Unionist support for flag protests has dwindled: time for a new strategy?

Ruth Patterson’s newly appointed campaign manager for the next Assembly election is Jamie Bryson. Here on Slugger he argues that the time is over for protest and that a new strategy must be found to raise concerns of working class loyalists.

There has been much discussion and debate in recent days about a planned Union flag protest to be held on St Patrick’s day. The protest is billed as a 12 hour vigil. 

Protest is a powerful tool to articulate your opposition or support for an issue and to highlight grievances or inequalities. But protest must have an underlying strategy, a method of converting the energy of protest into political action and then ultimately turning that activism into democratic gains.

The absence of such a strategy during the height of the Union flag protests was a huge missed opportunity. The flag protests were spontaneous and they belonged to the people, therefore there was no prior strategy and due to the nature of the protests it was difficult to craft such a strategy in the midst of such an unprecedented protest movement.

I can not see any strategic or political advantage in holding a protest on St Patrick’s day. That is why I believe the organisers should rethink their plans. Further to this I think that if they believe there is a strategic or political value in a St Patrick’s day protest, then the organisers should put forward a spokesperson to articulate what the value is.

Holding a protest on St Patrick’s day has no significance in relation to the Union flag dispute- ironically the Union flag flies on St Patrick’s day and the flag of St Patrick is incorporated within the Union flag.

Whilst the protest is- I am sure- well intentioned, it will be portrayed and interpreted as a blatant attempt to create a sectarian stand-off and the protestors will be demonised and portrayed as sectarian bigots who have gone out of their way to be offended. That serves no purpose, no success or victory can come from a St Patrick’s day protest, so that then surely should beg the question- why have one?

There are very genuine concerns around some of the sectarianism and anti-Protestant bigotry that flows from St Patrick’s day. A loyalist protest will only deflect from these issues.The way to challenge those issues is to hold the organisers to account via the rule of law and demand statutory bodies fulfil their obligations to ensure that organisers of the events behave in a lawful, inclusive, non-sectarian and respectful manner.

The flag protestors- and especially those who maintain a weekly protest- have displayed remarkable commitment and dedication. They have done themselves and our community proud.

However, at some point in every campaign, whether it be a protest movement, a military campaign or business, there must be a reflection of the current situation and a discussion around how best to adapt tactics in order to achieve the optimum gain and advancement towards your goals.

There has to come a time when someone has to be brave enough to ask the question, what is this achieving? Tactics change and the political landscape constantly evolves. If no one ever stood up and said “we need to change our tactics” then people would still be using swords and charging across battlefields on horseback during the Cold War.

Looking at how to move from protest to political activism is not a betrayal or a sell out of principles. It is, in fact, the only way to advance the cause of Unionism and to fight back against the very real injustices being inflicted upon our community as part of the so called ‘peace process’.  and surely that should highlight the need for a change in strategy.

,

  • st__etienne

    While unionists have never seen the need to take down the flag in the first place – particularly with the absence of a similar compromise in councils where there is no flag – I don’t think a majority of unionists were ever in favour of protest over it.

  • Simian Droog

    So to get this clear to me, your current tactics are reminiscent of “Swords and horses” but you’re hoping to up your game to some sort of Cold War, “Mutually assured destruction”? Not sure whether to file that under Loyalist “progression” or “regression”

    I’ve an idea. Ban ALL flags and marches and anthems. Let’s be the first Country/Province/Statelet (delete as applicable) to modernise to the point of not requiring pageantry or vexillophiles to dominate our political or social landscape.

  • Tochais Siorai

    No flag is the compromise.

  • Kronsteen

    There is nothing to be gained from any flags protests. Anyone who cannot cope because their flag is not fluttering around them all day has, in the minds of a good number of those paying attention, some identity problem. Fear of being unable to see your flag flying on various buildings is an issue of insecurity, not one of pride.

