Monthly Archives: October 2013

Comparative Violence: Primo


Comparative Violence


Just how violent is Northern Ireland? The figures from the troubles have been gone over many times. Over 3500 deaths, thousands more injured, billions lost in jobs and destruction. Families left with empty seats.  Untold suffering, and  many hidden victims. In any one day in 1972 you could have multiple deaths, explosions, robberies, hijackings, shootings, riots. Truly disturbing times and yet those of us over 50 lived through it all.

But what of today? How violent is N.Ireland?  What do the figures say as opposed to media created impressions, fearful misconception and guess work? It is obvious that the situation has changed dramatically. Barring the Omagh bomb since 1995 things have been relatively quiet but sadly not for families such as recently, Kevin Kearney, the family of Ronan Kerr, the family of David black and so on.  However it is a fact that most violent crime in the country is civilian or has no terrorist motivation. It is a reality that the media will dwell on the more ‘juicy’ murders such as the dissidents in an attempt to gain more sales. I will argue that violent crime in N.Ireland  is totally unlike much of the crime portrayed in the media, the movies and crime fiction novels. Agatha Christie would not have much to do in N.I. although having said that, the police are truly puzzled by some, as yet, unsolved killings.

So what is meant by violent crime? I take for this article both murder and manslaughter as seen by the Court system of N.Ireland.  Many people will be charged with murder which will be dropped later to manslaughter.  Of course there is attempted murder, GBH,  GBH with Intent etc. but to make this task manageable I have selected what most people would regard as the worst of violent crimes namely killing another person no matter what the reason, cause, excuse or motivation.

I have selected the period from January 1st 2004 until December 31th  2007. I have calculated that there were 112 killings in this period.  (30, 27, 27, and 28 in those respective years.) Most of these cases have been dealt with in the court and as such the details e.g. circumstances and motivations , of the case have become public.

I have used a variety of sources including the main TV channels, local papers and court appeal s which can be accessed on BALII.  (If we take a corresponding 4 year period from 1971 to 1974 we find that there were 1242 troubles related deaths with possibly other non-political killings not included in those figures. )

Comparative rates.   For the purposes of this article (and this period)  I have used the population of N.Ireland  as 1.7 million. The census of 2011 showed a population of over 1.8 million. So for example in 2007 there was 28 illegal killings. This equates to 1 killing per  60,714 of the  population.  A common usage in the literature looks at the figures in terms of ‘per hundred thousand’. Therefore in 2007 there were 1.64 killings per hundred thousand of the population in N.Irealnd. The figure for England and Wales is 1.59 while Scotland is recorded at 2.17.  The Republic of Ireland had a figure of 1.45.  On an international comparison we have countries like America with a rate of 5.6 while Austria has a homicide rate of 0.6. The unbelievable figure of 91.6 belongs to Honduras where over 7000 people in one year out of a population of   7 million were illegally killed. Intriguingly there is a figure of 6.9 for the whole world. Put in this context,  N.Ireland sits as one of the less violent countries.

Of course the cravat that “there are lies, dammed lies and statistics” holds true and figures can vary from one country to another as indeed so can definitions and judicial systems. (Sources,  Wikipedia, Crimlinks,   Guardian, UNData. )

Political/ paramilitary killings. The Good Friday agreement followed on from the 1995 ceasefires. While the current situation is still turbulent there has been a huge drop in paramilitary related deaths with the notable exception of the Omagh bombing on 15th August 1998.  How many political killings were there in the period of 2004 to the end of 2007? I would argue that there were 13 such killings. This represents a figure of 11.6 % of the 112 illegal deaths in the period.  Or, just over 1 of every 10 deaths was due to paramilitaries.  The problem of course is telling exactly what was planned and what was not. For example, in this period was the UVF -LVF feud which took a number of  lives. The UDA killed in Nov 2005 one of its more flamboyant characters,  Jim Gray. The Provos had two notable killings namely Robert McCartney in January 2005 and Paul Quinn in September 2007. Of the paramilitary killings the loyalists committed 10 in this period. Recent figures indicate a large reduction by loyalists while dissident republicans  are figuring more prominently.

From the early seventies the figures show that paramilitary killings have dropped from about 66% to 11%. Still far too much for such a small society but figures do indicate a slow and gradual reduction in the murder rate from this source. However this figure is confused by the rise of organised crime as drug gangs seek to eliminate competition through violent means.  It may be a more sombre assessment that organised crime gang activity will increase but perversely they will inflict their violent activities on each other.

Another emotive aspect to murder and manslaughter is that of children. In this case the old adage holds true a person is at greatest risk of being killed by a member of their own family or someone they know. Stranger killings (bar the paramilitaries) are rare in N.Irealnd.  Children (for this article) are regarded as anyone aged  17 and under.  In this period some 11 children were illegally killed. The figure is massively skewed by the tragedy of 13th November 2007 when a convicted sex offender  killed his partner Lorraine, and the 5 Mc Elhill children aged 13, 7, 4, 1 and the youngest of only 10 months.  In this period a baby aged  weeks was killed by his mother. A 16 year Devlin was savagely stabbed to death on a Belfast street in a sectarianism murder.  A young man of 15 years, Michael McIlveen, died after an altercation in Ballymena in May 2006.  These 11 deaths out of a total of 112 represent a figure of 9.8%. Or, just under 1 in 10 violent deaths involve children.  Of these 11 cases 9 would have known or been related to their killer.


