Creating space for the working class prod experience

Lindy McDowell lays out several misconceptions of the reality of Working class protestant life – especially amongst people outside the boundaries of Northern Ireland. The external image for some seems tied umbilically to the old Ulster aristocratic families, which is entirely at odds with her own experience of growing up in NI. For the large part, she believes, that voice is simply squeezed out of the larger public spaces.

By Lindy McDowell

Just because I’m a Prod doesn’t mean I’m Bertie Wooster. The thought occurred to me again recently when I read about how the cartoon programme, The Simpsons, was planning a storyline about a leading character’s conversion to Catholicism. In the show, we were told, Catholic heaven would be depicted as a sort of Irish Riverdancing hooley. Protestant heaven would be genteel types playing polo and croquet on the lawn.

Now I’m not for one second suggesting that the creators of the cartoon took their inspiration from Northern Ireland. The Simpsons’ has much bigger things to concern itself with than the trivial matter of religious stereotyping in the occupied six counties.

All the same, for very many of us who grew up in this part of the world there is in that concise portrait of parallel paradises – on the one hand the fun-filled, laid-back, culturally rich Catholic option, and on the other the upper-class, anally retentive, staid, Protestant version – a sharp resonance.

For, where Northern Ireland is concerned, it’s a common perception that this is precisely how the community is divided … between the liberal, popular, up-for-a-bit-of-crack Catholics. And the rest of us. The elitist, Anglicised dour Ulster Prods. What surprises me is not just how widespread this perception is, but how very rarely it is challenged.

True, someone like Sir Basil Brooke might well have fitted the upper crust almost-Anglo template. But there are hundreds of thousands of us Ulster Prods from a working class background who most certainly would not. Yet, in the world out there, that’s often how we’re viewed.

Catholics have culture and crack and victimhood status. Protestants have all the advantages, all the bigotry, small minds, dour personalities – and moustaches.

My first taste of this came many years ago during a visit to America when I was accosted by an Irish American (fourth generation, had never been in the Oul Sod himself) who told me in no uncertain terms that the best job a Catholic in Northern Ireland could ever get was as a bin man. That there was a law against Catholics owning property. That they weren’t allowed to vote. And that I Was Personally Responsible For All This.

I did try to remonstrate. To point out that actually I knew many, many Catholics whose families were a damn sight wealthier than mine. That the One Man, One Vote legislation gave my parents too a vote for the first time. That for a so-called privileged community, the people I grew up with were every bit as poor as our Catholic neighbours. And if my community was so hot on oppressing the other lot, how come it wasn’t any better off?

Then, as now though, nobody was listening.

This week has seen the release of more statistics to fuel the “equality” debate I won’t bore you with the details of these latest unemployment figures. If you want to get a flavour of the arguments and counter-arguments they’ve provoked I suggest you take a look at the always excellent Slugger O’Toole weblog (www.sluggerotoole.com). The fact is that while they have been seized on by some to project yet again a picture of oppression, discrimination, Alabama and the back of the bus, there is a reality staring those of us who actually live here, in the face.

And that is, despite what the propaganda might suggest, no one community in Northern Ireland has a monopoly on inequality.
“Privileged” Prods are just as likely to live in deprivation. And the very sizeable Protestant working-class faces, and has faced over the years, exactly the same concerns, difficulties and disadvantages as the Catholic working class.

But there is, of course, that vital difference I’ve alluded to. In Northern Ireland only nationalists are allowed to claim second class citizenship. The fact is that there will be many, many Protestant people reading these words who will like me have grown up in a working-class home, without any “ascendancy” advantages whatsoever.
How come then that the stereotype of the privileged Prod has been allowed to survive for so long?

More interestingly, how come the views of those people who feel they have been unfairly portrayed as such are so rarely articulated – in the media, in the arts and in literature? I’ve mentioned before how it is almost impossible to cite even one sympathetic portrayal of a working-class Ulster Prod in film or on stage. (No, Jim McDonald in Coronation Street doesn’t count.)

Equally it wouldn’t take the fingers of many hands to count the number of books written about the Northern Irish working class Protestant experience. And that’s something the media rarely focus on either. How Protestants think and feel, how they see themselves and the others with whom they share this island gets strangely little coverage.

Why is this? Isn’t it time we opened this debate?

Liam Kennedy coined the cutting acronym MOPE to describe the mindset of that section of the republican community that revels in the image of victimhood. It stands for Most Oppressed People Ever. Could something similar be applied to the Protestant working class?

Most Suppressed People Ever?

First published in the on 4th June 2005

  • hagrid

    Lindy may be seeking to correct an ‘outside’ view of Northern Ireland Protestants, but in my view she is being very selective about the kind of view she wishes to correct.

    She fails to concede that a far more common (and in my opinion, equally unfair) view of Northern Protestants is that they represent an anachronistic and militant community, resistant to modernity and cultural change. Whilst this view is easily reinforced by incidents of confrontation and violence seen during the summer months, it disregards whole sections of the ‘Protestant community’ who have put ‘orangeism’ behind them and have both feet in the 21st Century.

  • fair_deal

    “it disregards whole sections of the ‘Protestant community’ who have put ‘orangeism’ behind them and have both feet in the 21st Century.”

    She was talking about working class experience not middle class. Yes the guaranteed non-sectarian Protestant middle classes – does it not strike you as strange that these ’21st century Orangeism behind them’Prods by and large live in some of the most protestant parts of Northern Ireland?

