Monthly Archives: November 2013

Bringing The Street To The Party: Unfinished Business

Bringing The Street To The Party- Unfinished Business


The 3rd of December is the first anniversary of Belfast City Council voting to limit the flying of the Union flag to designated days only. This immediately provoked a rage within the loyalist community, egged on by the DUP and the PUP.  The riots that followed displayed the paradox of the loyalist position. Here were people loyal to the British union and its monarchy waving its flag in a rage and using it as a weapon to hit the Queen’s constabulary over the head! The most persistent of the protests has been that at the Ardoyne/ Woodvale interface at the top of the Crumlin road. Here the twin grievances of the Unionist loyalist community merge. They see their right to march on the Queen’s highway and to fly the Union flag where they want as having been eroded. This is the spot where the local orange parade was prevented from marching pass the nationalist part of the street. A group of loyalists have set up camp and festooned it with Union flags and emblems and symbols of loyalist defiance. There is a temporary building erected with cooking facilities. Teams of at least six people rotate a shift and have to abide by a code of conduct which includes a ban on alcohol. They call it the Twaddell protest camp, after the street it is on’ and some refer to it as the civil rights camp. George Chittick, Orange Order grand master of Belfast explains the reason for the continued protest succinctly: ` My brethren from the Ligoniel Lodges cannot get home. The twelfth of July is not over till they get home. As long as they can’t get home we will be here. We are demanding civil and righteous liberty for all, special privileges for none’. They certainly see the camp and the issues it stands for as a line in the sand. There is a protest every night and every Saturday there have been marches from the west Belfast Orange Hall up the Woodvale road as far as the protest camp. One of the Banners hanging from the railings around the camp reads `End hatred of Orange culture’.  This is the dominant perception amongst the protesters paraphrased as ‘they have taken our flag now they want to take our culture.’

Of course for many who are unsympathetic to their plight that is the issue, what is the culture of Unionism in general and Loyalism in particular?

Nationalist and republicans we have talked to about the issue see it simply as the legacy of the planters demonstrating to the indigenous Gaels who their rulers were and who the rulers owed their allegiance to, the British crown. Some Derry nationalists we talked to remember the Orange bands marching around the walls of Derry and the Orange men throwing pennies down into the Bogside in an act of sectarian contempt for the Catholics below. They see Orange culture as anachronistic triumphalism which won`t accept parity of esteem. In that context, they see the people of the Bogside being extremely generous in allowing the Orange men to pass over their side of the walls on the twelfth, if in silence. In a way this accommodation of the Orange culture is possible because, except for the small protestant enclave on the Waterside, Derry city is segregated by the Foyle. Such an accommodation is extremely difficult in Belfast, both because of the legacy of the savage sectarianism and the contours of the urban landscape which means planning a route into parts of the city which doesn’t cross the sectarian divide is almost impossible. Accommodation in this context has literally to be a two way street. Orange men could argue that they tried to accommodate to the wishes of Nationals community when their marches skirt their area. Of the impasse at the Ardoyne ,one ex UVF prisoner, who is not a supporter of the flag protest, said the Orange men offered to walk early in the morning in silence but the problem  he pointed out is “that that there are people everywhere who would get up early in morning the to be aggrieved`.

There is no doubt a clash of perception as to the significance of the marches and the flags. What one side see as a sectarian celebration of a failed Unionist state, the other side see a colourful celebration of their British culture.

There is no doubt that the eagerly awaited Hasass report may move the conversation on but the cross community reaction to the Northern Authority General’s  John Larkin’s amnesty proposal as untenable shows the difficulty of attaining fundamental leaps forward.

But perhaps the issue is where this conversation is happening. At a recent all-Ireland conference on Peace and reconciliation organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs,former PD Minister Liz O’Donnell said that toward the end of the life the former Minister for State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlan told her that her regret was that the peace process had been more about a Party process and more about a people process.  The flags and marches protests bear out this observation. Most of the people involved in these protests are not represented in the Assembly and effectively have no voice to express their grievances.  Both the Nationalist and Loyalist working class have had no visible material benefit from the peace process and if they had clearly there would be less concentration on flags and ritual and more on reaping the economic benefits. But this is not the case and all the loyalist working class see is the relentless erosion of their culture. There is a growing disillusion with the politicians as being remote from the concerns of the ordinary people.

