The following piece was written in 2002 and first appeared in the Christian magazine Lion and Lamb.
The Crisis Within
AS A LOYALIST I would challenge the view that Loyalism is in crisis and argue that the crisis lies within Unionism because of lack of strategic leadership. Loyalists have always looked to Unionism for leadership and guidance: leadership and guidance that Loyalists have been conditioned to depend on but which has frequently failed them and their constituency.
Unionism could not provide security and defence of working class Loyalist communities through the security forces in 1969 when the conflict erupted into intercommunal violent confrontation. This led the Loyalist community to give birth to the current Loyalist paramilitaries who themselves supplied the security and
defended the community against Republican aggression. While the Unionist leadership publicly condemned Loyalist actions, they privately congratulated them and encouraged their activities.
In October 1969 the first police officer was killed on the
Shankill Road when Loyalists rioted with police and security forces over the disbandment of the B Specials and proposals to disarm the police. My father was arrested and charged with being a riot ringleader. He was found not guilty of the charge, and was subsequently released. However, during the period my father was held on remand, the family minister produced a massive food parcel, the like of which we had never seen, and likely wouldn’t ever have seen, had my father not been arrested. To me at that point in time, the signal from that action was not one of supporting a destitute family, but one of tacitly supporting
what my father was being held in prison for, and was privately encouraging the actions of Loyalism.
All sections of Unionism and Loyalism lack self-confidence. Because of historic circumstances, Unionism has depended on leadership from the British government, a government that they distrust immensely, and with just cause. It was that government who betrayed Carson and partitioned Ireland; that government who signed the Anglo-Irish agreement; that government that was having secret meetings with the IRA. The insecurity of Unionism and Loyalism has been vulnerable for exploitation by their enemies and by the government which they mistrust so much.
Loyalists have seen themselves prepared to take the IRA on in a military capacity, and prepared to accept the consequences: death, imprisonment and its impending hardships, while their Unionist leaders have sought protection from government, seeking others to take on the IRA.
Unionists have never shown the leadership to take on their enemy in the same way Carson did. They have attempted to emulate him but have never shown the willingness to endure the same sacrifices he displayed. Nor have they been prepared to take full control of their own destiny since Carson.
Loyalism received a level of empowerment during the negotiations to the Good Friday Agreement, when they were consulted and received communications about the negotiations. The Confidence-building Committee was the vehicle used for this purpose and it was successful in developing confidence and security during the negotiations leading to the Agreement. However, Unionism failed to take confidence and security from the principle of consent enshrined in the Agreement and by so doing failed to take control of their own destiny. The principle of consent should have given Unionism the confidence and security to embark on removing the inequalities and injustices of history and assisted to secure the Union. The established Unionist representatives failed to take this opportunity to
cement the Union and have allowed Unionist insecurity and lack of confidence to be exploited both by their enemies and anti-Agreement rejectionists.
Following the Agreement, the Civic Forum was stablished.
It was intended to be a vehicle for consultation and communication with all sections of the community in the same manner that the Confidence-building Committee had been during the negotiations. Instead, it has been highjacked by civil servants who control and dictate its role and functions. There is insufficient community representation on this forum, thereby dooming it to fail in
achieving its intended objectives.
Established Unionism, instead of embracing these two
elements, of the principle of consent and the establishment of a genuinely representative Civic Forum, and taking Sinn Fein on politically, embarked on seeking ways to avoid taking on traditional enemies and sought to have them removed from the Executive by running to London and Dublin, making demands of the two Premiers. This displayed a lack of leadership and a reluctance to take control of our destiny. Our traditional enemies exploited this insecurity by making their own demands and creating a circumstance where Republicans appear to be benefiting more from the Agreement than Unionists and denying any Unionist fault or responsibility in this process.
Those of us within Loyalism are frustrated with established
Unionism’s reluctance to take Sinn Féin on politically. It is all the more frustrating that they are preventing us from developing Loyalism to take on the task which Unionism is shying away from. They want the credibility of being elected representatives, but will not accept the accountability such a role demands. Established Unionism has been an obstacle to Loyalist development to take up this political role.
The formation of the Loyalist Commission is the most positive step that has taken place within Unionism for many years. It has the potential to develop Unionism constructively, but it is important that it does not become a version of the Combined Loyalist Military Command representing solely Loyalist paramilitaries. The Commission consists of political, religious and community
representatives in addition to representatives of the Loyalist paramilitaries.
For the first time in our existence a group has been established that can bring Unionism and Loyalism together. An opportunity now exists to learn from each other, to strategise for the benefit of the Loyalist and Unionist community and to secure the Union by putting the past inequalities and injustices behind us and persuading those from the Nationalist community that our objectives are to their benefit as well.
Eddie Kinner is a former UVF political prisoner and was an active member of the Progressive Unionist Party at the time of writing. He is no longer politically active.