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.
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.
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!
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”