Monthly Archives: August 2013

East Belfast Festival

‘Pieces of The Past’ is a partnership project.  There are seven groups involved.  Chartner NI, Forbairt Feirste, Shankill Women’s Centre, Failte Feirste Thiar, Epic and Belfast Taxis Community Interest Company all working with Falls Community Council’s Duchas archive to gather oral history interviews and work across divisions. Part of the work is to organise events relating to our history.  The sixth and most recent is this one advertised at the East Belfast Network Centre, Templemore Complex in partnership with the East Belfast Festival.  Come along if you can.


Archive from Cage 21 Long Kesh: G.Igitur


Tony Novosel Book Review : by Mitchel McLaughlin

Gusty Spence and loyalism’s political challenges

Sinn Féin negotiator Mitchel McLaughlin looks at Tony Novosel’s new book on ‘The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism’


In my view, republicans should have more fully explored the potential for engagement and I believe that we are suffering from a deficit of mutual understanding even now, some 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement.


TONY NOVOSEL makes a convincing argument that loyalists had created peace and reconciliation proposals during the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s period.

The author demonstrates this through substantial research of Sunday News articles (although most other newspapers refused to publicise this), additional articles carried in UVF magazine Combat, pamphlets and election manifesto material that a leadership group within loyalism (inspired by Gusty Spence whilst he was in Long Kesh) were developing radical new proposals.

These ideas were ahead of the prevailing political opinions (and expectations) of that period but, significantly, elements of these proposals were directly relevant in the negotiations which produced the Good Friday Agreement.

For perhaps understandable reasons, some observers (including republicans) might be surprised to learn that these arguments emerged from a process of discussion and analysis by figures within the UVF and Red Hand Commando. Subsequent leadership coups and a reversion to sectarian attacks would unfortunately demonstrate that Gusty Spence, Billy Mitchell, Ken Gibson and others did not carry these arguments within their own organisations and the wider unionist community. Nor did they foresee the cynical hostility of mainstream unionist political leaders who responded with open antagonism to the proposals, especially the potential for dialogue that was presented.

Interestingly, the author also cites the recognition of these senior loyalists that the British Government (especially its intelligence services) had actually made significant and at times deadly interventions to ensure that such forward thinking did not take root and flourish within the unionist community.

All of this speaks volumes about the risks for peace that these loyalists had willingly undertaken.

The author also expresses criticism about a lack of response from Sinn Féin at that time, although Dáithí Ó Conaill had described them as “interesting”.

But the question remains: did republicans miss an important opportunity to engage and develop discussion?

In my view, republicans should have more fully explored the potential for engagement and I believe that we are suffering from a deficit of mutual understanding even now, some 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement.

Whilst it would not be credible to argue that republicans could accept an ‘internal’ solution as proposed in these loyalist papers, the author nevertheless demonstrates that loyalists had published a series of proposals for radical reform of the North (including responsibility sharing) which had they been recognised as a basis for an open-ended dialogue could well have accelerated the more inclusive process that eventually emerged.

Did the loyalist proposals address all of the options, including the constitutional aspirations of all sections of our shared (but conflicted) community? Did they believe that an internal solution underpinned by voluntary ‘responsibility-sharing’ would be sufficient for republicans and nationalists, who were clearly articulating the principle of national self-determination?

Did loyalists approach these issues in 1974 from a perspective that republicanism would be defeated by the combined forces of the British state and their ‘allies’ in the North?

Did their proposals represent an acknowledgement of the abuses of unionist misrule?

These questions remain fundamental, even if politics and circumstances have been transformed since the Good Friday Agreement.

Other issues referenced in the book are equally vital.

For example, the curious and contradictory relationship between the broad unionist community and the various loyalist factions, especially when the latter had sought an electoral mandate which would at least have bestowed some negotiating muscle to their proposals. Despite 50 years of failure, the unionist electorate were not about to abandon the Ulster Unionist Party or the DUP. Given that political reality, how could loyalist leaders (no matter how sincere) expect Sinn Féin to believe that mainstream unionist parties and the unionist electorate would be remotely interested in a peace dialogue?

Nor did those loyalist leaders address how the British (not to mention the Irish Government) were going to be brought to the negotiating table in the 1970s, especially during the so-called ‘Ulsterisation’, ‘militarisation’ and ‘criminalisation’ period.

‘Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity’ adds considerably to a wider appreciation of aspects of loyalist thinking as a positive element within unionist grassroots. It details the disillusionment with ‘big house’ unionism, the nascent cross-community and working-class interaction (including secret talks with republicans), and the recognition that the British Government was prepared to sabotage attempts to build working-class solidarity.