    Step away from the flags, support the formal, appropriate and respectful flying of the flag and don’t walk into anymore PR disasters. The idea of a loyalist flags protest on St Patrick’s Day is so stupid it is almost, but of course not entirely, unbelievable.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Jamie son, your reinvention of the wheel may be an act of genius to you but it’s yet another of your false epiphanies. By way of encouragement, I’d like you to know that I thoroughly enjoy charting your ongoing exposition of the pennies taking an unbelievably long time to drop.
    Good luck with devising your new strategy to achieve … um, please let us know what. Best wishes in getting Strewth re-elected.

  • barnshee

    I like it

  • Gaygael

    Hey Jamie – I’m really curious after all your blood and thunder on blocking marriage for same-sex couples, who you can reconcile campaigning for someone that is not opposed?

  • bogball88

    And who has an openly gay son?

  • Gaygael

    I would never ‘out’ someone without their consent. I don’t know whether that’s true or not. Ruth has never mentioned it.

  • murdockp

    “The way to challenge those issues is to hold the organisers to account via the rule of law and demand statutory bodies fulfil their obligations to ensure that organisers of the events behave in a lawful, inclusive, non-sectarian and respectful manner”

    I look forward to seeing the 12th of July bonfires being banned then. The environmental law breaches alone would result in custodial sentences in any other walk of life.

  • Graham Parsons

    Does Jamie think the Cold War was an actual war?

  • paul ohara

    “There has to come a time when someone has to be brave enough to ask the question, what is this achieving?”

    All well and good trying to come across all reflective now but how about having the wit to think about that at the start? That way you wouldn’t have had to admit that wrecking everybody’s head for weeks on end and threatening hard working people’s livelihoods by putting undue pressure on businesses basically acheived nothing.
    Oh wait it acheived something, you made a name for yourself out of it.

  • Zig70

    Just what injustices are being inflicted on the unionist people? How is the celebration an Irish saint in Ireland anti-protestant? Which protestant faiths are denigrated?

  • kalista63

    Can we keep the fry?

  • Greenflag 2

    Patricius was a Romanised Brit not Irish 😉

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘I can not see any strategic or political advantage in holding a protest on St Patrick’s day.’

    Good Lord – I can’t believe this is Jamie Bryson the Loyalist flagman . Such insight -such genius . Give the man 9 out 10 for vision 😉

  • kalista63

    Came up on Talkback that he actually compared unionists to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi governement.

  • kalista63

    I’d advise people to listen to today’s Talkback, especially the distraught Fleggers. Dawn points out that Jamie has had zilch to do with the protests for two years, anyway.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Jamie,
    “Whilst the protest is- I am sure- well intentioned, it
    will be portrayed and interpreted as a blatant attempt to create a
    sectarian stand-off and the protestors will be demonised and portrayed
    as sectarian bigots who have gone out of their way to be offended. That
    serves no purpose, no success or victory can come from a St Patrick’s
    day protest, so that then surely should beg the question- why have one?”

    This could be equally apply to Twaddell, people objecting to parades commission restrictions on routes, bands, sizes or indeed if a band could or should play music at a certain point or what songs they may play.

    Your argument in this paragraph, which I don’t disagree with by the way, nullifies your raison d’être.
    If you disagree with a decision, an action, a movement etc – and protesting it would or could create a stand-off and result in a negative of view of the protestors… don’t do it.

    As such, I am sure we will see you depart stage left as you look for a new hobby.
    Or continue as a hypocrite. Up to yourself of course.

  • Cavehill

    I remember Alliance tried to have designated days installed as standard in the 11 supercouncils as an amendment to the local government bill but it received no support. That would have meant reduction in some councils, but increase in others like the ones you mention. That sounds like a compromise you could get on board with.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    It will get worse than this GG ! This is going to be the dirtest election campaign in NI history ! Will not be one for the faint hearted ?

