Former Blanket columnist DR JOHN COULTER maintains that loyalism should mark the Covenant and other Unionist centenaries by forming a pressure group, the League of Commonwealth Loyalists to prepare loyalism for the next 100 years.
The loyalist community should mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant by forming a pressure group known as the League of Commonwealth Loyalists.
Ideally, loyalism should lead the charge to form a single political party to represent all shades of pro-Union opinion.
Both the DUP and the Ulster Unionists are dominated by the Protestant middle class. It, therefore, falls to the working class loyalists to take up the cudgels of trying to create Unionist unity.
The DUP is so entrenched with its Sinn Fein partner in ensuring the power-sharing Executive at Stormont remains stable, that the movement formed by Lord Bannside in the late 1960s to combat the liberal policies of then Unionist Premiers has now little room to manoeuvre politically.
The Ulster Unionist Party lacks such internal discipline that talk of coups against current boss Mike Nesbitt is a daily occurrence.
Such has been the UUP’s demise since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement that it is locked in a bitter electoral battle with the Alliance Party for survival. The Progressive Unionist Party faces a tough, uphill struggle to regain its electoral position after losing its Assembly seats in East and North Belfast.
The recent plush joint DUP/UUP dinner in Belfast to mark the Covenant centenary was dominated by chat of who was NOT attending, and who was sitting with whom, rather than becoming a realistic platform to launch yet another Unionist unity bid.
The bitter rivalry between the three main Unionist movements – the DUP, UUP and Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice – runs so deep that it could take a couple of generations before I realise my dream (If I ever live to see it!) of one party for all shades of Unionism.
Forming yet another political party is not the solution. There have been so many Unionist parties since the start of the conflict in the late Sixties that Unionism must have run out of original names to call any new party.
What is needed is a pressure group. Look at the influence which the Vanguard movement exerted in the 1970s. It had more political clout than the traditional Loyal Orders. Vanguard’s biggest mistake was to become a political party, and further fragment the pro-Union vote.
Where is Bill Craig today? Where is the movement he founded? Indeed, an entire fireside quiz would be to list the Unionist parties which have now found themselves in the dustbin of history since 1968.
A major problem in achieving Unionist unity has been the clashes of personalities. Even within the best attempt in 1974 at Unionist unity, the United Ulster Unionist Council (also known as the Unionist Coalition or the Treble UC), there were always tensions as to who should be the boss.
To gain true Unionist unity, loyalists will need to build from the bottom up; not the top down. Bringing the leaders of the various Unionist and loyalist movements and factions together for a slap-up meal and after-dinner chat simply will not work.
Success will only be achieved when the loyalist working class grab the bull by the horns and provide direction for these leaders.
That is why loyalists need to form a League of Commonwealth Loyalists. And this movement should not merely confine itself to Northern Ireland.
With more centenaries of the original Ulster Volunteers and Young Citizen Volunteers, the Larne gun-running, outbreak of the Great War, formation of the 36th Ulster Division, and the opening day of the Somme battle on 1 July 1916 to come, Northern Ireland-based loyalists should not forget the role of Unionists from Irish counties which are now in the Republic of Ireland – Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal and Leitrim.
In short, modern-day loyalism needs to expand into the Republic with the ultimate aim of bringing its 26 counties back into the British Commonwealth. Loyalists must learn to turn the language of republicans on themselves.
Just as republicans crow about the Occupied Six Counties, loyalists must promote the concept that the Occupied Twenty-Six Counties as a political experiment has failed.
This has been a major theme of my own pressure group, the Revolutionary Unionist Convention (RUC) – one party, one faith, one Commonwealth. I want to see one party for all pro-Union people in Ireland; I want to see the re-establishment of true Biblical Christianity throughout this island, and I want to see all of Ireland united in the Commonwealth with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) as a political and economic alternative to the increasingly financially bankrupt European Union.
My RUC can set out this agenda. But the loyalist working class can take it forward through a League of Commonwealth Loyalists (LCL).
And before the sceptics rush to condemn this concept, my LCL proposal is not an attempt to re-create the 1950s League of Empire Loyalists movement in England which later spawned the Far Right National Front in the late 1960s.
The presence of Far Right MEP Nick Griffin at the public Stormont Covenant centenary commemoration Saturday could be viewed as a last ditch attempt by his British National Party to gain a foothold in Northern Ireland.
Already, the National Front has declared yet another interest in organising in Northern Ireland. There is the very real danger that both the BNP and NF could cash in on working class Protestant apathy and disillusionment with established Unionist parties.
It is also imperative that any League of Commonwealth Loyalists project is not hijacked by the Far Right or used by Unionist politicians to promote their personal profiles.
The LCL must become a movement of the people, by the people, for the people. It must work through and build its power base in the community associations, tenants groups, and more importantly, the Christian Churches.
The LCL must never become a political party in its own right, but should serve to radically influence established parties. The LCL should function in the same manner as pressure groups such as the West Ulster Unionist Council and the Ulster Monday Club once dominated the UUP.
And with a Scottish referendum on independence on the cards within two years, the LCL should develop not just a north-south agenda within Ireland, but a parallel west-east campaign with the pro-Union family in Scotland.
Loyalism cannot afford to stand at attention throughout these centenaries. It must have an agenda to take it firmly into the next 100 years. I simply ask loyalists to think, and debate my LCL concept. Hopefully, this article will be food for thought for the loyalist community and will add new meaning to the phrase – the Forward March of Loyalism.