The Irish Daily Star’s Northern Political Columnist, DR JOHN COULTER, maintains that the main Unionist parties must bring the loyalist community in from the political cold if they are to undo the flags debacle caused by the Alliance Party.
Loyalist mobilising – that’s what Alliance has been able to achieve with a single flag vote, but which Unionist parties could never accomplish since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.
It is somewhat ironic that the party which championed the cause of supposedly non-sectarian politics could well become top of the blame game list if loyalists decide to re-organise as a 1968-style nationalist civil rights movement.
The storming of Belfast City Hall by hundreds of loyalists furious that the Council had voted that the Union flag would no longer be constantly flown, but only on designated days, could well be the start of a campaign which will eventually cost former Lord Mayor Naomi Long her East Belfast Commons seat.
The City Hall riot was inevitable, but not because of the clever tactics of the Stoops and Shinners in bringing the flag vote to a knife-edge.
Alliance was always viewed as a ‘small u’ Unionist party. That is no longer the case. Alliance has now turned the political corner to become a ‘small n’ nationalist party.
The mainstream Unionist parties must shoulder the considerable blame for the City Hall flag riot.
Many loyalist communities, especially in Northern towns and cities, feel abandoned by mainstream Unionist parties, sickened by the way in which the DUP and UUP have used loyalists at the ballot box and snubbed them once they got into power.
Unionist parties used the loyalist terror groups to keep themselves in power, but uttered pious words of condemnation when loyalist death squads became too much of an embarrassment with their actions.
The Shinners maintained their stance as the apologists for the Provos. Publicly, there was no such support from the DUP and UUP for the UVF and UDA.
Such was the disillusionment among loyalists, they were forced to set up their own political parties, mainly because the fundamentalist wing of the DUP and the Fur Coat and No Knickers Brigade of the UUP looked down their noses at the ‘white trash’ of the Protestant working class.
Those loyalist parties have either collapsed or become an irrelevant fringe. Only two options exist for the loyalist working class – join mainstream Unionist parties, or link up with the growing tide of Far Right opinion sweeping across Europe as the general economic crisis deepens.
If the Unionist parties had not abandoned loyalists to pursue the goal of who becomes Stormont First Minister, the City Hall debacle would never have happened.
Unionists continually issue empty rhetoric about wanting to re-engage with working class Protestants, but do nothing on the ground to help the economic plight of these folk.
Alliance’s dithering over the City Hall flag has brought loyalists back onto the streets.
Alliance walked into this crisis with both eyes open. The Stoops and Shinners made the balls, and Alliance fired them.
The Alliance City Hall move also effectively sounded the death knell for mass defections from the strife-torn UUP to Alliance to form a significant centre coalition.
Loyalists can drastically ‘up the ante’, not by smashing up the streets, but by joining the DUP in the same numbers as they turned up at City Hall and swing Robbo’s liberal party back to the Hard Right.
If joining the DUP is too politically tasteless given Robbo’s cosy Executive relationship with Sinn Fein, loyalists could pile into the doomed UUP in their and rescue it.
The danger is if loyalists do not move into the UUP or DUP, other extremist groups such as the National Front, BNP, even the English Defence League will hijack the political vacuum in the Protestant working class.