Loyalism

Bonfires

Does Size Matter?

As we fast approach the 12th of July, bonfires are being built in Loyalist communities across Northern Ireland. For many people bonfires are an enjoyable part of the annual July festivities, for others they are a scar on the landscape. Whatever your opinion though, bonfires are here to stay.  I have nothing against a good ‘bonny’, but, I will say that in my humble opinion, bonfires should be scaled back in size. Some of the bonfires that are built each year are truly gigantic, do they have to be so large?

I contend that they do not. After all, isn’t the point of them to replicate the signal fires lit across the high hills of Ulster to communicate the news that King William III had landed at Carrick? Those original fires were not massive edifices. I fully understand that in some areas, especially in the Greater Belfast area, having the biggest bonfire is a sort of badge of honour. There is obviously a lot of fierce competition. However, there are other factors which need to be urgently considered.

Some Eleventh Night bonfires are on a truly epic scale

Some Eleventh Night bonfires are on a truly epic scale

Safety First

Last “11th Night” I attended a bonfire in County Antrim. Whilst not by any means a record breaker the bonfire was still very large. Consisting almost entirely of wooden pallets, the fire was not very wide at the base but was quite tall. After it was lit it began to burn on only one side. A few minutes later and the inevitable happened- the bonfire collapsed and fell over. Fortunately nobody was hurt but I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before one of these really large bonfires costs someone their life. Shouldn’t the safety of the community, and especially the youth of the community, be paramount? Bonfires don’t have to be gargantuan.

Some Loyalist communities have switched from large, and quite frankly ugly, bonfires to the much smaller and neater beacons. These beacons are metal, usually wrought iron, cage like structures into which combustible bonfire type material is placed. They have a number of benefits: they are safer, easier to clean up afterwards, easier to light etc. I know that in some places pressure has been applied to community groups/representatives to make the switch from bonfire to beacon but that is a counterproductive tactic. Often communities simply dig their heels in and refuse to even consider a beacon. To bribe communities with the promise of funding for other things (children’s playparks etc) is downright reprehensible, though I know full well of several examples of such shady practice.

Flag Burning

I don’t condone the burning of flags on bonfires. On the field of battle, an enemies colours, once captured, are rarely desecrated let alone destroyed, the Irish tricolour is though, being routinely burned on 11th of July bonfires, just as Loyalist flags are burned on Irish nationalist/republican bonfires. I can understand the reasoning of the flag burners, even though I don’t agree with their views. For many Loyalists and Unionists the Irish tricolour is a flag that will forever be tainted by it’s association with many and various terrorist gangs. PIRA/SF, RIRA, IPLO, CIRA, OIRA, INLA/IRSP, have all used (or continue to use) the tricolour as their emblem. If you ask the young bonfire builders what the Irish tricolour represents, many of them will tell you that it is the flag of “the IRA”, arguably they would not be incorrect in such an assertion.

It's not just Loyalists that burn flags on bonfires as vividly demonstrated by this republican "anti-internment" bonfire

It’s not just Loyalists that burn flags on bonfires as vividly demonstrated by this republican “anti-internment” bonfire

Nationalist/republican flags will also continue to go up in flames every summer whilst the Union flag and Ulster banner continue to be burned on republican bonfires. This is a sad indictment of Ulster society but unfortunately that is where we are at in terms of community relations. We live in a “zero sum” society. If one side of our divided community does something, the other side will do the same. “Yous burn our flag and we’ll burn yours”.

An Appeal to Common Sense

Whether or not you agree with me on the issue of bonfires, if you attend the Eleventh Night festivities please use your common sense and keep yourself and those around you safe. Too much alcohol is never a good idea at anytime, and especially not in the vicinity of a large open fire! Orange men and bandsmen should know not to indulge too much, after all, the 12th is a long day for those involved in the actual parade.

Keep dogs away from the bonfire. Never throw glass bottles etc into the fire. Keep a close eye on the youngsters and try to avoid getting your eyebrows singed off! What will I be doing? I’ll be tucked up in bed. Like I said, the 12th is a long day. I might not take an active part anymore but still, a good nights sleep is essential the night before Europe’s largest outdoor cultural festival.

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The Political Soul of Ulster Loyalism: Part Two

Epilogue

I am not going to go over old ground in the second part of this article. Part One is available for anyone who wishes to read it but hasn’t yet done so. In this, final, part of the article, I am going to examine how 30+ years of conflict changed Loyalism (and Loyalists). I will also address some other points I believe are pertinent to any thesis on Ulster Loyalism.

Loyalism: Forged in the Furnace of Conflict

The great philosopher Plato once said “necessity is the mother of invention”. Certainly in wartime, necessity can lead to all kinds of advances, in all sorts of disciplines. Humankind has proven itself adept at finding ever more efficient ways to kill, maim and destroy. But it is also worth noting that violent conflagration is often also a catalyst for political advancement. Hardened dogma seems to soften somewhat in the jaws of an especially deleterious military reverse. Ideologies seem to become less rigid when, after years of conflict, peace begins to look possible again. Of course, war can have exactly the opposite effect. Ideologies become even more entrenched. Specific issues become intractable. In such situations, the prospect of peace can become so remote that perpetual conflict actually begins to look, not just possible, but probable.

Fortunately for the people of Ulster, indeed for the people of the British Isles as a whole, ‘The Troubles’, as they are so euphemistically called, did not lead to a significant hardening of already fairly deeply entrenched positions. We (as a society) tend to forget the huge compromises that were involved in securing peace in this country. In fact it could be argued, and Irish republican dissidents would argue that, PIRA/Sinn Fein had to abandon some of the most fundamental principles of Irish republicanism, in order to get where they are today. Whether the Provisionals did this for selfish or altruistic motives, I will let you decide for yourselves. 

People also have a tendency to forget the role that Loyalism played in securing peace. Not just the work of the UDP and PUP in negotiating a settlement, but also the role of the UVF and Ulster Freedom Fighters in forcing violent Irish nationalism to the negotiating table in the first place. Would PIRA/Sinn Fein been willing to abandon ‘armed struggle’ in 1994 or 1998 had they not been thoroughly demoralised and fundamentally weakened by the Loyalist paramilitaries campaign of ‘selective assassination’ between 1988 and the declaration of the Loyalist ceasefire? In 1991 alone, Irish republican terrorist groups lost twelve of their personnel, killed by the UFF and UVF. By the mid-Nineties it had become all too apparent to (most) republicans that they could never hope to achieve any sort of military victory. ‘Armed struggle’ had become too costly, in terms of personnel, to continue for another 25 years. 

As the UFF and UVF intensified their campaign, PIRA/SF began to feel the strain of 25 years of killing.

As the UFF and UVF intensified their campaign, PIRA/SF began to feel the strain of 25 years of killing.

