Monthly Archives: June 2015

Response to Them’uns: Loyalism, Bonfires and Normative Prisons: Sophie Long


On Saturday 27th June, an “anti-sectarian”, “anti-racist”, “anti-bullying” social media group posted a screenshot, taken from a Loyalist Facebook page, to which they added their own, particular analysis. The group “Them’uns” had observed that Gareth Cole, a PUP member from Carrickfergus, had written an article for a small, Loyalist-run publication, the “Loyalist Perspective”.

Gareth had shared the news of his article being published on his own Facebook page, which “Them’uns” had screenshotted and posted on their own forum. The comments which they made and the subsequent discussions which they have had with me, and others, are why this response has been written.

Before examining the underlying assumptions of what was said, it is useful to provide some context on who the group are, and what they seek to achieve via their online commentary.

“Them’uns” describe themselves as follows:

“This page seeks to expose the sectarian, racist opinions and behaviour of fleggers, loyalists, dissies and bullyboy thugs from whatever side they may come.

We refuse to accept that a small minority of morons can continuously disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens for their own bigoted ends. By exposing the mindset of these extremists, we hope to demonstrate the futile and backward nature of their thinking and, hopefully, have a laugh along the way.” (


A noble set of aspirations. There are, however, a few problems contained within this self-ascribed identity, not to mention the problematic readings of Loyalism, rehabilitation and justice which logically follow from the post of 27th June.

Firstly, are the group suggesting that only “fleggers, loyalists, dissies and bullyboy thugs” hold “sectarian, racist opinions”? Is such a partial reading not an example of the very bullying which they claim to oppose? Moreover, are all Loyalists and dissidents automatically sectarian and racist? If so, what is this founded upon? Is it something intrinsic to these groupings? If this is the case, such assessments have dangerous parallels with racism, which holds that groups contain intrinsic characteristics. Proceeding from this analysis, what are we to do with these deplorable individuals, given that they are irrevocably bigoted? Should we deport them? Where to?

Furthermore, what if “Them’uns” were to encounter non-sectarian dissident Republicans or Loyalists? Would they re-evaluate their position, and the group aims? Critically, would their group continue to exist should the complexity, and progressive thought within Loyalism, emerge and gain recognition? Depressingly, for a group whose raison d’être is that Loyalism is as they describe it, any attempt to provide a counter-narrative will be rejected, as it was on the 27th, and in the days since.

In concert with this, their nod toward inclusivity, in challenging sectarian opinions “from whichever side it may come” is little more than a fig leaf; of the last, ten posts on the page, nine were mocking Loyalists of one shade, or another. The tenth was a shared post from a page called “Tricolour at City Hall”, which advised nationalists not to burn Loyalist bonfires, lest it hamper their political objectives.

It becomes clear, therefore, that the aims of this group are to “expose the futile and backward nature” only of Loyalist thinking, with the attendant discriminatory behaviours which result from such aspirations. These views were evident in their prejudiced comments toward Gareth Cole, as they noted that,

“It’s almost that time of the year when the neanderthals celebrate the ability to make fire” (Them’uns 27th June, 21.10).

Such a response would be perhaps worth more, had the group read Gareth’s article before issuing their judgment. Yet, for this group, who understand Loyalism and sectarianism as mutually constitutive, there was no need to read the article. Their understanding of Loyalism is such that no further engagements with Loyalists, or investigations into Loyalist political thought, are necessary.

When challenged on their own intolerance, the group defended their statement by making reference to an incident from 2011, when Gareth had alleged that the mainstream media in Northern Ireland are not impartial, and suggested that, “it high time we blow utv and newsline up the fenion lovin b******s [sic]”.(Newsletter 2014).

The above comment is indefensibly sectarian in its content. And indeed, if people were fixed entities, holding the same views throughout their lifetimes, and incapable of change, or reform, then “Them’uns” would be wholly correct in surmising that Gareth is a sectarian Loyalist.

However, anyone with even a limited understanding of human nature will know that individuals can reform, rehabilitate, reform, progress, develop and mature. We recognise that people make mistakes, and, as an advanced society, we provide mechanisms for change and personal progress, and continue to include these citizens in our polity. These very concepts are why we in the United Kingdom, a liberal democracy, oppose capital punishment.

We cannot, therefore, confine people to normative prisons, where their past actions guide our present and future treatment of them. Firstly, it is unethical, as it denies human agency and rational autonomy. Secondly, by doing this, we remove the incentives to positively participate in society. If you will be forever judged on a past indiscretion, why should you seek to reform?

I have an additional response to this incident. The first is that I agree with Gareth that the mainstream media outlets tend to discuss Loyalism in somewhat base, narrow terms. Much academic work has focused on this, with Graham Spencer, Alan Parkinson and Malachi O’Doherty publishing work which argues for a more complex, deeper engagement from the media.

Indeed, in November 2013, Professor John Brewer led a workshop at Queen’s University, to discuss the need for “peace journalism”, in societies emerging from conflict: “‘Peace journalism’ is a relatively new term, associated particularly with the idea that societies emerging out of conflict require a form of journalism that constructively helps in building the fragile peace.”

There is scholarly support, therefore, for the idea that the local media do not fairly or constructively discuss Loyalists or their political representatives. However, where I disagree with Gareth’s comments from 2011, are the calls for violence. Any progress must be political, and crucially, must remain a non-violent struggle.