The challenge for politicians is to accept that Northern Ireland is culturally a society in transition and this has to be a bottom up process. Loyalist in particular need support in that transition.  A transition from defining their cultural practice as immutable to finding ways of expressing that British identity while respecting the cultural rights of their Nationalist neighbours. This cannot be done from the top down. Ownership of the peace process must be given to the people as well as the parties. A process from the street in the context of improved community and employment prospects must be initiated.  We would suggest that the organisation best suited for this task is the Irish Congress of Trade Union through its Northern division. This organisation represents the working population of both sides and also has initiated cross community discussions on common issues, it has also actively supported community projects in areas of high unemployment.  In partnership with community voluntary and civic organisation, it could oversee the process that Mo Mowlan thought missing in the original peace process, an assembly of ordinary people expressing and seeking to resolve the issues they experience on the streets. Thus attempting to complete the unfinished business of the peace process.


Patricia McCarthy and Mick Rafferty —Partners in Catalyst.


More Questions From Pittsburgh University.

HI! Here are some more questions from my students.  I am not sure if you want to do these, but I figured I’d send these on.




  1. How did loyalist prisoners’ perceptions of the PIRA and OIRA change through their contact with them in prison?
  2. Did your views concerning the conflict change after being in prison? If so, in what ways were they changed? And do you think your views would have changed had you not gone to prison?
  3. My question is, did any of the relationships built inside Long Kesh survive outside prison walls? Did anyone maintain contact with members of the other side, and if so was this simply for peace talks?
    1. Or were genuine friendships between loyalists and republicans built in Long Kesh?”



How Violent Is Northern Ireland? Part B

How Violent is Northern Ireland?  Part B

        I made distinction in the previous article between murder and manslaughter.  Murder is the deliberate and pre planned killing of another person. Manslaughter is an accepted case of less premeditation where someone has died.   In terms of court disposals in this period there was 31 cases where one or more people where given life sentences quite often with significant minimum tariffs.  Of the 112 cases some 36 where dealt with as manslaughter cases with a more determinate sentencing pattern.   There were 10 cases where there was no information available via public information and where the outcome was unclear.  Despite stereotyping and media misrepresentation only 4 of the 112 cases was dealt with by means of assigning the perpetrator to a mental institution such as Carstairs. This represents only 3% of the total.  

Clearance rate.

Possibly the most interesting figure is where charges or convictions have not been brought.  Of the 112 cases I would argue that 31 killings remain unaccounted for. However there is a significant factor in that in some cases the killer goes on to kill himself. As for example in the McElhill children tragedy. Two partner killings in this period , seen the partner kill themselves soon after the murder. No charges or case can be brought because there is no one to prosecute.  This would account for 8 killings.

There is a significant lack of progress in organised paramilitary killings such as the UVF-LVF feud. However there are other notable cases where progress has been limited. Lisa Dorrian remains missing, assumed dead and despite media leads and rumours there have been no charges. During this period  the killing of Robert Mc Cartney took place in  January 2005. Despite the world wide attention and political elements to this slaying and despite arrests of high ranking IRA men no one has been convicted of the killing. Another high profile killing was that of Paul Quinn in 2007. The PSNI  have no legal remit for this case as the killing took place across the border. However it is likely that the perpetrators are from the North. But again the case is heavily overshadowed by political aspects.

Overall the police would have a detection and clearance rate of over 80% in this period. If the paramilitary killings are excluded then this rate rises to slightly over 90%.

Partner killings.

An uncomfortable figure for the British public is that every week 2 women will be killed by a partner or ex-partner.   Does this fact show itself in N.Ireland?  There has been a long and continuous line of partner and ex-partner killings in N.Ireland.  In 2004 there were 6 such cases. Most of these resulted   in manslaughter convictions.  In two cases the partners killed themselves soon afterwards. There were 3 partner killings in 2005.  In 2006 there were only 2 such killings but one being notable for the female killing the male.  In 2007 there were 3 such partner killings. In one case the husband killed himself after the murder of his wife. Overall this total of 14 killings of the total of 112 represents 12 % of the total or on average over 3 a year.   Notable partner murders seem to enthral the mass media e.g. the case of Paul Crymble in June 2004.   Julie Mc Ginley killed her husband in August 2000 and in a later period outside this study was the case of the dentist Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart.