  • hagrid

    most protestant parts of Northern Ireland?

    If you wish to discount those ‘working-class Prods’ who are active in Trades-Union and other anti-sectarian campaigns, or those who define themselves as being simply ‘non-political’, then yes, you can choose to omit ‘most protestant’ East Belfast from your argument.

  • fair_deal

    Orangeism is not sectraianism neither are all Orangemen and women sectarian and such sweeping claims are exactly the type of generalised / blanket thinking that allows sectarianism to florish.

    I am active in a trade union and a member of the Loyal Orders – so am I sectarian and non-sectarian?

  • hagrid

    I don’t doubt that you view yourself to be non-sectarian. I know a great deal of ‘Brethren’ who share your view, however the view fron ‘outside’ (and this is where this discussion began) is that you are sectarian. I would also suggest that this view is probably not exclusive to those ‘outside’ Northern Ireland.

  • Snapper

    Fair_Deal,

    With the greatest respect – how can you claim to be non-sectarian when you belong to an organisation whose apparent foundation is anti-catholic?

    Please don’t take my point as a cheap shot. I am genuinely interested in this issue and I am very willing to listen and understand.

  • mick hall

    There is little doubt the Protestant working classes have had a bum-steer, but in many ways the fault lays with them. There outlook and attitudes are much like the rump of the English working class in the first half of the last century, who continued to support the Tories whilst the majority of their class had gone over to socialism and the Labour Party. It is no accident that this section of workers were prevalent in cities like Liverpool, which had a large Irish protestant community. Despite being a solidly working class city Liverpool, right up until 1945 returned Tory and unionist MPs to Westminster. For much of the Protestant working classes it is as if the political/social changes of the 20th century hardly touched them.[leaving aside partition of course]

    The tragedy of the Protestant working classes, unlike their counterparts else where, is they never took their political destiny into their own hands and in the process have been shafted time and again by the ascendancy and the worst of the Protestant middle classes, who now make up a section of the leadership of the UUP and DUP.

    Whereas the Nationalist working classes over the last 30 years have gradually given their political allegiance to SF and in the process have gained enormous confidence, (just look at the McCartneys) the Protestant working classes cling to the carcass of conservative unionist parties, which can never have their best interest at heart for their allegiance is elsewhere.

    The contempt Unionism has shown its working class is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact it trumpeted its belief in law and order whilst allowing [and occasionally working with the likes of Billy Wright,] loyalist paramilitary to gain a foothold in working class communities, until today, overseas the image most have of the Protestant working class is the scowling, cruel face of the likes of a Johnny Adair; and not the men and women who built those magnificent ships or fought so bravely in the trenches..

  • redpaul

    Spot on Mick. My great aunt once told Johnny McQuade “the Unionists have made a pigs arse of here!” Pity there weren’t/aren’t more like her.

  • fair_deal

    Snapper

    ” I am genuinely interested in this issue and I am very willing to listen and understand”

    I will treat your query with the respect the question was offered.

    Identity contains negative and positive elements it is both a statement of what you are and what you aren’t. To present identity as solely a negative is a mistake. I do not consider myself to be sectarian as I do not believe consider any of the range of identities I hold to be superior to any others they are simply those I hold. I want to express those and others can express theirs – the minimum standard is that I am tolerated in my expression and I give that tolerance in return and hopefully more than tolerance is shown. Orangeism has never told me I am better than others it has informed me of who I am and why I should take pride in that.

    I also offer the reason for my own participation in the Orange Order and I am making it as broad as possible to see if that can help with your understanding.

    1. Family – In my immediate family Orangeism has always been a feature of life. In my father’s family line, membership has been held by every son for at least six generations. Membership was also common in my mother’s family so it is well and truly a family tradition. When I have a son I hope he will want to continue the tradition.
    2. Social – In Orangeism I meet a broad cross-section of people I wouldn’t meet in my work and i like to meet as broad a section of people as i can. It also provides continuity during change, for example when I moved to Belfast and joined a local lodge that helped introduce me to the community I had moved to and become a part of it. (Although most in Orangeism wouldn’t recognise the term it is the broadest form of social capital that exists in the Protestant community – social capital that could be better utilised in my opinion)
    3. Culture – The pageantry, the symbolism, Orange song (althoiugh this has significantly declined) and music, the rituals etc interest me – they were designing to provide a continuity of message down generations. I find culture and meaning interesting and important.
    4. Religion – I believe the Protestant reformation was a seminal religious and socio-economic turning point for Europe. I believe the reforms it brought to the Christain religion were essential and remain so.
    5. Community – I believe there are turning points in history and that their importance to a community should be marked. From my reading of history, I believe the events of the Glorious Revolution were a turning point. It had a broader significance in the British Isles and across Europe but to me it also means we continued to exist and that is worthy of remembrance. I also have a personal commitment to improving my community (active in a number of community organisations) and Northern Ireland in general.
    6. Political – The Unionist community is a disparate group and an organisation that can bridge those gaps is needed. I think Orangeism has consistently provided that. (I know this will leads to howls from nationalists) but I have seen Orangeism act as more of a calming influence than a rabble rouser – (this is because it is a broad alliance thus it pushes people to a centre rather than one extreme as it seeks consensus).
    7. Positivity – I believe a strong sense of self is a positive and Orangeism has helped give me that. I know what I am, I can explain why I am those things, I believe myself to be no person’s better but I draw pride in my identity. I dislike anyone who believes they should ‘apologise’ for who they are.