The facts and figures alone can never tell the full story of the victim,  their family and friends and the shattering impact it has on them. However the facts reveal something more about the society we live in. We do not live in a perfect society if there is such a thing. And while violence occurs it is not on the scale of other parts of the world.  Paramilitary activity such as bombing pubs and bombing soldiers e.g. Warrenpoint,  has more or less stopped. Children are still being killed as has happened for as long as people can remember.  But for N.Ireland the murder figures are reducing slowly which is what we would all wish for. There were only 16 illegal deaths in 2010 and 2012. This year to date there has been 12 illegal killings (to 26.10.2013) with a possible estimate for the year of 16.  Whether we get back to the pre troubles days of when a murder was a sensation is open for debate. Let’s not forget the massive slaughter of civilians in the 1920s. Society has changed and so has attitudes.  In a follow up article I will look at various other aspects in this period such as the influence of alcohol in killings, ethnicity, conviction rates, class, motivations and why some murders have not been cleared.







A Book Review: Dominion by C.J. Samson

Dominion by C.J.Samson (Pan Books)

What would have happened if Britain had not won the Second World War? This book looks at one possible permutation if things had not turned out as they did. Instead of Britain holding out and defeating Nazism they capitulate in 1940 and become a satellite of the Nazis. It is a great read with lots of detail and interesting insights into how life might have been.  I read a similar type book by Steven King about how the world would  have turned out if president Kennedy had not been assassinated by Oswald. Some interesting conjectures and surprises there.  I always thought it would be great book for an author to consider what would have happened in Ireland had the First World War not intervened in the rise of the two volunteer armies.  Would the Easter rising have taken place?

In Dominion ,  Winston Churchill has gone into hiding and leads the resistance movement in the country. The story centres on a David Fitzgerald a civil servant who joins the resistance. The plot centres on a friend in a mental institution, Dr Muncaster, who has the key to a nuclear secret. Both the resistance and the Nazis wish to talk to the Doctor and get the secret.  There is a good story plot which goes along at a fair pace while also putting in lots of detail about a Britain cowed into submission and living under a foreign power. It is chilling in places to consider what would have happened if the Jews had been rounded up here as was done on the continent.

So after reading this a few questions come to mind. What would the Ulster loyalists have done had the Germans taken over the UK? What would the IRA have done? Thrown their lot in with the Germans? On a trip to Auschwitz years ago I learned that Germans had plans for all of Ireland. Firstly they had all the Jews identified (which arises the question how?) the white Prods where being taken to England to work as farm labourers while the RCs in Ireland would have laboured the land here. The English nation was seen as superior to anyone living in Ireland?

I feel there would have been a major split in the Irish population with some working with the Nazis while others would have been vehemently opposed to them and to fascism in general. On the Prod side the same applies. Some probably would have taken to the new masters while others would have fought and died against Nazism. It is a strange memory to consider my time in Compound 21 which was the essence of Britishness and opposition to a united Ireland that some of the lads had Nazi stuff on their walls much to the dislike and disdain of Gusty. I wasn’t too happy about it myself. At the same time there was also a liking by some for the Israelis and the Jewish  fortitude on their fight to get a homeland despite huge opposition.

I think it is a fair assumption that should the Nazis have won, then Ireland’s neutrality would have meant little in the wider game of dominating Europe. Hitler would have got some pretext to march on Dublin and ensure that the Republic would not have been some sort of base or platform for American interests.  It raises the interesting prospect of Ulstermen fighting alongside Irishmen against a common foe? Could a resistance movement have won against Nazi occupation?  Was there enough of a fascist element within Ireland to have thrown their lot in with the Nazis?  The reprisals against Irishmen of whatever creed or colour would have been so vicious as to defy belief. The Nazi atrocities in mainland Europe would have been brought here. The interrogation methods of the Gestapo would make Ladas drive and Palace Barracks look like a trip to Butlins.

And what about  the longer term social repercussions? There would be no celebration on the 11th of November. There would be no British Legion clubs. I would argue that the 12th of July would have been made illegal if the Orange and Unionist sections were seen to be a seat of opposition and resistance. There would be no Union flag or Tricolour flying anywhere on the island.  Financial sanctions would mean there would have been no economic gain or prosperity for our peoples as Germany would have taken all the benefits for its own people.  Ulster and Irishmen may have been asked, or forced, to go and fight on the Russian front in a never ending war.

Imagine no Queen Elizabeth getting crowned, no coronation or sitting on the throne? It is generally accepted that the Royal family would have gone to Canada in exile.  Imagine a completely different type of press utterly censured to Nazi interests?  Would there have been a Common market? Imagine no BBC.

The list is endless. This is a book that entertains as well as making you think, just what would have happened?





The concept for this community play has its origins dating back over a year to the formation of a small writers group that met once a week in the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill Road.  From those who had never previously written–under the expert tutelage of Jo Egan–grew the seeds of creativity that eventually matured as a two hour production with a cast of thirty people.  It is a testament to all those involved that those of us who have been lucky enough to have seen it are lavishing it with praise.  The hours of dedication–of sacrifice-and endeavour have paid off big style and much credit is due to all participants.
The scope of the production is huge.  Crimea Square is a “fictional” street in the heart of the Shankill Road.  Through the eyes of three seperate families we trace our roots in history and learn of the social aspwcts of every day life–often set against the turbulent upheaval of not only local discord, but often global conflict.  Telling the sometimes mundane history of the families juxtaposed with the bigger events is expertly achieved and always more than interesting.  Apart from the three set stage there are two huge screens that serve as information boards/advertising hoardings/storyboards.  Used in conjunction with the action it provides a fascinating insight into parocial and worldwide events over the course of 100 years in the Shankill community.
All major occurrences during this time are referred to.  Beginning with the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in opposition to the proposed Home Rule Bill in 1912-up until the present regeneration process–we follow the fortunes–and otherwise–of the families through both Wars–the Hungry Thirties–The Coronation of 1953–The Swinging Sixties, which of course culminated in the events that changed all their lives–“The Troubles”.  The majority of the cast are community actors–at best–and total novices who pull it off in remarkable style.  The professionals are accomplished–Marty Maguire, Marie Jones, Jo Donnelly and Matthew McIlhenny all add a proficient edge.
Jo Egan deserves a huge amount of credit in bringing Crimea Square to the stage.  It has been a long and at times painstaking struggle to get this far.  At a time when there are criticisms of the PUL commnunity abstaining from being involved in the Arts –and in particular drama–it is wonderful to see a community buying into it on such a scale.  The importnat thing now is that it gives these individuals –and groups–the impetus to go further–to pursue writing creatively–to embark upon drama classes–and to prove that this project is not in isolation.
Crimea Square continues its run in the Spectrum centre on Thursday 24th October and runs until 2nd November.

