Former Blanket columnist and Revolutionary Unionist commentator DR JOHN COULTER suggests Loyalists should use the campaign trail to the 2014 European elections as a vehicle to add a European dimension to their cause and identity.
Loyalism has frequently been branded by its enemies and opponents as an insular ideology, anchored heavily in a ‘not an inch’ mentality. While my Revolutionary Unionist ideology encourages Loyalists to think and motivate outside Northern Ireland, that extension policy should also apply to states both inside and outside the current European Union.
I am an ardent euro-sceptic, and I fervently hope any referendum by Prime Minister David Cameron results eventually in the UK leaving the EU. At the very least. The UK’s ties should be loosened significantly for Westminster to retain and regain its national sovereignty once again.
A bonus would be if the Irish Republic, now that it is an economic disaster zone, was to also quit the EU and enter a new Union with the UK. Loyalism can cash in politically on this European debate by making contact with similar cultures throughout the EU using its experience in conflict resolution as a vehicle to promote Loyalism’s ideology.
In spite of the recent ‘end of the Protestant Marching Season’ riots which rocked parts of Belfast, the vastly improving Anglo-Irish relations across the island could become a template for easing tensions between the various EU member states. Loyalists should open new channels of debate with Southern politicians and organisations interested in developing genuine closer ties between the UK and the South.
Once it was South Africa after apartheid which was heralded across the globe as the model post conflict society. Now that mantel has passed like the Olympic flame to Ireland, where, apart from an occasional political hiccup, eight centuries of bitter and bloody Christian infighting between Roman Catholic and Protestant have been calmed.
For 800 years, Ireland was a world example of how the two religious tribes on the island could not live in harmony. Despite the economically crushing recession, Ireland – north and south – is enjoying its best period of partnership government since partition in the 1920s.
Financially, the island is in its worst crisis for almost a century; politically, it has the most stable peace process in a generation. While many other EU states have to cope with the challenges posed by a growth in Far Right, neo-Nazi and hardline nationalist movements, Ireland has largely escaped the ravages of racism.
The secret of success for this peace process template has been the double whammy of boosting the monarchy and making potentially divisive centenary commemorations a cause for inter-religious celebration.
A century ago, the concept of the monarchy in Europe was a tinderbox for blood-soaked wars. The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria sparked the Great War in 1914 in which millions were slaughtered. In Russia three years later, the demise of Tsar Nicholas laid the foundations for Stalin’s communist purges.
However, the British Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year acted as a catalyst to cement relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland, especially with an independence referendum looming in Scotland despite a majority nationalist government ruling the Scottish Parliament.
In Southern Ireland, the Queen laid a wreath at Dublin’s famous Garden of Remembrance which honours Irish nationalists who fought against the British. She later visited Croke Park, the home of the overtly nationalist Gaelic Athletic Association, where in 1920, British troops shot dead 14 people in Ireland’s first Bloody Sunday.
In Northern Ireland, the Queen met and shook hands with Stormont deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein. He was once a senior commander in the Provisional IRA in Londonderry and Sinn Fein was always viewed as the IRA’s apologist.
The monarchist movement has been so well received in the Irish Republic, it has even sparked talk of the South becoming a member of the increasingly influential Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. There is chat about a new Union between the UK and Ireland. Royalist relations have thawed considerably since Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed in a booby-trap boat bomb in 1979.
Could the introduction of monarchist Royal families unite religious and culturally divided societies in EU states or would-be EU members where no Royalist movements exist? Support for Royalty is another concept at the heart of Loyalism. Through using the vehicle of Royalty, could Loyalism develop a European identity? This is not to suggest that Loyalism is a pro-EU lapdog.
Ulster Loyalism and euro-sceptism go hand in hand. There is no way that Loyalism can afford to have its history, heritage and identity eroded even more by the ever-growing EU bureaucracy.
Ironically, such a move of Loyalism championing a monarchist or Royalist cause in Europe could speed up the process of Turkey’s entry into the EU, and the re-introduction of a token Tsarist in Russia could see President Vladimir Putin achieve the unthinkable – the bulk of the former Soviet Union in a United States of Europe. But this would be an economic USE, not the cumbersome political beast which presently exists.
There is no harm in having sound economic relations with European partner nations, as existed under the former European Economic Community (EEC).
It would also be somewhat ironic that in an era where the Irish Republic pushes for closer ties with the UK, Scotland votes to either leave the Union or enjoys even greater devolved powers from Westminster.
Commemorations have always been contentious in Ireland. What is seen as victory by one side is viewed as triumphalism by the other. History is rewritten and revised to suit political differences.
For example, one of the biggest public holidays in Northern Ireland is 12 July when the exclusively Protestant Orange Order celebrates the victory of the Protestant King William over his Catholic father-in-law King James.
It is conveniently forgotten that King William’s elite troops that day were the Catholic Dutch Blues and the Pope ordered a Te Deum to celebrate William’s victory in the ultimate war against Louis of France.
In retaliation, Catholics have laid claim to 17 March – St Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of Ireland. He brought Christianity to Ireland, not nationalist Catholicism.
But with careful spin, they can be politically and culturally massaged into economic benefits and cross-community celebrations. In April this year, the Irish community united behind the commemorations to mark the centenary of the sinking of the famous liner, the Titanic, on its maiden voyage to America with the loss of 1,500 people.
Those commemorations witnessed a massive boost for the tourist trade along with an economic regeneration of what is now known as Belfast’s Titanic Quarter near where the doomed liner was built.
The Titanic Solution can be the bedrock for another four years of contentious commemorations in Ireland. If they can be converted into community celebrations, it will be a blueprint for dealing with similar controversial anniversaries throughout the EU states.
These include: 2012 – the formation of the pro-Unionist Ulster Volunteer Force to combat Home Rule as well as the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant by tens of thousands of Unionists.
2012 – the formation of the Irish Citizens Army and Irish Volunteers as nationalist militias to combat the Unionist UVF in the event of a civil war. This civil war was averted by the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.
2013 – the centenary of illegal gun-running for the UVF, ICA and IV which left all three militias heavily armed.
2014 – the centenary of the outbreak of World War One when thousands of Unionists and Nationalists forgot their tribal differences and joined the British Army to fight Germany and Turkey.
2016 – the centenary of the Easter Rising and the execution of its leaders by General Maxwell; the centenary of the battle of the Somme when on 1 July, 1916, tens of thousands of Irishmen were among the estimated 57,000 dead, wounded and missing on then opening day.
Added to these commemorations is the latest leadership strife within the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s oldest unionist movement (founded in 1905). The outcome will have repercussions on the direction which the Sinn Fein/DUP controlled power-sharing Executive at Stormont goes.
If Unionists and Nationalists can reach a further accommodation over these centenaries, it could be used as the master plan for healing ethnic frictions and conflicts within the EU. In particular, it could signal a massive Yes to the two most contentious questions facing Europe – should Turkey and some of the former Soviet Republics be admitted to the EU?