    The problems Orangeism faces in its public dealings are as follows:
    1. An out-moded structure –
    Its decision-making is highly decentralised, this means a meeting has to be held to organise the meeting at which the decision would be taken so it is slow to respond. The desire to keep the broad alliance of Orangeism together often means they err on the side of saying nothing. This has characterised its performance in parades disputes.
    2. Identity and Unity –
    Identity has both negative and positive features – what you are not and what youe are. Considering the disparate nature of the protestant community it is easier to create a negative unity – we are agreed on what we oppose that what we are for. It
    3. Tradition and modernism –
    There is a mistaken belief that participate in a tradition or a organisation that acts as a holder of identity and tradition means you reject modern developments. Neither tradition nor modernism have all the answers as the Chinese would argue balance is the key.
    4. Developments – It is also changing and I would like to contribute to that process.

    Apologies for the length

  • Snapper

    Fair_Deal –

    You touch on a number of areas which I can agree with entirely – family, tradition, community etc. However please correct me if I am misinformed on the following; do you take an oath which states the following ? –

    “I do declare that I am not, nor ever was, a Roman-Catholic or Papist; that I was not, am not, or ever will be, a member of the society called “United Irishmen” , nor any other society or body of men, who are enemies to his Majesty, or the glorious constitution of these realms; and that I never took the oath to that or any other treasonable society.”

    If the above is right, can I assume that you disregard it pretty much in the same way that I as a Catholic do not endorse a number of it’s teachings. Again I must stress that I am not using this thread as a means of attacking you and yours – but as a means of getting to grips with an area of Northern Ireland life which has eluded me thus far.

    Incidently I got the above quote from http://www.orangeorder.co.uk. I presume it is not entirely up to date as it refers to “his Majesty”?

  • fair_deal

    Mickhall

    Thank you for the stock republican analysis of the Prod working classess aka why are these prods so stupid argument. Some flaws for you

    1. During the Stormont period the protestant working class endorsed various challenges to the UUP – various independent Unionists, the original PUP of 1938, socialists and the NILP. they were not so docile as you present. Any analysis of these groups show that the key to success was to challenge on the right on constitutional issues and on the left on social issues.
    2. The campaign of Home rule damaged the likes of William Walker’s attempt to create class politics As for the comparison with the Northern England working classes, they maybe would have endorsed the British Labour Party and socialism if the Labour Party had organised here and given them that choice (its forerunner was established in Belfast after all). Many didn’t seem to mind endorsing the NILP.
    3. What about Irish socialism’s decision to attach in 1916 with violent republicanism? Maybe that had an impact on their thinking.
    4. The Free state and Republic of Ireland were never workers paradises. Could it be the Prod working classes viewed it a choice of lesser evils? A conservative class that at least nominally held a comon identity with you or a conservatove class you had little in common with.
    5. The working classes could vote conservative but still get the benefits. Stormont implemented all of the Labour social reforms. So the working classes were voting against their self-interests does not so easily apply.

  • fair_deal

    Snapper

    1. To join the Orange Institution you do NOT take an oath.
    2. I am afraid there is a limit to the detail I can give you about the practices of the Orange insitution as I gave an obligation to keep certain matters private and to be honest *blushes* I can’t remember what I said at my initiation ceremony. It is an organisation for Protestants so there would be something around confirming that and I know there are procedures for admitting ex-Roman Catholics to the Order.

    The example you provides looks outdated to me.

  • fair_deal

    “disregard it pretty much in the same way that I as a Catholic do not endorse a number of it’s teachings”

    For some of the anachronistic stuff I would say that is fair comment. I always expect organisations that are holders and communicators of tradition to have them as they err on the side of caution before changing. It’s like the British Monarchy it has survived as it has known just when to change and by the right degree to remain relevant while retaining many elements that are anachronistic.

  • Snapper

    Fair_Deal,

    I appreciate your time and effort on this one. I’m afraid though that I will need more time and more threads like this one to come to a better understanding of the Orange Order.

  • fair_deal

    Snapper

    You’re welcome, a civil question deserves a civil answer. Also constructive stuff like this is what ultimately makes it worth wading through the general sniping on here (by the wya that is not a claim that i do not play my full role in the general sniping but a change is as good as a rest).

  • irishman

    More MOPEry from Lindy- poor w/c prods just can’t articulate themselves- like the oppressed victims in Glenbryn, forced to throw bombs and bottles of urine at school children.

    Change the record Lindy.

  • Snapper

    Fair_Deal,

    I agree, now back to the trenches!

    En Guarde! πŸ™‚

  • hagrid

    The Unionist community is a disparate group and an organisation that can bridge those gaps is needed. I think Orangeism has consistently provided that.

    fair_deal:

    How can Orangeism ‘bridge’ ‘disparate’ elements of the ‘Unionist Community’ when a section (albeit small in number) of that community are Catholic Unionists?

    How can Orangeism help the cause of the Working Class whilst maintaining a bridge from one section of that Class (Protestant workers) to Protestant entrepreneurs?

    Surely as a working-class Unionist, your future lies with a social-democratic (or socialist) multi-cultural Unionism, a Unionism that seeks and receives the votes of all working people, not just a Protestant sub-group.

