Former Blanket commentator, DR JOHN COULTER, in the first of a series of exclusive articles for Long Kesh Inside Out, outlines his ideology of New Loyalism, which he believes will give the entire Protestant community a fresh and positive political direction.
While there is much talk about the so-called loyalist revolution which is taking place within the Protestant community, the core challenge to loyalism is that it needs an ideological direction.
Entire articles can be devoted to the faults of loyalism, the failures of political unionism, and Protestant apathy. We can all list what loyalism opposes, but the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL) community needs to radically address what it supports and stands for.
As someone from a mainstream Irish Presbyterian, Ulster Unionist, Orange background in North Antrim, I can easily document what loyalism is ‘agin’. Equally, loyalists can easily explain what Irish republicans’ ultimate aspirations are – a 32-county, democratic socialist republic.
But surely there must be more to loyalist aspirations than merely avoiding the scenario of the long-term republican aspiration of a united Ireland? Loyalists need to ask what they are loyal to, and why? What are the political aspirations of loyalism?
The Union flag crisis sparked by the so-called pro-Union Alliance Party in Belfast has once more thrown Ulster loyalism into the global media spotlight. There is only one, solitary, democratic way for loyalism to pay the Alliance Party back for its vote in Belfast City Council – do not give loyalist transfers to Alliance, or vote Alliance ‘X’ ever again.
With increasing apathy among pro-Union voters, Alliance has recognised the need to survive politically by shifting its emphasis from being a ‘small u’ unionist party to becoming a ‘small n’ nationalist party.
From Alliance’s point of view, there is a need to attract transfers from middle class Catholic voters of the SDLP and working class republicans of Sinn Fein than from the so-called ‘Big Two’ unionist parties. Even Stormont First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has recognised that given Protestant voter apathy, he must make the DUP more appealing to the voting Catholic Unionists.
The vast majority of Alliance’s elected representatives need Unionist transfer voters to win their seats. The polling booth, never the petrol bomb, is the method to ensure a long-term Alliance defeat in forthcoming Stormont, council and Commons polls.
Practically, loyalism must be asking itself, how does it take the flags protest off the streets? Where does the Unionist Forum and People’s Forum initiatives go now? Tactically, the current PUL community finds itself in exactly the same place which the Catholic community in Ulster and the Afro-Caribbean community in America’s Southern states in the mid to late 1960s.
There is a real need for loyalists to both register as voters – and actually follow that up by voting in the vast numbers in the same way they turned out for the two Westminster General Elections when pro-Union candidates took every seat with the exception of Gerry Fitt’s West Belfast stronghold.
Is being a loyalist two current aspirations – loyalty to the English Throne being Protestant, and ensuring political Ulster remains in the Union of the United Kingdom? Is the loyalist ideology as it presently stands, therefore, ‘agin’ anything which threatens either of these two basic aspirations?
If this is the case, it is not new leaders, a new party, a new direction which loyalism needs, but it requires a new ideology. The ideology of New Loyalism seeks to plug that vacuum.
It is based on the long-term aspiration that we should take back what is rightfully our’s; the land which was won during the Glorious Revolution of the 1690s when the Williamite campaign set the political foundations for the Protestant Ascendancy across the whole of the island, not just six counties in the North East of Ireland.
New Loyalism emphasises that the Republic – not Northern Ireland – as a political experience has failed. The Republic is financially bankrupt; its greatest export is its people as thousands emigrate to seek work, particularly in Australia.
Morally and religiously, the Irish Bishops no longer hold any sway over the Southern people because of the Irish Catholic Church has been globally discredited as a result of the clerical abuse scandals.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement established a series of British-Irish institutions which covertly give the United Kingdom a practical say in the running of the South. The UK has its biggest influence on the Republic since partition in the 1920s.
Unionism made a huge mistake in 1985 when the Anglo-Irish Agreement established the Maryfield Secretariat in Belfast. While Unionists tramped the streets of Ulster to protest at what they perceived to be the South having a say in the running of Northern Ireland, it failed to return the serve by establishing a rival Unionist Embassy at Dublin’s Leinster House.
In the 1980s, the South’s Celtic Tiger economy was only in its infancy. Any supposed gained from Maryfield have been wiped out by the total collapse of that Celtic Tiger and the South’s reliance on European Union handouts to stay financially afloat.
New Loyalism recognises that Ireland – north and south – must and should be a Unionist island. Only by rejoining the Commonwealth can the 26 counties of Southern Ireland avoid the world humiliation of deteriorating into a fifth-rate, African-style banana republic.
New Loyalism’s agenda and long-term aspiration is to persuade the South to join the influential Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as a first step to full Commonwealth membership. New Loyalism must be to the fore in building a New Union whereby the South comes back into UK membership.
This year will see many loyalists commemorate the centenary of the campaign against Home Rule in 1913. In that era, ‘Home Rule Meant Rome Rule’. One hundred years later, the grip of the Irish Catholic Church has been broken with the Protestant-influenced Elim Pentecostal movement being one of the fastest growing denominations in the Republic.
As well as building a stronger Union with the UK on this island, New Loyalism will also have as its core the maintaining and expanding of Biblical Christianity throughout Ireland as the Christian faith comes under increasing pressure from secularism and pluralism.
However, this should not be misinterpreted as New Loyalism seeking a return to Hell-fire preachers who influenced so many working class loyalists into actions which resulted in them ending up in jail or the cemetery. Rather, New Loyalism seeks to get Christian churches – especially in Protestantism – to re-engage with their flocks, especially in working class areas. New Loyalism will seek to bring true Biblical meaning to the maxim – For God And Ulster.
To help with the mobilisation of the PUL community, New Loyalism wants to see the introduction of compulsory voting, as exists in the Commonwealth nation of Australia. Under New Loyalism, citizenship is not about how many cash benefits can be squeezed out of the system, but how a citizen of the British state can actively take part in the political process. Under compulsory voting, every loyalist voter is important.
New Loyalism will promote the concept of Pride in British Citizenship, whereby to hold a British passport, a citizen will have to swear and Oath of Allegiance to assist the state in whatever way it he/she can.
Ultimately, one of the principal aims of New Loyalism will be to restore the concept of unity among the PUL community. The history of that community is littered with failed initiatives which uttered bucketloads of well-spoken, but totally empty rhetoric.
The long-term aspiration of New Loyalism is to create a single, united political movement to represent all shades of pro-Union, pro-Commonwealth and anti-EU thinking on this island.
One of the most successful unionist unity organisations in the past half-century was the hardline, Right-wing Vanguard movement. But its fate was sealed the moment it ceased being an influential pressure group and launched itself as a political party, thereby further fragmenting the pro-Union vote.
The initial aim of New Loyalism’s pressure group, the League of Commonwealth Loyalists, is to mobilise the PUL community into getting on the electoral register and making a pledge to vote in all and future democratic elections.
The present severe street unrest was caused by the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall from flying 365 days per year. As the ideologist writing New Loyalism, I hope the Good Lord spares me long enough to see the Union and Commonwealth flags flying over Leinster House and Dublin Castle.
Don’t dismiss this aspiration as meaningless and impossible. The PUL community should remember the historic speech by a DUP leader in 1985 which included the famous pledge ‘Never, Never, Never, Never.’ Just over a quarter of a century later, that same DUP leader entered a power-sharing administration at Stormont with Provisional Sinn Fein and unleashed the era of ‘The Chuckle Brothers’.
Some day, the Occupied 26 Counties which now form the failed and bankrupt republic will re-enter the Commonwealth.