get their own back on the world, and those who they despise- because they epitomise what they wish they were- by acting out their revenge via the medium of social media. The same people would cross the street if they saw you outside of the ‘virtual world’.
All of the above feeds into an accepted culture of attacking, demeaning and mocking working class loyalist communities at every opportunity. Would it be acceptable to make fun of how Anna Lo’s accent or speech sounds? Of course not, there would be outrage, but when it comes to loyalists- we are a socially acceptable group to attack and demean. It is almost fashionable. And when you have a loyalist who also happens to be on the anti-agreement side of the loyalist family- then there is double the amount of legitimacy to troll, demean and ultimately try and silence and suppress those views. It is fashionable to attack loyalists, and it is even more fashionable to attack anti agreement loyalists.
Being a loyalist is not something to be ashamed of; we are a proud people and a proud tradition. Many within the loyalist community may not have the best spelling in the world or be able to articulate their arguments cloaked in the Brian John Spencer dictionary- but these people have real life experience, real stories to tell and legitimate viewpoints. Perhaps some of those who the online trolls or self appointed ‘satirists’ attack worked their whole life in the ship yard or a factory, they have life experience and social skills that would dwarf those who hide behind a computer to call them dumb or mock their spelling. Whilst the trolls shuffle along with their heads down and shoulders hunched, uneasy and uncomfortable outside their virtual world- those working class loyalists that they attack, walk with their heads high, greeting their friends and neighbours as they walk to the local shop to get a paper or to the bookies to place a bet or maybe to the pub to socialise with old friends. They make new friends effortlessly using the social skills that they learned working endless hours in the shipyard, playing on the streets or marching with their local band or lodge.
The trolls, dictionary eaters and satirists that make up the muzzled majority want to present a view of loyalism through the lens of their own narrow virtual world. In doing so they console themselves in the belief that loyalism is an uneducated pack of sectarian bigots who should be shunned, derided and ultimately who are responsible for all the ills of this society. That is the face of loyalism that has been constructed by the muzzled majority, who have devoted many hours in their bedroom, to designing and nurturing their image of loyalism as an inferior class of people.
Had the virtual soldiers taken a trip down the Newtownards Road on Wednesday night their virtual world would have been shattered. The true face of loyalism, residing in the real world, was on display. Children playing in the streets waving their flags or throwing their band poles up in the air, the buzz of excitement waiting on the bands, political debates between old men who had forged their friendship over years in the yard or during service in the UDR and families mingling, using the warm hospitality of Ulster loyalists, to embrace new friends and converse with old ones. And no one really cared what the muzzled majority thought, they are but a fleeting thought in the minds of a proud people.
The virtual world is just that, an online platform for those who themselves feel inferior to create myths and demean those whom they despise, it is a place where you can become part of the online sub culture by joining in on attacking whoever it is fashionable to attack at the time. You can feel you are part of the pack of attack dogs, in reality you are really nothing more than sheep shouting baa at lions.
Ulster loyalism is a proud tradition and our backbone is the life experience of the older folk in our community, our traditions, culture and the defiant spirit that has seen Ulster loyalists survive our darkest hours. The Provisional IRA could not make Ulster Loyalism bow the knee with decades of bombs and bullets- with this in mind I seriously doubt our community, or those within it, will falter due to a siege of satirists, trolls and Brian John Spencer’s!
Anger as Parades Commission blocks part of Derg parade
Thursday, 2 July 2015
AN emergency meeting is to take place this morning (Wednesday) with the Parades Commission after it blocked a loyalist band from parading through what has been described as “a well-known Protestant area in Castlederg”.
Castlederg Young Loyalists Flute Band had applied to parade on July 11 night through the town from McCay Court taking in Main Street, John Street, High Street, Lurganboy Road to the junction of Breezemount Park and turn (Edwards PS entrance), Lurganboy Road, Hospital Road, Young Crescent, Upper Strabane Road, William Street, Diamond, back through Main Street before dispersing at McCay Court.
However, a ruling issued this week by the Commission has banned the parade from marching along the Lurganboy Road, which Unionist representatives says has been “tradition” in the past.
Derg-based Ulster Unionist councillor, Derek Hussey, has blasted the decision and says he has been granted a meeting this morning with Commission representatives to challenge the determination in respect of the parade, which has been the subject of a High Court challenge in the past.
Meanwhile, West Tyrone DUP MLA., Tom Buchanan, also “unreservedly” condemned the decision and accused the parading body of going out of their way to “penalise the law-abiding citizens of Castlederg”.
‘Blind eye’ He said: “This is at the same time where they reward nationalists who have held unlawful protests of which the Parades Commission were never notified. In these instances the Parades Commission appear to turn a blind eye,” he said in a statement.
