What loyalism means to me
Julie-Anne Corr Johnston is a Progressive Unionist Party representative and a Belfast City Councillor for the Oldpark ward.
To better understand the L in PUL we must first address the definition of U – a Unionist – which I believe, is universally accepted as an individual supportive of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom. An overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland recognise the benefits of our union with Great Britain and would subsequently vote to maintain it. However should greater benefits be met outside this Union, be it independence or uniting with the Republic of Ireland, that majority could very well become a minority.
Unionism has no religious preference despite the attempts of many to dress it as such. In fact, many Catholic Irish men and women across the province recognise the benefits of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position and would vote to maintain it and are therefore, subsequently by definition, Unionist.
In the context of Northern Ireland Loyalism is arguably a subset of unionism, we value the union however, without reservation, we remain unequivocally loyal to its preservation.
Loyalism has not changed prior nor post conflict in Northern Ireland, however the means by which it defends the Union has. What has also changed is the perception of loyalism – once considered key stakeholders in moving this country forward via the peace process, loyalists are now more referenced as “fleggers and protesters holding Northern Ireland back”. Regrettably there is an air of negativity around the definition and portrayal of loyalism – the media and those venomously opposed to, or threatened by it, would have you believe it’s a dirty word describing the “rough and ready” of this country or those responsible for the ills in Northern Irish society.
Of course the preservation of the Union is of great importance to Loyalism however the social and economical well-being of the citizens of Northern Ireland is as equally important.
The Principles of Loyalism is a document produced “as an attempt to put forward the key elements of the loyalist cause that were established by the founding fathers of unionism at the time of the home rule crisis.”
It reads “today’s loyalists are the covenant children of those who signed the covenant and as such have a duty to maintain those core principles of that covenant which remain appropriate in the 21st century. These include :- 1. The material well-being of Ulster; 2. Civil and religious freedom; 3. Equal citizenship within the United Kingdom.” Duties that can only be upheld through the political process.
The document describes the need for a social agenda, it reads “Loyalists have a duty to ensure that our people have satisfactory housing that meets the social needs of our people, gainful employment that provides a living wage under satisfactory terms and conditions of employment, adequate health care from the cradle to grave that is free to all at the point of delivery, efficient public services and utilities that are controlled by elected representatives accountable to the public, a safe and healthy environment that enhances individual and community life and a free education system that provides life-long learning for all citizens”
I’m confident most if not all would agree with that sentiment – how it is achieved is where we differ – and whether those duties have been upheld by our unionist parties is a matter for each individual to decide themselves.
In my opinion as a proud unionist and unashamed loyalist living in the 21st century, I can’t help but feel these duties have been abandoned. Feelings I won’t press at the risk of going off topic, and perhaps for another submission, but will in closing acknowledge that Loyalism in its entirety does not have a social class nor does it have a singular political ideology – to claim it as such is an inaccurate description.
Politics of course is the means by which we can protect the union and enhance the lives of those living within it however Loyalism is much greater than any manifesto or political ideology. Loyalism has a rich culture and heritage that is passed down and celebrated through generation to generation. We are a proud lot and in times of hardship demonstrate the strength of cohesion despite “political difference”.