Unfortunately for the group, Gareth has developed, both personally and politically. PUP leader Billy Hutchinson confirmed as much, when Gareth ran for election in 2014. Hutchinson welcomed Gareth into the Party and worked with him to develop his political skills.

This is the final point which I wish to make. The PUP provide young Loyalist men and woman an alternative route to effect change. Through political advocacy, argument and action, Loyalists can articulate their vision of a just society. Without the PUP doing this, and politicising the Protestant working class, what is the alternative?

If we took our lead from “Them’uns”, who appear to despise Loyalism, in whatever form it takes, it would be bleak future for the Protestant working class. Luckily, there are little more than a limited voice, and present regressive attitudes, which sit in sharp contrast to the Progressive politics Gareth now espouses.

Sophie Long



Catholics Must Re-Claim the 12th: Day Is Not Just For Prods: Dr. John Coulter



Catholics should reclaim the Twelfth as part of their Irish heritage and 12 July should be a national holiday across the whole of Ireland like St Patrick’s Day.

   If you believe what the Prods-only Orange Order has unveiled at its new EU-funded ‘Museum of Orange Heritage’ in the heart of loyalist east Belfast, then Catholics have as much right to celebrate King Billy’s 1690 victory at the Boyne as Unionists.

If former Irish President Mary McAleese can grace the Order’s official museum opening, then Irish Catholics should embrace the 12 July commemorations.

While the Orange has its roots in the violent Prod paramilitary, the Peep O’Day Boys of the late 18th century who were notorious for their dawn raids on Catholics, there was lots of ecumenical hand-shaking at the museum shindig.

The wee flute band from a local Belfast boys school expertly played tunes best associated with World War One, and there was not a peep of traditional loyalist ‘kick the pope’ marching tunes, such as The Sash, Holy Mary, or The Famine Song.

Just as the Orange Order has been trying to reclaim St Paddy’s Day from its stereotype that it is a republican festival, so too, Catholics need to smash the mindset only Prods can live it up each 12 July.

Nationalists should remember that if King Jimmy’s artillery had been a little more accurate on the morning of the Boyne battle, 12 July would have been a republican holiday.

Even before the Boyne kicked off properly, the Jacobites sneaked up on Billy during breakfast, wounding him with a salvo.

Perhaps republicans have forgotten their geography, but last time I checked, the River Boyne flowed through the Republic!

Indeed, one of the premier Orange parades to commemorate Billy’s battle is the famous Donegal Dander at Rossnowlagh when thousands of Northern brethren and band members join their Southern border counterparts.

There’s a real lesson here for the Order. Maybe it could defuse contentious Northern routes such as Drumcree and Ardoyne by decamping to isolated rural fields and seaside localities in the Republic?

Nationalists should also recall that it was King William’s elite Dutch Royal Blue troops – who were predominantly Catholic – who sealed his victory.

After the battle, the then pope, Alexander the Eighth, commemorated Billy’s victory with a special Te Deum event at the Vatican.

For the last 325 years since the Boyne, there has even been unsubstantiated speculation that Pope Alex actually blessed some of Billy’s troops before they went to Ireland to kick James’ ass.

Basically, Billy saved the Papacy from oblivion from the dictator of the day – Louis of France.

Folklore has it, too, that William even had two of his own Protestant troops executed for mistreatment of Catholic prisoners after the battle.

The Orange forces only won the battle because King James did not take advantage of the death of William’s top military commander, Marshall Schomberg, as he charged into the river.

Indeed, the Boyne would have been a Jacobite victory had their leading commander, Patrick Sarsfield, been in charge of the army – not the military incompetent James.

Sarsfield proved his worth after the battle by bashing the Williamites at Limerick.

The Orange Order dates from 1795, and it has only taken it just over two centuries to realise it needs to educate people about its true heritage.

The Order’s Orange museum is not about rewriting history; merely telling the truth.

Anti-Orange liberal Prods pose as big a threat to the Order’s future as republicans.

Could the Order’s project with Catholic schools really be a secret agenda to neutralise the strong influence of well-organised nationalist residents’ groups along contentious parade routes?

Dr. John Coulter


Islamic Nutters Can Strike Here: Dirty Bomb Attack Possible: Dr. John Coulter

Islamic Nutters Can Strike Here.


Every responsible Irish Christian must throw their full support behind the Biblical state of Israel before Islamic radicals based in Iran manage to explode a nuke dirty bomb inside Israel’s borders.

Ireland should not dismiss this nuclear threat as Israel’s problem. In an ironic twist, it will soon become a major issue for the Emerald Isle.

The concept of a radical Islamic dirty bomb is not scaremongering. It was issued by one of Israel’s most senior UK diplomats, Mr Yiftah Curiel, who travelled to Ireland to give me this apocalyptic news.

Next to the gay rights and anti-abortion lobbies, the pro-Palestinian cause is one of the most vocal and active in Ireland.

The US State Department has already claimed up to six radical Islamic terror cells are based in Ireland.

Dissident republicans are known to be fostering terror links with Islamic militants in the same way the Provos and INLA built links with Palestinian terrorists during the Troubles.

Mr Curiel admitted his country had conducted research on the human cost if Iran used one of the militant Islamic groups to detonate a nuke dirty bomb inside Israel borders.