  • Ernekid

    The flag protests never had widespread support they were widely ridiculed as they were little more than the death throes of a rudderless and leaderless community that has retreated into backward sectarianism as the rest of Northern Ireland has moved on rendering loyalism largely irrelevant

  • Gaygael

    Yup. Can’t wait to see Pengelley and Ruth on the same panel.
    Judging by what happened at the Challengees Panel the other night, Pengelley was weak.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    It does not matter if Pengelley was weak on one performance, the DUP Election Machine and her position as a minister has the TV Cameras and press following her everyday for any photograph with a smile opening this or that. This is what Ruth and other political opponents are up against. It is going to be very difficult for independants or other smaller political parties to break that power and media attention that the DUP/SF Axis have ? You also have to remember that most of these local community groups are statuary financed groups by the government ! and guess what crap they are spouting out ? The only hope for such people trying to beat a political system stacked up against them is track up and down them streets and knock them doors where you will also find sympathy for your cause and insist that them people promise you to come out and VOTE FOR CHANGE !

  • Granni Trixie

    GG: I think there was consensus on that. I actually felt sorry for her!

  • Granni Trixie

    He was young-ish. Looks like he’s grown up a bit. Everyone deserves a new start. (Can’t believe I’m sticking up for him but there you go).

  • Robin Keogh

    This is a welcome move by Jamie. While he has been villified and laughed at in equal measure (brought on mostly by himself), this shift in attitude might suggest the dawning of a maturity which has been sadly lacking in the past.
    The truth is that Loyalist areas (working class protestant areasin the main), have been left behind; not by the peace process but by big house unionism in general and for decades. The levels of unemployment and poor education attainment are staggering. If Jamie wants to change tack and now put his energies to correcting this imbalance, he is oto be congratualted, lets wait and see. ( A gay Shinner standing up for Jamie – must be a first?)

  • Brendan Heading

    If no one ever stood up and said “we need to change our tactics” then people would still be using swords and charging across battlefields on horseback during the Cold War.

    Bryson was asked on Talkback about Twaddell. In his answer he said he fully supported the existing protests – which, just like he correctly observed about the flag protests, have no strategy, nothing taking them forward, and no hope of success.

    So this isn’t a real epiphany. He reckons that he has some kind of advantage by dumping on the flag protests.

    Should add that the real flag protests only lasted a couple of months in the end. Any idiot can withdraw from something nearly three years after it’s all over.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    There’ll be several (maybe even infinite) new starts Granni. Furthermore, they’ll all be in the public eye. I think I’ll volunteer for the role of his image consultant. And please don’t say he’s grown up a bit. I’m still cherishing my vision of Swee’Pea from Popeye – so cute!

  • Brendan Heading

    While unionists have never seen the need to take down the flag in the first place

    Unionists saw the need to take down the flag on the Lisburn and Craigavon councils, citing legal reasons. Funny how that works.

  • Brendan Heading

    It isn’t a shift in attitude as Jamie still supports the ongoing protest at Twaddell and would not call for it to end.

    As I said above – any fool can turn their back on protests that have only 12 people turning up. The UVF-backed protests up at Twaddell are a different matter, and Jamie wouldn’t dare cross them.

  • Robin Keogh

    He might have to be careful about what he says and where he says. If it saves his life I am not going to goad him into putting himself in dangers way. His post shows at least a maturity in the right direction. I think this should be welcomed.

  • Brendan Heading

    Several of my friends were forced to leave their homes because of the protests that Jamie latterly supported and acted as a spokesperson for. So no, I’m not ready to assume that this about-turn is some kind of epiphany. If Jamie doesn’t have the courage to stand up to paramilitaries then he shouldn’t be casting himself as some kind of leadership figure.

  • aquifer

    “the very real injustices being inflicted upon our community”

    The removal of injustices from the ‘other’ community may feel like a loss in relative terms, but what are these injustices that are being inflicted? We should hear more, this is the UK after all. Extortion by protestant paramilitaries and the jobs it loses is very likely to be unjust, as nobody has deserved it.

  • Sharpie

    How can “people” (commentators, politicians, community leaders etc.) continue to get hung up on who has lost from the Peace Process? Our little statelet is a backwater, a puddle that we are all swimming in and compared to just about anywhere else we are a public works based basket case.