The Drumquin man also levied blame at the feet of the Orange Order and Ulster Unionist Party, who, he claims, have been involved in behind-closed doors discussions with Sinn Féin and the Parades Commission regarding parading in the town.
“What concerns me most about this decision is that senior members of the Ulster Unionist Party, alongside members of the Orange Order, have been holding numerous meetings with the Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty and other Sinn Fein elected representatives with the Parades Commission regarding the parading situation in Castlederg.
“I have no doubt that as a result this parading route which has been the long-standing traditional route has been sacrificed to appease republicans. This is outrageous,” he said.
Mr Buchanan said the decision to block the parade along the Lurganboy Road had come at a time when members of the Unionist community had “tolerated” the recent Tyrone Fleadh celebrations in the town, wherein he claimed participants had paraded past three protestant churches and delayed other members of congregations from getting to their place of worship.
“It is completely unacceptable that the protestant community, who constantly abide by the rules and respect the rule of law, are continually targeted by the likes of the Parades Commission aided and abetted by those who should know better.
Every last bit of our protestant culture is being eroded by the Parades Commission and it is not helped by other unionist politicians, who are happy to sacrifice our culture in their efforts to appease republicans.”
‘Absolute disgust’ Speaking yesterday (Tuesday) Mr Hussey, a member of the Castlederg Young Loyalists Old Boys band, who will also be parading on the night, expressed his “absolute disgust” at the ruling.
He revealed that he would be meeting this morning with the Parades Commission over the decision not to allow the annual parade along a “well-known Protestant area” of the town.
He also claimed that the successful challenge to a previous prohibition had bred “resentment” within the parading body. “This particular part of the route had in the past been prohibited by the Parades Commission but they had to withdraw the prohibition in the face of a High Court challenge to their determination which was successful.
There would now appear – within the Parades Commission – to be some resentment in regard to this previous defeat. “I have already been in contact with the Parades Commission and will be meeting them at 10am on Wednesday morning to challenge their totally illogical determination,” Mr Hussey said.
Turning to Mr Buchanan’s comments on the talks, he said that he had not been aware of any such discussions having taken place on this parade.
“In regard to claims of negotiations in regard to this particular parade with any other elected representatives, I am certainly not aware of these having taken place,” he remarked.
Mr Hussey said that he is willing to meet with any residents who live on the route, namely Lower Lurganboy Road/Breezemount, adding: “But I do not believe that any would be expressing a concern in regard to this pre-Twelfth procession.”
Sinn Féin were also contacted for a response on the matter, but a spokesperson told this newspaper that it did not wish to do so.
This article first appeared in the Tyrone Consttitution Newspaper
On Saturday 27th June, an “anti-sectarian”, “anti-racist”, “anti-bullying” social media group posted a screenshot, taken from a Loyalist Facebook page, to which they added their own, particular analysis. The group “Them’uns” had observed that Gareth Cole, a PUP member from Carrickfergus, had written an article for a small, Loyalist-run publication, the “Loyalist Perspective”.
Gareth had shared the news of his article being published on his own Facebook page, which “Them’uns” had screenshotted and posted on their own forum. The comments which they made and the subsequent discussions which they have had with me, and others, are why this response has been written.
Before examining the underlying assumptions of what was said, it is useful to provide some context on who the group are, and what they seek to achieve via their online commentary.
“Them’uns” describe themselves as follows:
“This page seeks to expose the sectarian, racist opinions and behaviour of fleggers, loyalists, dissies and bullyboy thugs from whatever side they may come.
We refuse to accept that a small minority of morons can continuously disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens for their own bigoted ends. By exposing the mindset of these extremists, we hope to demonstrate the futile and backward nature of their thinking and, hopefully, have a laugh along the way.” (https://www.facebook.com/leathnach/info?tab=page_info)
A noble set of aspirations. There are, however, a few problems contained within this self-ascribed identity, not to mention the problematic readings of Loyalism, rehabilitation and justice which logically follow from the post of 27th June.
Firstly, are the group suggesting that only “fleggers, loyalists, dissies and bullyboy thugs” hold “sectarian, racist opinions”? Is such a partial reading not an example of the very bullying which they claim to oppose? Moreover, are all Loyalists and dissidents automatically sectarian and racist? If so, what is this founded upon? Is it something intrinsic to these groupings? If this is the case, such assessments have dangerous parallels with racism, which holds that groups contain intrinsic characteristics. Proceeding from this analysis, what are we to do with these deplorable individuals, given that they are irrevocably bigoted? Should we deport them? Where to?