When the Conflict began in 1969/70, Ulster Loyalism was somewhat different than it is today. It was rather more unrefined. Perhaps even unsophisticated. Suddenly finding themselves in the midst of an intense conflict, verging on full blown civil war, Loyalists had to change their thinking, and their tactics. Necessity really did become the mother of invention. It was a very steep learning curve for all concerned. In my opinion, change within Loyalism was neither rapid enough, nor extensive enough. Too many young men and women within Loyalism seemed content to leave the political philosophising to a few individuals who seemed adept at it. Of course, in the middle of a bloody and bitter conflict, the priorities are somewhat different to what they would be in peacetime. In 1973, or 77, or even 91, Loyalism needed ‘triggermen’ and skilled bomb makers more than it needed fast talking politicos or articulate, well dressed spokesmen. The transition from making war to making peace was a difficult one, though no more difficult than the move from peace to war had been 25 years previously. Conflict had irrevocably altered Ulster Loyalism. It had strengthened it. ‘The Troubles’ forged Loyalism, moulding it into a stronger, more streamlined entity, but an entity that was also much more flexible. If Irish nationalist extremists had hoped that years of violence and bloodshed would destroy Loyalism, they were to be very, very badly disappointed.

The Role of ex-POWs Within Loyalism

Former POWs are the driving force of contemporary Loyalism. The men and women who felt motivated enough to take up arms in defence of their country and their community are today the men and women who form the backbone of many community projects, and also the backbone of the PUP and UPRG. They have learned, often from bitter personal experience, that change can only be facilitated when there is someone prepared to raise their head above the parapet and become a force for change. If you want to improve things for your family, your neighbours, your community, then action is required. A fact that ex-POWs know only too well.

The ‘Enemies of Ulster‘, in a desperate attempt to bestow legitimacy on their own ’cause’, seek to undermine the legitimacy of Loyalism by stereotyping (they’re rather fond of that) former Loyalist POWs. They insist that whilst Irish nationalist prisoners were “hitting the books“, Loyalist POWs were lifting weights and reading comics. Strange then that more Loyalists than republicans left Long Kesh (Armagh and Magilligan) with degrees and other 3rd level qualifications. These sheep like detractors also fail to explain what, according to them, Loyalist POWs were doing for the 20 odd years before gym equipment was available in Ulster’s prisons! They also conveniently overlook the fact that some of Loyalism’s most articulate, erudite and meditative representatives, people like Ray Smallwoods and David Ervine, received their political education in Long Kesh. Sometimes it is better simply to laugh at the intellectual impairment of certain Irish republicans and their ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ view of the world, sometimes though, it is worth taking the few minutes required to shoot down their venomous, deluded, historical revisionism.

Loyalist POWs at reveille in Long Kesh.

Loyalist POWs at reveille in Long Kesh.

Loyalist Adaptiveness 

Northern Ireland’s future will be radically different to that which we imagine. Society is changing rapidly. Technology is changing and advancing at a rate that is barely comprehensible. In the next ten to twenty years, the world will face challenges that we cannot comprehend. Nations, societies and communities will continue to evolve and change. Political and religious doctrines will also have to evolve, or die. Loyalism needs to be able to adapt and evolve, to meet the challenges of the future. Ulster Loyalism cannot allow itself to become a single issue ideology. 

Thankfully, in the past, Loyalism has demonstrated amazing adaptiveness and willingness to change. Loyalists, in general, have always been a pragmatic lot. We will probably need that trait more and more in the next few decades. As nationalism (worldwide) begins to fade and die, or change into something unrecognisable, there will be those who react violently. When it finally hits home that technological and societal advances are making nationalist doctrines obsolete, there will be those who wish to reverse the tide, so to speak. No doubt they will employ violence to try to achieve that end. Loyalism must learn from the mistakes of others. We must watch what unfolds very carefully. Irish nationalism will not “go quietly into the night”. Personally, I think that Irish nationalism/republicanism will adapt also. Morphing into some form of ‘Diet Nationalism’, a sort of ‘Nationalism Lite’. We Loyalists need to watch what way the wind is blowing, we need to look ahead, not 5 or 10 years but 25 or 50. As the world around us changes we must be careful not to let anyone pull the rug from under us!

Loyalism as an Export?

Can Loyalism be exported internationally? I would say yes, absolutely. Ulster Loyalism, as a political ideology, is hugely positive. The sense of patriotism, not based upon ethnic or racial make up, but rather on a sense of commonality. The emphasis on community action and self reliance. The core value of civil and religious liberty for all. What would preclude anyone, in any country, from subscribing to such principles? Of course, any theoretical Loyalist movement outside of the British Isles would have it’s own uniqueness, it’s own peculiarities. But I can see nothing which would preclude Loyalism from being exported abroad. Many people view Ulster Loyalism as a sort of a default position, or simply as a way of describing the working class element of Unionism. That is hokum. Loyalism is a political theorem, an ideology. One which is growing and evolving everyday. Loyalism, in terms of definitions, is no different to any other ‘ism’. 

Certain ‘ism’s are internationalist at their core. Anarchism, Marxism and Trotskyism for example. Others have a more ethnocentric foundation. Ba’athism, for example, in Syria and (formerly) Iraq. Others (Conservatism, Liberalism etc) are international without being internationalist. That is, they are found in many nations but are, in and of themselves, not internationalist in outlook. There is no reason whatsoever why Loyalism would not fall into that category. Less insular than nationalism, less self serving than Conservatism, less impractical than Marxism, Loyalism could provide an interesting political alternative in many countries where politics have become stale and the electorate disinterested and apathetical.

What We Have, We Hold!

In the first part of this article I described how Loyalism needed only to maintain the status quo in order to have ‘won’. It could be argued that the Loyalist people’s greatest victory came with the establishment of the State of Northern Ireland in 1921. To ensure that that state was not destroyed by force of arms, Loyalists (and Unionists) sacrificed life and liberty, safety and comfort. Many have died, been injured, been forever altered, to ensure the continued freedom and equal citizenship of our children and our children’s children. We, as Ulster Loyalists, will continue to maintain our “cherished position” within the British Family of Nations. We, as Ulster Loyalists, will continue to pledge ourselves to defend our native land. We should look forward to the future with confidence. We should redouble our efforts to improve our communities. We must never forget our past, but neither should we allow ourselves to be held prisoner by it.

The “Constitutional Issue” has been decided for a generation. Ulster’s position within the Union is secure. Now we must strive to ensure that Irish nationalism does not succeed in creating a form of cultural Apartheid in Northern Ireland. We must win the cultural war, not with violence, not with the tactics of the past, but with new stratagems and new tactics. We have allowed Irish nationalism to choose the battlefield, that was a grave error. We must now seek to outflank them. To do the unexpected. If we are unsuccessful, if we lose this cultural war, PIRA/Sinn Fein will embark on a campaign of cultural genocide. They will erase anything they deem ‘un-Irish’ from the cultural landscape of Ulster. If such a cultural genocide were to succeed, physical genocide would not be far behind. I would not be surprised if the chilling words of Nazi mass murderer, Adolf Eichmann, were not displayed somewhere in Sinn Fein HQ- “To destroy a people, you must first destroy their past”. That quote seems to describe the Irish republican ethos rather well, and of course, we all know who Sinn Fein and the IRA sided with during World War II.