  • fair_deal

    Hagrid

    “How can Orangeism ‘bridge’ ‘disparate’ elements of the ‘Unionist Community’ when a section (albeit small in number) of that community are Catholic Unionists?”

    It can bridge urban rural, class, political party and denominations alegiances/attachments. Not insignificant divisions to overcome.

    “Surely as a working-class Unionist, your future lies with a social-democratic (or socialist) multi-cultural Unionism, a Unionism that seeks and receives the votes of all working people, not just a Protestant sub-group.”

    1. I consider working class = socialist as lazy thinking (more of a Clintonite myself).
    2. Multi-culturalism means I can still have my culture.
    3. The more votes Unionism has the better and how it develops attracts those but the ‘ditch a, b or c’ and votes will come flowing to Unionism is again lazy thinking and the UUP have tried it to their cost. I know this is anecdotal but anyone I have met from a minority ethnic community and discussed politics has never raised the OO as the reason for not engaging with Unionism. They tend (sadly) to generally abstain from all politics for fear of involvement in the conflict (considering the level of racist incidents they suffer not wanting to give neandarthals another excuse is understandable).

    “How can Orangeism help the cause of the Working Class whilst maintaining a bridge from one section of that Class (Protestant workers) to Protestant entrepreneurs?”

    Orangeism can help the working classes in the folllowing ways:
    1. Protestantism has always valued education. The more organisations that communicate the value of education to the Prod working classes the better.
    2. In Prod working class areas paramilitaries are trying to develop into holders of identity. The Orange Order can provide an alternative to that for what many perceive as the faults of the OO the UVF and UDA are hardly a positive development.
    3. To instill Protestant entrepreneurs (any entrepreneurs for that matter) with a sense of community is a good thing. Is this not what many major businesses are trying to achieve with the development of ethical business?
    4. Social capital is a social good. Links across class are good for social cohesion and it can provide others with positive role models.

  • mick hall

    fair deal,

    Firstly let me say I found your defense of your culture fascinating , if not moving, thanks for giving us an insight into it. I have never, bar the odd individual thought working class people such as myself are stupid. [where ever they may live] How could I, im working class, my family is working class, as to are most of my friends and neighbours and above all else my heritage is working class, which is some thing I am immensely proud of, as my whole outlook on life and politics springs from it.

    I cannot agree with you over the Orange Order, however I have no wish to belittle your beliefs which are obviously strongly held and generational, so we will have to agree to differ. I feel your dismissal of Irish socialism is a little hard. Yes Connolly did join with armed republicanism, but he did so on the agreement that not a shot in 1916 should be fired in the north. I note you have failed to answer my criticism of Unionism’s treatment of the Protestant working classes during the recent period, especially the point I made about loyalist paramilitaries. In my opinion Unionism still has the reek of the big house about it, i.e. everyone has their place in the pecking order, hence its servile attitude to the monarchy and the wretched class system that goes with it. Deep down I feel you are aware in Ireland, political Unionism and socialism are opposites, hence the failure of Parties like the NILP; and this is why you oppose socialism, for to support socialism, even the most moderate version, you would be forced to choose. By and large political parties represent class interests, its a fact of life and unionism represents what is left of the ascendancy, the protestant middle classes and increasingly the lower middle classes, (DUP) whose interest is far from that of working class people, whether they be protestants or catholics. The UUP and DUP are, as has happened in the US, quite happy to see the [protestant] working classes splinter into the lumpen proletariat and the politically disillusioned, as they will no longer pose any threat to their interest, nor will they be able to defend themselves collectively through mass trade union’s, let alone form a political party that looks out for them.
    regards

  • vespasian

    MH

    I come from a very working class protestant background in the 50’s no running water no electricity as did many other people who dwelt in the countryside – if fact no eletric or televison until the late 60’s, because of it I became and remain an avid reader. However I do not want to waste my time looking back and crying over how disadvantaged my family and I were. We were happy we had food on the table and clothes on our backs and shoes on our feet. I took advantage of the free education offered, worked and have become reasonably well off.

    Am I any different from our Catholic neighbours, with whom out family had a close friendship- no! They had exactly the same things we had and had the same opportunities in education as I did.

    I feel no need to blame anyone for the upbringing I had and the social system in place at the time, it offered opportunity to everyone and I took it – education was revered on our family. Had I been minded not to work nor to look for opportunities then I might look for someone else to blame. I would be wrong, I would have needed to look inwardly and at my own failing not look for excuses for my own short comings.

    I do not believe that working class Catholics and Protestants in the 50’s had any more or less opportunity than each other, the outcomes however may not have been exactly the same.

    Maybe there is a cultural or religious difference that no one has considered. Is there a difference in emphasis, something different in the way that religion is taught in the Catholic and Protestant churches about life’s ethics, responsibilities and goals? I have not got the knowledge to answer such a question, maybe there are some here who could share their knowledge and opinions.

  • G2

    “With the greatest respect – how can you claim to be non-sectarian when you belong to an organisation whose apparent foundation is anti-catholic?”

    The Orange Order is anti – (Church doctrine) of Roman Catholism, not anti-Catholic. There is a difference between being against the teachings of a religious institution and being anti a Catholic citizen who attends that religious institution.

    The Orange is no different than the Church of Ireland who states in a number of their 39 articles of religion that members of their Church must not attend Catholic services because of differences in Church doctrine.

