Jim Wilson is a 60 year old community activist from East Belfast. He has been a long time resident in one of the most volatile Interface flashpoints on the Lower Newtownards Road. For many years he has represented that community in an unpaid role and has become a well recognised figure through voicing his opinions on many PUL related issues.
The Eradication of PUL Culture
Long before the “Flags Issue” which began in early December 2012 there had been grumblings from within the PUL community. Grumblings that grew from the realisation that they were gaining less and less from the Good Friday Agreement which of course had been implemented 14 years previously. Some of the main areas of contention included a lop sided approach to cold cases from the Historical Enquiries Team, an abundance of other hugely expensive enquiries such as the Saville Inquiry for Bloody Sunday, the uneven implementation of the Parades Commission and a perceived pandering to Sinn Fein in an all out attempt to keep them on the Peace Train. In many respects the venting of frustrations and anger in the wake of the removal of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall was the culmination of many prior fears–the last straw, so to speak.
If you are a Loyalist today, it seems, and voice an opinion on the reasons behind the malaise within the Protestant working classes is to be a whinger, were scant notice is taken of grievances.
For one who was a vehement “Yes” supporter in the protracted lead up to the Good Friday Agreement it saddens me to say that if the same vote were being cast now I fear that I would be much less confident than I was then. To me the most important factor that has came out of the GFA is the undoubted saving of lives and this alone is a great motivating factor for me. Believing that the Yes vote would bring about a new start—an even footing—and equal opportunities for all I gave it my full blessing. I spent many hours persuading those naysayers to do likewise and argued long and hard with countless doubters. Slowly but surely, in the subsequent years my faith has diminished. Pandering to the Sinn Fein agenda by successive British governments the media and remarkably now by the politicised PSNI has only hardened my attitudes towards, what is a pitiful and shameful peace at any cost scenario.
This past 10 months has of course been notable for the amount of protests within the PUL communities. But it cannot have happened without logical reasons. The vote on the removal of the Union Jack for instance had been on the cards for many years. It was another aspect of the Sinn Fein led campaign to strip away loyalist culture. This was just one of the tactics being employed to do so. For the past number of years there has been a concerted campaign around the parades to demonise marchers and to control those areas which were always seen as traditional routes. Why for instance has the parade from Ligoniel along the Crumlin Road only become contentious in the past few years—is it a coincidence that it became contentious after the Lower Ormeau and Garvaghy Road parades had been stopped? And why is it only contentious in the evening? The fact is that once the dust has settled on the Ardoyne parade the serial objectors will take their road show to somewhere else. And make wherever that is contentious as well. The inept and totally inadequate Parades Commission have shown too in recent times that they are as much a part of the conspiracy as anyone else. This useless body reward violence time and time again as has been proven this summer. The Loyal Orders and supporters meekly jump through every hoop placed before them but sadly to no avail. The powers that be, have spoken. It is blatantly obvious that all recent decisions by the Parades Commission have been politically manoeuvred—particularly in the case of Ardoyne. But here again there is a bigger picture evolving. All is not rosy in the Republican garden. In some areas Sinn Fein are meeting stiff opposition in the form of the many dissenters and dissidents. The main reason for this is the accusation that Sinn Fein has sold their Republican ideals to administer United Kingdom rule from Stormont. In order to save face in areas just like Ardoyne SF must project a front whereby they are seen to be still fighting for the cause. And they will receive all the assistance they need from their former enemies in order to remain within the peace process. At times this year it has been difficult to distinguish between Sinn Fein and the PSNI—the relationship is very cosy indeed. Add to this the favouritism shown to Nationalist politicians from the assorted media outlets and it becomes clearer why there are so many frustrations within Loyalism.
In an article recently to an online journal an eminent—Nationalist-academic-pointed out that the reason behind the Sinn Fein obsession with denuding Loyalism of its culture was because they have realised that they have nothing else left. Their goal of unification is long gone and there is a new realisation within Nationalism here in Northern Ireland that the status quo is a much better option that some forlorn distant delusion.
Since time immemorial, when all periods of conflict subside and the dust has settled there has to be in old cowboy parlance, goodies and baddies. So, if the whiter than white Sinn Fein can re-write history to show that they were blameless and that they were the oppressed—the “goodies”–then it stands to reason that the aggressors and the “baddies” in all of this must have been the Loyalists.
Without wishing to sound like a conspiracy theorist, I have to say that many of my thoughts have changed recently and much of what I have witnessed at close hand in the preceding months have hardened my resolve. It is as if there is a concerted drive against all things within the PUL community, and this coming from most sections of the media in tandem with the PSNI, and the majority of the Stormont Assembly led by Sinn Fein.
To be a protestor against all that is going on is almost to be a pariah—they are treated with contempt and disdain and singled out for draconian sentences even for minor offences. Let us not forget that the vast majority of protestors in this past nine months have been totally innocent—have broken no laws—and yet are treated terribly. They have suddenly become the reason for the full malaise that Northern Ireland finds itself in. Tourism has apparently fallen because of them—so too City Centre trading—and a slump in the economy. Not to mention the cost accrued for policing protests etc: Were, incidentally there has been no fatalities and very little damage to the infrastructure—something that cannot be said for the 30 years we had to endure an IRA blitz that caused untold damage to this—and other countries—not just in monetary terms but ultimately in thousands of lives.
A big concern for the Unionist community at present is the continuing clamour for enquiries—for Nationalists—despite a reluctance—sorry, refusal—by leading Republicans to accept any blame for their past crimes. The issue of the past—which will prove to be the biggest stumbling block to the pipedream of a Shared Future—is another that it seems is only attributable to the PUL community. From many Republican leaders there is an insistence that all their grievances are answered whilst they remain implacable in even acknowledging their murderous past. In the case of the Bloody Sunday enquiry, now that there was acknowledgment that the victims were innocent bystanders killed by the Army—there is a new cry for prosecutions. This isn’t seeking justice—but revenge. And if the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment are charged with those killings, surely then that opens the door for prosecutions around the killing of Prison Officer Ferris—the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville or the countless atrocities committed by the Derry IRA when our DFM was Commanding Officer. It’s only logical isn’t it?
I met a senior politician recently and in the course of the conversation mentioned about police brutality in looking after the Loyalist protests and how I witnessed it at first hand. There was an air of disbelief that again leads me to believe that certain sections of Unionism—working class Loyalism—and now sections of the Orange Order are fighting an increasingly difficult battle on our own. We face discrimination and demonization at every turn. My conclusion is that there is an ulterior motive here and that is to divide and conquer and to overall weaken the already fragile position of Unionism. The importance of what I am saying cannot be overestimated, and unless there is a united front on all of the issues Loyalism—and in many respects Unionism, is doomed. United we stand—divided we fall.