    There is zero gain by winning the argument about who is the better, more deserving victim. If both sides of the community don’t work together then neither can thrive. For unionists and loyalists to have a prosperous and better quality of life, Catholics and Republicans have to as well, and duh, it means they have to do it together because neither has the resources nor the wit to do it on their own.

    No one in any position of civic leadership, where ever it is based, should shout about how poor they are. You are part of the problem.

    Our futures and successes are entwined, to the extent that our little cultural differences that we carved out of 400 odd years of nastiness, are invisible to anyone outside of here, and especially to the globalised marketplace that we live in.

    Surely everyone knows this deep down. Don’t they? Please say yes. Anyone?

  • Greenflag 2

    You are an oul softie GT but you are probably right 😉

  • Alan N/Ards

    He’s probably talking about the Tricolour draped youths who burn the Union flag in Belfast city centre on St. Patrick’s day. To be honest, my family and I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing among them and until it’s knocked on the head, we will be nowhere near it. I realise that it’s hard to keep the morons and bigots away but they are spoiling what should be a wonderful cross community event. They need to understand that not all Irish people are nationalist and republican. BTW, we don’t go to twelfth parades either as their mirror image is on display at this event.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Yes 🙂

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    As much as I love criticising the fella it’s a welcome step.
    How much of it is sincere or tactical or whatever I can’t gauge but it’s better than standing on the sidelines just shouting ‘no!’ at everything and calling everyone a Lundy (which is the beginner’s guide to political unionism).

  • Zig70

    Burning the union flag is not acceptable and your input is grounded but Jamie’s is just rhetoric. Meaningless and dangerous.

  • monkeybone

    Right…anyone threatening the Fry is in fkn trouble here right! Protest outside the Windmill Restaurant (Jumbo Fry providers) marching on City Hall, after a fry of course coz you cant march on an empty stomach!

  • monkeybone

    Get em to pay for policing ion the day of their marches and protests. Up the Fry!

  • monkeybone

    IT’ll always be the minority that drags us back and holds us down. Up the FRY!

  • monkeybone

    METHINKS jAMIE IS PAVING A WEE POLITICAL CAREER HERE.

  • monkeybone

    Lol DUP /Sinn Fein ‘Axis’ – Lol what era are you from Lah?

  • Croiteir

    The flag protest was an outburst full of emotion, but that was its problem, no one can maintain rage for long. That is why once it had failed to win any concession initially it was beaten. The dull dogs sitting with sullen indignation are usually the ones who triumph. That emotion is sustainable.
    The problem is also it exposed the weakness of fleggers position, gone are the days of marching a mob up the falls to take a triciolour out of a window. The fleggers were cruely exploited by those who knew better. They were used and abused, not by nationalists, but by unionists who promised them a graduated response but really just wanted the voting fodder to return to the sink estates were they belong.
    If the fleggers want to change things then its the dull daily grind of FOI requests and photo ops, DLA forms, dog dirt and passports.
    Unionists fury is no longer a policy maker, it may be a good day out for a bit of craic, but no oe really takes it seriously any more. It is just the same as a fifty year old marching for Ulster on the twelfth, we know his heart is in it but that is encased in a body that can only wrestle a pint – no threat there.

  • Neil

    This is what Ruth and other political opponents are up against.

    Ruth (and Jamie) are going to be up against their own hypocrisy. Attempting to moderate their positions now (which is supposedly because of serious new analysis, and not because Ruth’s aiming to get elected in south Belfast) after numerous young people have had their futures ruined by the fleg protests does not appear to be going down too well in some quarters. The caller to radio Ulster who said if Jamie was the best Protestant people could hope for he might as well change his religion, and whose son had been sent to prison for his involvement in the protests expressed himself well.

    Ruth’s statement that it was wrong to burn ‘tricklers’ in any circumstances during her ‘St Patrick was the first Protestant on Earth’ sketch is another example, of course many Nationalists remember Ruth saying on a previous radio interview that it was fine because Nationalists burn their own ‘tricklers’ on a regular basis. Ruth seemed to be suggesting that it would be wrong to even burn taig flegs on bonfires! Ruth and Jamie’s main challenge is going to be Ruth and Jamie’s own statements prior to this week, contradicting themselves every step of the way.