The book furthermore affirms that mainstream unionism (post the Good Friday Agreement) remains in denial and retreat from the concepts of equality and parity of esteem; and the ‘dark side’ of the British Government are still plying their trade in our country.

This presents a challenge for new thinking and leadership and, despite many remaining problems, the interaction and co-operation between former combatants at interface flashpoints and the developing openness to engage in ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ is the modern-day equivalence of the pioneering work of Gusty Spence, Gibson, Mitchell and others.

Who else but former combatants would create a sustainable dialogue about dealing with the past, reconciliation or indeed the dismantling of the obscene monuments to divided society, the so-called ‘peace walls’?



Tony Novosel  is a senior lecturer in History at the University of Pittsburgh. Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism (Pluto, 2013).

This article first appeared in the August edition of An Phoblact.



Book Review by G.Igitur

Book Review.
The Bold Tartan Men of Ulster: James Gray.


This book holds a special place regarding all the books I have ever read and that’s  quite a few. It is one of the few that I could not finish. What an awful book and my punch  line is; don’t  buy it. I usually find something to commend a book however badly written. I don’t forget that I grew up in a house with an outside toilet, I failed my 11+ and got my education is the big university in the tin hut university just outside Lisburn.  

Basically this pretends to be about the tartan gangs of the early 70s. I assume the author Gray was one, or was he? I’m not sure why he wrote this ‘fiction’ but I have a few ideas, not all good. I am split between the idea that this is a book attacking the tartan gangs or it is a totally misguided effort at portraying an important aspect of the authors young life? If the latter, he has spent too many years in California.

One of the first odd points concerns the publisher. Who are they? Amazon doesn’t even say. Did he publish it himself,  because if he did, it shows?  Secondly as a onetime tartan member,  the tartan gangs did not come into being to fight the RUC. In those early days the RUC were being hammered by the Provos and the tartans (we ) seen it as part of the duty to oppose the violent Republicans in any way we could. The book starts of poorly by even the very title. The bold Tartan men? With the best will in the world (and we wanted to be grown up and men) we were boys, young adults,  adolescents, etc. but not grown men.

The grammar is atrocious even by my standards. The storyline meanders like a Belfast drunk on a Saturday night who has forgotten his way home.  The indexing and Chapter lay out is unique to say the least. I was really disappointed at the book because I thought it would add a bit to the reality and history of that period. It does nothing of the sort. If it was wild fantasy and fiction that read well I could live with it. Instead it reminds me of someone’s desperation and desire to get into print at any cost.  A lot of time is spent on the vernacular and slang of the place and period. So what audience was he playing to? To assist Mr Gray and hopefully protect local people from parting with their money this book is keek. And no,  I won’t give an a explanation of that term because the people who matter,  will know exactly what I mean.

(P.S. If anyone wants a free copy please contact the website and I will forward my copy!)



The Other Side Of The Story: Loyalist Theatre Company: Connal Parr

The Other Side of the Story

      | Aug 21, 2013

Patricia McCarthy and Mick Rafferty wrote in The Irish Times the other day of their engagement as community workers acting, as it were, “out of area” in North Belfast, with former loyalist paramilitary and more recently Progressive Unionist Party activist Billy Hutchinson. Hutchinson told them of his involvement with an initiative exploring loyalist culture and identity and introduced them to two playwrights, Robert Niblock and William Mitchell, who had become involved in setting up a theatre company, Etcetera, dedicated to putting on plays about the Protestant working class experience.

Now Connal Parr, a board member of Etcetera and a previous contributor to the drb ( writes:

At the same time as a vibrant community arts festival drew to a close in West Belfast earlier this month, some Loyalists saw fit to rip up the paving stones from the streets of the city centre and hurl them at their own police force. Just over a week earlier on July 31st the theatre group Etcetera, of which I am a board member, launched officially at the Linen Hall Library. Though the time of year was tricky there was a good turnout and representation from artistic, political, community and academic sectors, as well as a large Southern contingent.

Fellow board member the Reverend Chris Hudson – a bit of an actor in his own right, and lest we forget a good Dub – spoke movingly of the plays of Sean O’Casey as well as the power of art to change outlook. While he continues to oppose everything the Provisional IRA stood for politically – and did so back in 1981 with others on the Irish left such as Jim Kemmy – Chris talked of how Steve McQueen’s film Hunger (2008) enabled him to understand for the first time the individual human suffering of Blanketmen during the prison protest. Best known as a trade unionist and the conduit between the UVF and the Irish government in the early 1990s – a dialogue which facilitated the organisation’s 1994 ceasefire – Chris is aware, like myself, of a specific problem relating to a part of the population which considers itself apart from both the arts and broader society.