Performance dates:

17-20, 24-27, 31 October and 1, 2 November


£10, £8 concessions, group reductions available.

Box Office:

   Call 07873 425873 or visit The Spectrum Centre


The Sun Sets On The Old Guard: Dr. John Coulter

Sun sets on the old guard – their day is nearly done

by John Coulter
Monday, October 21st, 2013

As Halloween looms, so does the spectre of the notorious “Plan B” which haunted the St Andrews talks in 2006. Those led to the establishment of a stable power-sharing Executive at Stormont, and the launch of the “Chuckle Brothers” political routine of fundamentalist Christian firebrand Ian Paisley (senior) as First Minister, and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein MP and former IRA commander, as Deputy First Minister.

While McGuinness has survived the jibes from dissident republican elements opposed to the peace process, Paisley eventually succumbed to the anti-power sharing faction within his own party.

The pro-Paisley faction has always maintained that it had to cut a deal with Sinn Fein in 2006, otherwise the British and Irish governments would impose Plan B on the Northern Ireland parties. This was joint authority – whereby the Dail and Westminster would rule Ulster as equal partners.

In 1985, Unionists had totally misread the then Anglo-Irish Agreement signed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Dublin premier Garret FitzGerald. The “Dublin Diktat”, as it became known among Unionists, gave the Republic of Ireland its first real say in the running of Northern Ireland since partition in the 1920s.

Instead of returning the political serve by demanding a say in the running of the Irish Republic, Unionists preferred to organise marches, rallies and civil disobedience – the “Ulster Says No” campaign.

Unlike the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council’s campaign of resistance, “Ulster Says No” failed to achieve anything. Unionism’s political position grew steadily weaker.

In 2006, Paisley supporters spun the yarn that they had to do a deal with Sinn Fein to avoid the imposition of joint authority. Sinn Fein claimed it had to cut a deal with the DUP as a step towards to a united Ireland, in much the same way that Sinn Fein’s forefathers accepted the treaty in the 1920s to get a partial republic.

Now, with major elections due next year, serious rioting over the summer and the return of paramilitary attacks, the power-sharing Executive is once more facing a grave crisis.

Such is the seriousness of the impasse that leading American negotiator Richard Haass has been drafted in to find a solution before Christmas. But there is little optimism that he can deliver what it is needed to re-start the spluttering peace process. Haass needs to play for time and aim to put in place a holding operation until the next Assembly elections in 2016.

Paisley senior has gone. The star of his DUP successor, Peter Robinson, is on the wane. McGuinness is getting older and will soon be regarded as the old man of republicanism. Sinn Fein party president, Louth TD Gerry Adams, has been badly damaged by his brother Liam’s conviction for sex abuse. Basically, the old guard is on its last legs.

A new young generation of DUP politician, such as Stormont Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, skilful in the art of clever political compromise, is emerging.

In the Sinn Fein camp, gone is the maxim of a rifle in one hand and a ballot paper in the other. Now it is a case of ballot papers and honours degrees. A new generation of MLA is developing at Stormont who never served an apprenticeship in the Provisional IRA.

In 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement launched the current peace process, Sinn Fein and the DUP were viewed as being on the opposing extremes of the political spectrum. Now both parties occupy the centre ground in Northern Ireland. Both believe in dialogue rather than paramilitary confrontation. And the likes of Third Force and Ulster Resistance have largely been confined to contentious commemoration parades.

The Republic of Ireland’s once-thriving Celtic Tiger economy is history. The DUP is facing a major electoral threat from loyalist working-class parties and has had to shift to the right to combat the challenge.

So Haas has his work cut out. Joint authority as a threat is a non-starter now. Haass needs a new Plan B. A simple one might be: set a series of largely meaningless quangos until the “young turks” come of age.


Tommy and Peter: James

Tommy and Peter.


There were many,  many sets of brothers who fought in the First World war e.g. see the story about the 3 Mc Gowan brothers posted on  28.6.13. Tommy and Peter Rooney joined up in Belfast in 1915 with the 14th Battalion of the Rifles otherwise known as the Young Citizens Volunteers.  They were from Kilkeel. The YCV was set aside from the UVF at their start but they later became a battalion in their own right in the 36th Ulster Division. . As the name suggests they were young but still eager to fight for their country against the Germans.  The story has been told many times. Joining up to get away from poverty.  Pride for the family and themselves. A belief in a just cause. Get the uniform, get out drilling. Down to the ferry.  Training in England. Strange and foreign fields.  Crossing to France. More drilling. Getting the first taste of battle. The sound of exploding shells, the dirt, the cold, lice. Pining for home. Thinking of loved ones . The two brothers entered the war proper in October 1915. They endured the cold winter while plans where drew for the ‘big push’ on the 1st July 1916. The Somme.  On that morning they stood in Thiepval wood with thousands of Ulstermen. The mix of fear and excitement.  Not so far away a young man called Billy was throwing himself on a box of grenades and dying so that he could save his friends. Then up and out into a hell of fire and shell. Screams and blood. Vicious wounds, men lying dying.