One theory that seemed to gain popular currency for some time was that the sudden and large rise in ethnic groups especially from east Europe was responsible for a rise in crime. Do the figures hold this to be that case? In terms of population figures, given that the ethnic groupings in N.Ireland represent some 8% of the population then this is what may be expected in the figures?  Of course these violent deaths are heavily weighted towards males as perpetrators. The first main aspect of study is the intra-ethnic nature of the killings. White locals tend not to be targeted by ethnic groups or vice versa.  In the period covered there were 6 killings involving foreign nationals. In one case in Dungannon a Lithuanian male was killed by local white youths. Two local woman were killed by  foreign nationals. Both crimes had a sexual element. Of the other 3 killings, 2 involved Chinese nationals killing a Chinese national. The last case involved Lithuanians.  So in terms of foreign nationals engaging in violence in this period there is only 5 of the 112 cases or about 4 and a half%. Well below the percentage of foreign nationals in the population as a whole.

Alcohol and Drugs.

One of the common threads to many of the illegal killings is that of alcohol. Drunkenness has been a significant factor in both murder and manslaughter.  Of the 112 killings at least 38 have involved alcohol to some extent.  This represents the largest rate of 34 %. In one case at a party the truth could not be established because everyone including the victim were extremely drunk.  Judges have commented on the drinking culture.  There were only 2 cases were drugs played a significant feature in the killing. Although there is the possibility of alcohol having also been taken along with the illegal drugs.


A clear factor in N.Ireland  is that of the paramilitary groupings for example the dissidents continuing to kill security force members as well as each other. The organised crime and drugs gangs also inflict fatalities on each other over money and territory.  Crimes of passion still exist and there was at least one sexually motivated killing. Revenge killings do exist for imagined slights or insults either on an individual or family.  The largest motivating factor in this study concerns alcohol and the inherent aggression that is displayed especially by males when drunk. There is no one cause as such but especially given a party atmosphere, possibly with drugs, then extreme violence can be used. The effect of this is that detection is relatively easy.  Setting aside the paramilitaries what we do not have in Ireland, north or south is the killer spree such as typifies America. This is where one person (usually)  goes on a massive one off killing spree usually in a public place or school. Only recently there has been the strong suggestion of a serial killer in the Republic.


      On reflection N.Ireland for the most part is much like any other western society. It is neither more nor less violent than say Germany.  In comparison to some countries in the world N.Ireland and Ireland as a whole are safe places to live.  Ironically, and research shows this repeatedly, if you are to be killed it will be by someone you know and quite possibly from someone in your family circle.



Remember Our Real Patriots: Dr. John Coulter

Remember our real patriots


(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Irish people must use Armistice Day to commemorate its real patriotic dead, not terrorist killers.

On this day in 1918, World War One’s guns fell silent. The so-called war to end all wars cost the lives of tens of thousands of Nationalists and Unionists who fought and died side by side.

These Catholics and Protestants – not the terrorist gang who planned and planted the Poppy Day Massacre in Enniskillen in 1987 – are the genuine Irish patriots who should be remembered at 11 o’clock this morning.

That was also the agreed time on November 11th, 1918 when the Great War would be officially declared over.

I will be remembering my great uncle William Holmes, whose surname I carry as one of my middle names.

Great uncle Willie has no known grave. Each Remembrance Week, the Royal British Legion plants on the family’s behalf a small wooden cross bearing his name at Belfast City Hall.

Willie died at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, just under a year before the war ended.

That bloody battle on the Western Front was famed for the British using tanks for the first time in a major offensive.

Bachelor Willie had agreed to give his home leave to a married chum so that his pal could go back to Ireland to visit his wife and family.

Taking his friend’s place, Willie went ‘over the top’ as he had done on so many occasions since the outbreak of war three years earlier in 1914.

But as Willie advanced with his comrades, he was hit by a German shell and literally blown to bits. There was no body to recover and no grave for our family to visit in a well-kept, tranquil military cemetery.

For years when I lived in Clough Presbyterian Manse in Co Antrim, the only family memory of Willie was a framed portrait in the guest bedroom.

While Willie perished, another of my great uncles, Billy Coulter, survived the horrors of the trenches.

Billy went on to become one of Scotland’s leading Freemasons. When he stayed with us at the manse, he would tell me stories about the history of the masons.