Moves to found Etcetera accelerated after a panel discussion accompanying a performance of Martin Lynch’s 2009 play Chronicles of Long Kesh. Loyalists complained that their prison experience was not as adequately depicted as the Republican equivalent. Lynch quite rightly replied that if Loyalists were unhappy with how he presented their experience they should go and do justice to it themselves. At a BBC Radio Ulster discussion in Omagh the following month, Gary Mitchell – who has often been feted for his work in the Republic – was asked what he thought of the same play. He confessed to not having seen it, adding that this was reflective of “the Protestant working class perspective ‑ the fact that they don’t go to the theatre. They feel very much betrayed rather than portrayed by the arts in general, and that’s why even I don’t know the plays that you’re talking about because I don’t look for them. Most people in my community don’t anymore.”

Though a large number of writers, especially playwrights, have emerged from a Protestant working class background since the post-war era, almost no major voice has emerged since Mitchell (from Rathcoole) twenty years ago, and the problems resound through the theatrical and creative professions. Lynch, originally from the nationalist New Lodge area of North Belfast, said during last month’s launch that for his recent play The Titanic Boys he sent out advertisements and “would love to have cast” what he called a Protestant story “with lads from the Shankill Road and Sandy Row”. But he received no response and ended up producing the play with talented young actors from West Belfast.

A small minority says the foundation of a group such as Etcetera confirms Northern Ireland’s sectarianism. My feeling is that such detractors are usually from affluent, even rarefied, backgrounds and haven’t a clue about life in Belfast and its ground-level realities. They seem to believe people will magically “come to their senses” one day if we just carry on with the way things are, and that the place is not really that divided thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, which made us all equal and solved our problems. This attitude recalls the objections to Sam Thompson’s Over the Bridge, which ran to capacity houses – and predominantly working class audiences – in January 1960. The line, essentially, of those who tried to prevent Over the Bridge ever seeing the light of day was that there was no sectarianism in the shipyards. And their heirs tell us there is no sectarianism in contemporary Northern Ireland. Division can only be overcome by confronting its existence, as Sam Thompson did,. As Gary Mitchell has said in reference to the most disillusioned and extreme, “you’re never ever going to touch them or change the way that they think if you constantly say ‘but we’re all Irish’, or ‘we’re all human beings”’. It becomes necessary to explore “what makes us different and therefore what adds to the conflict”. Rage emanating from Loyalist areas must not be swept under the carpet only to reawaken with even more intensity at a later stage. It would be as if a campaign was launched which pretended that the connected education crisis afflicts all parts of Northern society. But there is manifestly not the same problem in Catholic areas, where large numbers leave school with A-Levels and go on to higher education, for the simple reason that education – much like the arts – is looked on differently and with higher regard there than in working class Protestant areas.

Some have been here before. WJ McCormack accused Gerry Dawe and Edna Longley of producing “a sectarian sociology of art” in their editing of a 1985 book called Across A Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Ireland (after a John Hewitt poem), which prompted the following riposte from Dawe: “Ireland, the place where we live, is a sectarian place and we are all sucked into its perversity from childhood. There is no use pretending that we can stand above it all in some kind of pristine, theologically immaculate and admirable order, disdainful of the sick world with which the poor ordinary misfortunates must cope as best they can. The imagination dries up in such thin air and as for the critical intelligence, it thrives on reality too, not the ideal.”

These sentiments are as true now as they were in the mid-1980s: Northern Irish society remains highly segregated. But whether it is the current febrile discourse, a forgotten literary heritage, or a simple lack of confidence, the Protestant working class feels the theatre – and more generally the arts – is not for them.

Etcetera was founded to remedy this, providing an outlet for specific, underrepresented stories and striving to redress the perception of a community which feels itself outside the very uneasy tent of the current dispensation. With Chris and myself, the board is comprised of playwright Marie Jones, Billy Hutchinson, William Mitchell, and writer Bobby Niblock. The latter three are ex-UVF members but – as I have said in the press coverage of the group – it is about time Niblock became known for what he has created since his release from prison and not for what he did in the 1970s. He has gone on that inward journey of self-examination that all serious writers must. The stigma of the Loyalist prisoner background is particularly hard to shake for those who brought the group into being. In the Linen Hall, Danny Morrison praised the advent of Etcetera and pointed out that cultural activity became in the early 1990s a way of displacing the physical force tradition within Republicanism, and thus a way of winding the violence down.

The work of Etcetera will not be easy. There are many on both sides in Northern Ireland who want us to remain rooted in a violent past; who continue to do very well and derive some kind of affirmation from the deadlock. Akin to Oscar Matzerath – the stunted protagonist of Günter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum – they are the embodiment of a mentality incapable of any kind of growth. The key thing is that Niblock can really write. The dialogue crackled during extracts from his play Tartan, which were performed by a set of gifted young and established actors at last month’s launch event. This is the group’s first play and one we are raising money to stage in the near future.

