Loyalism isolated from legislature & current talks process.
Cultural expressions such as the flying of flags and parading have been involved in the Stormont House ‘2’ negotiations. However, absent from these discussions are any representatives from the loyalist community. Some would argue- perhaps rightly- that talks designed to bring forward legislative change should be restricted to those with a large enough electoral mandate. This, however, then leads to further isolation of those who are unelected or have only Council representatives or a small number of Stormont MLA’s. A forced solution, handed down by big house Unionism, is simply not going to play out positively at grassroots level. If anything, such a forced solution- reached without loyalist input- will only create more defiance within PUL communities which already feel- quite rightly- isolated and outside of the political process. As a democrat- leaving aside the perversion of democracy guaranteed by the Belfast Agreement- one must accept that legislative change is carried out by those who receive a large enough electoral mandate. It would be ludicrous to demand an equal seat at the table when the democratic wishes of the people do not reflect a large enough electoral mandate- however, the special circumstances of these talks and solutions being sought should dictate that those who will be expected to implement the potential solutions- in regards to legacy issues, the flying of flags and parading- have an input and role in shaping them. My understanding is this type of input will be sought- as a window dressing- by creating a commission to deal with flags and parading and that the role of this commission will be to consult all relevant stakeholders. Whilst this may, in principle, sound like the very kind of consultation that I have bemoaned has been lacking, in reality it is something quite different.
The proposed ‘commission’ will have no teeth, it will be little more than a talking road-show which will consult for a period of time before reporting back to the very same parties who are involved in the current talks. And then they will find another way to fudge finding an agreed way forward, before creating some other kind of commission, until at some stage legal challenges and the judiciary will end up shaping policy by handing down rulings that will force statutory bodies to regulate the flying of flags, parading and bonfires in a certain way. The politicians will then conveniently wash their hands of it all and blame the judiciary.The above highlights a number of points- firstly, Loyalism needs to strive towards attaining a large enough electoral support base to enable representatives of our community to play a meaningful role in shaping legislation. But secondly, Loyalism needs to articulate an argument whereby those who currently hold electoral power are persuaded of the merits of creating some form of civic/community body- with limited power- that will have a clear input into the shaping of regulation, legislation and agreement on issues of community importance.
This is fundamentally different from a “commission” as is proposed in the current talks and that is likely to be announced shortly. What is needed is a form of civic forum, where those communities who are relevant stakeholders- but who are outside the legislative power base- can hold to account those who seek to find agreed solutions that those stakeholders will be expected to implement.
The above suggestion is unlikely to ever gain any traction. One only need look at OFMDFM’s track record in terms of accountability to realise that they don’t particularly like being held accountable. Our current Stormont administration tend to avoid difficult decisions and do one of two things- fudge difficult issues by creating a ‘commission’ to buy time or alternatively they hold out long enough and wait on the Courts or the justice system to enforce a solution. Neither of those two approaches have served- or will serve- our community well.
Since the devolution of policing and justice it is hard to escape the conclusion that the justice system has been skewed in favour of the Nationalist/Republican community. Therefore if the issues of cultural expression- that are of vital importance to the fabric of our community- are to be left to the judiciary to rule upon, then Loyalism is not going to come out of it well.
There are many challenges for Loyalism, the biggest of which is achieving a large enough electoral mandate to command a place at the table of power. That is democracy and we must accept that, that however does not mean that we cannot lobby and articulate the case for an input- via some form of civic accountability forum- into the issues that are going to directly effect our section of the community.
Democratic politics and community/civic activism is the new battlefield and Loyalism must educate, equip and empower ourselves to build a political force that can not only represent the views of our community, but that can shape legislation in the very heart of Government.