    Likewise Catholics (not only in Ireland but the world over) are forbidden by their clergy to attend holy communion service.in any Protestant Church Does this make Catholics anti Protestant or anti Protestantism?

  • Biffo

    Many Protestants may have had as hard a time as Catholics in the past but there is no doubt they also had certain advantages.

    Lindy McDowell’s parents, like a lot of other protestants were disenfranchised in NI politics by Ulster Unionist party for the simple reason that to include them would also mean including a larger proportion of non-unionist voting catholics.

    The Ulster Unionist Party, not being stupid, no doubt weighed the whole thing up and decided it was in their own best interest not to reform electoral policy here in line with the rest of the UK.

    Lindy McDowell goes on and on about how she was as poor as the catholics. It would be great if she could just for once admit that many prods had at least an advantage getting jobs with big public employers like the police, and promotions in the civil service.

  • cladycowboy

    They may not have had electricity or running water, but they never submitted to popery!
    Twas enough to warm their bones and clean their spirit πŸ™‚

  • fair_deal

    Mickhall

    Thanks for the reply. Sorry my comments are slow in coming but I was out this evening. I will try and address directly each of your points and if I missed any please point them out.

    On the stupid stuff I am afraid the ‘false consciousness’ line of republicans or socialists on the prod working classes really gets on my tits.

    On the issue of paramilitarism and Unionism the relationship has always been shifting and at times complex.
    1. Attempts at Containment
    In the early years the paramilitaries developed mass memberships so politicians got worried that they would become an alternative power base so chose flirtation to limit their influence and with the likes of the UWC open co-operation. However, post-UWC divergence showed Unionism did not want a lasting relationship.
    2. Caught on the hop
    From the late seventies the main loyalist paramilitaries were increasingly viewed with disdain (not much consolation for those they did murder during this period I grant you but nevertheless they were hardly on the most effective terrorist list) and political unionism became complacent that it would remain so. Therefore, the growth of paramiltarism in the late eighties and early nineties to some degree caught political Unionism by surprise plus the Nelson arrests backfired big time and led to a new more aggressive leadership especially in the UDA.
    3. Political powerlessness
    This is what you may find the hardest to accept but even if Unionist parties wanted to hamper the growth of paramilitaries they had no real means to prevent it. Post 1972 Unionism had no direct or full political power. Power over burying the dead and bins could not lead to an initiative to combat paramilitarism. (Ulster was controlled by civil servants, who may have by and large been symapthetic to maintaining the link with the UK, most had little time for political Unionism.)
    4. What does the word strategic mean?
    Also as a person who was a member of the UUP in the early 90’s I cannot stress enough how much a bollocks of an organisation the party was, it was having difficulty surviving and had a leadership who did not have a strategic thought in its body. So how Unionism could tackle any issue let alone paramilitarism barely raised its head.
    5. The Biggest Challenge
    Loyalist paramilitarism as it becomes more and more a corruptive force is the greatest challenge to the cohesion of the Unionist community. If devolution returns tackling it is the greatest task before Unionist ministers (before all ministers).

    “this is why you oppose socialism, for to support socialism, even the most moderate version, you would be forced to choose.”

    If the you is referring to Unionism I refer you to my earlier response that socialist reforms of the british system were implemented by the ‘Conservative’ unionists. The Prod working classes got the benefits of british socialism no matter what the political allegiance of their representatives in Westminster. British socialism managed to deliver more in its state than Irish socialism managed in the Republic of ireland therefore remaining in the UK could be viewed as the more socialist choice in terms of the ‘national’ question.

    If you were referring to myself I am afraid you are mistaken. I do not “oppose socialism, for to support socialism, even the most moderate version, you would be forced to choose.” Unionism at its core is more about identity and a system of governance rather than the economic policies it delivers (look at the socio-economic policies Stormont implemented it just copied the national government of the time Tory or socialist).

    Furthermore my family has a strong tradition in the trade union movement. The political texts in the house were Marx and Engels. When my father reminscences about his days as a shop steward his proudest boast is that the local priest demanded a meeting with the management of the factory to speak on behalf of the Catholic workers to condemn him and the other shops stewards as ‘Nothing but downright evil communists’ because of their militancy.

    For me socialism was a shining idea that human nature destroyed in the twentieth century. Post Cold War socialism is impossible to sell however, it can inform a sense of social justice.

    “hence the failure of Parties like the NILP”

    To be fair the NILP were hurt by the electoral system. The Christian basis of the socialism of many left it open to division on sabatarianism. Also O’Neill only saw off the challenge of the NILP by addressing socio-economic issues, it made Unionism reform to a degree so it was not a complete failure. Where it could have gone in the long-term without the troubles remains and interesting what if of Ulster politics.

    “political Unionism and socialism are opposites”

    There are different forms of socialism, if you mean Irish socialism then yes they are opposites as Irish socialism advocates Irish unity. You also overlook the alliance with Conservatism was to a degree an historical hangover from the Home Rule periods and British socialism warmth to Irish nationalism (partially based on its desire to attract the support of Irish communities in Britain).

    I honestly believe that if British socialism had been more sympathetic to the Union it could have made for much more interesting times the breakdown of the alliance that underpinned Unionism would have certainly come under significant strain. (It should be noted that british socialism did defeat sectarianism in a number of british cities while Irish socialism has not (apart from the brief spark in the early 1930’s)). Essentially I am arguing that irish socialism failed here and british socialism never tried.

