Working class sectarian living is not caused by middle class bigotry, but a pervasive willingness to turn a blind eye

Newton Emerson has two good columns out today. I’ll start with the one in the Irish Times in which he takes Danny Kennedy to task for the old PUP nostrum of middle-class bigotry being harder to tackle than that of the working class.

Importantly, he notes:

From adolescent rioting through to active paramilitary membership, everything generally considered ‘most problematic’ about sectarianism is correlated directly with deprivation, and hence at least with perceptions of class.

So how, he asks, does this middle-class bigotry take responsibility for the dastardly actions largely to confined to the other end of NI’s relatively limited social scale:

Lurking behind that belief is the assumption that middle-class bigotry causes working-class bigotry. Frankly, this is also sometimes the hope. It would suit everyone from the political centre to the far left to identify a mechanism whereby sectarianism was conveyed from parlour to peace line, making blameless victims of its most awkwardly obvious protagonists.

That makes the failure to find such a mechanism all the more glaring. How does a hostile remark at the golf club become a brick through someone’s window in the less salubrious end of town? It is not good enough to say it sets the tone. How does the thrower of the brick detect the tone?

Good question.

Further inquiry might look at the lack of signal leadership (generally from members of the middle class) has allowed sectarianism to fester, unregarded out of convenience or embarrassment, so long as it keeps to areas like north, inner east and west Belfast.

Within wider society, the middle classes have generally detached themselves, drifted off to the suburbs, and certainly in the early peace process era made the alienation of working class Protestants more visible and more frightening.

The decline of loyalism into gangsterism, despite the efforts of some of its political representatives (not to mention considerable amounts of well-intentioned government funding), has been a shaming experience.

In 2003, Slugger published its one and only major study The Long Peace: The future of Unionism in Northern Ireland. In it, we referenced Robert Putnam’s landmark study of regional government in Italy, who…

…asked why some regions have become legislative pioneers, able to drive renewal and build support among voters, while others are incompetent, corrupt and despised by the people they should serve.

Successful regional government has emerged in regions that display the civic values of ‘co-operation, trust, reciprocity, civic engagement and social well-being.’

Regional government has failed where uncivic values predominate: ‘defection, distrust, shirking, exploitation, isolation, disorder, and stagnation.’

That, at the very least, requires a rediscovery what remains valuable about the middle ground.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • terence patrick hewett

    I know it’s a cheap shot: but the Reagean joke:

    “what is wrong with an actor as a Presiident when we have had a clown for the last five years”

    Seems to spring to mind.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The working class,
    Can kiss my arse,
    I’ve got the foreman’s
    Job at last,

    And that is why I left the UK.

    And that is why I came back.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The Great Game commences: Ireland is bringing their ball back on to the field.

  • billypilgrim1


  • terence patrick hewett

    You destroyed us so we will destroy you: we oldies are very, very dangerous people:

    Remember the ethnic cleansing of Southall’s families: it evinces absolutely no sympathy at all; the 60,000-odd people who were driven from their homes. It was a cultural destruction, more complete than the Blitz, more complete than the bombing of Dresden; more complete than the nuking of Hiroshima. In those cities their shattered cultures at least arose from the ashes; Southall’s never will this side of Armageddon; so vindictive, so contemptuous and so petty. I have worked in almost 20 different countries and the quickest way I know to get dead is to interfere in native politics: I never have, that is why I am still alive and Blair Peach is dead: do not complain, that is the risk he took.

    Before the destruction of the 1950’s began and the reduction to the vice ridden Bidonville it is today, Southall had a proud civic culture and history. They suffered grievously during WW2 as the two links below amply demonstrate: and their reward for bravery was cultural annihilation.

    A Four-year-old’s Memory of Mother’s Death

    Under Attack: Living with the Bombs

    It was as if society regarded Southall’s working classes to be of a lower order of humanity that was unable to experience the emotion and loss of their community; a brute order with a debased culture of no value. The enormity of what the liberal elites did to Southall and elsewhere, in the name of social engineering is now beginning to sink in. We get calls to fix our broken society by the very people who broke it in the first place. Like post Apartheid South Africa, we want a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the enforcers are encouraged to admit that everything they have implemented in the name of social engineering in the last fifty years has been a giant, tragic, cruel, wicked and traumatic social experiment inspired by some very base motives. Those who do not come from those smashed communities do not even begin to understand the depth of the loss, the contempt and the anger. People justly feel betrayed and marginalised by the very organizations that should have protected them.