Loyalists have not reached any level of confidence to tell their stories. When they do, this will come, as in the rest of Ireland, with the ability to challenge their own mythologies. But it has to emerge from a secure starting point and the development of a willingness to move forward from the current inarticulacy.

– See more at:


DUP/SF: Strange Bedfellow’s: Billy Joe

DUP/SF: Strange Bedfellow’s: Billy Joe


If it’s not Parading Issues it’s Educational Bills.  If it’s not Victim’s Rights it’s the MLK shambles. There’s flags, and culture and shared space and Spad’s and spats and all sorts of shenanaigans between the two most powerful political parties in Northern Ireland.  It’s generally a case of -“you say Tomato, I say tomato”-and if we didnt know any better we would think that both parties actually had a dislike for each other.  On the one hand we have a political machine who have powered their way to the top and brushed all nationalist opposition aside in the process.  In the wake of the Hunger Strikes of 1981 and the reconstruction of the Sinn Fein movement that would pave the way to Irish unification in record time it is ironic that this parties current suichan na cumhacta seems to be at BT4 3EX–and with no apparent sign of relocation.
On the other hand we have in many ways another powerful machine who have muscled their way to the pinnacle as far as “unionist” votes go-by hook or by crook.  Along the way they have bulldozed aside the mostly puny opposition and have usurped and cajoled as they went. The only thing that hasnt changed about this party in their forty odd years of existence is their willingness to treat the working class electorate with absolute disdain and disrespect.
Both parties are extremely well matched.  Both have a ruling junta that controls and manipulates the minions and equally have a win at all costs manifesto.  Public opinion is lost on both amidst their arrogant supremacy.  Both are dogmatic in their assertions but with the added proviso that their disciples not only believe–but that they believe what THEY want them to believe.
This poem aptly describes this unholy alliance and goes some way to illustrating their conniving ways.



A Lovely Shade of Khaki.

Vibrant hues—views from two sides—once a million miles apart
Tones garish in their stance—reluctant to depart
Attitudes entrenched—centuries in the making and staining
Those disciples –with discolouration of the heart.


A new alliance—an association with an underlying pact
Defraud the five eighths and withhold from them the facts
Painting pretty portraits with their broad and ample brush
And glossing over a canvas to conceal their filthy tracks.


The Orange—men and women immersed in a self made mix
Of distrust and hatred and disdain for those of a different shade
And Green—equally as disparaging—who treat tradition with contempt,
And feign an interest in anything that is opposition made.


The blend–a tertiary concoction—an unpalatable tone
A dull and tedious tinge manufactured for themselves alone
Dirty brown in colour–mucky in texture—unpleasant to the touch
Repellent to the thinking man who won’t be thrown a bone.

                                                                Beano Niblock 2012



The Scourge Of Born Again Loyalism: Charlie Freel

The Scourge Of Born Again Loyalism


Israel is without a doubt the longest and the most deliberately targeted democratic Nation in the history of
the world.
For thousands of years it has endured and overcame slavery, oppression, attempted extermination, ethnic cleansing, and all out war, waged against it repeatedly by seemingly overwhelming and totally undefeatable amalgamations of theoretically and physically much more powerful enemy Nations.
In everyone of these situations, the Nation of Israel has eventually emerged victorious.
Israel’s latest amalgamation of enemies,( supported by the IRA and republican infiltrated trade unions) are still failing to grasp the glaring truth of their own battle cry, “God is Great”.
If Israel’s enemies and their republican supporters, were not so totally blinded by sectarian hatred, then they would have realised long ago, due to Israel’s long succession of miraculous victories against seemingly un-surmountable odds, just how great God really is.
Israel has faithfully held fast to its unshakable belief, that if God was with them then, none could stand against them.
Israel has employed a long and successful campaign of terrorising its terrorist enemies regardless of the opinions of the rest of the world, safe in the knowledge that it was defending good against evil.
Terrorists nations throughout the world and their IRA supporters now realise that, Never Again Will The Children of Israel Be Marched Meekly Into the Gas Chambers.
Here in Northern Ireland the Ulster Volunteers of 1912-1918 and the Ulster Volunteers of the seventies held dear their cause, “For God And Ulster”, as they swore to defend by use of force if necessary, the democratic right of the People of Northern Ireland to decide their own future.
In much the same way as the Nation of Israel, we, the Ulster Volunteers of the early seventies sought to terrorise the terrorist enemies of democracy here in Northern Ireland, again just like the Nation of Israel, secure in the knowledge that, we occupied the moral high ground.
We also, in a similar fashion to the Nation of Israel, carried out our campaign successfully with total disregard to world opinion.
Unfortunately for Loyalism, it now seems that a few of our original Volunteers, in their futile attempts at pandering to world opinion and republicanism, seem to be renouncing their original sincerity of cause.
These ideologically Born Again Loyalists, in their futile efforts to impress the arty farty world of academia and the undemocratic IRA/DUP Government, now seem to be blaming their original defence of democracy on the exuberance of youth, Working Class Poverty, gutless politicians and our fore-fathers. BULLSHIT.
Have they so quickly forgotten the sectarian, no warning bombing of the Four Step Inn, Bloody Friday, the cowardly republican murders by ambush, on the Lower Newtownards Road from St Matthews Chapel and the countless other sectarian no warning atrocities, which forced the Loyalist Working Class to take up arms in defence of democracy.
Charlie Freel.


