In Danger Of Creating A New Super Prod.
Within Protestantism–and without–to –at times a Global audience, there have been many images down the years that portrayed the militant side of our faith. Militant being relative. The abiding and endearing snapshots of a cluster of middele aged or elderly wee women clad from head to toe in red, white and blie, spinning Union Jack umbrellas whilst dancing to the strains of an old Orange tune may not be the same as that of a combat clad alpha male, replete with dark glasses and a cudgel. A sober suited clean cut man wearing a collarette and a bowler hat can hardly bear comparison to those portrayed in wall murals–black, commando like figures brandishing automatic weapons and demolishing a front door with a sledge hammer.
Circumstances over the years have, to a large degree dictated what many of us have become. Within certain elements of Loyalism there is a reluctance to give creedence to the continuance of paramilitarism. And perhaps rightly so. But there is, in many quarters, an even greater reticence when it comes to acknowledging the need for those same organisations over 40 years ago.
To be a young inductee into one such group in the early 1970′s didnt have the effect many might imagine. Within my group of peers there was a distinct matter of factness about “joining up”. There was no other options as far as I was concerned. Rightly or wrongly, or whether you believe it or not, circumstances in the early years of the Troubles, attributed greatly to the birth of Loyalist groupings. But to a larger degree, at least within the organisation I joined, there was an acceptance of what you had to do. No fanfares and very little advertising of who you were or what you were doing. However at this time there was a propensity within the larger of the Loyalist organisations to make oneself known to the public. Their leaders were household names, and there was a tendency to parade at every opportunity.
Over the intervening years and for a variety of reasons, the perception of those organisations has chenged greatly. The general consensus is that former members, many who are now old men, are an anathema. Pariahs and scapegoats to a fickle society–a society who can, in equal measures, canonise or demonise at will. To go further, a widely held belief in certain quarters is that many of those old defenders are actually the root cause of the many fold ailments affecting the PUL communities in present times. That is if listen to those who choose to make the distinction now between Unionist and Loyalist.
December 2012 has become another defining time in the annals of Loyalism. The much covered and widely reported Flag issue has helped re-awaken many of the hitherto dormant feelings within working class Loyalism. The ceasefires of 1994 and the the subsequent Good Friady Agreement of 4 years later gave the vast majority of the population a real hope that peace had arrived. And indeed it had. Well, a version of it. Peace became a new word in our vocabulary. And as happens, when we learn a new word we tend to overuse it: at every opportunity. Perhaps we thought we didnt have to work too diligently at maintaining that hard gained peace. After all, we now had elected representatives who were there to ensure that peace was here to stay. The new generation were content to put their trust in the Unionist politicians–as we had always done. And after all, sure, they had never failed us or let us down–had they?
Arguably, a facet of the the Loyalist working class psyche–for as long as I can remember–is to blindly follow those who represent us–sure, didnt we install them in the first place, so they must be okay. And anyway, what can we do about it? Cast aside the fact that since time immemorial they have not only failed to give us proper representation when it counts but on a daily basis MIS-represent us. They play on the political naivety of the masses and barely stop short of treating us like morons. The working classes within Loyalism are little more than cannon fodder when it comes to the machinations of our politicians. We are a tool that can lie unused for a long time but can be brought out and used when the need arises. The two strikes of 74 and 77–Sunningdale–The Anglo Irish Agreement–the GFA being a prime example. Here the Loyalist paramilitaries were used as a counterbalance to the huge influence held within Republicanism by ex-prisoners in the lead up to the GFA. Barely months later those same lynchpins of the agreement were spuriously cast aside…without compunction. The acquiesence of the hordes within the Protestant working classes can always be counted on by politicians. We, in turn have this notion that this is what we are meant to do–it is our lot–what else can we do?
Since last week the events surrounding the non return of the Ardoyne lodges on the 12th July have again hit the headlines–for all the wrong reasons. Up to 100 arrests have already been made with the promise of many more to come. Add that to those already arrested and in cases jailed for the Flag disturbances and the numbers are very considerable. What would be interesting to me would be a discosure of the figures relating to Senior Orange Order representatives or politicians who have been arrested and charged over the same period. I fear that figure would be ridiculously low. 40 odd years of regular repeats is bound to have taught us something. Ian Paisley Snr. was famously nicknamed The Grand Old Duke of York for his habit of “leading” Loyalists to the top of ”The Hill”–and leaving them there. Dont be fooled into thinking with Paisley no longer the prominent figure he was that others will not repeat his well tried methods. The Orange Order have failed miserably over the years to lead and to represent even their own members. Have they anything new to offer now? Will they shake off the shackles of their intransigent past and show new dynamic leadership when it is most needed. Hardly. When our leading politicians call the masses to “their” cause–or when the OO ask for support for “their” lack of engagement, leadership or balls–pause–wait to see what they are going to do–without the insurance of the “sandbags” from within the streets and estates of working class Loyalist areas. When you are languishing in Bush or Bann house in Maghaberry jail it is highly unlikely that those in the next cell are mandarins in either Stormont or Schomberg House. Nor will these same people be in too much of a hurry to pay you a visit or leave a few quid into your tuck shop account. For too long these charlatans have manipulated and coerced the “under classes” into fighting their battles. Dont be fooled again.