Billy loved his 6 am tea, and I would sneak down to sit with him in the kitchen as he proudly showed me his collection of Masonic certificates and medals.

It was a scene straight from the Hollywood blockbuster National Treasure where hero actor Nicolas Cage recalls identical stories from a Masonic relative.

But there was one topic that was completely out of bounds for the soft spoken great uncle Billy – the Great War and the things he suffered while fighting; the machine-gun bullets, the gas attacks, the shelling, and the loss of so many friends in his regiment.

Ireland needs to remember that the bullets, shells and gas did not differentiate between Unionists and Nationalists. Many Catholics and Protestants suffered the same fate as great uncle Willie during these bloodbaths.

It is these men that are the true patriots of the Emerald Isle, not the Martin Meehan IRA types plastered on banners in Ardoyne.

Next year, Ireland will commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One. But today in Ireland, we should all remember that we have freedom because of Willie and his comrades.

Willie and Billy simply can’t be compared with the two IRA men killed by their own bomb in 1973 who were celebrated with a parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone.

November 12, 2013________________


This article appeared in the November 11, 2013 edition of the Irish Daily Star.



11th November 1918

November 11th 1918

The last day of World War One was November 11th 1918, known as Armistice Day. Despite November 11th being the last day of the war, on many parts of the Western Front fighting continued as normal. This meant, of course, that casualties occurred even as the people of Paris, London and New York were celebrating the end of the fighting.


After three days of intense negotiations in a rail siding just outside of Compiegne (see photo), the German delegation that had been brought to the personal carriage of Marshall Ferdinand Foch was ordered by its government in Berlin to sign any terms put on the table by the Allies. Potentially serious social upheaval had forced the government in Berlin into giving out this instruction as people had taken to the streets as a result of chronic food shortages caused by the British naval blockade. Therefore, the German delegation led by Matthias Erzberger signed the terms of the Armistice.


This was done at 05.10 on November 11th. However, the actual ceasefire would not start until 11.00 to allow the information to travel to the many parts of the Western Front. Technology allowed the news to go to capital cities by 05.40 and celebrations began before very many soldiers knew about the Armistice. In London, Big Ben was rung for the first time since the start of the war in August 1914. In Paris, gas lamps were lit for the first time in four years. But on the Western Front, many tens of thousands of soldiers assumed that it was just another day in the war and officers ordered their men into combat.


Quite a number of the final casualties were at Mons in Belgium – ironically one of the first major battles of the war in 1914. In a cemetery just outside of Mons in the village of Nouvelle, there are nine graves of British soldiers. Five are from August 1914 while four are dated November 11th 1918.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) states that their records show that 863 Commonwealth soldiers died on November 11th 1918 – though this figure also includes those who died on that day but of wounds received prior to November 11th.


In particular, the Americans took heavy casualties on the last day of the war. This was because their commander, General John Pershing, believed that the Germans had to be severely defeated at a military level to effectively ‘teach them a lesson’. Pershing saw the terms of the Armistice as being soft on the Germans. Therefore, he supported those commanders who wanted to be pro-active in attacking German positions – even though he knew that an Armistice had been signed. In particular, the Americans suffered heavy casualties attempting to cross the River Meuse on the night of the 10th/11th with the US Marines taking over 1,100 casualties alone. However, if they had waited until 11.00, they could have crossed the river unhindered and with no casualties. The 89th US Division was ordered to attack and take the town of Stenay on the morning of November 11th. Stenay was the last town captured on the Western Front but at a cost of 300 casualties.


The CWGC records that the last British soldier killed in World War One was Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He was killed at Mons (where he had also fought in 1914) at 09.30, just 90 minutes before the ceasefire.


The last French soldier to die was Augustin Trebuchon from the 415th Infantry Regiment. He was a runner and was in the process of taking a message to his colleagues at the front informing them of the ceasefire. He was hit by a single shot and killed at 10.50. In total, 75 French soldiers were killed on November 11th but their graves state November 10th. Two theories have been forwarded for this discrepancy. The first is that by stating that they died on November 10th before the war had ended, there could be no question about their family’s entitlement to a war pension. The other theory, is that the French government wanted to avoid any form of embarrassment or political scandal should it ever become known that so many died on the last day of the war.


The last Canadian to die was Private George Lawrence Price of the Canadian Infantry (2nd Canadian Division) who was killed at Mons at 10.58. Officially, Price was the last Commonwealth soldier to be killed in World War One.