There is the very real possibility such a device would inflict death on the Jews on a scale not witnessed since the Holocaust in which six million were murdered.

Mr Curiel branded the concept of Iran making a dirty bomb as “mind boggling”, warning that “nuclear technology needs morality”.

Ireland is already high on militant Islam’s list of targets because of allegations Shannon Airport was used to allow US plans to refuel during the so-called rendition flights taking Islamic radical terror suspects to the US for interrogation.

But Ireland needs to be aware of how militant Islamic radicals think. These nutters are extremely homophobic and there is ample evidence of gay men being executed by beheading or being thrown off buildings.

The South has already voted comprehensively in support of gay marriage, and a pro-gay marriage march in Belfast attracted some 20,000 supporters.

Ireland may boast that it is a beacon for LGBT rights and gay marriage, but is it making itself a target for the violently homophobic radical Islamic terror groups.

The other danger which Mr Curiel warned about was that Iran could get its militant sympathisers in terror groups, such as Hamas in Gaza, Islamic State in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon to carry the nuclear attack using suicide bombers.

“These organisations have no qualms about using civilians as cover. They are not interested in dialogue, but the destruction of Israel.

“In Gaza, the Hamas headquarters was under a hospital. Hamas used protected vehicles such as those for journalists and ambulances to launch attacks on our troops,” he added.

Bearing this in mind, Islamists would have little thought for civilian deaths, just as they did in the attacks on 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London.

In Gaza, Hamas uses a network of tunnels to launch attacks on Israel, according to Mr Curiel.

This would be similar to how the Provos and INLA used the South to launch attacks on people and places in the North.

For the sake of all Irish citizens, include Ireland’s moderate Muslim community, the Irish Defence Forces and British Army must implement a joint operation to round up all Islamic militant suspects on the island and re-open the Maze prison site as an internment camp.

John Coulter.


The Flying of Flags: A Celebration of Patriotism and a Defiant Determination to remain British: Jamie Bryson

The Flying of Flags

The flying of flags has been a matter of public debate in the past number of weeks. The question many people are asking is why do sections of the Unionist community fly flags and overtly express our Britishness by such methods?


The short answer is that in my personal opinion, the flying of flags etc. is an act of patriotism and an expression of pride in our Country- but at times it is also an act of defiance from a community which feels under siege- but it is important to set all this in context, and explain why our community feel the way we do and why this genuine and deeply held feeling translates itself into overt displays of patriotism.


The PUL community, or at least large sections of us- feel- with more than a little justification- that there is a cultural war being waged against every vestige of Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist culture and that this, campaign if you like, has many fronts- many Trojan horses.


We see the continuous oppression of Protestant culture and traditions through the outrageous decisions of the Parades commission, a body which is overtly hostile to the Unionist community.

We see the criminalisation of culture via the courts process. We see, what we believe to be, the one sided approach to policing and dealing with the past, and all of this feeds in to a growing isolation from the political process- a political process so distant from reality that we now agree fantasy budgets, just so as to keep the institutions on life support.


So with all that in mind, it is unsurprising that there is a feeling within sections of Unionism that we are a community under siege- and as has been evidenced ever since the days of 1912- when the Unionist community feel under siege the response is always one of defiance, so I am not in the least surprised that the flying of flags has increased and that old traditions, such as kerb painting etc., have once again come to the fore.


At its core the flying of flags is a show of patriotism, a celebration of our culture and a defiant signal of our determination to remain British. There is nothing wrong with patriotism. In America citizens are encouraged to flag their flags, to be proud of their patriotism, yet here in Northern Ireland we are branded as sectarian bigots for doing do.


Nationalists demand ‘equality’ and the right to fly two flags- I utterly reject that notion- there can be no equality between the sovereign flag of the United Kingdom and a foreign flag from a neighbouring, and separate, country.


Northern Ireland is a proud part of the United Kingdom, that is our constitutional status, and for all its faults and obvious failures, at least the Belfast Agreement did enshrine the principle of consent. Therefore the Union flag remains sovereign and Northern Ireland remains firmly British.


We are not neutral, and attempts to shift the debate into an arena whereby we submit to the notion that Northern Ireland is half Irish and half British, is a republican tactic which is seeking to pervert, and subvert, the constitutional position of our Country under the fatally flawed, Trojan horse (to quote Gerry Adams) notion of equality.


In North Down, Flag protocols had been a positive development in recent years; these protocols ensured that flags were not disrespected by being left up tattered and torn. There protocols were a good agreement, but as is always the case with statutory bodies, they bank whatever concessions they can and then push for more. They cannot accept an agreement and settle the issue, it always ends up as a process of eradication- every year they have to keep pushing for more, and then they act surprised when the community pushes back?


There has also been much debate around the return to the practice of painting kerbs in some areas. What I will say is that I can understand the anger within our community, I can understand the isolation and subsequently I can understand acts of defiance from a community with nowhere else to turn.

Jamie Bryson



Let Big Ian Rest in Peace: Unionist Elite Must Shoulder Blame: Dr. John Coulter

Let Big Ian Rest in Peace


It’s a bit rich Messrs Trimble and Galway sticking the boot in old Paisley over the causes of the Troubles when it was the backstabbing Hard Right of the Unionist Party which stoked the fires in the first place!