Furthermore, what if “Them’uns” were to encounter non-sectarian dissident Republicans or Loyalists? Would they re-evaluate their position, and the group aims? Critically, would their group continue to exist should the complexity, and progressive thought within Loyalism, emerge and gain recognition? Depressingly, for a group whose raison d’être is that Loyalism is as they describe it, any attempt to provide a counter-narrative will be rejected, as it was on the 27th, and in the days since.
In concert with this, their nod toward inclusivity, in challenging sectarian opinions “from whichever side it may come” is little more than a fig leaf; of the last, ten posts on the page, nine were mocking Loyalists of one shade, or another. The tenth was a shared post from a page called “Tricolour at City Hall”, which advised nationalists not to burn Loyalist bonfires, lest it hamper their political objectives.
It becomes clear, therefore, that the aims of this group are to “expose the futile and backward nature” only of Loyalist thinking, with the attendant discriminatory behaviours which result from such aspirations. These views were evident in their prejudiced comments toward Gareth Cole, as they noted that,
“It’s almost that time of the year when the neanderthals celebrate the ability to make fire” (Them’uns 27th June, 21.10).
Such a response would be perhaps worth more, had the group read Gareth’s article before issuing their judgment. Yet, for this group, who understand Loyalism and sectarianism as mutually constitutive, there was no need to read the article. Their understanding of Loyalism is such that no further engagements with Loyalists, or investigations into Loyalist political thought, are necessary.
When challenged on their own intolerance, the group defended their statement by making reference to an incident from 2011, when Gareth had alleged that the mainstream media in Northern Ireland are not impartial, and suggested that, “it high time we blow utv and newsline up the fenion lovin b******s [sic]”.(Newsletter 2014).
The above comment is indefensibly sectarian in its content. And indeed, if people were fixed entities, holding the same views throughout their lifetimes, and incapable of change, or reform, then “Them’uns” would be wholly correct in surmising that Gareth is a sectarian Loyalist.
However, anyone with even a limited understanding of human nature will know that individuals can reform, rehabilitate, reform, progress, develop and mature. We recognise that people make mistakes, and, as an advanced society, we provide mechanisms for change and personal progress, and continue to include these citizens in our polity. These very concepts are why we in the United Kingdom, a liberal democracy, oppose capital punishment.
We cannot, therefore, confine people to normative prisons, where their past actions guide our present and future treatment of them. Firstly, it is unethical, as it denies human agency and rational autonomy. Secondly, by doing this, we remove the incentives to positively participate in society. If you will be forever judged on a past indiscretion, why should you seek to reform?
I have an additional response to this incident. The first is that I agree with Gareth that the mainstream media outlets tend to discuss Loyalism in somewhat base, narrow terms. Much academic work has focused on this, with Graham Spencer, Alan Parkinson and Malachi O’Doherty publishing work which argues for a more complex, deeper engagement from the media.
Indeed, in November 2013, Professor John Brewer led a workshop at Queen’s University, to discuss the need for “peace journalism”, in societies emerging from conflict: “‘Peace journalism’ is a relatively new term, associated particularly with the idea that societies emerging out of conflict require a form of journalism that constructively helps in building the fragile peace.”
There is scholarly support, therefore, for the idea that the local media do not fairly or constructively discuss Loyalists or their political representatives. However, where I disagree with Gareth’s comments from 2011, are the calls for violence. Any progress must be political, and crucially, must remain a non-violent struggle.
Unfortunately for the group, Gareth has developed, both personally and politically. PUP leader Billy Hutchinson confirmed as much, when Gareth ran for election in 2014. Hutchinson welcomed Gareth into the Party and worked with him to develop his political skills.
This is the final point which I wish to make. The PUP provide young Loyalist men and woman an alternative route to effect change. Through political advocacy, argument and action, Loyalists can articulate their vision of a just society. Without the PUP doing this, and politicising the Protestant working class, what is the alternative?
If we took our lead from “Them’uns”, who appear to despise Loyalism, in whatever form it takes, it would be bleak future for the Protestant working class. Luckily, there are little more than a limited voice, and present regressive attitudes, which sit in sharp contrast to the Progressive politics Gareth now espouses.
The Flying of Flags: A Celebration of Patriotism and a Defiant Determination to remain British: Jamie Bryson
The Flying of Flags
The flying of flags has been a matter of public debate in the past number of weeks. The question many people are asking is why do sections of the Unionist community fly flags and overtly express our Britishness by such methods?
The short answer is that in my personal opinion, the flying of flags etc. is an act of patriotism and an expression of pride in our Country- but at times it is also an act of defiance from a community which feels under siege- but it is important to set all this in context, and explain why our community feel the way we do and why this genuine and deeply held feeling translates itself into overt displays of patriotism.
The PUL community, or at least large sections of us- feel- with more than a little justification- that there is a cultural war being waged against every vestige of Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist culture and that this, campaign if you like, has many fronts- many Trojan horses.