The last American soldier killed was Private Henry Gunter who was killed at 10.59. Officially, Gunter was the last man to die in World War One. His unit had been ordered to advance and take a German machine gun post. It is said that even the Germans – who knew that they were literally minutes away from a ceasefire – tried to stop the Americans attacking. But when it became obvious that this had failed, they fired on their attackers and Gunter was killed. His divisional record stated:


“Almost as he fell, the gunfire died away and an appalling silence prevailed.”


Information about German casualties is more difficult to ascertain. However, it may well be the case that the last casualty of World War One was a junior German officer called Tomas who approached some Americans to tell them that the war was over and that they could have the house he and his men were just vacating. However, no one had told the Americans that the war had finished because of a communications breakdown and Tomas was shot as he approached them after 11.00.


Officially over 10,000 men were killed, wounded or went missing on November 11th 1918. The Americans alone suffered over 3,000 casualties. When these losses became public knowledge, such was the anger at home that Congress held a hearing regarding the matter. In November 1919, Pershing faced a House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs that examined whether senior army commanders had acted accordingly in the last few days of the war. However, no one was ever charged with negligence and Pershing remained unapologetic, remaining convinced that the Germans had got off lightly with the terms of the Armistice. He also stated that although he knew about the timing of the Armistice, he simply did not trust the Germans to carry out their obligations. He therefore, as commander in chief, ordered the army to carry on as it would normally do as any “judicious commander” would have done. Pershing also pointed out that he was merely carrying out the orders of the Allies Supreme Commander, Marshall Ferdinand Foch, that were to “pursue the field greys (Germans) until the last minute”.



Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, 1893 – 1918

Born Oswestry, Shropshire. Educated at Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical College.

From the age of nineteen Owen wanted to be a poet and immersed himself in poetry, being especially impressed by Keats and Shelley. He wrote almost no poetry of importance until he saw action in France in 1917.

He was deeply attached to his mother to whom most of his 664 letters are addressed. (She saved every one.) He was a committed Christian and became lay assistant to the vicar of Dunsden near Reading 1911-1913 – teaching Bible classes and leading prayer meetings – as well as visiting parishioners and helping in other ways.

From 1913 to 1915 he worked as a language tutor in France.

He felt pressured by the propaganda to become a soldier and volunteered on 21st October 1915. He spent the last day of 1916 in a tent in France joining the Second Manchesters. He was full of boyish high spirits at being a soldier.

Within a week he had been transported to the front line in a cattle wagon and was “sleeping” 70 or 80 yards from a heavy gun which fired every minute or so. He was soon wading miles along trenches two feet deep in water. Within a few days he was experiencing gas attacks and was horrified by the stench of the rotting dead; his sentry was blinded, his company then slept out in deep snow and intense frost till the end of January. That month was a profound shock for him: he now understood the meaning of war. “The people of England needn’t hope. They must agitate,” he wrote home. (See his poems The Sentry and Exposure.)

He escaped bullets until the last week of the war, but he saw a good deal of front-line action: he was blown up, concussed and suffered shell-shock. At Craiglockhart, the psychiatric hospital in Edinburgh, he met Siegfried Sassoon who inspired him to develop his war poetry.

He was sent back to the trenches in September, 1918 and in October won the Military Cross by seizing a German machine-gun and using it to kill a number of Germans.

On 4th November he was shot and killed near the village of Ors. The news of his death reached his parents home as the Armistice bells were ringing on 11 November.



Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant restbegan to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering,choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie;
Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.


Wilfred Owen 8 October 1917 – March, 1918



Loyalists in the Conflict: A study from Pittsburgh with Tony Novosel

Loyalists in the Conflict


Tony Novosel is no stranger to these pages and through his recently published–Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism–has shown that he has a consummate grasp of the conflict here and in particular the working class Loyalist perspective.  Tony currently is a History professor at Pittsburgh University and his present class are studying all aspects of the past conflict.  Here are the first two of a list of questions posed by the class.  The hope is that the questions provoke a response and help those”outsiders” garner a better unsderstanding of “The Troubles”.

  1.  Looking      back on their prison experience, was it worth it? Was their involvement in      the violence worth the time spent in Longkesh?
  2. How were the tensions in both Crumlin Road and Long Kesh when      they were first sent to the prison with the members of the IRA.  What      led loyalists to a “non aggression” pact with republicans in      prison.  Did the loyalists resent in not being allowed to      act out against the IRA in prison?