I grew up in Bannside, the heartland of the Paisley fiefdom of North Antrim. Unionism in the late Sixties was dominated by the ‘Big House, Fur Coat Brigade’.

These aristocratic Unionists basked in the luxury of flushing toilets, while many working class Protestants still had to rely on the slop bucket.

Membership of the middle class dominated Unionist Party was by invitation only. Many working class loyalists were no better off than third class African natives from the colonies.

The crisis facing these down-trodden Prods was brutally expressed by an original Paisley supporter who later became heavily involved with the vigilante Ulster Third Force.

I interviewed this loyalist for a book, The Orange Card’, which the late Independent Orange boss and DUP MLA George Dawson got banned two weeks before publication.

To this loyalist, the Fur Coat Brigade posed as serious a threat to working class Protestants as republicans.

He said: “The problem for ordinary people like myself was that Henry Clark (the Unionist MP for North Antrim in the late 1960s) and people like him were unapproachable.

“I personally went to the late Terence O’Neill because of my eviction by the Fur Coat Brigade and he didn’t want to know me.

“All he did was try to pass the buck. The sitting Unionists were not interested in us folk, unless you had a family of eight to 10!

“In the early days, I listened to Paisley. I thought this was the right sort of system because he confronted the Fur Coat Brigade.”

But this Paisley activist – a Church of Ireland member – would disrupt invitation-only Unionist Party meetings by infiltrating them and shouting down the speakers, such as Chichester-Clark.

“I had contacts in the Right-wing of the Unionist Party who were opposed to O’Neill and Chichester-Clark’s reforms and they got me the passes to get into the Unionist Party meetings,” he said.

“An Orangeman in Clough tipped me off about a meeting in Cloughmills at which Chichester-Clark was to speak.

“About a dozen of us were in the meeting. Some were singing ‘Paisley, Paisley’. Others were more threatening. It got that rough that Chichester-Clark could not get started.”

The impact of these disruptive tactics was to force the Unionist Party to abandon public meetings, especially those in Orange halls.

Many Fur Coat Brigade activists could not cope with the constant heckling and left both politics and the Orange Order as Unionist Party branches shut.

But it should not be forgotten that these working class Protestant hecklers got their tip-offs and passes from Right-wing Unionist Party members – not Ian Paisley.

Don’t start slabbering again about the alleged role of the late Paisley simply because he’s dead and an easy target.

Such moralising gobshites should turn their attention to the militant agenda of the Hard Right in the Fur Coat Brigade-run Unionist Party who used Paisley supporters as political cannon fodder to undermine O’Neill, Chichester-Clark and Faulkner’s liberal agenda.

If the Hard Right had had the balls to implement a power-sharing Executive, such as the one we now have at Stormont, there would have been no Sinn Fein in government, no IRA, and Paisley senior would have joined the ranks of Hell-fire evangelists and never followed his wife into politics.

Paisley may have been guilty of throwing snowballs at Sean Lemass’s car as the then Taoiseach visited Stormont.

But what sunk O’Neill and company was not Paisley, but the Hard Right Fur Coat Brigade within the Unionist Party who wanted their aristocratic heels kept on the necks of the North’s working class – both Catholic and Protestant.

John Coulter


Get Masons To Save Stormont: Ancient Group Holds The Key: Dr. John Coulter

Get Masons To Save Stormont


It’s time for the ‘Funny Handshake Brigade’ of Irish Freemasons to get their gloves off and save Stormont.

The Masons may be branded suspicious because of their secretive oaths, and ridiculed by fundamentalist churches because of their use of Biblical Old Testament characters in their rituals, but Irish Freemasonry knows how to get the job done!

At its height, Irish Masons numbered some 40,000 across the island and while the Protestants-only Marching Orders have become tainted with contentious parade disputes, the Masonic has remained above the controversy.

Irish Freemasonry is interdenominational and allows both Catholics and Protestants to sit together in Masonic temples and refer to each other as ‘brother’.

Indeed, the real power base behind the Unionist-dominated original Stormont Parliament was the Masons, not the more public Orange Order.

The most senior of the Protestant Orders, the Royal Black Institution, was often dubbed ‘the poor man’s freemasonic’ because of the expense in being a Mason.

Many of the symbols used in Masonry are shared with the Orange and Black. While Masons hold church services, they very rarely – if ever – hold parades.

The Masons have a great reputation for charity fund-raising, looking after members’ widows and at one time, building schools in Ireland.

The Masonic was seen as a link between the upper and middle classes in Ireland and the working men in the same way as the Orange Order was once the cement between the Unionist aristocracy and the working class Protestants.

So bring in the Masons to sort out the Stormont debacle over welfare reform. For generations, it has been rumoured a Masonic Lodge existed at Stormont.

There has been a constant stream of politicians and organisations trying to mend Stormont’s woes, but all to no avail as the institutions edge steadily closer to the abyss and total collapse.

So why can’t Ireland’s Masons have some more secret meetings and see if they can unlock the deadlock?

The Masons created lodges for all kinds of people – coppers have their own lodge, as did Ireland’s Jewish community and even the journalists at one time. Even the Vatican was reputed to have had its own lodge!

In spite of eight centuries of sectarian conflict on the island, the Masonic temple was the one venue where Catholics, Protestants and other faiths could meet in harmony and reach agreement on matters.

