Gareth Cole is a progressive Loyalist, fighting for social justice in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Knockagh representative of the Progressive Unionist Party. Boxing coach and Loyalist bandsman.
What does Loyalism mean to me?
The term ‘Loyalist’ to me means a working-class Unionist. As a Loyalist, I feel myself being further ostracised from society because Loyalism is seen as a damaging influence in an inclusive Northern Ireland. The media, almost on a loop, continue to portray Loyalists as sectarian thugs, who are inwardly focused and none progressive. This in untrue. There is, however, a small element who perceive themselves to be Loyalists, who use sectarian language, which isn’t consistent with the Principles of Loyalism.
It is this small minority that is being used by the media, and others with a political agenda, to represent the whole of Loyalism. This type of reporting from so-called professional people is disingenuous and holds no credence.
I consider myself as a progressive Loyalist with a strong social conscience. By that I mean, I care about the needs of my local community; health and social services, education and training, social development, employment, economy, environment and social justice, as well as equal citizenship with the rest of the United Kingdom.
As a Loyalist, it seems that I’m not allowed to hold a political opinion which I have crafted in my own mind, because it doesn’t fall in line with the grand democrats of Unionism in Northern Ireland.
I say, to hell with the DUP, UUP and TUV. Most of these politicians have been in power for years and because of this, my community has suffered, which government statistics have shown.
There are plenty of progressive Loyalists, who are politically astute, critiquing their own brand of Unionism, which hasn’t been dictated to them from a pulpit. The PUP, of which I am a member, has been a great vehicle for progressive thinking and its voice. The PUP has sometimes been lazily branded as one-dimensional which is only interested in flags, parades and emblems. Again, this is untrue. Our policy structure is rich with progressive thinking and continues to grow and update year on year.
As a Loyalist, living in Carrickfergus, I have done a lot of positive work, most of which goes unreported in local media, because I am a Loyalist. I have consistently challenged local politicians for their backward and homophobic views. Is my work the work of a ‘sectarian thug’? As a Loyalist, I have consistently condemned racist attacks and have stated quite clearly that you cannot be a racist and a Loyalist. Is this the work of a person whose ideology is portrayed to be racist?
I understand that many Loyalists are feeling frustrated, we haven’t seen the peace dividend that was promised to us. This frustration should be channeled in the right way; at our politicians who need to be held to account for their failures. Critical thinking is absolutely necessary if we are to progress Northern Ireland to an inclusive and peaceful part of the United Kingdom.
I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes: ‘I haven’t experienced childbirth but self-analysis is a massively painful process. The first and foremost issue is, confront yourself’ – David Ervine
Gareth Cole PUP