Sinn Fein would like the world to forget their support of Hitler and the Nazis!

Sinn Fein would like the world to forget their support of Hitler and the Nazis!

You Refuse To Hear Our Voice

The poisonous Ulster media. The Parades Commission. The PSNI. The Stormont Executive. The UK government. You refuse to hear our voice. You have excluded us, you have pushed us down, you have left us to rot in some of the worst social deprivation in Western Europe. You have denied us our very culture, language and traditions. You, who should be impartial, who should be balanced and fair. You have slandered us, defamed us and condemned us. You have treated us as if we were less than human, but we will not just wither and die. We exist. We have the same rights and liberties as every other freeborn human being and we intend to start exercising them. You will not keep us down. You will not deny us. You will be made answerable for your actions. 

The Loyalist people of Ulster have endured worse than you. Whatever your agenda, whatever your motivation, you will not succeed in destroying us. No-warning bombs did not destroy us. Republican bullets did not destroy us. Bloody Friday did not destroy us. We are a resolute and determined people. A people bristling with indignation at the injustices and inequities perpetrated against us. You have sown the wind, now you will reap the whirlwind. Loyalism is resurgent. You refuse to hear our voice, we will find a louder voice, if you still refuse to hear, we will find another way to be heard!

The People Are Our Greatest Resource

Loyalism relies on the support of the people. Even if some choose not to engage in political or cultural activity themselves, their support is still invaluable. As the great Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap once said “We [the Viet Cong and NVA] are like fish and the people are the waters in which we swim”. Loyalism is also motivated by the people. It is a populist ideology. We must win more recruits for our cause, convince more and more people to take a stand for liberty and equality. We must renew our resolve and step forward, unblinking, into the uncertain future. We should do so as one. Shoulder to shoulder. United as a single mass of ordinary people, determined to change our country and our communities for the better.

“Not Gold But Only Men Can Make, a Nation Great & Strong, Men Who, For Truth & Honour’s Sake, Stand Fast & Suffer Long. Men Who Work Whilst Others Sleep, Who Dare When Others Shy, They Build a Nation’s Pillars Deep & Lift Them Towards The Sky”

 

 

The Political Soul of Ulster Loyalism: Part One

What is Loyalism?

Ulster Loyalism is most simply defined as being, loyalty to Ulster. Not loyalty to the institution of monarchy, not loyalty to any government or party, not loyalty to England, but loyalty to Ulster. Having Ulster’s best interests at heart and working to ensure that Ulster, as an entity, both literal and abstract, is not harmed or destroyed, and the willingness to use any and all means to prevent any such possible harm or destruction. It can also be described as loyalty to one’s community. Of course, there are those who would vehemently disagree with my definition of what Loyalism is, they will insist that Loyalism means loyalty to the British Crown and constitution, as revised after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-90. Or that Loyalism is merely a misplaced sense of loyalty to the British state. That is their prerogative. I have self-identified as being a Loyalist since I was in my early teens. In the years since I have examined and re-examined the defining characteristics of Ulster Loyalism. I have had many, many conversations with others about what they believe Loyalism means, about what it means to them to be a Loyalist. I have studied the history of my country and the history of Loyalism. I live and work within a predominantly Loyalist community. Those who know me personally, know my ‘credentials’. Forgive my arrogance but I am of the firm belief that those best qualified to define Loyalism, are Loyalists themselves.

That the very definition of Loyalism is a matter of debate says much about the Loyalist community. We are a ‘broad church’, welcoming of dissenting voices. Often divided on specific issues and seemingly content to tear each other to shreds over those issues. But all Loyalists (and indeed the vast majority of Unionists) share a sense of common purpose. From the upper echelons of mainstream political Unionism, to the ordinary woman or man on the street, from the Loyalist/Unionist ‘moderates’ to the former POWs, all have one thing in common. The sincerely held belief that Ulster should never enter into any form of political union, or be annexed by, the Irish Republic.  Beyond that point though, Loyalism begins to diverge from Unionism, at least in terms of terminology. There are many Unionists (I use the term here to denote those who would self-identify as Unionists but not as Loyalists) who hold the view that this country, the land of their forebears, is not worth the shedding of even a single drop of blood. To many no doubt, this would be an admirable quality, from my point of view however, it is a naïve rejection of the political and intercommunal  realities of life in Northern Ireland. Anyone who describes themselves as a Loyalist should, as a point of principle, defend the right of any (and every) free people to resist, by force of arms if necessary, that which they cannot tolerate politically.

Are Loyalism and Unionism the Same?

Not all Unionists are Loyalist. Not all Loyalists are Unionist. Many self-styled Unionists disagree fundamentally with some of the core principles of Loyalism. Some Loyalists lean more towards Ulster nationalism than support for the Union. Indeed, there are many Loyalists, myself included, who support the Union only for as long as the Union is beneficial to Ulster. For me, one of the central tenets of Loyalism is the principle of self-determination. Historically the Ulster people have exercised that inalienable right, choosing to remain within the British family of nations. There is, however, nothing which precludes Ulster from exercising her right to self-determination and choosing independence, in some form or other. If, for example, some future Westminster government was to display more than the usual level of obsequiousness towards Irish nationalism and declare that Ulster would cease to be part of the United Kingdom from such-and-such a date, some form of independence would be Loyalism’s only viable option, at least in the short to medium term.

Not all Unionists are Loyalists but most Loyalists are Unionists.

Not all Unionists are Loyalists but most Loyalists are Unionists.

The media and others used to use the terms ‘Unionist’ and ‘Loyalist’ interchangeably. Today they do not. Is this a recognition of the clear distinctions between the two, or perhaps merely a ploy to aid in their further demonization of Loyalists? I am prepared to, grudgingly, give the media the benefit of the doubt and say it is the former rather than the latter. The issue of Loyalist identity is an extremely complex one. It would be perfectly acceptable for one to proclaim that all Irish republicans are also Irish nationalist, but that not all Irish nationalists are republicans. One could also state that, for example, all members of the Tea Party in the United States are conservatives, but not all American conservatives are Tea-baggers. The same idiom cannot be employed when discussing Loyalism and Unionism. Although one could perhaps get away with using the phrase “most Loyalists are Unionists but only some Unionists are Loyalists”. That may well be as close as we can get to a succinct summation of the relationship between the two.

Aside from the pragmatic view that many Loyalists have of the Union, there is one other important issue where Loyalists and Unionists differ significantly. The issue of armed resistance.  As I have  already said, there are some within Unionism who are completely pacifistic. There are many more who seem to have no problem with armed counter measures, but only if and when such counter measures are undertaken by the forces of the state. For them the idea of citizen soldiers engaging in clandestine warfare is anathema. Yet a century ago even ‘Big House’ Unionists were prepared to engage militarily to defeat the 3rd Home Rule Bill, or at the very least, to ensure Ulster’s exclusion from any quasi-independent state arising out of it. It is bordering on the hypocritical for some Unionists to commemorate the use (and threatened use) of armed resistance 100 years ago, and yet totally condemn it in the context of the more recent conflict.