    But it is the re-writing of history that is so vile: as John le Carre so memorably asserted “all over the world beastly people are making our time into nothing.”

    So just remember, if it wasn’t for the bravery and the sacrifice of the poor disembowelled people of Southall you wouldn’t have a country to live in: for truly they gave their tomorrow for your today.

  • billypilgrim1

    Sorry, I’m still none the wiser.

    Again: huh?

  • terence patrick hewett

    When it happens to you you will.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Never took to old Max (“heavily bowdlerised lyrics”), but a big fan of Lionel Bart and Joan Littlewood, whom I met through my much missed friend Victor Spinetti. Their 1959 Stratford East production was legendary but the recent revival was a lotta fun too, ……

  • terence patrick hewett

    And of course there was Bill Sykes:

  • johnny lately

    Great performance from Bullseye though.

  • Teddybear

    It’s not just working class people who are to blame for egregious violence, it’s also the peasantry too. There is a lot of inverted snobbery going on. No one from big houses in Malone three petrol bombs or marched into Stranmills burning out entire streets like the loyalist mob/ terrorists did to Bombay St

    Working classes are too territorial and quick to anger and lack the emotional maturity and reserve that middle classes have

  • Lex.Butler

    Bombay Street was in 1969. Glad you keep up with events. Did you hear about the Titanic?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could people make up their minds please?

    One moment the Protestant middle class are the chief ‘abandoners’ of the Protestant ‘working’ class then the next minute they’re the supreme puppet masters of fleggers.

    Surely it’s a question of the binary nature of modern unionism/British nationalism?
    e.g. “do you support the ‘taking down of the fleg?! yes? Traitor!! No?! Good man!!!”
    I recall from my younger days how the academic merit of a local Protestant was valued against his/her beliefs in a fashion similar to general Melchett’s opinion of spies and counter spies:

    If said academic/professional said something favourable to Orangeism then they were “a wile smart man hiy!” but if they said something ‘Lundyesque’ then they were ‘for ‘f**k’ all!!!”

    So a man on a North Down golf course might say something brutish that might somehow find its way down the unionist food chain to a YCV brick-thrower but the reality is that the 10 nice things that were said WON’T find their way down the food chain and influence those needing influenced but the utterers of said unspeakableness will nonetheless find themselves bearing a social cross.

    British nationalists like to portray themselves as victims but really they smother all attempts at decency, the Rev Bingham being the ultimate example, that was the day the Orange Order died…

  • Kevin Breslin

    Definitely agree with the point there.

    However, I’ve made the point that West Belfast has as many integrated schools as North Down with similar near one-community splits, and North Belfast and South Belfast have roughly equal numbers too.

    So by the law of averages it’s just as likely a North Down Alliance or Green voter may have their child in an integrated school as a Sinn Féiner in West Belfast does.

    Yet there is a classist assumption that the anti-social behaviour that occurs in working class areas is sectarian and middle class golf course sectarianism is harmless.

    But the highest crime rates and highest anti-social crime rates aren’t in the Shankill area, the Falls, the Markets or the Village … They’re where you would expect them to be in a “normal” region … right in the City Centre of Belfast… The most mixed cosmopolitan place in NI so you would think.

    And then What about middle class sectarianism and social mobility?

    What about middle class Catholics who wouldn’t think about working or investing in a working class Protestant area or vice versa?

    I’m middle class, I grew up being told to avoid certain roads because I may be attacked by members of the other community… couldn’t that sort of reasoning open a child to having prejudices of their neighbours if they don’t get shared space with them?

    There’s a lot of rubbish about a “alienated working class Protestant”, I really don’t think working class Protestants are in anyway more or less ghettoised than Catholic equivalents, or indeed Catholics and Protestants in mixed working class areas from mixed suburban ones.

    The term “alienated working class” almost creates almost a stupid generalisation of people who wouldn’t even visit a hospital due to the risk of interacting with middle classes, when perhaps the prejudice is the exact opposite. I somehow doubt working class Protestants live in an alienated place with no middle class people nearby, even if there isn’t a Catholic for ten or twenty miles. At the very worst it’s not alienation, it’s marginalisation.