The Not So Great Escape: Journal From A Young Prisoner

Over the next few weeks LKIO will serialise the story of how one young political prisoner made a dash for freedom from the confines of the Cages of Long Kesh.  Awaiting the granting of political status he is detained in the Compound that holds ODC’s.  He describes every day life here where prisoner abuse was rife and sectarian tensions were never far away.  With a determination and a will to escape this environment he tells, often with a vivid sense of humour–from a seventeen year old’s perspective a story that is profoundly relevant to the past conflict.



Six a.m. and the alarm goes off without warning—like every other morning—like the previous forty five mornings since coming here.  Not an alarm clock mind you—No—a screw’s baton trailed against the corrugated iron sides of the Nissen hut that had been home for the preceding six weeks.  A sound that had become so recognizable—it was impossible to confuse it with anything else—a cacophony of noise that jolted you—if it was possible–into a rigid horizantalness in your bed.  Instantly wide awake.  The assault on the iron timbers lasted for the length of time it took some half wit of an excuse for a prison guard to run round the entire hut.  Sometimes a fat fuck would have taken half the morning.  But the likelihood of an extra few moments in bed was nil.
As soon as the baton trailing exercise was complete the end door was opened. Two or three screws entered.  A head count was taken –primarily to ensure that the same number of poor bastards were there in the morning as were locked up at eight o’clock the night before.  On the odd occasion there may have been a need for the screws to remove an unfortunate soul who had done himself some damage during the night by means of a razor blade/plastic knife/fork/spoon—or by swallowing something he wasn’t meant to—bottle tops or bits of pens or needles or safety pins (opened)—or ate a full tube of toothpaste, supposedly to bust your appendix—or deliberately dropped something heavy on their foot—or got a friend or fellow inmate to smash their fingers with a smoothing iron—or by overdosing on large quantities of readily available tablets ( usually mild painkillers or antibiotics )—or who had had a form of cage justice administered by way of a selection of work boots–or pillowcases filled with scrubbing brushes or bars of buttermilk soap—whilst he was encased in a mattress cover.
Not everyone went to work at six but it was tough shit for those who didn’t—they were awake.  Those of us who did had fifteen minutes to get washed and formed up in lines of two inside the Cage gate prior to being escorted to wherever your work stations where throughout the prison.  No breakfast—you got that later at whatever section you worked at. As soon as the screws had completed the head count and rattled a few ankles along the way with their trusty batons, the parting shot was for one of them to turn the hut radio on full blast in order to make it virtually impossible to doze off again.



In What Direction Might A New DUP Leadership Take The Party?: Dr. John Coulter

In what direction might a new DUP leadership take the party?        

Former Blanket columnist DR JOHN COULTER maintains the looming leadership battle within the DUP is not so much about who succeeds Peter Robinson, but what direction the new leadership will take the party. This is the question he ponders in this exclusive article for Open Unionism.DUP Logo 2

The future development of the DUP depends not so much on the third dynasty of the party, but in which political direction the new leadership takes it.

The fundamentalist Paisley dynasty is over, and the modernising Robinson dynasty looks certain to come to a close, perhaps even before next year’s European and shadow super council polls.

The DUP – even under Paisley senior – has always been a movement which puts the survival of the party first. Everyone becomes expendable at some time in the DUP.

Many have been quick to write off Robinson since the dramatic Maze shrine U-turn. But Robinson is Unionism’s version of former Southern Taioseach Charlie Haughey, the great political survivor. And there certainly can be no doubting that like him or loathe him, Peter Robinson has been one of the great survivors – not just within the DUP – but in both Unionist and Northern Ireland politics.

Since it was formally launched in 1971 from its forerunner, the Protestant Unionist Party, the DUP has seen many a person axed for lesser allegations than the Robinson dynasty has faced.