The People’s Right to Defend Themselves

Loyalism, in both principle and in practice, has always asserted the right of the Ulster people to defend themselves. In April, 1689, the representative of government in Londonderry, Governor  Robert Lundy, attempted to surrender the city to the forces of King James II. The people of the city, no doubt inspired by the Apprentice Boy’s shutting of the gates the previous December, paid no heed to Lundy’s orders and, under the leadership of Col. Adam Murray, began a fierce attack on King James’ besieging army. Technically, the citizens of Londonderry were, in disobeying Lundy’s orders, acting illegally. They were however, morally justified. If they had not resorted to armed resistance, King James’ army of French and Irish cut-throats would have entered the city and slaughtered the inhabitants. It would have been an extermination.

Loyalists have an inalienable right to defend themselves and their communities.

Loyalists have an inalienable right to defend themselves and their communities.

In the early 1970s many Loyalists felt that they too were facing extermination. The Provisional and Official IRA were detonating no-warning bombs all over Ulster. Outside pubs, shops, offices and restaurants. In town centres and outside police stations (often in built-up residential areas). Meanwhile, Irish nationalist death squads roamed the streets looking for potential victims and IRA snipers (both ‘Pinhead’ and ‘Sticky’) created panic in the terraced streets of Belfast and Londonderry. The ‘authorities’ seemed powerless. The Army seemed either unable or unwilling to fully engage the republican gunmen and bombers. With little or no other option, the Loyalist people once again had to rely on themselves. To arm and organise themselves as best they could and begin to fight back. The Ulster-Scots, as a people, had an undeniable right to self-defence. A right to armed resistance. I will never, ever, condemn any Loyalist who took the momentous decision to disregard their own safety and take up arms in defence of their country and their community. In fact, I would commend anyone who took that decision. In the face of a ruthless, barbaric, genocidal enemy, armed resistance is a necessity. Indeed, in such circumstances, armed resistance should be regarded as a moral obligation.

We Oppose Only One Thing

Those who make it their life’s work to attack Ulster Loyalism often say that: loyalists know what they are against, but they don’t necessarily know what they are for” I fundamentally disagree. Loyalists know exactly what we are for. We are for full and equal citizenship. We are for civil and religious liberty for all. We are for integrated, secular education. We are for an end to discrimination in education, housing and employment. We are for a better standard of living for all the people of Northern Ireland. We are for an end to the cultural Apartheid that has seen one community lay claim to certain areas (in some cases whole towns and villages) to the exclusion of all others. We are for an end to Irish nationalist/republican terrorism. We are for normality, peace and conflict resolution. We are for justice. For peace with honour  (not peace at any price). For an accurate and truthful account of our country’s recent past. For our children and our children’s children. We oppose only one thing. We oppose the childish, reductionist, arrogant idea that our country ought to be politically, economically and culturally unified with the other country with whom we share this island.

At it’s very core, that is the only thing that Ulster Loyalism opposes, as an ideology. We will oppose this or that, in the course of normal daily political life, but fundamentally, ideologically, we oppose only that one nefarious notion. Loyalism does not have to work to change the status quo. Loyalism won when we achieved separate status for Ulster in 1921. The vast majority of Loyalists (those who, at least tacitly, support the Union) have what we desire. We are not working towards the fulfilment of a pipedream. We are not trying to subvert and overthrow the state. At times I think that it is to our detriment. Perhaps the Loyalist community would have more cohesion, more purpose, if we were working to achieve some romanticised ideal, rather than simply working to maintain what we already have. I shouldn’t covet the attributes of other communities though. For we, as Loyalists have different, but equally advantageous attributes. Our sense of self-reliance. Our indefatigability. The very fact that we, the Loyalist people, are not a single, homogenous, tightly controlled group, which is far more of a strength than a weakness. Something we should perhaps, be quicker to recognise.

Is Loyalism Reactionary?

For Irish nationalists this is almost a rhetorical question. “Of course loyalism is reactionary” they’ll say. “After all, loyalist violence was a reaction to the republican armed struggle”. For Irish nationalists and republicans this is one of those unquestioned truisms that their political doctrine clings to like a drowning rat. It is also one of the politically immature responses which makes one further question the ‘merits’ of a segregated/sectarian education system. For just because Loyalist violence was, some of the time at least, a reaction to republican violence, does not prove that Loyalism, as an ideology, is reactionary. On the contrary, throughout the conflict now known as ‘The Troubles’, it was Ulster Loyalism that provided the only real political innovation. As far back as the mid-seventies, David Trimble, then of the Ulster Vanguard movement, was writing eloquent and scholarly articles and theses on how the Conflict might be brought to a close. In the 1980s, the UDA, through their political wing, the Ulster Democratic Party, produced ‘Common Sense’, a document at least a decade ahead of its time. ‘Common Sense’ was itself the successor to that organisation’s earlier thesis, ‘Beyond The Religious Divide’. The Progressive Unionist Party had also contributed much to the debate about how Ulster might move beyond conflict, sectarianism, social exclusion and ‘zero sum politics’.

'Common Sense': A visionary  and innovative document that Irish nationalism had no answer to.

‘Common Sense’: A visionary and innovative document that Irish nationalism had no answer to.

Any objective observer may well conclude that, in response to such Loyalist thinking (for instance- ‘Common Sense’), Irish nationalists and republicans seemed unable to even garner an articulate response. Absolutely unable to come to any new conclusions themselves, or even re-examine their own ‘sacred beliefs’, Irish nationalism could do only what it knew how to do best- reject any innovation. The accusation that Loyalism is reactionary is, in light of the evidence, not only patently untrue, but also absurd. When the UDA produced ‘Beyond The Religious Divide’ and later, ‘Common Sense’, Irish nationalists were forced to react, but were unable to do anything more meaningful than sit in the corner, their fingers in their ears, whistling ‘A Soldiers Song’. When the armed wing of Loyalism escalated it’s military campaign, from about 1989 onwards, PIRA/SF, INLA/IRSP and the IPLO were forced to react. When the CLMC talked of “abject and true remorse”, for the killing of innocent people during the Conflict, Irish nationalism/republicanism was again forced to react, their reaction was a deafening silence! 

Loyalism is NOT reactionary or motivated by antagonism towards others.

Loyalism is NOT reactionary or motivated by antagonism towards others.