Product Details

Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism by Tony Novosel  (7 Jan 2013)



Talking with Loyalists: Is Anybody Listening?: John Kyle

Talking with Loyalists…is anybody listening? asks Dr. John Kyle


by Dr. John Kyle, PUP Councillor on Belfast City Council

Long before the ceasefires of 1994 or the George Mitchell talks, well hidden from the public gaze,  Republicans, Nationalists, Unionists and Loyalists sat down to talk.  More accurately they sat down to talk and listen.  Listening to ‘the other side,’ hearing their experiences, and listening to their analyses was an important element of the journey from violence to the Good Friday Agreement.  Slowly and painfully a measure of trust grew.  Imperfect it may have been, but nonetheless essential for power sharing democratic institutions. Negotiation replaced armed conflict and the rest, as they say, is history.


If only it was.  To many people, we seem to be dangerously close to drifting back into old enmities and a new conflict.  Is history repeating itself?

Trust is once again a diminishing asset.   Bellicose rhetoric damages it and makes listening more difficult.  What is said is also drowned out by the language used.  There is growing ignorance of the ‘other side’. Significantly, there is also as a yawning chasm between middle class Unionism and Loyalism.

By and large middle class Unionists simply do not understand Loyalists, they lack an appreciation of their everyday lives, their culture, their struggles, their deprivations, their fears and their aspirations.  They are angered by the obduracy and stubbornness of Loyalists, dismissive of their concerns and scathingly critical of their actions. Their lives intersect infrequently.

The middle class obsession with preserving grammar schools reinforces class difference and social division, keeping communities apart. Surely it is time to look again at an educational system that reinforces class differences and separates communities?  Children should be educated in socially mixed environments, and academic selection at age eleven militates against this.  A socially mixed school environment has been demonstrated to have significant benefits for society as a whole. If we are serious about a commitment to ‘the common good’ then we should not socially and academically segregate our children at the age of eleven but rather allow them to grow up together.

Today, opportunities to talk and listen are few and far between, dialogue a distant memory.  The problems of working class communities, educational failure, unemployment, suicide and addiction, and lack of suitable housing, are like a foreign country to many of the middle class.  Why the Union Flag is so important to Loyalists remains a mystery and flute bands are without any redeeming features.

Condemnation can be cathartic for the condemner but rarely changes the condemned.  Dialogue is what is needed.  Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding offers the prospect of informed debate and ultimately negotiated agreement and conciliation.  Surely this is what we want?


It is convenient to stereotype Loyalists. While some have engaged in organised criminal activity, they are a small minority and have been roundly condemned by the majority. To quote Gusty Spence ‘Gangsterism and corruption of whatever type must be resisted at all costs’.  Furthermore, recent books by Peter Shirlow (The End of Ulster Loyalism?) and Tony Novosel (Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity) document clearly how some of the most progressive political thinking of the 1970s and 1980s emanated from Loyalists. Progressive Loyalist thought did not evaporate with the ceasefires of 1994 but it suits some to continually rubbish contributions from this quarter.


Too much acrimonious criticism has filled the airways in the past year.  Perhaps it is time for ‘moderates’ to sit down and engage meaningfully with working class Loyalists.

Listening to them alone, however, is not enough. Dialogue imposes obligations on all participants. Effective dialogue requires talking and listening, but it also maters how the communication is done. For their part, Loyalists must learn to communicate without aggression and rancour.  Too often the Loyalist message is lost in the style of delivery; it’s not just what you say, it’s the way you say it.  It may feel satisfying to verbally batter your opponent but it doesn’t move us forward.

For there to be hope for the future in Northern Ireland, we need to develop empathy for each other: that means opening up dialogue with everyone, including Loyalists. But can you do that, and will you listen?

This post first appeared on the compromise after conflict blog page.



Archive Interviews with Gusty Spence: Bobby Hanvey

Many years ago Bobby Hanvey–The Rambling Man–interviewed Gusty Spence for his Downtown radio programme.  Over two seperate programmes the former UVF leader tells of his early years as a young boy in pre war Belfast in Joseph Street, on joining the organisation in 1965–through his years of imprisonment and subsequent release in 1984.  Here you can listen to both recordings once again.