We know the story of the advance and capture, the slaughter and then the retreat. Tommy was lucky. Seriously wounded with a bullet shot to the leg he was carried out to safety and eventually made it home. Peter was not so lucky. A shell hit his position and he was killed immediately. His remains, like tens of thousands, were never recovered. So what makes this story any different from the men of the Shankill, Newtownards Road, Tigers Bay, Sandy Row? Both brothers were Roman Catholics who no matter what, believed they had a duty to serve and fight for their country.  As much as Mc Fadzean and all the rest, these men were, and are, heroes.



Respect: James



In 1916 the First World War was well on its to slaughtering, injuring and traumatising hundreds of thousands of young men from all over Europe. Ireland had sent its sons of orange and green to that battlefield to fight in a common purpose. Inevitably prisoners were taken. Roger Casement, an Irish rebel, who would later be hanged, was on the Germans side. He wanted to recruit an Irish Brigade. He had permission to recruit from captured British soldiers of an Irish nationalist persuasion. If the Irish POWs agreed to go home to Ireland and fight the British then they would be released. Few accepted this offer. He tempted them with money and extra food. Of a possible 2500 prisoners only 53 took him up on his offer.

As an ex prisoner I can imagine the temptation to get out, to be free, to go home, by just saying you give up what you believe in. I can’t imagine the awful conditions that the prisoners were held in but no doubt they were difficult.  One simple decision to get away from all that.  And take your chances back home.

There is one quote by Irish POWs that says, “In addition to being Irish Catholics we have the honour to be British soldiers”.  I have to pay respect to these men for their courage and integrity at a time when the world had gone mad.  And that respect extends to all those men from all over Ireland who died in that Great War.



PUP Claims Absurd–according to Alex Maskey.

Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has described Billy Hutchinson’s assertion, at his party’s annual  conference last weekend,   that republicans are attempting to isolate loyalism as absurd.

Mr Maskey said:

“Sinn Féin have repeatedly called for positive leadership from within the unionist and loyalist community.

“Disharmony among the various shades of unionism has clearly contributed to the on-going political instability. Unionist politicians and paramilitaries are currently competing with each other on a negative and anti-democratic and sectarian agenda. The results of this are there to see for everyone, 18 months of street violence, a difficult marching season and increased polarisation.

“No section of the community should be marginalised and no section of the community benefits from the marginalisation of another. We need imaginative, constructive, and positive partnership and leadership right across the community on an equality and power-sharing agenda in the interests of everyone. Sinn Féin is up for such an approach and indeed have worked with all shades of unionism and loyalism to move the situation forward.

“We welcome the recognition of the PUP of the need for a progressive political agenda including the need to promote equality, tackle disadvantage and address housing inequalities and educational under-achievement in working class communities.

“But fine words are easy.   The PUP, like all other parties are judged by their action and sometimes by their inaction. There is widespread acceptance that loyalist paramilitaries have orchestrated and been to the fore in attacks on the community and on the PSNI in recent months. Suspicions about the role of unionist leaders and political parties in this, acquiescent or otherwise, are high.

“We need to hear a clearer message from the PUP about this, what they intend to do to bring it to an end and how they intend to promote equality, mutual respect and parity of esteem for everyone.”