Loyalism as a Catalyst for Social Change

Arguably, working class Loyalist communities are the most tightly knit of any communities in the British Isles, with the possible exception of the Traveller Community. Close bonds were forged during the long, weary years of bitter, internecine conflict. In the last few years, with the increasing demonisation of working class Loyalists, those bonds have become stronger still. We, as Loyalists, know what community means, what it is. Loyalists have always had a deep, indeed profound, social conscience. It is that social conscience, and that feeling of being a part of something greater than the individual, that inspired many Loyalists to become politically, and/or militarily, active in the first place. Loyalism is primarily a working class, community based, ideology. Can Loyalism therefore act as a catalyst for social change? The answer seems obvious to me. Yes, of course it can. Loyalist communities the width and breadth of Northern Ireland face numerous complex social issues. Poverty, lack of social housing, educational under achievement, social exclusion, drug abuse etc etc. Loyalist communities are though, I believe, uniquely equipped to deal with such challenges. Loyalist marching bands and Lambeg drumming clubs are not only overt expressions of culture, they are also a fantastic way to occupy young people, to keep them from loitering on street corners or engaging in antisocial activity, encouraging them to be more physically active and expanding their minds through music. Loyalist communities also have other unique aspects which can be utilised for the benefit of the whole community. Orange Halls can be used for a multitude of purposes beyond that for which they were originally intended- crèches, slimming clubs, evening classes, community meetings, cultural events etc etc.

Loyalism is already a catalyst for social change.

Loyalism is already a catalyst for social change.

Not only can Loyalism can be a catalyst for social change, I would contend that it already is! In the future, the role of Loyalism in social change will only expand. The recent resurgence of the Progressive Unionist Party is a clear illustration that many within the Loyalist working class are sick and tired of the right-wing, economically conservative, socially inactive parties in the Unionist ‘mainstream’. ‘Joe Public’ has had a belly full of the vague and diffuse promises of the DUP. Most ordinary people in places like Rathcoole, Ballykeel, Ballysally or Tigers Bay, can see with their own eyes who the politically and socially active people in their neighbourhoods are. They’re not the property speculators and businessmen of the DUP. They’re the former combatants, the ex-POWs and the activists of the PUP and UPRG. People who have a vested interest in seeing improvement in those communities because they live in those places too. Loyalism has always been socially aware, today however, Loyalists are fast learning how to get things done, how the ‘system’ works and what needs to happen for Loyalist communities to get their fair share. Loyalists have always striven to fix the problems in our communities, now though, we have the tools at our disposal to do the job right. 

Loyalism and Feminism

One of the core principles of Loyalism is civil and religious liberty for all! So to exclude women from any aspect of political, social or cultural life would be an absurdity. Any man who calls himself a Loyalist needs to recognise the vitally important role women have played in the Conflict. I can think of no greater example of courage than those women POWs incarcerated in Armagh gaol, outnumbered by their enemies but never outfought! Enduring all manner of hardship and indignity but never allowing themselves to be broken. All men need to also recognise that gender equality is a necessity in any democratic, free and egalitarian society. As a man, I feel slightly uncomfortable speaking on behalf of women, after all, women need to be able to speak for themselves. We men though have a role in providing an environment within which women and girls feel confident enough to express themselves  freely

If civil and religious liberty for all is not just rhetoric, then it must be our guiding principle as we go about our daily lives. We must think before we speak, before we act. The task of transforming communities and attitudes is an arduous one. Loyalism is not a part-time political philosophy, it is an ideology which can be applied to almost every aspect of our lives. That includes our relationship with the opposite sex. I would like to believe that working class Loyalist communities have never been especially patriarchal, but then again, I’m a man, my experience and the experience of my mother, sister, aunt, daughter etc are no doubt very, very different. I do know one thing though, as an Ulster Loyalist I have a great desire to see equality and fairness in all aspects of society and in every community!

Loyalism and Intellectualism

If one assumes that ideology is, in general, a mask for self-interest (whether personal, national, ethnic or religious), then it is a natural presumption that intellectuals, in interpreting history or formulating policy, will tend to adopt an elitist position, condemning political mass movements such as Ulster Loyalism. Throughout the years of conflict, Pseudo-liberal intellectuals have often dismissed Loyalism as if it were an irrelevant nuisance, if they bothered to offer comment on Loyalism at all. The self-appointed ‘intellectual elite‘ have come in for almost constant criticism from elements of Loyalism, but there is no real reason for such antagonism between intellectualism and Loyalism. Unlike Irish nationalism, with it’s over simplification of historical issues and it’s obsessive mysticism, Loyalism is rational, pragmatic and stoical. As an ideology, Loyalism has it’s basis firmly in the real world. Whereas other ideologies, Irish and Scottish nationalism for example, are an appeal to the heart, Ulster Loyalism is an appeal to both the heart and head.

Perhaps it is because of the ingrained, phoney Leftist agenda prevalent in most British university faculties, perhaps is it because intellectuals view Loyalism as being inextricably linked to violent street protest, paramilitary activity and counter insurgency, but whatever the reason, many intellectuals see Loyalism as anathema. Certainly there are some within ‘intellectualism‘ who are, at least, closet Loyalists, but there are many others who have decided, for whatever reason, that they must attack Loyalism at any given opportunity. It is imperative that Loyalists challenge the perceptions of the intellectual class. Loyalism, as an ideology, does not have to make itself answerable to anyone, but it should seek to redress the misconceptions of certain sections of society, especially those sections of society that have no automatic reason to harbour any antipathy towards it. 

To determine the nature of man, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau proceeds to compare man and animal . Man is “intelligent, free….the sole animal endowed with reason”. Animals are “devoid of intellect and freedom”. Do the intellectual class not view Loyalists as men (and women)? Are we not endowed with the reason that Rousseau spoke of? It is time for intellectuals to step out into the real world, to engage with Loyalists (and others), so that a more comprehensive and inclusive view of Ulster politics emerges. The intellectual class do themselves, and the communities in which they live, a great disservice if they refuse to re-examine their opinions and prejudices. Intellectuals, and everyone else in Northern Ireland (and beyond) need to recognise that Loyalists are people too!

To be continued…

 

 

COLLUSION: PART 1

PROLOGUE

If one were to believe the historical revisionism of Irish nationalists, one would come to the conclusion that Loyalist paramilitary groups were armed, trained, financed, directed & controlled by the British state. That is patently untrue. It is a spurious myth that is easily disproven. The Irish nationalist myth makers do not stop there however, because they would also have the world believe that despite such external aid, that Loyalism was incapable of taking the war to their enemies & that republican groups, such as the Provisional IRA, received no outside aid from any source, nor at any time colluded with any third party. The motivation for such irresolute lies is not difficult to understand. Irish nationalism, especially the more extreme varieties, likes to portray the Northern Ireland conflict in a very simple, black & white, way. In the Irish nationalist/republican narrative it is always simply a matter of ‘native Irish gael’ versus the ‘evil Brit occupier’. Loyalists & Unionists do not figure in this fable because republicanism has always insisted that Loyalism & Unionism doesn’t count. Indeed, many Irish nationalists still cling to the ludicrous notion that in the event of a ‘united Ireland’, NI’s pro-Union population will simply throw up their arms, realise the error of their ways & somehow become enthusiastic little Irish men & women, virtually overnight! To concede the fact that Loyalist groups were effective & sophisticated, to concede the fact that they were not controlled, nor armed, trained or funded, by the British state, means by default, conceding that Loyalism was/is a major player within Northern Ireland, undermines some fairly basic republican ideological tenets & complicates the simplistic ‘native vs occupier’ narrative so oft repeated by organisations like INLA/IRSP, PSF & now the multitudinous ‘dissident’ groups which seem to be popping up like mushrooms. Don’t just take my word for it though. Let’s examine the facts, then you can decide for yourself