    Dido vice versa.

    There are no alienated groups or communities, it’s almost a contradiction to use such a term, there are just alienated individuals who don’t feel they fit in due to any number of complex issues.

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: However, I’ve made the point that West Belfast has as many integrated schools as North Down with similar near one-community splits, and North Belfast and South Belfast have roughly equal numbers too.
    That’s maths; not politics.
    The number of integrated schools in an area is set by the number of minority parents who will send their children to them. I doubt that there is a shortage of Catholic parents in West Belfast who would send their children, nor a shortage of Prod parents in North Down.
    In fact, I’m sure of it. One of the two Maintained primary schools in Bangor is half full of Prods dodging two local sink schools; and the maintained secondary in Ballyholme (nice area) is almost in the same position.

  • Declan Doyle

    Newton is trying to release middle class Unionism from their share of responsibility when it comes to Sectarianism The Unionist middle class business owners, managerial class, church members, government employees and indeed the political establishment; have at various times and on different levels treated others in such a dehumaising and degrading way; is it any wonder their battling under class allow themselves the right to manifest sectarianism so violently. But it is all violent, just different types of violence.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Indeed it is maths, I completely agree… I just think I agree with Danny that it’s easier to highlight a single community working class area as segregational or sectarian than a single community middle class area.

  • aquifer

    The nationalist middling classes of both flags occasionally need some brutish muscle to secure their slice of the economic pie, however small it now is. The publicans, estate agents, lawyers, churchmen, teachers need some bodies on the street, and not their precious children busy with piano lessons or overseas. A militia in reserve, with no employment related skills required. Just feed them a little with stories of glory, lost cultures, or of the benefits of state socialism.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “As long as he needs me….”

  • billypilgrim1

    Short Strand still comes under attack so regularly that it’s barely even reported any more.

  • billypilgrim1

    The mob has always been a crucial part of the loyalist / unionist coalition. A hypocritical deniability is usually maintained, but the unionist middle class has traditionally been quick to mitigate the excesses of its own underclass, and when they deem it necessary, let them off the leash.

    Back in 1795, a Col. Blacker didn’t trust the constabulary in Portadown and Loughgall to keep the local Papes in check, so he called upon the notorious Bleary Boys. He described them as: ‘stout Protestants of a character somewhat lawless, but in the crucial matter of loyalty they cannot be outdone.’

    Unionism still has its Col. Blackers and its Bleary Boys today.

    I well remember during the Drumcree years seeing prosperous businessmen, churchmen and elected representatives, men of mature years, out blocking roads, attacking police officers or giving material support to those who were doing so. And even in recent weeks we’ve seen it, in the form of the DUP shovelling money to the UDA in areas that are still awash with guns. (If one didn’t know better, one might almost suspect the DUP want loyalism to remain armed…)

    The nice middle-class unionists don’t seem to be applying much pressure to the DUP or UUP to do anything about this. It’s almost as if they too are content with it.

    There’s a reason why the Fleggers cried so plaintively about being ‘abandoned’ by their (let’s be honest) officer class. They have an expectation that they’ll receive backing from those quarters. It’s a reasonable expectation. They always have before.

    Newton’s right that sectarianism has its most obvious, its most violent and its most immediately destructive expression among the loyalist underclass, but he’s wrong to suggest this is unrelated to middle class unionism.

    Bonfires, fleggerism, sectarian violence – these are pustules on the body politic, but they’re symptoms of a virus that is present in the body as a whole. The virus is unionism itself.

  • Skibo

    I have an issue with people in NI who call themselves middle class.
    Unless you don’t have to take your coat off at work, you are working class.
    Those who work yet consider themselves as middle class are just working class with airs and graces or as my Granny would have put it “fur coat and no knickers”

  • grumpy oul man

    In general i agree whole heartily with your post but (theirs always a but) Unionism is not the virus, it is possible to be a unionist and to deplore the antics of the DUP/UUP and their shock troops the loyalists.
    The Alliance party is full of them and has suffered for it, If I lived in a loyalist area, stepping up to the plate to condemn the terror groups would see me (if im lucky) on the boat to England.
    Going to most of my political representatives would be a waste of time.
    Look at the abuse laid onto any unionist on this site who dares break ranks and suggests some sort of compromise or points out for example the bloody stupidity of bonfires.