While the DUP under Paisley senior has stolen the rival Ulster Unionists’ political clothes, policies, position within Unionism and ultimately voters and seats, the DUP has also inherited the UUP’s troubles.

The DUP as a movement will be wary that the UUP should have dumped First Minister David Trimble before the 2005 Westminster General Election. Trimble had become a political millstone because he failed to shift the UUP to the radical Right to combat the electoral surge from the DUP, which really went into top gear in the 2003 Assembly poll.

Who in the DUP will deem that Robinson has become a political liability and rather than keep him through the 2014 polls and hope Unionist voters do not either return to the UUP, or defect to other parties, the DUP should ‘persuade’ him to step down and allow a new leader to settle in well before next year’s elections?

There is a significant body of opinion in what now remains of the UUP that the party should have dumped Trimble after the 2003 Stormont drubbing, and put in a dynamic right-wing leader who could have built the party thereby avoiding the Westminster General Election disaster two years later.

The DUP faces a number of problems politically. Clearly, like all pro-Union parties there is the crisis of the increasingly low turnouts in the Unionist camp compared to the nationalist community. But with the Union flag debacle at Belfast City Hall and this summer’s parades disputes, especially at the Ardoyne Shops in north Belfast, is there the possibility that Unionists will return to the polling booths in their thousands as some form of political revenge mobilisation against the Alliance Party?

Another crisis is the gulf between the DUP and the loyalist working class. To gain power from the UUP, the DUP had to significantly invade – and hold – the UUP’s traditional middle class Unionist strongholds.

While the DUP successfully invaded the Unionist middle class, it did so while abandoning the DUP’s own traditional bastion – the Protestant working class. In this respect, the DUP has been unable to copy its Stormont Executive partners. Provisional Sinn Fein electorally hammered its SDLP rival by venturing emphatically into the latter’s Catholic middle class strongholds.

But Sinn Fein achieved this while still holding a firm grip on its traditional republican working class heartlands, as Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly’s prominent presence at the controversial Tyrone Volunteers event in Castlederg clearly demonstrated.

The DUP now faces significant opposition for the working class loyalist community from the UVF’s political advisor, the Progressive Unionist Party, and the even more hardline Protestant Coalition party. The staunchly anti-European Union United Kingdom Independence Party is also making a strong bid to establish itself as a significant force in Ulster politics.

This was recently demonstrated with the high profile visit of its leader, Nigel Farage MEP, got an enthusiastic reception when he toured loyalist working class areas of east Belfast – once Robinson’s Westminster bastion.

Likewise, in his speech to supporters at the Stormont Hotel, Mr Farage hinted that in the forthcoming European election, it was the DUP seat held by Diane Dodds which was most at risk from UKIP rather than veteran MEP Jim Nicholson’s UUP seat, in spite of the disastrous 2011 Assembly showing for the Ulster Unionists.

A hallmark of Robinson’s leadership was his desire to attract more pro-Union Catholic voters to the DUP. Traditionally, this section of society tended to vote for either liberal Ulster Unionists or Alliance. Perhaps one reason that Robinson was having to do this was because many Protestant voters were abandoning the ballot box.

This section of Unionism had mainly been in the Protestant middle class and were dubbed ‘Garden Centre Prods’. But with the emergence of a significant section of working class Protestants who had switched off voting, a new problem emerged for all pro-Union parties – the so-called ‘Allotment Loyalists’; working class loyalists who have not even bothered to register, let alone vote.

The DUP’s problems were compounded by a regeneration of the PUP, which now sees its support at around the same level as the 1998 Good Friday Agreement when it secured two MLAs – the late David Ervine in East Belfast, and current leader Billy Hutchinson in North Belfast.

The DUP currently contains three significant factions which will have a major bearing on who succeeds Robinson. Firstly, the modernisers – these would be Robinson supporters and would like a leader who could carry on in the direction that party is currently taking. Stormont Ministers Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton would champion this faction, with Arlene a major front runner to succeed Robinson.

Secondly, the loyalists – these are people who want the DUP to re-engage with its traditional working class Protestant roots. Former Finance Minister and current East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson – often know as Red Sammy because of his pro-socialist and working class politics – would be their champion.

And thirdly, the traditional fundamentalists. Once the dominant faction within the DUP and manipulated by the staunchly evangelical Christian Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster during the Paisley era. Its champion would be the East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.

However, the demise of the Paisley dynasty and the dilution of the fundamentalist faction is best seen in that neither Paisley Junior, from North Antrim, and South Antrim MP William McCrea, the Free Presbyterian cleric and leading Gospel singer, are viewed as serious contenders to succeed Robinson.

The pro-Paisley faction in the DUP also suffered a major blow when Paisley senior’s clergyman son was not appointed as minister of the Martyr’s Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast – Paisley senior’s spiritual stomping grounds for many decades since he founded the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951.