Surely this can still be achieved in the 21st century?

In spite of the Bible holding a central position within each Masonic temple during a meeting, the order still has faced criticism from the fundamentalists in both Protestantism and Catholicism who branded Freemasonry as a rival religion to Christianity.

Supporters of Masonic rituals maintain they tell the tales of Biblical characters; opponents claim the rituals resemble Satanism or something from a horror slasher movie!

While Catholics can become Masons, many in the Catholic Church hierarchy have frowned on membership of the Brotherhood. Perhaps this is because Freemasonry would take away from Catholic holy orders or secret societies, such as Opus Dei.

But the principal reason for Catholic opposition was that many Protestants held dual membership of the Orange and the Masonic, giving the false impression Freemasonry was part of the Loyal Orders.

Rather than lock the politicians into intensive talks, get them into the Masonic, get trouser legs rolled up, chests bared, and get the business done of making Stormont work for the sake of all the people of Ireland.


Two Flags and No Clue: Sophie Long

Two Flags and No Clue: Is Post-Agreement Republicanism Politically Bankrupt?


On Wednesday the 5th May, I emerged from conducting a series of interviews, and checked my phone for news and emails. I had been occupied for around five hours, which is a long time in Northern Irish politics. However, I was unprepared for the image of two, Irish flags flying from Stormont buildings, and the nuclear fallout which resulted.

‘Someone’, possibly contractors, had hung the Irish Tricolour, and a United Irishmen flag, from the flagpoles at Stormont buildings on Wednesday. Both flags flew for around ten minutes before being spotted and subsequently removed. As with many things on this island, the act itself was relatively banal, but what it symbolizes, and how it is interpreted, is important for understanding where we are at as a post-Agreement, yet deeply divided, society.

Firstly, the divergent reactions to the flying of these flags reveal much about the attitudes of political elites and indeed, the divisions within Northern Irish society. After the Belfast Telegraph ran the story, the majority of commentators derided Unionism for calling for an investigation, and stated that there were other, more important problems to consider.

The politicians can be demarcated in this analysis, as they are in Stormont itself, along sectarian lines. Unionists, united it seemed, for the first time in months, took great offence at the act, decried it as criminal and provocative, and demanded an inquiry.

Nationalists, contrastingly, shrugged off the flag issue as inconsequential and Gerry Kelly, that well-known moderate and mediator, accused Unionism of “hysteria” and as having an irrational focus on the “wrong issues”, given the salience of Welfare Reform, and resultant existential crisis, which the Executive is currently facing.

Two points are implicit in Kelly’s comments. The first is that flags do not matter, therefore anyone who does see value in respecting a flag, or experiences positive or negative emotions when faced with particular flags, is operating under misplaced, nationalistic delusions, and really ought to consider more pressing, economic matters, should they wish to be taken seriously. Linked to this is the belief that Unionists should not, therefore, be taken seriously.

The second is that Unionism as a whole is reactionary, and by extension of this, less politically mature and adept than Republicanism. Both of these things tell us a lot about Sinn Fein’s attitude towards Unionism as a political ideology, in that they see it as an unfortunate obstacle to the ‘Irish awakening’, which we will all, of course, undergo eventually, prior to our willing incorporation into a United Ireland.

This patronizing and demeaning disposition, whilst morally repugnant,  goes some way toward explaining Sinn Fein’s ungenerous treatment of Unionists, in the December 2012 Union flag debacle, in Wednesday’s provocative comments, and more broadly, since 2007, when the ‘new ascendancy’ of Sinn Fein and the DUP, clumsily took the reins of power. Not only do Sinn Fein dislike Unionism, they also fail to understand it, and consequently fail to recognize it as a legitimate, political position.

What is ironic however, is that for the Shinners, who have honed and crafted their own nationalist mythology, flags probably do matter. No doubt, if a vote supported flying the Tricolour at Belfast City Hall, we would see Gerry et al celebrating the symbolic victory of further ‘greening’ the former bastion of Unionist political and economic power, and consolidating Republicanism’s place in the new Northern Ireland.

Therefore, Kelly is being deliberately disingenuous, in order to present himself and his party as serious politicians, and Unionists as flag-waving imbeciles. I’m not sure if claiming you are better at politics than the DUP is anything to boast about, but the Shinners clearly need to take their victories where they can find them.

Indeed, there is some truth in what Kelly said. Viewing Unionist as reactionary is not an unreasonable position to take, given the lack of proactive and independent policy ideas emerging from the Unionist camp. Robinson refusing to sign the Haass Agreement because “McGuinness seemed very eager to sign it, therefore something must be up”, is a depressingly accurate example of how we do politics here. If ‘they’ want something, it must be bad for ‘us’.

Further, these perspectives on Unionist short-sightedness are voiced by the Unionist people, and fairly regularly. Much of the complaints which emanate from the electorate are that Unionism has no strategy, and tends to be pushed and pulled by the various crises which we manufacture for ourselves here in Northern Ireland. However, that should not distract us from the fact that a substantial number of those crises are engineered by Republicanism, and for reasons which I will now outline.

Sinn Fein willingly entered into government with the DUP, on the understanding that power-sharing was a pragmatic solution to the ethno-sectarian divide. Since then, there has been little evidence of the development of a respectful, healthy politics between the two.