A Response To Richard Reed by Jamie Bryson

A response to Richard Reed- The ideology of Loyalism

I wish to respond to an article submitted by Richard Reed to the Long Kesh site regarding my subject ‘Traditional Loyalism in Modern Society.’
Mr Reed’s article has been re-tweeted by those that would seem keen to endorse his view.
A point was made to me at the weekend during a good-natured debate around gay marriage which I indeed accept to be true, namely that no one policy defines a Party. By the same token no one viewpoint defines a person. Mr Reed seems to have missed this fundamental truth by directing his comments as a poor attempt to defame my character and undermine my argument.
Mr Reed spends a lot of literary effort attempting to separate traditional Protestant values from modern Loyalism, and to be frank, I believe he provides a poor theological basis for this.
His argument woven through the article is that he suggests Protestantism, which separated initially from Catholicism, (reformation period) should somehow move with the times and ‘evolve’ is a bizarre and illogical argument when presented on a Biblical basis.
The reformers ‘protested’ against the teachings and non-Biblical interpretations of the Catholic Church, and they indeed did give birth to what has become known as the Protestant Reformation which has evolved to this very day as the only sound biblical defender of the faith.
I understand Mr Reed’s point (although I fail to agree with him on it) that social identities must evolve, however to do this he contends that Loyalism must completely separate from Protestantism to survive and play a role in ‘modern’ society. Or this would seem to be the logical outcome of his argument.
It is my belief Protestantism can only evolve based upon sound Biblical principles, for indeed it’s foundation is grounded in the infallible, inerrant word of God and is unchanging for all eternity. To therefore ask Protestantism to liberalise or modernize is a nonsense because as stated, it is founded upon the unchanging the word of God.
Mr Reed asks the question, “What is God’s Word?
I believe the word of God is what is written in the Bible. As Jesus himself (Who is the Word of God incarnate) says ‘It is written’.
Mr Reed’s response at times shifts the initial debate into another sphere around the founding principles of Protestantism and on into a much deeper theological discussion. In essence I believe that Mr Reed’s commentary on this particular section is theologically incorrect and is a misinterpretation of the reformation and glorious Protestant revolution. The reformers based their social principles on Biblical principles. They did not break away from the word of God; they broke away from a Church that claimed divine right to interpret the word of God.
Their argument was on a human not a spiritual level. Their ‘uprising’ was not against God, but against the Catholic Church which had forsaken the word of God.
This brings us to the argument that clearly arises following my original piece and Mr Reed’s response, ‘Does Loyalism need to create an identity without the ‘shackles’ of the Biblical principles that comes with Protestantism?’
My original piece clearly contends that Loyalism is best served by maintaining Biblical principles.
Mr Reed’s argument suggests that Loyalism needs to embrace social change and liberalise views on social issues.
But the views and positions taken politically by many sections of Loyalism are based on a personal Protestant faith founded on the Word of God.
It is an indisputable fact that for a wide section of Loyalism, their personal Protestant faith serves as a root for their Loyalist identity.
It is now however an ideological argument developing within Loyalism around what the anchors of loyalist identity actually are. This is being played out in the political sphere.
In previous eras differences such as the (GFA) Yes/No campaign and the breakaway of Loyalist groups who were opposed to the embryonic Peace Process were based upon differences around engagement in the political process.
Today’s debates centre around what political and social positions should shape the Loyalist ideology in the context of participation in this political process.
The problem is there are so many different and complex social and political positions amongst Loyalism that it is difficult to present a political manifesto that will act as a core ideological position on Loyalism. This, I believe, is the root cause of Loyalism’s internal political disagreements.
Mr Reed dismisses out of hand the position taken up by those who share my viewpoint. In contrast to Mr Reed’s view, I recognise the position of various elements of Loyalism that base their idea of Loyalism around a different interpretation / ideology and who indeed interpret the Covenant of 1912 and our historical ‘cause’ in many different ways.
I have previously made my case around my beliefs, however I am conscious of the differences in viewpoint and am prepared to ask the difficult questions that need answered if intra loyalist unity is to be efficiently achieved in the context of building an effective political base.
In this context Mr Reed has initiated a debate around very difficult and emotive questions that admittedly will be difficult to answer and has created an environment for extremely complex debates.
Based on Mr Reeds response and the numerous contradictory elements within Loyalism today, is it wrong to ask is Loyalism an identity in itself or is it a ‘name tag’ created to describe a wide range of different identities?
If it is the former (an identity in itself) then a debate must take place around what is actually the natural ideological position of Loyalism. Is it rooted in Biblical Protestantism or not? If as I believe it fundamentally is, then Loyalism must stay true to the motto ‘For God and Ulster’ or ‘In God Our Trust’ and base political and social positions around this.
If it isn’t (founded in Protestantism), then Loyalism must separate and ‘un-shackle’ itself from a conscious reliance on Biblical principles.
If it is the latter (‘a name tag’ created to describe a wide range of different identities) then Loyalism must shape a common identity that will find common ideological ground between the often-contradictory sections of Loyalism.
In the context of this response to Mr Reed I have simply attempted to highlight the questions that need to be answered.
I have attempted to move the debate to a different level.
It is clear and evident that a wide section of Loyalism would agree with my initial piece and an equally wide section would subscribe to the viewpoint presented by Mr Reed.
This draws the ‘battle lines’ for the debate that Loyalism needs to have and as one person said to me recently, “Every battle ends around the table”.  The core aim must be getting the debate around the table before it becomes a publicly played out political war of words that will only serve to play into the hands of Republicanism and the clear systemic problems that emanate from our system of Government in Northern Ireland.

Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation Conference. James

Institute of Political Studies Conference.


It was with some trepidation that I recently attended a conference at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation, QUB.  The conference was funded by the PSA. There were academics with PhD’s and Masters Students from far and wide.  Indeed, I would argue that ‘locals’ were in the minority! A number of papers, due to be formally published next year, were presented. The intriguing one for me was Peter Shirlows paper titled; “Was it worth it? The Implication of Conflict for Paramilitary Combatants”, as it was focused on loyalist paramilitary prisoners.

A lot of academic language was used, e.g. heterogeneity of feelings, references to Habermas, Goffman  and Kutz. There was also discussion around shame and guilt. One surprising statistic referred to,  was that 60% of paramilitary prisoners had lost a family member through the conflict.  It applies to be but only in that it was a distant relative and it was very early in the troubles.  There were prisoners I knew that had lost close relatives through the’ troubles’.

According to Shirlow, released loyalist paramilitaries can be roughly divided into 3 main groups; those who cope, those who don’t cope and those with a mix of both. Shirlow talks about those who travelled down a restorative road and contacted to victims. This has had a beneficial effect for both parties. He spoke of’ neutralizers’ who had rationalised their actions as being part of the war, i.e. defending their people etc.  They had adjusted to the outside world and adapted well to society. He had interviewed quite a few ex-prisoners and found that some had resorted to isolation and ‘the bottle’. They had not coped well practically or emotionally.

I can only comment on those UVF/RHC life sentence prisoners in the special category compounds of the Kesh. I think it is instructive firstly to say that I do not know of one instance of those prisoners being convicted upon release of another serious crime of violence never mind killing someone.  I definitely know some lifers who went on to commit ‘ordinary’ crime which was more to do for personal gain. During discussion one day in C.21 I asked quite a few prisoners to consider how many of their friends had been reconvicted after their release. The figure was an amazing 5%. This was for 1981-ish. The British reconviction rate is over 60%. I cannot speak for those prisoners in the H Blocks given that we had little, if any, contact with them.