    So perhaps it is not surprising that few among the unionist community will make a public stand, that plate can be a very uncomfortable place.

  • mickfealty

    It’s not really an exclusively loyalist problem, and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. How many dead people show up in West with no real explanation for how they got killed, or who by?

    When we think of sectarianism, we ought to think of it in terms how power is distributed in local communities, and consider that word list of Putnam’s: ‘defection, distrust, shirking, exploitation, isolation, disorder, and stagnation.’

  • billypilgrim1

    I have the greatest sympathy for the people you’re talking about. You’ve done a great job here in describing just what a prison unionism actually is for unionists – built and policed by unionists themselves.

    But I think you are failing to follow your own point to its natural conclusion.

    It may indeed be “possible to be a unionist and to deplore the antics of the DUP/UUP and their shock troops the loyalists” – and that’s nice. Your deploring is to your credit. Well done. But as you go on to point out, it’s not possible to be a unionist and effectively oppose these things. It’s scarcely even really possible to openly express opposition without being destroyed for it.

    If unionists must suffer as a result of their unionism, then it’s unionism and the union itself to which our attentions must turn.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And nationalism is less in the grip of sectarian extremists? Catch yourself on.

  • grumpy oul man

    Please point out the annual hatefest that nationlisn has which is in anyway comparable o the 12th.
    Yep nationlisn does have secterian issues but unionisn is a product of secternisn. From the founding of its little state to its election of the DUP as its biggest party it has been secterian to it core.
    You yourself have often acted as a apoligist for its worse excess’ s.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The Sinn Fein vote …

  • AntrimGael

    Recent elections show that there is NO such thing as moderate Unionism and bigotry, sectarianism and religious fundamentalism are as alive and kicking in the ‘Audrey and Ronald’ areas of Norn Iron as they are in the ‘Lily and Billy’ places. The intolerant, xenophobic moon-howlers of DUP speak for Unionism and that community agrees with this so Newton’s denials are nonsense. Maybe it’s just Newton’s guilt at this horrible reality kicking in when faced with the truth?

  • AntrimGael

    It doesn’t suit the Unionist and media narrative. The Short Strand is attacked nearly every week, a 5% Catholic area surrounded by a 95% Protestant district, and it is reported as tit for tat; it is disgusting. The brave Short Strand people should be awarded a medal for their living conditions.

  • billypilgrim1


    Nationalism isn’t in the grip of extremists at all.

    Unionism is a prison. Nationalism isn’t anything like it, really. When we see those people and their bonies, we don’t even feel threatened or angered any more. Irritated, yes, but mainly we feel sad, and we feel sorry for for those poor, lost souls.

  • grumpy oul man

    I think we can match the SF vote with the DUP/UUP/TUV vote (by the way votes are not annual but accuracy never was your strong point.
    So again where is the nationlist annual hatefest .
    Sorry mate but the bonfires and the. Terror linked marching bands are something that unionisn not only does but is central to its charactar.

  • Reader

    Declan Doyle: The Unionist middle class business owners, managerial class, church members, government employees and indeed the political establishment; have at various times and on different levels treated others in such a dehumaising and degrading way; is it any wonder their battling under class allow themselves the right to manifest sectarianism so violently
    Well, don’t keep us in suspense – tell us about a few recent cases of this middle class violence.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The support for SF is constant

  • grumpy oul man

    As is the support for the DUP/UUP/ TUV. Your point please!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    SF thinks the terrorism was OK.

  • billypilgrim1

    We’ve had SF at the top of a devolved executive for almost a decade now. What is it in their performance in the Assembly and the Executive that makes you declare them ‘extremist’?

    If anything, SF are coming under pressure from their own voters for being far too “moderate”.

    I’m asking about SF, the modern political party, not the SF of decades ago. In what way are they “extremist” today?

  • billypilgrim1

    Sorry, while you were typing this I was asking you a related question above.

    So SF’s take on historical events is different to yours. Why does this make SF in 2016 an “extremist” party?

