|By John Coulter, Northern Political Columnist, Irish Daily Star. A uniformed UVF man addressing a mainly republican crowd on Belfast’s Falls Road! Now that’s a picture of real peace in the North !
It wasn’t the start of a new Irish civil war, but a brave decision by Feile an Phobail to stage the loyalist ‘Voices From Behind the Wire’ presentation in St Mary’s College.
The highlight of the event was the question and answer session which featured Progressive Unionist boss and former MLA Billy Hutchinson on the panel.
Before the event, the crowd was treated to loyalist tunes and images of UVF and Red Hand Commando inmates at Long Kesh.
There was a lot of nervous shuffling as a former compound prisoner in modern day UVF regalia – not the original 1912 outfit – performed the poem, The Parade, about daily life for the UVF prisoners.
Loyalists on the panel, especially Mr Hutchinson, had to field some very soul-searching questions from republicans.
But in spite of a dissident republican protest in support of Marian Price outside the venue, Sinn Fein supporters inside the debate kept tempers in check.
It’s just a pity the DUP and UUP Assembly teams were not present to hear the questions as they might have learned a few home truths about the state of Unionism and loyalism.
It is a sorry state of affairs when republicans have to educate Unionists on how to fix the problems in the pro-Union community.
Why has ‘Big House’ Unionism allowed loyalism to become the underclass of the Protestant community?
What was the loyalist campaign of violence all about?
Why has the PUP been unable to make progress among Unionist voters?
How can loyalism become a progressive movement when it is still tied to the monarchy?
Is there any chance for working class politics in Protestantism while the Unionist parties are still influenced by the Orange Order?
What has become of the female loyalist prisoners? Why have women ex-inmates not had the same influence on and role in Unionism and loyalism as female republicans?
How much influence did ‘Big House’ Unionism have on the relaunching of the UVF in the 1960s to oppose then Northern Premier Terence O’Neill’s ‘hand of friendship’ to nationalists?
Then the bombshell … did any DUP politician ever allegedly ask the UVF to carry on killing Catholics to ensure there was no peace process or power sharing?
This question prompted mumblings about the role of the late Scottish-born, firebrand DUP Assembly member George Seawright.
The North Belfast hardliner was booted out of the DUP because of his notorious ‘Burn Catholics’ remarks.
He later formed his own extreme Protestant Unionist Party and Ulster Protestant League, before being murdered by the fringe Irish People’s Liberation Organisation in 1987.
But the big question still remained unanswered … was Seawright the only DUP politician allegedly in cahoots with the UVF and Red Hand Commando?
While loyalist and republican inmates can share similar stories about their experiences in Long Kesh, modern loyalists have some bitter medicine to swallow compared to their republican counterparts.
While the IRA dog wagged the Sinn Fein tail, once loyalists ended up in jail, they were abandoned by the Unionist parties.
Loyalists can shout all they want that the solution to ending their political wilderness lies with the Protestant working class.
The reality is that loyalists must first convince the DUP and UUP that loyalism is a relevant voice in the new North. Simple solution, you Prods, just copy the Shinners!