The question I have for Republicans is: why the small-scale, amateur attempts at winding Unionists up? Is it, perhaps because, you have found yourselves in power, ten months away from the hundredth centenary of the Easter Rising, with no idea where to go from here?

I have heard much reference to a ‘New Ireland’, an ‘Agreed Ireland’, and an ‘Ireland of Equals’. These abstractions, with their implicit benefits, are regularly doled out to Republican voters, to reassure them that this is not it. McGuinness sitting alongside Robinson is not where the Shinner train stops. A United Ireland will come.

But how? And when? Who will vote for it? And what will it look like? Because, despite the demographic changes, which the esteemed and benevolent Gerry Kelly so graciously displayed in his electoral leaflets, support for the Union has increased steadily since 2007, when 48% of Catholics wanted unification, compared to 2013’s figure of just 28%.

Professor Peter Shirlow refers to this attitudinal change as down to the “settlement”, which gave Catholics the rights and opportunities which they desired, and so removing the need to alter the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. However, that figure of just over a quarter looks positive when compared with the Protestant support for a united Ireland, which was sitting at 2% as of 2013 (Northern Ireland Life and Times online).

How do Sinn Fein plan to persuade the reluctant, or downright opposed, 98% of Protestants, and 72% of Catholics? By continuing to pursue a schizophrenic, inconsistent approach to policymaking across the island of Ireland? Anti-austerity in the Republic, and, for the most part, implementing Tory austerity in NI? By taunting and insulting Unionists as a grouping, criticizing their attachment to the Union flag, and working, where possible, to block parades from progressing?

As a Unionist voter, I can only assume that life in a united Ireland, with Sinn Fein in power, would be very unpleasant indeed. Given their silence on what shape this Ireland would take, and how we, the irrational, but nonetheless resident, minority, would be welcomed, all we have to go on is their conduct towards Unionists to date.

In addition to this inconvenient survey data, the recent Westminster elections brought bad news for Republicans. Sinn Fein’s vote share dropped for the first time since 1987, with the Ulster Unionist Party emerging as the victors of the election. Furthermore, the votes for ‘other’ parties, that is, Alliance, the Greens, and People Before Profit, and UKIP, increased. These parties sit outside of the ‘Orange and Green’, and they too, would have to be persuaded of the merits of Irish unification.

Finally, there have been some symbolic blows to the Republican psyche in the past year, which have perhaps derailed their grand plans for 2016, and all it promised to bring. Firstly, Gerry Carroll took a West Belfast seat in 2014, no mean feat in Gerry Adam’s former fiefdom. The people of West Belfast, it appears, are disillusioned with what the Shinners have to offer the working classes, and would prefer to lend their support to a new, genuinely socialist, candidate.

Looking east, toward the mainland, it might also be worrying Sinn Fein, that for all their supposed political capital, their tight party discipline, and their elastic approach to “talking to the Brits”, the SNP brought the Union closer to dissolution through democratic argument and persuasion, than the Shinners ever did through force.

Switching from the Armalite to the ballot box has brought Sinn Fein into Stormont. But that appears to be the upper limit of political Republicanism’s reach. This might be why, then, such attention is paid to the ‘small victories’ of irritating Unionists, given that they have failed to achieve their objectives, and are now “the Establishment”, which they once criticized so fiercely.

Sophie Long




Tom Vallance: First Rangers Captain

Tom Vallance

Tom Vallance was very much a man for his time. It is inconceivable the many and varied talents this man was blessed with would have been allowed to flourish if he had been a footballer of the modern era. He was accomplished in so many fields. Arguably the most outstanding Scottish footballer of his era, he also held the Scottish long jump record for many years and was a keen rower.

Tom was a hugely impressive physical specimen, standing six feet two inches at a time when the average Scottish male was about five feet seven inches in height. He was, though, a gentle giant. He was an accomplished artist, exhibits being accepted on two occasions by the Royal Scottish Academy. He was also a prize-winner for the breeding of birds and dogs.

Tom Vallance was born at Succoth Farm, near Renton in 1856.  In his early years, the family Vallance moved to Shandon, north of Rhu and a short distance from the home of the McNeil family.  It was probably here that the future captain and president of the Rangers met the pioneer brothers Peter and Moses.

The census of 1871 tells us Tom was a “civil engineer’s apprentice”.  Soon, though, he moved to Glasgow in search of work.  He succeeded, employment coming as a mechanical engineer in a shipyard.  Shortly after arriving in Glasgow, he joined the Clyde Amateur Rowing Club.

The road from the Gareloch to the big city had already been taken by the Campbells and the McNeils.  The schoolboy friends met up again and Tom joined the football club recently started by his friends.  Vallance soon made his mark in the popular new sport.  A natural athlete, he settled into the full back role, reaching prominence, with his teammates, in the matches of the 1877 Scottish Cup Final against Vale of Leven.  He was also a born leader, the first of the line of the great Rangers’ captains.  By the end of the decade, he was the finest footballer in Scotland and England.  In 1879, he had his brother Alick beside him in the first Rangers’ side to win a trophy, the Glasgow Merchants’ Charity Cup.