Looking back on all my fellow prisoners and considering these categories I would say that it is a fair reflection of the situation.  I also thought the topic was handled in a balanced and non-sensational manner. I have no formal contact with other life sentence prisoners but meet in a variety of settings and at various times. Some have done well and some have not.  Interestingly no UVF/RHC special category lifer has taken his life since release.  Some have died through medical conditions such as heart attacks and cancer while others have succumbed to the bottle.  I would contend that those life sentence prisoners have, by a majority, done well after release. Many I know personally had stayed away from any politics. Many have started and raised families. Many are grandfathers.  Most have been working since release. In C.21 there was a very strong work ethos if you consider the arts/crafts, fitness and education as stand-in work.  Compound 21 was a continuous personal development existence.  The rough came with smooth.  Some lifers have gone into management and directed their own business. Some went back to their community to carry out youth work. But by far, and more importantly, none have advocated the violence they once practised in the 1970s. Quite the opposite. Some have openly advocated non-violence as the way forward.

So why do some succeed post life sentence and others do not? I personally think that everyone has to look at their motives and rationale for engaging in the extreme violence of that period.  Everyone has to live with their decisions and actions. If you believed in what you are doing then you live with what outcomes come along. Prison is prison but you are there for different reasons than those of ordinary criminals. I fully acknowledge the hurt, pain, suffering and damage inflicted and I truly wish none of it had happened but it did.  What is often forgotten in the debate is that the very hurt, pain, suffering of our community was the motivating factor for many of us. As Davy Ervine pointed out– the events of the 21st July 1972 was the focal point, the Rubicon, for recruitment into the loyalist groups.  It was all downhill after that.

So was it worth it? Such a question can be looked at from a personal,  community or social perspective. Personally speaking,  absolutely not.  I get on with my life worrying about family, my job, friends, health, etc. and so on. But I also live with the events of the ‘70s until my dying day.




Where Do We Go From Here?: Tony Novosel


PUP leader Billy Hutchinson pictured at the Progressive Unionist Party annual conference at Brownlow House in Lurgan, Co. Armagh.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson pictured at the Progressive Unionist Party annual conference at Brownlow House in Lurgan, Co. Armagh.


Between 1969-1972, when Northern Ireland descended into the violence of the modern “troubles” fueled in part by apocalyptic rhetoric of some unionist leaders/politicians an unintended consequence of this violent period was the split that took place within unionism between the unionism working class and “big-house” unionism. This split resulted, amongst other reasons, from the belief that unionism could no longer protect the border, defend Protestant communities from the violence of the Provisional IRA nor fulfill the social contract that promised employment in return for loyalty from the Protestant working class.  A consequence of this “split,” the DUP formed in 1971, ostensibly as the political voice for the ordinary Ulstermen and women. In the same period the loyalist paramilitaries began to defend their communities and to attack the IRA and the nationalist community.

This split within unionism and then the eventual division that developed between the DUP and many of the paramilitaries eventually led to the use of the term “loyalist” when referring to the working class Protestants who took up arms to “defend Ulster.”  This was necessary for both the “Big House” and the DUP, in order to differentiate themselves, the “respectable” elements within Unionism, from loyalism. Interestingly, for purposes of this piece, after the split, the Unionist parties, in particular the DUP continued to be the parties of “No!” whilst some within the loyalist paramilitaries and their working class allies became the “progressive forces” that attempted to engage constructively with politics as a way to end the conflict and create a “just and equitable” society.

Fast forward to 2012 and 2013, the flag protests and the band protests at Twaddle.  We are witnessing the familiar play that I wrote about in January (The Lost Opportunity Redux) once again acted out on the streets of Belfast. The rhetoric and actions of the unionist ‘leaders’ put the Protestant working class on the streets (flag protests).  Then those on the streets, losing faith in the ‘leaders’ who can’t restore the flag nor get the ‘brethren’ home along the “traditional” route, begin to organize and act to defend their “culture and identity.”

Are these events linked and if so do they give us any insight into where working class loyalism will go in the future? An even more important question is “Is it going anywhere?” As some argue, could this really be the last gasp of the loyalist working class, a class left behind by economic, social and political change? Or, could this be the beginning of a working class political movement that can have an impact on Northern Ireland politics?  If it is the latter what will that impact be? Will the working class go down the road of right wing populism, a very real and disturbing possibility?  Can this working class activism centered only on the flag and marching lead, once again, anywhere other than another dead end for loyalism?  Or as, one observer asked can this activism be used “to galvanise populist support for an agenda around socio-economic and political justice?” that will deal with the very real issues of educational underachievement, social and economic deprivation and all the attendant social problems these bring on once they resolve the issues of the “cultural war?”

Faced with these questions, this piece will argue that loyalism is not going away, but where it is going is unclear.  However, whichever way loyalism goes it will have a very real impact on the future of Northern Ireland and its people.  Therefore, it is important to go beyond the sensational headlines, the very real violence of some loyalists in the protests, sometimes silly and naïve actions (See Willie Frazer’s arrival at court as a radical Muslim cleric) and the sometimes unquestioning support for the British flag, the military and the trappings of empire to understand where loyalism might go in the future.

We all know what has occurred as a result of the flag protests and the standoff at Twaddell.  Like the late 1960s and early 1970s, working class loyalism believing that Unionism cannot defend unionist/loyalists interests, in particular its symbols, moved onto the streets to defend its culture and identity.  These protests have ended in stalemate at Twaddell and frustration over not getting the flag back on City Hall.  They have also fueled grassroots political activity and a surprising “success” that points out that the Protestant working class is finding its political voice. This ‘voice’ was a major reason why Peter Robinson and the DUP backed away from their support for the Maze regeneration programme and why a number of Unionist politicians have paid visits to Twaddell.

