As I attempt to write this article, sitting in my house in the Village area of South Belfast, I look out of my window for inspiration and it occurs to me that my community can be seen as a microcosm of the problems faced by loyalism today.
It is a community that has been almost crippled by social and economic deprivation and has yet to feel the so called benefits of the peace process.
Moreover, to the people of the Village, Sandy Row and Donegall Pass, the visionary rhetoric of the peace process has been tarnished, not only by the realities of long term unemployment and social deprivation, but by the lack of involvement and alienation from the political world.
To these community’s the politics of inclusion as expounded by the 1998 Good Friday agreement has been interpreted as social exclusion. By what I have written so far, some readers may feel that I might be against the agreement and I wish to state that this is not the case. As a Progressive Unionist, I fundamentally believe in the principles of parity of esteem, equality and power sharing. As a community activist, however, I must point out the mood that currently resonates within loyalism. The Loyalist cease-fire was a window of opportunity that contributes significantly to the process of conflict transformation.
Appreciating the fears of Republicanism and Nationalism has figured prominently in the processes of reconciliation and dialogue which have emerged in my community.
Upon reflection my community, my party and indeed Unionism in general have taken great risks for the cause of peace.
In comparison, I argue that the Republican movement has not moved to respect, support or even reciprocate our actions. Republicanism appears to have retreated into the safe waters of ideology and victim-hood where it continuously pushes an exclusive agenda of change.
Certainly, my community feels that change is being forced upon them; the parades issue, police and other cultural and economic issues are examples. Indeed, it is fair to say that the grassroots of my community Are currently bitter about the state of politics today.
I feel the Republican movement should reflect on the fact that the more they push for exclusive change on symbolic issues, the more they destroy the confidence of my community in the peace process.