Tom made his first appearance for Scotland in 1877, in a 3-1 victory over England at the Kennington Oval.  He would face the “Auld Enemy” on three further occasions, including victories of 7-2 in 1878 and 6-1, in 1881.  Rangers’ colleagues George Gillespie and David Hill played in that match, the latter scoring Scotland’s second goal.  Tom also had three victories over the Welsh to think back on in his twilight years.  The only blot on an otherwise perfect international career was the 4-5 defeat at the Oval in 1879.  The men in dark blue had led by 4-1 at half-time!

In February, 1882, Tom Vallance made the bold decision to seek out a new career in the tea plantations of the northeastern Indian state of Assam.  It was a move that nearly cost Tom his life.  Within a few months of arriving in India, the great athlete was struck down by a form of malaria. He made the decision to return to Scotland.

He played three times for Rangers in 1883/84 season but it was clear the illness had taken its toll of Tom’s health.  His final game in his beloved light blue was in a 9-2 victory over Abercorn at Kinning Park.  (He did, though, appear for the “Ancients” for a number of years.)

In retrospect, it can be argued that Tom Vallance’s contribution to the fortunes of the Rangers was greater, more important, off the field of play rather than on it.  During Vallance’s time in India, John Wallace Mackay had come to power in the role of honorary match secretary; power he would wield to the great detriment of the Club.  Tom was appointed club president in 1883, the first of six seasons in the role.  His commitment to the role achieved great support for him in his battle to control the excesses of the greatly unpopular Mackay.

By now, Tom was a travelling salesman in the wine and spirit trade.  This was the first rung on the ladder to a successful career in the hospitality industry.  It would eventually lead to Tom becoming a highly-respected restaurateur, the owner of three city restaurants.

He also settled into married life.  His bride on 18 August, 1887 was Marion, sister of Tom’s team-mate, Willie Dunlop.  Brother Alick was Tom’s best man.

Tom and Marion had two sons.  Harold, born in 1889 and James two years later.  In between the births of the boys, Tom took ownership of his first restaurant, The Club at 22 Paisley Road West which is now The Viceroy Bar He would later take into his portfolio, “The Metropolitan” in Hutcheson Street and “The Lansdowne” in Hope Street.

Like so many of their generation, the Vallances suffered the loss of a son in the Great War.  Second Lieutenant Harold Vallance died only six weeks before the end of hostilities, in September, 1918.  Tom had also had to bear the loss of his much-loved sibling, Alick.  He died, aged only thirty-eight, in 1898.

Tom Vallance succumbed to a stroke at his home at 189 Pitt Street on 16 February, 1935. Appropriately, Rangers won that day, a victory by three goals to one over Airdrieonians at Ibrox.


The Great War-Ulster Greets Her Brave and Faithful Sons.

The Great War. Ulster Greets Her Brave and Faithful Sons. 1919.

( Printed by WG Baird,  Royal Avenue.)

I was given this book and an Ulster Covenant recently by a friend. Both are a bit like myself – old battered and but still hanging together. I’m pretty sure they are genuine.  The Covenant appears to be covered in Linseed oil and over the years it has become brittle. The writing on both book and Covenant concerns a William Curry Junior who signed the Covenant on that day in 1912. I checked the Covenant roll on the PRONI site and found that 8 William Curry’s had signed at the City hall. Is it possible that William Curry Jnr went to war and got back safely or was he too young to go? It is difficult to precisely identify who this person was.

There are a number of interesting points in terms of the context of 1919. Ireland was still one country. The Easter uprising and subsequent executions had taken place 3 years previously and N.Ireland was still 2 years off.  In Belfast, events were starting to shape another round of killings in the small back streets.  The first RIC officer was killed by republicans and Dail Eireann was outlawed by the British government.

The book appears to be written by the ‘Citizens Committee to the Ulster Service Men’  which was headed by the Lord Mayor,  J.C. White. It is classed as a souvenir of the Peace Day Saturday 9th August 1919.   The book starts by looking at the financial contributions to the war effort.  References are made to the ‘North of Ireland’. Belfast had contributed over 46,000 men to the army. The Ulster woman’s gift fund raised 120,000 for POWs which was a considerable amount in the early 20th century. Hospitals are mentioned which were involved in treating men who returned. The UVF hospital in Botanic Avenue,  Galwally, Craigavon,  Gilford and the ‘Mental Hospital on the Grosvenor Road’.

The first chapter concerns the  36th (Ulster)  Division which is a brief rundown of the  structure and  the events of 1st July 1916.  After the Somme, mention is made of the 36th at Cambrai and St Quentin. Quite a few changes had taken place in the Division after the slaughter at Thiepval.  Moving on quickly the chapter covers Messines and Bailleul in 1918 when the suffering began again. The final period of the war showed that the Ulster Division was fighting alongside  their Belgian compatriots in the Courtrai (now Kortrijk  ) area.  The war ended on November  1918. Many Ulster men would have been based in Mouscron.  The Division did not begin to return to Ulster until the next year but they had a special visitor in January 1919 in the shape of the Prince of Wales.  He who would become  Edward VIII but would  abdicate in 1936. There are then brief official histories of some of  the battalions of the division.  On page 47 there is a list of decorations won by the division which includes 9 Victoria Crosses, 71 Distinguished Service Orders, 459 Military Crosses and 1294 Military Medals.