We see the continuous oppression of Protestant culture and traditions through the outrageous decisions of the Parades commission, a body which is overtly hostile to the Unionist community.
We see the criminalisation of culture via the courts process. We see, what we believe to be, the one sided approach to policing and dealing with the past, and all of this feeds in to a growing isolation from the political process- a political process so distant from reality that we now agree fantasy budgets, just so as to keep the institutions on life support.
So with all that in mind, it is unsurprising that there is a feeling within sections of Unionism that we are a community under siege- and as has been evidenced ever since the days of 1912- when the Unionist community feel under siege the response is always one of defiance, so I am not in the least surprised that the flying of flags has increased and that old traditions, such as kerb painting etc., have once again come to the fore.
At its core the flying of flags is a show of patriotism, a celebration of our culture and a defiant signal of our determination to remain British. There is nothing wrong with patriotism. In America citizens are encouraged to flag their flags, to be proud of their patriotism, yet here in Northern Ireland we are branded as sectarian bigots for doing do.
Nationalists demand ‘equality’ and the right to fly two flags- I utterly reject that notion- there can be no equality between the sovereign flag of the United Kingdom and a foreign flag from a neighbouring, and separate, country.
Northern Ireland is a proud part of the United Kingdom, that is our constitutional status, and for all its faults and obvious failures, at least the Belfast Agreement did enshrine the principle of consent. Therefore the Union flag remains sovereign and Northern Ireland remains firmly British.
We are not neutral, and attempts to shift the debate into an arena whereby we submit to the notion that Northern Ireland is half Irish and half British, is a republican tactic which is seeking to pervert, and subvert, the constitutional position of our Country under the fatally flawed, Trojan horse (to quote Gerry Adams) notion of equality.
In North Down, Flag protocols had been a positive development in recent years; these protocols ensured that flags were not disrespected by being left up tattered and torn. There protocols were a good agreement, but as is always the case with statutory bodies, they bank whatever concessions they can and then push for more. They cannot accept an agreement and settle the issue, it always ends up as a process of eradication- every year they have to keep pushing for more, and then they act surprised when the community pushes back?
There has also been much debate around the return to the practice of painting kerbs in some areas. What I will say is that I can understand the anger within our community, I can understand the isolation and subsequently I can understand acts of defiance from a community with nowhere else to turn.
Sam-Chalky-White is a 57 year old member of the Democratic Unionist Party and a former loyalist prisoner. He has a background in community development work in East Belfast and is hotly tipped to replace Gavin Robinson on the Belfast City Council.
The Contemporary loyalist unlike in the past, no longer appear confident and superior. Compared with the days of the Ulster Workers’ Strike of 1974, or the huge loyalist demonstrations against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s, the loyalist protests over the Union flag have been very small affairs.
The things loyalists once held dear – Britishness, the monarchy, no longer mean much to the British establishment, which has found new ways to maintain its rule in Northern Ireland. That said, Sinn Fein has been drawn into the peace process via the Good Friday Agreement signed in April 1998; these republicans have signed up to a new, reformed six-county state. The reward for this compromise has been increasing ‘parity of esteem’ in terms of identity politics and symbols.
Many working-class loyalists, however, have never really accepted the peace process and view it as Sinn Fein and republicans waging war by other means. Watching Sinn Fein becoming the largest party on Belfast City Council was bad enough for loyalists; seeing Sinn Fein successfully have the Union flag removed from City Hall was too much to take, hence protesting throughout the province.
While some commentators think the distinction between ‘loyalism’ and ‘Unionism’ revolves around attitudes to violence, class was and is a much more significant aspect. Loyalist paramilitaries are deeply rooted in the poorest sections of the Protestant working class. That said, out of that loyalism has been an underappreciated expression of Protestant working-class consciousness. Today, the resentment of young working-class loyalists towards middle–class Unionists in their leafy suburbs is concerning, and is part of what makes up the siege mentality on display in the flags protest. Loyalists increasingly view Unionist politicians in the same way they view republicans, the cross-community Alliance Party and British politicians: as untrustworthy enemies, still, the recent unionist pact has installed a relative arena of trust giving way to more in depth cultural safety and less marginalising within loyalist communities.
While many loyalists, what is happening in loyalism today as a bold move to embrace the peace process, I argue it differently. Ulster loyalism is a dramatically fragmented force that has been dragged towards embracing the Good Friday Agreement. When Britain needed an aggressive, supremacist majority to guarantee British rule, loyalists played that role to the core. Now Britain needs loyalists to behave differently in order to secure the status quo; it needs them to adopt the therapeutic language of accommodation and respect for diversity. The loyalists who ignore the new script and refuse to adapt to their old ally’s new demands will find that their devotion to the British state cuts little ice.