Direction-wise, the DUP has a number of choices. It could follow Robinson’s direction and battle for the middle ground in Ulster politics. But that route pitches the DUP into a vicious dogfight with other middle ground parties such as Alliance, the Northern Ireland Tories and Basil McCrea’s new moderate, pluralist Unionist party, NI21.

It can aim for Unionist unity or co-operation and try to form a coalition with its main rival, the Ulster Unionists. Perhaps even a merger is on the cards with the Mike Nesbitt party. The DUP could even enter an electoral pact with other pro-Union parties such as the PUP, Ulster Political Research Group, Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice, UKIP and even the new Protestant Coalition.

However, the key word here is ‘trust’. Do these other parties trust the DUP? In the past, the DUP has only wanted Unionist unity when it suited the Paisley or Robinson camps. If the DUP was under pressure, the party championed the cause of Unionist unity, but if the DUP was in the ascendancy, Unionist unity was a dirty phrase, never to be dabbled with.

Finally, the DUP can return to its Paisleyite roots as a champion for the strange alliance of working class loyalists and evangelical Christians. This DUP was to the hard Right on the constitution, but to the soft Left on bread and butter issues.

The more cynical observers could point to the number of former UUP members now in the DUP, especially in influential positions such as Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson. Certainly Foster as a leader could cement the moves towards co-operation, a coalition, and eventual merger with the UUP.

But there is still a considerable rump of DUP supporters and member who have been ‘hard core’ DUP from their early political careers. The only party they have been members of is the DUP. Would they appreciate being led by someone or a faction which had ‘jumped ship’ from other Unionist parties?

While North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds is both an ‘original’ DUP man and commands a very strong degree of respect among UUP voters and members, his recent highly publicised health problem at Westminster has thrown up serious questions as to his physical ability to lead the party. He has the respect and expertise, but does he have the health, especially a DUP which is now on the back foot with the loyalist working class?

So, who are the three key candidates with the directional abilities to succeed Robinson? Firstly, Arlene Foster’s experience and her former UUP credentials could lead the party into a better coalition with the UUP.

Secondly, Sammy Wilson can kick start the DUP’s traditional links with the loyalist working class.

And finally, the Christians in the DUP could rally behind Gregory Campbell as the dark horse and bring the DUP back to its 1971 roots.

Likewise, does the DUP want to go for a Belfast-based leadership, or a leader who will rally rural activists?

Under Robinson’s leadership, the DUP has become the old liberal O’Neillite Unionist Party under another name.

I have made no secret that I want to see a single Unionist Party representing all shades of pro-Union opinion using a pressure group structure. In this respect, if I was a DUP member voting for a new leader, I would plump for Sammy Wilson.

As a life-long supporter of the Ulster Unionist Party, I have always had a high regard for the bread and butter politics of Red Sammy. The massive Church vote likes him, but he is not a raving fundamentalist who hammers other denominations in the way in which the Free Church used to criticise other Protestant denominations.

Whoever wins the DUP leadership battle – assuming, of course, that Robinson decides it is in his own best interests to go – that person’s strategy must be to form a Unionist Coalition which will mobilise pro-Union voters. That person will have to defeat the twin evils of voter apathy and fragmentation.

Just as the UUP leadership eventually became a poisoned chalice, is there also the danger being DUP boss could hold the same political cup of poison? At the moment, does the pro-Union community ‘trust’ the DUP, and would a knee-jerk to the 1985 Council policy of ‘Smash Sinn Fein’ work in the Assembly?

Has Robinson one last political trick up his sleeve to stabilise his leadership, or like Maggie Thatcher, Ian Paisley senior and Gordon Brown, are the men in grey suits hovering for a coup?

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Beano:Etcetera: Anthony McIntyre

This article was written by Anthony McIntyre and first appeared on his blog

Beano Etcetera

Monday, August 19, 2013  AM  No comments
  • I want to be known for what I am doing now. At the same time I think there is obviously extra interest in the play because here is an ex-loyalist prisoner doing a bit of writing for a change. It’s usually the ex-republican prisoners who go down that route – Beano Niblock, Newsletter