    “Unionism still has the reek of the big house about it”

    If you are referring to the UUP as a former member I can concur even though the big house is long gone too many kept those pretensions. As someone from a working class background I never felt warmed by the welcome (my family never quite forgave me for joining and now looking back on my time I don’t know if I forgive myself). Also post-Agreement the UUP seemed content to abandon working class districts to the PUP and a lesser degree the UDP and became obsessed with the middle classes. (I have argued elsewhere that this was a key contributor to their electoral decline).

    Your present judgement of the DUP is I believe wrong. However, their dominance of unionism DOES have inherent risks they will adopt the attitudes you describe. They may present their victory as conclusive over the UUP but from what I have picked up they are still maintaining a strong on the ground presence. (For example, since the election in May a team has been working in a loyalist estate in North Down to get people back on the electoral register and to sort out electoral ID issues that came up on election day. This does not indicate to me an abandonment of such areas.)

  • Joseyboy

    fair_deal

    Yes you’re sectarian, no doubt about it. Being a member of the trade union doesn’t make you non-sectarian in the same way that buying free state potatoes doesn’t mean you might not be a rabid loyalist bigot with a penchant for southern spuds.

    But I’m not pigeonholing you, you tell me. How do you reconcile membership of a supremacist right-wing organization which views and treats catholics as lesser human beings and seeks to give political expression to that subjugation with your credentials as a member of a trade union ?

  • Man Farang

    Mick Hall
    “Liverpool right up until 1945 returned Tory and unionist MPs to Westminster”
    Liverpool also returned the only Irish Nationalist to be elected in England. TP O’Connor returned for the Scotland division in 1885. A seat he held until 1929.

  • aquifer

    Unionists get Socialism every so often, and have it ingrained in UK administrative practice, by Westminster Labour governments, ‘for free’ without having to pay the political price of voting for a suspect socialism with irish nationalist leanings. The Union has other benefits. A link with a country that plays a full if controversial part in international affairs. The Westminster subvention to NI supports a substantial part of the economy.

    Their prime concern remains the Union and to maintain enough inter-class unity to prevent ‘leakage’ to less staunch political alternatives. Protestantism is their unifying vehicle, whether or not they go to church or respect ‘christian’ values.

    Their fear that their culture would be devalued and destroyed as ‘false conciousness’ would be rienforced by many of the posts here.

    The failure of the UK government and the IRA to establish a politically functioning inclusive regional assembly, or to unhitch administrative practice from Whitehall, also ensures that no political alternatives emerge, despite the Union being ‘guaranteed’ by the GFA for the forseeable future.

    Those with most daily use for a unifying myth and a firm definition of territory, are now the working class paramilitary drugs gangs on the loyalist side. Although they too make their arrangements with the guys in the big mercs with dublin plates, even as ‘The Sash’ is blasted out the ghetto windows.

    Just so, the Atlantic tiger economy down the road was also born of ‘The Glorious Revolution’

  • aquifer

    A glaswegian woman and part-time UDR soldier told me ‘the protestant working class are arselickers’. But a while back it was rational, with the elite holding all the cards and favours to be garnered. With local council reserving contracts for electricians with the right connections. The shipyard in the latter years was a byword for graft, and indolence verging on sabotage. The power of the block vote.

    I remember a class system that operated down to the micro level, with ‘big’ families in the church. Intellect, like the cattle, was always fattened in the grammar schools for export, producing to many doctors for home consumption (listen for those ulster accents among the TV experts), and with more Instonians in who’s who than most English public schools. I remember my brighter mates heading off to England and never coming back, and energetic and open working class men who just got the hell out of the nonsense, off to London or wherever, sometimes via the forces, sometimes via counterculture such as punk or hippydom.

    Was rumpification part of the Provo plan, or just a consequence of peripherality?

    And as NI has become part of a very connected Atlantic tiger economy, has the tide shifted?

    No favours expected, none given.

    No matter the colours of your flag.

  • Betty Boo

    Fair Deal, Snapper, Mick Hall,

    Thank you for this thread. It gave at least me a better understanding of something I would have dismissed or categorized too quickly before.
    As I came across this site I saw in it a source of information, a forum if you like, where everyone can have his/her say no matter his or her background as long as it is fair.
    Sometimes this edge gets lost because it ends in playing the man, what is of no use to me.
    It was the best I have read for days, so thanks again.

  • fair_deal

    Joseyboy

    Hagrid had made a comment that implied if you were a member of a trade union you were non-sectarian and if you were a member of the Loyal Orders you were sectarian so I sought his opinion if you were a member of both.

    Membership of both are easily reconicable. I am part of the Orange Order as it is a holder of culture and tradition for the community to which I belong. In my work I am effectively a member of another community and I participate in the relevant organisation for it. One looks after my cultural and religious interests another my work interests.

    As for your description of the Orange Order it does not fit with the organisation I have been a member of for over a decade. Your description reads much more like a nationalist fantasy of the Order during the Stormont period. I must admit being a member I have always found the nationalist descriptions of the Order amusing, they seem to think it is some finely honed machine of sectarianism and that description just jars so much with my own experiences.

    I’m not a supremacist I do not consider my community to be the better of any other nor have I been told anything different during my membership of the Orange Order. I believe my community has the right to exist and exprerss itself the same as every other community.