Since the start of the flag protests in December 2012, we have watched the news, read the pundits, heard the radio programmes and read all the blogs which essentially talked about and at times condemned a community that has “lost its way,” a community more worried about its symbols and identity, a community that often engaged in mindless violence and followed “leaders” who had no political programme (the “anti-Party” is an example of this) and could only lead the loyalist community down a dead-end once more.

Reading Facebook, Twitter and so on, one could very easily be discouraged and despairing about loyalism and where it is going.  One posting that has made the rounds of Facebook pages reads: “I came into this world kicking and screaming while covered in someone else’s blood and I have no problem going out the same way.” Others call Facebook, “Taigbook.” Another posting that appeared on the 29/9/2013 read:  “Fuck Bloody Sunday:  No Apology! No Surrender!” There are references to the PSNI as “PSNIRA/Scum.”  There was joy in stopping the Republican parade in August and doing it in violation of the law and incalculable damage to Belfast and loyalism’s image.  Anti-immigrant feelings, racism, and in particular virulent anti-Muslim sentiments appear on many pages.

Statements appear attacking those from within loyalism who wanted to compromise in the 1970s and 1980s and attacking any compromisers then and now as communists. Some loyalists condemn the PUP, as they did in the past, as “socialists” and “appeasers” because the PUP agreed to the (Belfast) Good Friday Agreement.  Other statements once again link loyalism’s struggle unquestioningly to Israel.  A recent post condemned the PUP for participating in a conference with republicans and argued “No Surrender!” “No Compromise!”  Any outreach from loyalism to republicanism and vice versa, is condemned as “appeasement.”  In essence, what this wing of loyalism wants is a return to the Ulster of pre-1969 where it existed only for the loyal British subjects, not those with a different vision of the future of Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole, be that the republican vision or the liberal, progressive unionist vision of many loyalists.

Even with what political analysts and observers would call regressive and reactionary forces within loyalism emerging over the past year, I would argue that what we are witnessing is the “self –mobilisation” of the Protestant working class.  This mobilisation, in the face of what it sees as weak and appeasing unionist leadership, represents a working class not prepared to follow those it no longer trusts and instead go down its own route.  That route could be the road to nowhere again, just as it was in other times in Northern Ireland’s history when the loyalist working class fought blindly for the cause” but didn’t look beyond that “cause.”

Although much of this narrative is true, like any other story, it is not the whole story.  Yes, there is a very reactionary element within loyalism, as there has always been, and we have seen that over the past year with the element that does not think or act beyond the issue of the “nation,” identity and/or culture. But, as in other periods of Northern Ireland’s history, there were and are elements within the Protestant working class who, while defending the nation, culture and identity of the Protestant working class also have engaged in political action, community organization and empowering the Protestant working class to take control over their lives and communities.

Whilst the self-mobilisation that I outlined above represents the PWC taking control of its own destiny it also represents a step backwards and is self-defeating, (there is no plan for the future) there is another self-moblisation taking place within the loyalist community that we do not hear or know about.  This mobilization could lead to a stronger, more vibrant and politically aware Protestant working class that can represent its own interests and do it in through politics and community action and not through knee-jerk reactions to the provocations it sees directed at it by Sinn Fein.

Before, I continue I must address the fact that this piece cannot deal with what the UDA and the UPRG are doing at this time.  I do know from many conversations on the ground that there is a great deal of positive work being done by both groups and many other groups in those communities. However, I simply don’t have enough information or the space here to deal with them and so will leave that to other writers.


Irish News editor Noel Doran speaks at the Progressive Unionist Party annual conference at Brownlow House in Lurgan, Co. Armagh.

Irish News editor Noel Doran speaks at the Progressive Unionist Party annual conference at Brownlow House in Lurgan, Co. Armagh.


For the purposes of this article, the most obvious place to begin is with the Progressive Unionist Party.  Prior to the move by Belfast City Council to remove the flag on all but 17 days in November 2012, the PUP did not see the flag as in an issue that the Party needed to deal with.  However, that changed, on 14/11/2012 when Billy Hutchinson, the PUP leader, changed the party policy. He did this in the face of what he and the PUP viewed as an assault on the symbols of Britishness, in particular the parades and flags, by nationalists and republicans.  Consequently, when the flag protests began, the PUP and Hutchinson, supported the protestors, but unlike the “anti-party” and the more reactionary elements with loyalism, began to act and organise politically.  Hutchinson, echoing the Principles of Loyalism, stated in a TV interview on 8 December 2012, that the PUP along with the UVF/RHC would use “unarmed (political) resistance” and that they would defeat Sinn Fein politically.  While this caused consternation amongst many observers, those familiar with the Principles of Loyalism would not have been surprised as this is a core principle of the document. (See “The UVF and Political Resistance” in Principles of Loyalism)

In response to the flags issue and protests, the PUP undertook political action and began to recruit people into the party and put them through an education programme once they joined in order to channel people away from the streets and into political action. (The Party now counts 600+ members with “people joining daily.” (Hutchinson))

On the 13 January 2013, Hutchinson made a video for the PUP TV website and that is now on Youtube, ( in which he called on people to act within the law and to avoid disruption of daily life in Northern Ireland by sending letters of protest to City Hall and making their voice heard on the flags’ issue that way.