  • Brendan Heading

    Don’t forget this.

    I think this is all Bryson’s idea, not Ruth’s.

    I think there is probably a bit of actual strategic thinking going on. It’s rather amateur, but it’s there. Bryson wants to hurt the DUP (and now, so does Ruth). I have a feeling that there are a lot of people on the ground who think that the flag protests were a bad idea. Bryson may be calculating that if he can somehow pin all of that on the DUP – knowing that the DUP will not step up to say that the strategy around the flag on Belfast was wrong – he may be able to benefit.

    The problem is that this belies a basic misunderstanding of how people think. For loyalists in particular, Bryson has now become the latest in a long line of lundies who marched them up the hill and then changed tune for tactical reasons to serve his own interests.

  • kalista63

    Was that union flag not taken off the loyalist protestors? The kids that burned the flag were in their early to mid teens, hardly representative of participants or of the festivity.

  • kalista63

    You reminded me of Mike Nesbitt’s cynical, temporary attempt to use Jamie. Sums up the manipulative relationship between unionists and loyalist nicely.

  • kalista63

    What do you think all that anti drugs campaign thing is about, in Bangor?

  • kalista63

    And I. In the curious position of being on Team Ruth.

  • kalista63

    As I said at the time, unionists weren’t outraged at designated days. We’ve seen unionist outrage and it looks like 250-500,000 people out o.n the street. The biggest protest applied for 6,000 but only got half that. Also, protests were timed to allow protestors to move from one protest to another to give the illusion of greater support.

  • John Collins

    Alan
    Some of us, and many who are both nationalist and republican, but not of the Sinn Fein variety, most definitely do not feel the need to burn the flag on any other country. This kind of behaviour is uncalled for.

  • Saint Etienne

    Alliance would need to attain a mandate in those councils where the state flag receives no recognition before their nationwide pledges for compromise gain weight.

  • Cavehill

    Not true at all – if a party has a national presence then it should be able to legislate for all of NI and all the councils on certain issues. For instance the Greens only had reps in 1 council in 2012/3 when the Local Govt bill went through the Assembly, but their MLA still got to vote on everything and suggest amendments etc.

  • Saint Etienne

    While they can technically propose whatever they wish, it’s clear virtually no one supports Alliance styled compromise in nationalist controlled councils.

  • True, but she’s a drop in. And it will depend if the two quotas that were sorta identified at Westminster, and being bet on, will take Pengelley into the second seat, which will also depend on how many votes Ruth takes and how many transfer. It is a PR election and anything can happen. South Belfast will be interesting.

  • Lord Coleraine

    OMG I’m going to every South Belfast hustings. It’ll be immense. Yes Pengelly was worse that useless at that Challenges debate. Alex Kane absolutely slaughtered her.

  • Lord Coleraine

    “protest must have an underlying strategy, a method of converting the energy of protest into political action and then ultimately turning that activism into democratic gains.”

    The fleggers didn’t have any of these things. What planet is this guy on?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Get this Drop In Crap out of your head ! She is sweeping through the statutory community group network system of South Belfast like a whirlwind and they love her and the cameras and media that she has brought ! Forget about 2nd Seat nonsense also ! She is running as the Number 1 DUP Horse in this constituency with a core vote of 8.5K. It is the second DUP candidate who needs to be worried as I expect that 8.5K vote going down to 6K with Pengelley taking 4K fpv and the second DUP taking 2K (who will be biting the dust) !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Dissenter this is my fpv prediction for South Belfast.
    SF – 5K, SDLP(1) – 5K, SDLP(2) – 3K, Alliance(1) – 4K, Alliance(2) – 2.5K, DUP(1) – 4K, DUP(2) – 2K, UUP – 4K, UKIP – 2K, PUP – 1K, TUV – 0.5K, Ruthie Girl – 1.5K, Greens – 3K Don’t be surprised if noone hits the quota ! It’s going down to transfers !