Bobby Beano Niblock is a former loyalist prisoner. He is also a community intellectual – the universities with their abundance of professors and PhD people do not monopolise the breed.  Recently he helped launch the Etcetera Theatre Company which was set in motion ‘to help working-class Protestants express themselves and their politics through the arts.’
A while back I asked him if he could be bothered sending me a copy of his poetry book which Stephen Ferguson, another loyalist who occasionally commented on TPQ, had recommended. Not only could Beano be bothered, he actually sent two. The first didn’t arrive so a replacement copy was despatched by post. It was delivered only then to be followed by the original which might even have been rerouted via Spookville before making its way to me. So I ended up with both, one of which I passed onto a republican friend who has been a source of considerable solace over the past few years.
I told Beano I would review it. He was modest and suggested I might not find it worth the effort. Ever suspicious of loyalists devils with horns I declined to take him at his word so picked it up one morning and read it while travelling on the bus to Dublin. I am glad he failed in his attempt to put one over me just to deprive a recovering An Phoblacht subscriber of a good read because I found ingest the poetry he had assembled under the title Battle at Oldbridge … and other Poems a genuinely rewarding endeavour.
For the greatest part the author picks key events in loyalist and unionist political history and conveys them to a wider audience through the language of the poet. More people might write poetry than actually read it, as the truism has it, but there is much to be gleaned from what Niblock writes here.
In the opening poem, Battle at Oldbridge, there is plenty about papish hordes but it is pretty much evident that this is not the language of some ranting bigot venting his hatred for Catholics. The poet here is making use of the authentic contemporary language of the era he writes about. The very act of scripting that particular cadence into the structure of the work preps the reader’s mind, allowing it to soak up something of the atmosphere the poet seeks to convey.
Early Morning, Picardy Plain, July 1st 1916is a poem about the First World War. To republicans 1916 conjures up images of an entirely different phenomenon. Yet there is no doubt that for unionists those events whatever we may think of them are deeply etched in their minds. They don’t see marauding soldiers bayoneting women and children but brave young men advancing at walking pace into the well placed aim of their military opponents. Contest the cause of the marching men as they approached the end of their mortal coil, if we wish, even their wisdom, but their bravery cannot be gainsaid. 20,000 died in the suicidal attack their officers ordered launched on the German lines. Their last hours were spent in

a trough not fit for swine but occupied by lions brave and proud supine waiting.

This immediately emblazons the descriptive dagger from World War 1 that has been thrust through the black heart of officialdom ever since: lions led by donkeys. It was a thought revisited by Niblock in the scathing ’69 was Warm and Fairwhen these lines jut out like a poke in the eye:

the Blind led by Blinded Fools Artisans with sharpened tools A path hacked from where to where? To cages dark beyond despair …

…Youth got stalled at the starting gate no time for reason gone too late

Which in essence captures the role that emotion played rather than reason. There is something from the logic of the philosopher Louis Althusser at play here, when the French Marxist posed the question whether people believe in god, then fall down and pray, or if they fall down and pray and then believe in god. Niblock suggests that kneeling at the exploding altar in 1969 helped send countless young people off to worship the false god of violence in the hope that it would somehow cleanse the soul. It has cleansed the streets of thousands yet still the hatred spews.
He again hits out at the supposed quality of leadership with his wryly titled poem The men behind the Ire, which he helps introduce with a photo of Bill shoot to kill Craig, a purveyor of naked sectarian hatred par excellence.
We are often cynical about loyalists maintaining as a motivation a defence of their communities. Yet it features so much in their conversation and writings that it is simply impossible to think they are all lying. Besides, we republicans know only too well that the conflict seemed to give us a disproportionately large share of the liars. Over and over again we experience the impact that Bloody Friday had on young people growing up in loyalist areas. As he draws towards the conclusion of One Friday In Late July, he switches lanes to issue a reminder that we republicans who know the failure of the armed campaign, understand only too well

Four decades on Unification gone lost a distant dream

Even when he dips into another world that he inhabited growing up which would not have been all that different from his later enemies on the republican side, a Sixties Soliloquy, Niblock does it with a certain flourish that is so rapidly delivered that one reading is not enough to absorb the content.
For a great piece there is McGladdery’s Last Night, on the final hours of Robert McGladdery, the last man to be hanged in Belfast Jail. There is no adulation here. The man was as much an outcast to unionists as he was nationalists. In telling the story Niblock uses his pen in such a way that it is like a needle through which the mind is first threaded and then weaved into memories of Crumlin Road prison with its dungeon like cells, many of which I occupied on three of its four wings, since I first landed there at 16 years of age.
None of what Bobby Niblock writes changes my view of loyalism. I think it a profoundly negative political project. But it is an ensemble populated by people who are always a mix of good and bad. Having witnessed what we have over the past forty years it is simply impossible for us to believe that the loyalists got all the bad people and us only the good. Our faith has been tempered by our experience.
On the Long Kesh Inside Out website where this booklet of poetry is plugged there is a call for loyalists to get their story out. I could not agree more. Every possible thread that can be sewn into the tapestry that explains our history is a valuable addition to the shaded complexity and diversity that have shaped us. The top down self serving bland narratives of political leaders and their falsifiers need countered with voices from below.