    I am not down the line right wing – social conservative and centre left on economic issues.

    I have no desire to subjudgate anyone.

  • groucho

    I agree with Betty. I’ve spent an hour reading this fascinating debate – when I should be working. Thank God for pseudonyms!

  • hagrid

    Hagrid had made a comment that implied if you were a member of a trade union you were non-sectarian and if you were a member of the Loyal Orders you were sectarian …

    What I actually wrote was “‘working-class Prods’ who are active in Trades-Union and other anti-sectarian campaigns“. I was referring to those Protestant workers who are active in campaigning for an end to sectarianism, both trades-unionists and others.

    Despite attempts to reconcile the contradictions some of us have with your position, I have not found anything of substance to promote your argument that it is possible to be an Orangeman and be non-sectarian – however I do accept that you personally believe this.

    The ‘view from outside’ (the subject of this thread) remains worlds apart from your own ‘insider’ view – a point I made earlier – and is unlikely to change as long as the ‘Loyal Orders’ continue to be seen (from the outside) as organisation(s) promoting a sectarian agenda.

  • fair_deal

    Hagrid

    I did say implied rather than explicit but I accept my remarks were not a sufficiently clear representation of you comments my apologies.

    Through my trade union activities I have participated in a number of the anti-sectarian initiatives. I have no dificulty in believing all are entitled to equal and fair treatment at their work or by government and that people or their property should live their lives free from attack because of their perceived identities.

    “I have not found anything of substance to promote your argument that it is possible to be an Orangeman and be non-sectarian “

    The line of argument of your postings reads to me as if your defintion of sectarianism is simply if you hold an identity you are therefore sectarian and that if you are member of the Orange Order you must be sectarian. I disagree with both propositions. Holding an identity is not sectarianism. To say all Orangemen are sectarian is the same lazy blanket thinking of a sectarian mind e.g. all Catholics are IRA supporters. Societies and individuals are more complex that that.

    “The ‘view from outside’ (the subject of this thread) remains worlds apart from your own ‘insider’ view – a point I made earlier – and is unlikely to change as long as the ‘Loyal Orders’ continue to be seen (from the outside) as organisation(s) promoting a sectarian agenda.”

    And how else is the Orange Order or individual members supposed to counter this false impression other than using forums like this to say it is false and the reasons why. You are arguing a perception exists, fair enough, I simply am arguing the perception is wrong and outlining the reasons why.

  • Snapper

    Hagrid,

    You have very accurately expressed the nub of this problem – I completely agree. I also totally accept that Fair_Deal is completely genunine on this issue and maybe the image of the OO and the prospects for genuine stability on this island would be served much better if more people like FD existed. That may sound a bit airy fairy, but it makes it no less worthy.

  • Cathal

    Fascinating discussion, and a useful reminder of what Slugger at its best can achieve. Thanks to all involved: it’s good to have preconceptions challenged.

  • Ringo

    Great stuff Fair_deal et al…

  • michail darley

    Some of the debate on this thread has looked at the Protestant working class’ role as a supporter of conservatism, when it should, in a British historical context have been swept up in the socialist tide. An interesting debate. My father, a shipyard shop steward, was definitely of this opinion.

    Another topic that interests me is the relationship of the broad unionist tradition to Blairite adventurism, and the neo-liberal agenda.

    As far as Lindy McDowell is concerned, I’m just going to spout some firmly held beliefs: All oppressions are different. No one is simply a victim or an oppressor. We are nearly always both. We are born into oppressor-victim roles, that none of us asked for or could help. Liberation from an oppressed role involves struggle against oppressors and internalised oppression (I don’t mean war!). Recognition of our oppressor roles involves listening to those we oppress and jettisoning oppressive beliefs and actions. It does not mean believing that we are bad! even if that is the message we are getting from those we oppress. In fact, the best way to jettison oppressive beliefs and actions is to hold firmly to the view that we are fucking excellent. You hear that, men!

    Protestants in the North have acted as oppressors to Catholics. Catholic men have been oppressing Catholic women for centuries. The owning classes oppress the working classes. Adults oppress young people. Whites oppress blacks. People with guns oppress those without. Parents are oppressed-just ask us!- not by a particular agent, but by society as a whole. The whole society is crying out for liberation, but it is not a zero sum game.

    Shit that feels better!

  • michail darley

    I forgot to mention that owning class white protestant single men are also in need of liberation. I kid you not. Being told lies about other people by those they trust is only the start.

  • Alan

    I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but putting up the OO or Unionist political parties as capable of representing working class people is laughable.

    The notion that unionists supplied the health service and welfare out of the generosity of their hearts is far fetched. They provided the services because not to do so would have distroyed them politically. Their intent was not to improve the quality of life of people living in the poverty of the time, but to save their own skins.

    Also, remember the truly awful housing conditions for working people on both sides of the divide that were left as a legacy of the unionist party for direct rule ministers to sort out. I spent the first ten years of my working life on that particular problem.

    The OO on the other hand have done little to improve things for hard working families. Indeed, my own experience is that they attempted to control access to trades and may have acted to facilitate employers.

    You can talk about culture and family ties, but at some stage you have to work out what level of hypocrisy on rights and equality you are prepared to tolerate and walk away from the rest. I am not saying that nationalists are any better, they are mirror images of one another.