The PUP has also organized voter drives with canvassers going to door-to-door to sign people up to vote.  An image has appeared on many Facebook pages that reads “No Vote = No Voice: Register to Vote” superimposed over the British flag.  At the same time, the PUP in Newtonabbey posted:

  • The first electoral registration day is on 27/09/2013. Please try and get your forms returned by then.
  • The electoral office in Glengormley has confirmed that the last day they will accept forms is 19/10/2013.
  • If you need a registration form do not hesitate to pm us and we will get one to you.
  • Remember No Vote = No Voice

Jonny Harvey, the educations director of the PUP on 26 August tweeted: “Good to see so many talking about electoral registration. Goes to show that politicisation in our communities is working!”  The importance of social and economic issues also are important to the PUP project.  Harvey posted on the 21 August, “Busy wee morning in the PUP office. Housing problems still top of the list, however education and employment issues close behind!”

The reason I bring up these facts is to point out the difference between the PUP and those of the “anti-Party” and extreme nationalist wings of loyalism.  Where the reactionary elements have no plan or idea for the future and actually want, I believe, a return to the past, the PUP is engaging politically and attempting to involve the Protestant working class in politics around not just the symbols of Britishness, but in the very real issues that people face every day.  This will go a long way to shaping not just working class politics but the politics of Northern Ireland and the possibility of a shared future for all.

This may seem contradictory given what has happened over the years, but the policies the PUP is following now are identical to those of the “progressive” loyalists in the 1970s and 80s.  That is, the PUP will “resist” Sinn Fein politically as loyalism resisted the PIRA militarily in the past.  And like loyalism after the ceasefires, the PUP, once the “political conflict” ends, would work with any party to move Northern Ireland forward.

Beyond the PUP, the PWC itself, has showed itself capable of organizing peaceful and legal marches since the riots in July and, except for the republican parade in August, has managed to keep them peaceful.  The “Civil Rights” camp at Twaddell represents another step in community organization and peaceful and lawful protest.  Postings have also appeared on Facebook condemning violence and calling on loyalists to make positive contributions to their own communities.  One recent posting (1 September) on Facebook said “A lot off post(s) up this morning about drug dealers. The answer is simple! You CAN NOT be a loyalist if your (sic) a drug dealer! FACT!”

Within the loyalist communities themselves there is important work going on every day.  It would take too long to list or talk about them all, but I will just briefly mention some of them here.  Alternatives Restorative Justice has, for over 15 years, played a role in bringing positive changes throughout Loyalist communities and has done great work amongst young people in particular.  The Action for Community Transformation continues to work with and bring many former loyalist combatants and prisoners into active citizenship.  ACT has also worked to tell the story of those who participated in the conflict.  In one telling example, ACT participated in the West Belfast Festival in 2012 to tell the story of loyalist prisoners to a republican audience.  EPIC works to represent the interests of ex-UVF/RHC prisoners and does a great deal of cross-community work to insure that the violence does not return.

Others have worked creatively to bring people in the loyalist communities together to tell their stories and to develop their capacities as individuals and eventual leaders of their communities. On the Shankill the Shankill Area Social History group has actively sought out many and diverse speakers to address their meetings on the Shankill’s and Ireland and Northern Ireland’s history.  They have done great work to put together, from within the community, a play for the Belfast Festival at Queens called Crimea Square, 100 years Of Shankill Road History.

Robert “Beano” Niblock and William Mitchell, both ex-prisoners and writers in their own right, along with Chris Hudson, Connal Parr, Marie Jones and Billy Hutchinson, have launched a theatre project called “Etcetera.” The goal of this project is to . . .  remedy the disengagement of the Protestant working class from the arts and theatre.”  Those who have launched this see it as “an outlet for specific, underrepresented stories and . . . to redress the perception of a community which feels itself outside the very uneasy tent of the current dispensation.”  (

These are just some of the examples of the positive actions taking place within the loyalist community.  However, they will suffice to make the point that there is something going on underneath the radar that has the potential to help move the situation in Northern Ireland towards a more positive resolution. In essence, the story is not just about what is happening on the streets.

So, what do we make of all this?  This is a very difficult question.  Many analysts and observers of the situation in Northern Ireland have called on or wanted the Protestant working class to find its own voice and to act in its own self-interest for years.  Now that it is doing just that, many of these very same people stand watching awkwardly and uncomfortably as the PWC has begun to take control of its own destiny.  This is disconcerting for some as these pundits cannot control where loyalism and the Protestant working class goes, only the PWC can control its own destiny.

However, as this piece points out, loyalism is on two different paths right now.  Yes, it is united right now over the symbols, the flags and the parades, but there is a very real split emerging on what the way forward is for the Protestant working class and Northern Ireland has a whole.  As illustrated above the path of the “anti-Party” camp definitely leads towards the past and I would argue marginalisation and powerlessness once more if it becomes ascendant.  Yet, the other path, of real and full political engagement, while promising, does not guarantee success either.

The PUP’s attempts to channel the very real frustrations of the Protestant working class into political action, while necessary and commendable, is fraught with political danger.   Can the PUP move those who have entered the party towards progressive political action and real engagement in the political life of Northern Ireland, including compromise with republicanism once this political conflict is over?  Or will those entering the party now shift the PUP to the right and make the party a working class version of the DUP? Will these new members leave the party once the flag and marching issues are resolved?  Can the self-organisation and the self-actualisation now taking place within the Protestant working class communities lead to a confident working class able to stand on its own two feet and chart a new way forward?

We do not have the answers to the many questions outlined above nor can we provide the PWC with those answers.  Only the PWC, the PUP, and those active in the PWC community can respond to those questions.  How they do answer may well decide the course of unionist and Northern Ireland politics as well as the future of Northern Ireland itself.

About Tony Novosel

Tony Novosel is a senior lecturer in History at the University of Pittsburgh. He is involved in ‘common history’ projects in Belfast.