 

“TIS WELL THAT WAR IS SO TERRIBLE…”

Those Irish nationalists & republicans that uncritically digest the propaganda spoon-fed to them by their socio-political leaders, often demonstrate their pitiful knowledge of ‘The Troubles’ by alleging that the UVF & Ulster Freedom Fighters killed only a mere handful of active republicans during the long years of conflict. It’s a claim so imbecilic that I usually deem it unworthy of reply. In the interests of historical accuracy however, I will quickly expose this pernicious lie (whilst trying not to laugh)

It is claimed that Loyalist groups only ever managed to kill “a handful” of republicans, others claim they killed only 40 republicans throughout the entire conflict (& often cite the deeply flawed CAIN website to back this up) So let’s look at the facts-

Off the top of my head I can name, err, probably ten or twelve very senior republicans killed by the UVF or UFF. But let’s go back to the beginning, to the start of the erroneously titled ‘Troubles’. In August, 1969, Gerard McCauley, an IRA gunman (this of course is prior to the Official/Provisional split, hence McCauley is classified simply as ‘IRA’) was shot dead by a Loyalist sniper during a gunbattle in the Bombay Street area, off the Falls Road in west Belfast. During 1971 & 72 Loyalists killed another five republican terrorists/paramilitaries. Four members of the Provisional IRA & one member of the paramilitary Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association, which is now almost completely forgotten. The CEA was an Irish nationalist organisation set up in 1971, with the stated aim of “protecting Catholic areas”. It’s founding member was Phil Curran who, in common with other members, had previous military training. The CEA was paramilitary in nature. At its most active, in 1972, it had a claimed membership of 8,000. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that the CEA was also extensively involved in training both major factions of the IRA (Official & Provisional) at that time, & that some CEA members actively engaged in ‘offensive actions’ against the Loyalist/Unionist community (despite their claim to be merely ‘defending’ Catholic neighbourhoods) with the CEA accused of carrying out bomb & gun attacks which were later claimed to be the work of either the OIRA or PIRA. In 1973 Loyalists killed another four Irish nationalist/republican ‘footsoldiers’, 2 members of PIRA/SF, one Official IRA man & one senior CEA member. In 1974 another four, 2 PIRA/SF, 1 OIRA & 1 CEA. In 1975 & 1976 ten more republicans, of all ranks, were killed by the UFF, UVF & RHC, including senior PSF activist Colm Mulgrew & PSF Vice-President Máire Drummshot dead in a joint UFF/UVF operation as she recovered from a minor operation in the Mater Hospital in Belfast. Six more republicans, including OIRA ‘Chief of Staff’, Joe McKee, were killed by Loyalist groups in the last years of the 1970s, bringing to 30 the total number killed between 1969 & 1979. There are of course other dubious or contested instances, where it cannot be proven conclusively that deceased individual was, as claimed, a member of OIRA, PIRA, CEA, INLA etc, but where there is some evidence to support such claims. Of course it was republican policy not to ‘claim’ members who had meet a violent death at the hands of the UVF or Ulster Freedom Fighters, in instances where the dead individual could not be positively tied to the republican movement (an example of ‘plausible deniability). This was done for three reasons. Firstly, groups such as PIRA, INLA etc did not wish to appear vulnerable to Loyalist attack. Secondly, there was the issue of compensation to the victim’s family (NIO compensation would not be paid out to the families of proven terrorists) Thirdly, it is much easier to illicit public & political sympathy for an ‘innocent man’ coldly executed by Loyalist gunmen, rather than a dedicated terrorist, who ‘lived by the gun’ & consequently died by that same instrument.

During the 1980s, the level of Loyalist paramilitary activity decreased, due in part to the fact that the Security Forces seemed to finally be making inroads against Irish nationalist terror gangs, but Irish nationalist/republican activists were still being targeted & killed with some regularity. In the opening years of that decade, there were the UFF ‘shopping list’ killings, were the Ulster Freedom Fighters targeted & eliminated the leadership of the INLA/IRSP & the ‘Anti H-Blocks/Armagh Committee’. In 1980 & 81 Loyalists killed six republican activists, including the INLA terrorist godfathers ( & godmother?), Bunting, Lyttle & Daly. In 1981 the UVF executed James ‘Skipper’ Burns, the most senior member of the Provos to be killed during the conflict. The so-called quartermaster of PIRA’s ‘Northern Command’ was killed as he lay sleeping. His killer, armed with a 9mm pistol & silencer, shot Burns dead & escaped without waking Burns’ girlfriend, who lay sleeping beside him & did not realise he was dead until she woke in the morning. The rest of the decade saw a further 13 Irish nationalist/republican activists, including senior Provos such as Brendan ‘Ruby’ Davidson & Lawrence Marley, killed by the UVF, UFF, PAF & RHC.

INLA/IRSP leader Ronnie Bunting, shot dead along with his fellow terrorist, Noel Lyttle, by the UFF, 1981

INLA/IRSP leader Ronnie Bunting, shot dead along with his fellow terrorist, Noel Lyttle, by the UFF, 1981

A TIME TO KILL

The 1990s (up until the CLMC ceasefire in October ’94) saw an escalation of Loyalist violence. The UFF & UVF began to strike at the very heart of violent republicanism, again & again. In 1990, five members of PIRA/SF were killed, three of whom were convicted terrorists. In 1991, nine members of PIRA/SF & the IPLO were killed, including such ‘luminaries’ as Pádraig ‘Paddy’ O’Seanacháin, a senior member of PIRA/SF in West Tyrone, Tommy Donaghy, a senior ‘officer’ in the Provos ‘South Derry Brigade’ & IPLO ‘Chief of Staff’ Martin ‘Rook’ O’Prey, both of whom were shot on the same day, the 16th of August, in separate UFF & UVF operations in South Londonderry & West Belfast. On the 3rd of March that year, half of a local PIRA Active Service Unit, 3 men (Quinn, O’Donnell & Nugent), were shot & killed by Mid-Ulster UVF outside Boyle’s Bar in the republican stronghold of Cappagh, Co Tyrone.The UVF later released a statement claiming responsibility & stating: “This was not a sectarian attack on the Catholic community, but was an operation directed at the very roots of the Provisional IRA command structure in the Armagh–Tyrone area”. The statement concluded that “if the Provisional IRA were to cease its campaign of terror, the Ulster Volunteer Force would no longer deem it necessary to continue with such military operations”. 1992 saw another six republicans killed by Loyalists, with 4 more killed in 1993, including senior ‘South Derry’ Provo, James Kelly, whose death lead one UFF spokesman to quip- “For the Provos in South Londonderry to lose one CO could be seen as unfortunate, but to lose two in the space of 18 months just smacks of carelessness”. In the ten months of 1994 prior to the Loyalist ceasefire, three more republicans lost their lives at the hands of Loyalist paramilitary units, bringing the total number killed to 27, in less than five years. Again there are those whom Loyalists would consider to have been legitimate targets that republicans would maintain were ‘innocent men’. Indeed, this category may well run to at least 40 or 50 names, if not more. Men like James Kerr, shot dead by the Red Hand Commando in 1972. Kerr is listed by CAIN as a “Catholic civilian” but the republican National Graves Association maintains his final resting place & in one of their publications, ‘Republican Belfast Graves’, Kerr is named as a member of the Provisional IRA. Such muddying of the waters reminds me of an incident in 1991. A notorious republican & self confessed Provo had just been killed by the UFF, the media was on the scene & the family was being interviewed. The dead man’s widow was asked why he was killed, between sobs she stated “They shot him because he was a Catholic. Our ___ wasn’t involved in nothing political, he was an innocent man”. A few hours later, that “innocent man” was ‘claimed’ by the local PIRA as being one of their ‘volunteers’ (something they probably felt they couldn’t avoid, given the man’s notoriety). Someone was clearly out of the loop on that one! Either the dead man’s wife did not know he was a republican terrorist, or more probably, had been told that, in the event of anything happening to him, she was to deny everything, & being a good little republican, she did as she was told, not realising that it would backfire rather spectacularly & make all concerned look both dishonest & incompetent. There is also the issue of those categorised as ‘innocent civilians’ who were, nonetheless, regarded as legitimate targets by Loyalist paramilitary groups. Members of the GAA for instance, which provided financial & moral support to Irish nationalism & republicanism throughout the conflict, were often targeted & killed. Members of the West Belfast Taxi Association too were regarded as legitimate targets, since that organisation was widely perceived as being a front for the Provisional IRA.  The SDLP & Workers Party have also lost members to Loyalist actions. Though it is interesting to note that only one such organisation, PIRA/SF, complains about alleged collusion & seems unable to accept the conflict related deaths of their comrades.