The next chapter concerns the Tenth Division at Gallipoli. It notes that the North of Ireland provided 5 battalions into the division. This division was sent to Gallipoli in August 1915. Another debacle. After the clear defeat by the Turkish forces the Division was sent to Servia in September 1915. They would stay in the Balkans for 2 years before going to Egypt via Palestine. The division was so weakened it did not serve as a whole in the latter stages of the war in France. The 5/ 6/ th Royal Irish Fusiliers were gassed at Anchy before fighting their way across the La Bassee Haute canal.  At one point they were transferred into the 16th Irish Division.

The next chapter is devoted to the Ulster presence in the 16th Irish Division. This was in the form of the Inniskilling and Royal Irish fusiliers.  This division is cited as a ‘great division’ and nobly  upholding ‘the fame of Irishmen as fighters’.   Mention is explicitly made of the 6th Battalion,  Connaught Rangers which had 600 men from Belfast, “.. chiefly from the Falls road..”  Mention is made of the attacks by the Division on Guinchy and Gullemont before the great attack on Messines-Wytschate in June 1917. This is where the Irish and Ulster Divisions would fight, suffer, and die,  side by side.

Further chapters cover various battalions e.g.  1st and 2nd Regular Battalions of the Irish Rifles. Mention is made of the Territorials and the Woman’s Army.  In terms of the women’s contribution mention is made of the Queens Marys Army Corp as well as Queen Alexandria’s nursing service.  Women are recognised as nursing here in the north and in many places in France. Ulster women are praised  for  doing important work here and in  Coventry where they  worked  in munitions factories. There is a list of the V.C. winners and a brief account of their actions.  Reference is made to Ulster’s contribution to the Navy which has been understated in many other accounts of the Great War.

It would appear that Saturday August 9th 1919 in Belfast was a big day. Special trains laid on, much ado in the local press exhorting people to come out. The march would go down the Antrim road, Clifton Street, Donegal street, Royal Avenue and finish in the Ormeau Park where food had been laid on for the men and women.    Reading this piece of history raise so many questions.  It has certainly glossed over the horrendous aspects of the war.  It may not have bene intended as spin but it could be seen as glamorising to some extent the war.

Another topic of the book is the money donated to the war effort but what monies were donated to the aftercare of the returning rifleman or private?  Note the headline Urgent appeal to get another £13,000, a huge amount in those days, for what end? Admittedly both ordinary citizens and the Government would be short of cash but it’s the old, old story; if a conflict is involved there always seems to be money for that.  So accepting a day out, a march, a meal and a booklet what else was given to the returning soldiers?  I do not know nor will this booklet tell us. I suspect that fact would not be announced from the roof tops.  It also seems somewhat ironic that some of the Ulster soldiers would return to Belfast, leaving the horrors of the trenches behind.  A Belfast where in a short period of time they would hear the echoes of war on the streets with rifle fire and massed riots.

The booklet and Covenant are genuine pieces of our history.  Fascinating to think they lasted this long. Fascinating to think of the changes and events since that day,  over 95 years ago.



Contemporary Loyalist: Sam White

Sam-Chalky-White is a 57 year old member of the Democratic Unionist Party and a former loyalist prisoner.  He has a background in community development work in East Belfast and is hotly tipped to replace Gavin Robinson on the Belfast City Council.

Contemporary Loyalist


The Contemporary loyalist unlike in the past, no longer appear confident and superior. Compared with the days of the Ulster Workers’ Strike of 1974, or the huge loyalist demonstrations against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s, the loyalist protests over the Union flag have been very small affairs.

The things loyalists once held dear – Britishness, the monarchy, no longer mean much to the British establishment, which has found new ways to maintain its rule in Northern Ireland. That said, Sinn Fein has been drawn into the peace process via the Good Friday Agreement signed in April 1998; these republicans have signed up to a new, reformed six-county state. The reward for this compromise has been increasing  ‘parity of esteem’ in terms of identity politics and symbols.

Many working-class loyalists, however, have never really accepted the peace process and view it as Sinn Fein and republicans waging war by other means. Watching Sinn Fein becoming the largest party on Belfast City Council was bad enough for loyalists; seeing Sinn Fein successfully have the Union flag removed from City Hall was too much to take, hence protesting throughout the province.

While some commentators think the distinction between ‘loyalism’ and ‘Unionism’ revolves around attitudes to violence, class was and is a much more significant aspect. Loyalist paramilitaries are deeply rooted in the poorest sections of the Protestant working class. That said, out of that loyalism has been an underappreciated expression of Protestant working-class consciousness. Today, the resentment of young working-class loyalists towards middle–class Unionists in their leafy suburbs is concerning, and is part of what makes up the siege mentality on display in the flags protest. Loyalists increasingly view Unionist politicians in the same way they view republicans, the cross-community Alliance Party and British politicians: as untrustworthy enemies, still, the recent unionist pact has installed a relative arena of trust giving way to more in depth cultural safety and less marginalising within loyalist communities.

While many loyalists, what is happening in loyalism today as a bold move to embrace the peace process, I argue it differently. Ulster loyalism is a dramatically fragmented force that has been dragged towards embracing the Good Friday Agreement. When Britain needed an aggressive, supremacist majority to guarantee British rule, loyalists played that role to the core. Now Britain needs loyalists to behave differently in order to secure the status quo; it needs them to adopt the therapeutic language of accommodation and respect for diversity. The loyalists who ignore the new script and refuse to adapt to their old ally’s new demands will find that their devotion to the British state cuts little ice.

Sam White