  • grumpy oul man

    As do the unionist parties, they have no problem givung power and well paid jobs to active terrorists in co.down or leaping to the defence of bands with terrorist links even supplying them with instruments.
    It is amazing hows all these things always seem to slip your mind when your shouting themmuns.

  • Declan Doyle

    Ah, as i expected. The moemory of republican defensive violence is alive and well whilst the scourge of Unionist economic and social violence in denied or conveniently forgotten.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    How do the unionist parties fund the activities you mention? I had understood that the monies used to support the communities’ sector was government funding from Stormont.

    Am I wrong in this?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The main unionist parties do not even defend Troubles terrorism. Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA that carried out most of the Troubles. I’m really struggling to see the equivalence.

  • grumpy oul man

    the community sector it supports is normally the pockets of the terrorists having control of the money.

  • grumpy oul man

    Let me help you with your struggle, let us look at the relationship between the main unionist parties and the unionist terror groups, Historically from Sunningdale, the anti AIA agreement protests,Drumcree,twaddle the Fleggers the main unionist parties have stood shoulder to shoulder with terror groups, the third force and ulster resistance both terror groups and formed by prominent members of the DUP, Clontribet and Peters little day out with the UVF does that help for a start, add onto to that the complete lack of condemnation of loyalist murders and bombings and the many other platforms and committees they have shared with active murder gangs in the past all this adds up not only to approval but actually working with them.
    Now just lately we seen senior DUP/UUP/TUV working with the UVF and UDA at Twaddle and just last month the DUP handed a senior loyalist and leader of a still active loyalist gang a £36,000 a year job (imagine the outcry among unionists such as yourself if a senior and still active dissident republican got such a deal), could I also remind you of the attendance of Unionist politicians at UDA/UVF parades or unveiling of memorials to dead terrorists!
    does that help you in your struggle to understand!

  • Cináed mac Artri

    My apologies. I don’t understand what your post is actually saying.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes your right it is answering a question you didnt ask. Which was where the money goes.
    In answer to you question the unionist parties in thier positon in goverment get to decide where goverment mony goes.
    They decided (as they have done in the past) to channel that money through loyalist controlled groups.
    Does that help.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t think it helps anyone.

  • grumpy oul man

    Well of course if you wish to ignore facts and history then not a lot would help you.
    But point out where i am wrong please.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    It helps to clarify things a little. Thank you.

    However I’ve looked at the Executive website and the funding in question, the Social Improvement Fund (SIF), is controlled and allocated by the Executive Office. The Office is a SF/DUP responsibility.

    Given your obvious dislike of unionists do you have any clearer take or understanding on why SF should be colluding with the DUP on, as you allege, directly funding terrorists?

  • grumpy oul man

    Sf is a disapoinment.
    Apart from that this was a innitive by the DUP and regardless of SF sorry role in makes a lie of the Dups(and unionisns) claims to be opposed to terrorists.
    I am sure we all knows SF positon i merely point out that no matter how much the DUP denys it they are no different to SF in thier relationship to terrorists.
    Consider the uproar from unionists over spads with a past recieving a goverment wage and the lack of uproar about loyalists recieving a goverment wage.
    At least SF with all thier failings anr consistant on this.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They still think the IRA terror campaign was justified. They tell a story of the Troubles which cynically omits their own leading role; they won’t do the right thing and pay compensation to IRA victims; they lie about what they did. But seriously don’t get me started again on SF, they are poison. The events of the Troubles are in the past but people’s experience of them is not in the past, it is going to be part of life for decades to come.
    Their big problem today apart from that is they habitually ethnically scapegoat – anything wrong with society will be traced back to a Brit and they discuss us in a dehumanised way, taking negatives aspects of some unionists and suggesting these things are definitive of us.

  • billypilgrim1

    So basically, you don’t like them. And your take on historical events differs from theirs.

    The sentence about ‘ethnically scapegoating’ would need at least some detail in order to be intelligible.

    This uncharacteristically emotional post suggests to me that you arrived at a settled opinion about SF some decades ago, are very attached to that opinion, and you really, really resent the idea that changed circumstances might ever require you to rethink it.

    I respectfully submit that your charge of extremism against present-day SF is unproven.