The aftermath of the assassination of a PIRA member by South Londonderry UFF. Kilrea, 1991.

The aftermath of the assassination of a PIRA member by South Londonderry UFF. Kilrea, 1991.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

Of course, when confronted with the facts, most Irish nationalists & republicans will simply shrug their shoulders & dismiss anything which does not fit with their skewed version of events, but some will no doubt concede that, yes, Loyalists could & did strike at the very heart of the republican war machine, but of course they will tell anyone fool enough to listen, that was only because the UFF, UVF & RHC were acting as proxies for the British state. That claim would be a hell of a lot more plausible if were not for a few inconvenient facts. Like why did the ‘Brits’ spend so much time & energy trying to prevent Loyalist groups obtaining arms? For instance, the massive UVF arms shipment intercepted by the Security Services (MI5) at Teesport, England, in November of 1993. Surely the British state, if they were the benefactors & backers of organisations like the UVF, would welcome their purchase of 300 assault rifles, dozens of handguns & well over two tonnes of plastic explosive? Why, if republican claims have any veracity, would the security apparatus of the UK move to prevent such a restocking of the UVF’s arsenal? A few years earlier, in 1988, the Security Forces had also moved against the UFF in similar fashion, seizing part of a Lebanese arms shipment consisting of 30 handguns, 61 AK-47 assault rifles, 150 grenades & more than 11,000 rounds of ammunition.

Part of a UDA/UFF arms shipment. Imported from Lebanon, seized by the Security Forces, near Portadown, Jan.1988.

Part of a UDA/UFF arms shipment. Imported from Lebanon, seized by the Security Forces, near Portadown, Jan.1988.

And what of the Loyalists killed by the Security Forces within Northern Ireland? Or the thousands who were locked away for years in the nissen huts, & then the H-blocks, of Long Kesh? Were the female UVF & UFF volunteers incarcerated in Armagh gaol, ‘proxies of the British state’? Was Billy Wright a puppet of the ‘Brits’ when they colluded with the INLA/IRSP to facilitate his murder? What of the homes of suspected Loyalist activists, trashed as thoroughly by the RUC & Army, as any home in the Bogside or South Armagh? Do Irish nationalists really believe that UVF & UFF volunteers held at Castlereagh Holding Centre, were treated any less inhumanely or threatened any less frequently than INLA, IPLO or PIRA men? If Loyalists were in cahoots with the Security Forces, the RUC & Army seem to have been very dubious friends indeed! The inconvenient truth is, the state would have, given the opportunity, smashed Loyalism into the ground, then concentrated on Irish nationalism. Indeed, the fact that a new offence of “Directing Terrorism” was put on the statute books, just to take Johnny Adair off the streets of West Belfast, speaks volumes about the relationship between Loyalism & the Establishment. The state could have armed, organised & trained their own proxy force, recruited from ex-Army personnel within the Loyalist/Unionist community, had they so wished, & turned them loose on republicans. They could have ‘adopted’ one of the Loyalist paramilitary groups as their own. Removed senior people & put their own stooges in their place, then directed & controlled that group as they saw fit. They didn’t & that leaves one asking- why didn’t they? The only logical answer is, they preferred not to take sides & wiping Irish nationalism off the face of the Earth would not have been advantageous to them. Better to simply give a ‘nudge’ or two when required & keep both sides more or less equal in capacity. Successive UK governments did not want a Loyalist victory in Northern Ireland, they wanted a long-term political solution and/or a Security Force victory. The government & Security Service had equal disdain for both sides in the Ulster conflict, although to quote one former agent of the state “I always preferred the Orangies, because unlike the Provos, they recognised that if they wanted to play with the big boys, then it was big boys rules!”

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

The truth is always more complex than propaganda. There is no black & white in history, especially very recent history. There are only shades of grey. Did individual members of the Security Forces pass information to Loyalists? Yes, they did. Sometimes. UDR & (less frequently) RUC personnel became so disillusioned, so disgusted at the nihilistic violence & indiscriminate bombing of republican gangs, that yes they gave snippets of information to known UFF, UVF & RHC members. UDR & RUC personnel also engaged in careless talk, in bars, in clubs, at football matches etc. Loyalists have ears (they’re just below our horns!) & loose talk is almost always overheard by someone (hence the name ‘loose talk’) There were also times when information came from higher up. There were times when it suited the Security Services to get certain people ‘out of the way’ (permanently). MI5 have a way of getting what they want (RUC Special Branch too) But that went for both sides. Did the Security Services also sometimes steer republican groups towards a certain target? Yes, undoubtedly. The truth is that ‘The Troubles’ was a dirty, grubby war. Both sides, Loyalist & republican, were sometimes played off each other. Republicans took information they were given about Loyalists, despite their professed hatred of the ‘Brits’. Loyalists took information given to them about republicans, despite the fact that all such information should have been treated as deeply suspect. Were the UFF, UVF, RHC & other Loyalist organisations mere puppets of MI5, the UK government, RUC SB or a combination of all three? No, they were not. Were Loyalist groups funded, armed, directed, trained and/or controlled by the British state? No, they were not. Had they been, to put it crudely, there would not have been enough Irish nationalists/republicans left to complain about it!

