The Ceasefire Soldier

Many in the ranks of Loyalism today are too young to remember any significant events in the conflict in Northern Ireland.  This has lead them to become known as Ceasefire soldiers, people who became involved after the 1994 Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

While many it is sad to say involved themselves for reasons other than to ensure the wellbeing of Northern Ireland, many others were simply born too late.  They have the same determination and drive in the peace process as the many men who fought and died at times of war.  When you look at the period from 1969 to the present day we can see the nature of both the conflict and the peace process – both periods light years apart from the perspective of violence but yet intertwined with the same outcome, ensuring the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

I believe that my generation were a lot more mature than the teenagers of today and understood what was happening in the twilight years before the 94 ceasefire.  At home silence broke on our house for the 6 o clock news, any noise was quickly shouted down to hear of the days unfolding events.  It was then I began to grasp what was happening in our country; reading books, news clippings and taking an interest in current affairs shaped my life for the path I was to take in early adulthood.  Looking back now, things were not always as rosy as people remember,  if we look to the late 90’s, republicanism was still violently active right up until 1997 and the shaky process was brought back many times from the brink of failure.  The issues around parading and parades were our daily diet and the problems from that time are still evident and the wounds from those days are still festering at present.  The year of 2002 saw some of the worst interface violence since the outbreak of the troubles, protestant homes destroyed in petrol bomb attacks and shots fired from republican areas across the peace lines.   Loyalism at the time was in unchartered waters and many children of the 80’s were happy to enlist in the ranks as many of the older generation had done in the early 70’s.  Young men, in entirely different era’s yet still with the same objective – to defend and now newly promote Northern Ireland, the land of our birth.

Indeed in many ways now winning the peace is as equally, if not more important as winning the war.  We must ensure that our people are as well represented now in peace time so that the memories of those who gave their lives are entrenched in our history.  We must not leave politics to the politicians alone, it is the duty of our young people to stand against inequalities and speak up for our community in a constructive yet peaceful manner.  While we must share space with republicans we must ensure that they are not allowed to re-write our history, or sully the efforts of our organisations in securing a lasting peace.  Loyalism was not found wanting by our older generations in times of conflict so we must ensure that our communities are not found wanting at times of peace. 

The challenge now to the older ex combatants must be to nurture and educate our young so that when the time comes the mantle will be passed on so that our ship remains seaworthy, steady and in British waters for centuries to come.  The older generation of Loyalism must pass on the school of knowledge which was received in the compounds of Long Kesh to ensure our younger generations, the future of our organisations and the new standard bearers of Loyalism have all the ‘tools’ to ensure our progress as a people to win the peace.  The challenge must also be laid down to our ‘Young Citizens’ they must listen and learn from men who were at the forefront of defending their people, learn from their mistakes, share experiences and take the lead from old dogs of war but more importantly men of peace.

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One Response to The Ceasefire Soldier

  1. Robert Allen

    An interesting piece which raised a few questions for me while reading it.
    Your opening sentence that many are too young to ‘remember any significant events in the conflict’ raised the question, why have these people chosen at this point, in this country’s history to join a paramilitary group? Was it fear for their future or simply the desire to belong to a group?
    Truth be told it was often with a macabre type of interest that we watched the news when there was a lot of conflict. Many times it was viewed to see if anything had happened to someone you knew or in an area you were familiar with rather than through some mature desire to understand the conflict. Bad news sells. Look at how the sales of papers or viewing of T.V. will go up when there’s some kind of disaster or bad news story. Look at the recent stories of the Costa Concordia or presently the row involving Cardinal Brady and Priest Child Sexual Abuse.
    However, I agree that winning the peace is very important. Surely it is imperative that the ‘old guard’ educate the younger generation in order to prevent history repeating itself.
    Many, but not all of these young people have a respect for the older ones who have ‘been there and done that’, some even with a romanticised idea of what they could currently do for their cause and indeed their reputation among their newly found ‘comrades’.
    My question is who is going to educate these young people, whose duty you say it is ‘to stand against inequalities and speak up for our community in a constructive yet peaceful manner’. A big expectation for a less mature group of young people, as you say, your generation were ‘a lot more mature than the teenagers of today’.
    Where is the arena for the older ones to tell their story to the younger ones, warts and all. Surely it was a conflict fought not through choice but perceived necessity. Actions taken in an environment and society which were not ‘normal’, where else do you instinctively and subconsciously deduce someone’s religion within minutes of meeting them, something which continues today for those brought up through this conflict.
    Let these young ones know how actions of yester year affected and affect those who carried them out. Not a romanticised version but the true story which is rarely told.
    Sadly I don’t hear of many of these ‘older ex-combatants’ educating the ‘ceasefire soldiers’.
    My fear is, how long will they want to remain known as ceasefire soldiers or when will they want to prove themselves as soldiers?
    I recently had reason to look up the meaning of ‘soldier’. One meaning given read, ‘one of a group of honeybees that swarm in defence of a hive’.
    Let’s hope ceasefire, ‘honeybee’ soldiers don’t feel the need to swarm in defence of their ‘hive’ anytime soon again.
    Robert Allen