TO BE CONTINUED…

The history of collusion is not just about alleged collusion between the state & Loyalist forces. Nor about collusion between ‘dark forces’ within the security apparatus & players on both sides of the divide. There was some institutional collusion between state & armed groups, but the state in question was not the British state, it was the Irish state. In the next part we will look at how the Dublin government of the time, funded, armed & helped to organise the Provisional IRA & how organs of that state (most notably elements within An Garda Síochána) colluded with PIRA/SF in the murder of British citizens. To be continued…

THE IRISH NATIONALIST PARADOX

Irish nationalists & republicans have a major problem. I would argue that it is an insurmountable problem. That problem is almost 1 million Unionists & Loyalists. Some within Irish nationalism argue that within a few years, there will be a Catholic, & therefore an Irish nationalist, majority in Northern Ireland & therefore the Unionist/Loyalist population will, somehow, become irrelevant. It is an argument expounded on Irish/Gaelic supremacist websites like ‘Ulsters Doomed’ (sic) & ‘Endgame In Ulster’. Leaving aside the fact that this ‘demographic argument’ is nakedly sectarian, one must look at the facts. A quick analysis of the 2011 census figures reveals that the Catholic population did not increase between 2001 & 2011. Yes, the ‘non-Catholic’ population decreased (by around 3%) but the Catholic population did not rise in mean terms (it did of course rise in percentage terms because of the decrease in the ‘non-Catholic’ population) Dealing in these sectarian terms makes me uncomfortable partly on principle, partly because it is ridiculous to reduce political views to such a base level. People are not born Irish nationalist, Unionist, Right-Wing, Left-Wing, Liberal or anything else. To blindly assume that a Catholic majority in NI automatically equates to an Irish nationalist/republican majority, is frankly laughable. Indeed, one could postulate that Irish nationalism is becoming less popular, not more, since in the most recent census, fewer people than ever identified themselves as ‘Irish’ whilst the number identifying as ‘Northern Irish’ is increasing. One can also point to the increasing number of the middle class who identify themselves as Catholic & Unionist (& the large number of people, both Catholic & Protestant, who are abandoning organised religion altogether, further divorcing religious denomination from political inclination!)

WAR WITHOUT END

But what if there was an Irish nationalist majority in 2016, or 2020? What if, say, 60% of the populace voted to amalgamate NI into an all-island Irish republic? What would the consequences be? Irish nationalists & republicans (who must be given credit for their eternal optimism if nothing else) seem to assume that all of the problems in ‘the North’ would simply evaporate, like morning mist & everything in the garden would be rosy! Would it be though? There are many Loyalists (myself included) who will never accept a unitary all-island state, under any circumstances. Will people like me simply shrug our shoulders, sigh, then quietly take the next boat out of Larne? Or is it far more likely that Loyalist militants will take up arms & began a brutal, prolonged & costly ‘armed struggle’ against this hypothetical ‘united Ireland’? The hopelessly optimistic republican will, no doubt, argue that such an insurgency would be easily & quickly quelled, but would it? Supposedly the Provisional IRA never numbered more than about 1200 active members, even at the height of ‘The Troubles’, the OIRA, INLA, IPLO etc, each numbered 200-300 active members, yet the republican death squads managed to cost the UK quite a few troops & a massive amount of money (along with the mass of civilians such groups targeted & killed) How would our hypothetical Irish state cope with, estimating conservatively, 5 or 6 thousand armed Loyalists? I would propose that the outcome would not be good, for anyone. The Irish Defence Forces & An Garda Síochána would have to be hugely enlargedGarda stations would have to be fortified (at huge cost) Not to mention the financial drain of constantly repairing bomb damage & paying out compensation to the families of victims. Short of ethnically cleansing the entire Loyalist/Unionist population, an aspiration quietly harboured by many Irish nationalists, there would be no military victory in such a scenario (for an example, see Northern Ireland, 1969- present) There would be only ‘War Without End’.

Loyalist paramilitaries: "They haven't gone away you know"

Loyalist paramilitaries: “They haven’t gone away you know”

HERE COMES THE PARADOX

So, if the so-called ‘demographic argument’ (i.e. the sectarian argument) does not hold up to scrutiny & if, even with a nationalist/republican majority, Loyalist reaction would make any unitary state unworkable, how do Irish nationalists propose to bring about this ‘united Ireland’ they wax lyrical about so often? The only realistic option is for Irish nationalists & republicans is to ‘persuade’ the U/L community that an artificial 32 county state would be advantageous, to woo the pro-Union population into accepting such a state. That is something the SDLP & others recognised years ago, it is something that Provisional Sinn Fein are also now coming to realise too. Therein lies the paradox though. For over 40 years ( or over 400 years?) Irish nationalism has been attacking the U/L community, physically, culturally, politically & economically. So how does one change that mindset & convince one’s followers that Unionists & Loyalists now must be embraced?  It seems like an impossible task. It looks even more unlikely when one considers the attitude of many senior members of PSF! A ‘united Ireland’ cannot be achieved without, at least, the tacit approval of the majority of Unionists, but Unionists will never give such approval unless Irish nationalism can convince Unionists that they would be fairly treated, influential, well represented & financially secure within such a state. Something that would be difficult for the leadership of Irish nationalism, given the dark past of many of those leaders, & is completely impossible for the rank & file, who have, for decades, been indoctrinated to think of their Unionist/Loyalist neighbours as lesser beings. Then, of course, one can add to the problem, the pressure being put on PSF, SDLP etc, by those rank & file nationalists/republicans, to stop Unionist/Loyalist parades in supposedly ‘contentious’ areas, remove outward symbols of Britishness etc. Such cultural attacks are doing nothing to convince the U/L people that they would be better off in an artificial 32 county Irish/Gaelic state. The leadership of Irish nationalism cannot reverse this cultural war though, for to do so would be to play into the hands of the Dissidents, further empowering those groups & further weakening Sinn Fein & the SDLP. Such is the Irish nationalist paradox.

CONCLUSION

Most Irish nationalists will still argue that demographics will deliver an all-island republic in the next 20-50 years, that Unionists & Loyalists will, stripped of British support, be left with no other option but to accept the new political reality, embrace their latent ‘Irishness’ & thus remove the conditions for any armed insurrection. This is fairytale politics, it is utter fantasy. Firstly, the longer NI exists as a polity, the harder it will be to persuade people to dismantle the status quo, dissolve the state & jump, feet first, into a new political construct. Secondly, I must remind everyone that Catholic does not equal Irish nationalist (nor does Protestant equal Unionist) Thirdly, even if (& it’s a big if) a large section of Unionists/Loyalists did accept some form of all-island state, a large section won’t, never will & will use ‘direct action’ to prevent it, or to destroy such a state in it’s infancy. Finally, the Irish nationalist paradox will not be resolved anytime soon. If the U/L community cannot be ‘outbred’ (a disgusting term republicans like to employ), cannot be ethnically cleansed or militarily conquered, (& I would argue they cannot) then a ‘united Ireland’ is rendered near impossible, since ‘persuading’ Loyalists & Unionists to voluntarily enter into a all-island state, could take a few centuries, not a few decades!