  • T O KANE

    MOPE WAS NOT LIAM KENNEDYS QUOTE BUT RONALD REAGANS WHICH HE USED IN 1980 WHILE COURTING RACIST SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS

  • George

    Alan,
    “The notion that unionists supplied the health service and welfare out of the generosity of their hearts is far fetched.”

    Too true, the Unionists voted against the introduction of the NHS by Labour and the Education act in 1946.

  • fair_deal

    Alan

    “The notion that unionists supplied the health service and welfare out of the generosity of their hearts is far fetched”

    I am not aware of anyone claiming this on this thread I’d appreciate it if you could point it out.

    “remember the truly awful housing conditions for working people on both sides of the divide that were left as a legacy of the unionist party for direct rule ministers to sort out.”

    On historical accuracy the track record of the Stormont administration past world war 2 was actually quite good on housing through the work of the Northern Ireland Housing Trust (Bob Purdie’s book on the Civil Rights movement is about the best on the issue). However, the scale of the problem in NI was worse than elsewhere in the UK and the real failure on housing lay with local councils (the only thing that can be offered in defence of local councils that many were too small to cope with the capital outlays housing redevelopment required but even that doesn’t explain – parochialism, corruption and sectarianism had more to do with it).

    “The OO on the other hand have done little to improve things for hard working families.”

    So the support the OO provide for widows and orphans, the Sir George Clark fund which provides support to young people for training and education, the network of credit unions it has helped establish providing low-cost loans, and in the past when lodges had welfare funds to help members through periods of unemployment this has/had not helped hard working families?

  • Biffo

    fair deal, wise up, he wasn’t talking about orangmen helping their own members or spouses. He’s talking about families in general.

  • Biffo

    And before you go on – the network of credit union was well established before orangemen got involved.

  • Biffo

    Fair_Deal

    Please also explain how the Orange Order establishment here in NI, pre civil rights, could justify disenfranchising Lindy McDowell poor parents.

  • fair_deal

    Biffo

    Thank you for lowering the tone of the thread. If I have misinterpreted Alan I am sure he will point this out.

    I would point out that Orange membership was so common in working class areas in the 1950’s and 1960’s that even those things which were limited to the members had a positve impact on many hard working families.

    The credit unions the Orange helped establish were often in communities were none previously existed or had limited membership. The membership of these credit unions is not limited to Orangemen therefore the benefits are beyond the membership.

  • fair_deal

    Biffo

    “Please also explain how the Orange Order establishment here in NI, pre civil rights, could justify disenfranchising Lindy McDowell poor parents.”

    The denial of universal suffrage at local government elections was wrong – it denied most of my own family a vote in local government elections. IMO there was no justification for it.

    If the Orange Order supported it (and I am not aware if the Institution took a position on it or not) then the Order made a mistake plain and simple.

  • Alan

    Fair Deal,

    *”The notion that unionists supplied the health service and welfare out of the generosity of their hearts is far fetched”

    I am not aware of anyone claiming this on this thread I’d appreciate it if you could point it out.*

    Well you did say –

    *The working classes could vote conservative but still get the benefits. Stormont implemented all of the Labour social reforms.*

    Biffo got it dead right on the OO welfare organisations, as did a certain samaritan.

    Your point about the credit unions is two sided. On the one hand the credit unions are good for their members, though I understand they are not all in neutral venues. On the other hand, why was it necessary to set up a completely separate credit union system when one already existed. Certainly it was established primarily in Nationalist areas, but that is no excuse for separatism.

    On Housing – the pits that people had to live in back then ( even if women kept them like palaces) were certainly historically accurate – check out the Folk Museum.

  • fair_deal

    Alan

    I said they introduced the reforms I did not ascribe a positive or negative motivation of why they did it. The context of the reference was that by not voting socialist the prod working classes would not have their class interests served i.e. not enjoy the benefits of socialism. I simply pointed out that this claim of cause and effect did not stack up for the prod working class experience. They voted conservatively but still received the benefits of the great post-war achievements of British socialism.

    “Certainly it was established primarily in Nationalist areas, but that is no excuse for separatism.”

    So what were the OO supposed to do sit back and allow nothing to happen in their communities?

    The existing credit unions (some restricted to membership of a catholic parish) seemed perfectly content with ignoring some Prod communities.

    It seems to be having a go at the OO for doing nothing then bashing them if they try to do something positive.

    “dead right on the OO welfare organisations”

    Again the charge seems to have changed – first it was the OO didn’t do anything for hard working families – when presented with examples of positive work – the attack changes to they only did it for their members. This is far from unusual for a voluntary membership organisation with limited resources. Again it seems to be having a go at the OO for doing nothing then bashing them if they try to do something positive.

    On housing, never denied the problems just pointed out the lion share of blame was not with Stormont but local government.

  • Alan

    Fair Deal,

    *The existing credit unions (some restricted to membership of a catholic parish) seemed perfectly content with ignoring some Prod communities. *

    I agree that exclusion is wrong. The strength of the credit unions has, however, been a local focus which can explain a lot, but that was no reason to set up a separate superstructure based on a sectarian division.

    On OO Welfare organisations, I put them on the same par with Masonic welfare organisations. I don’t agree, for instance, in the existence (thought it may since have merged) of a publicly funded masonic housing association.

    I know that there are many people who view the OO as a cultural bond or brotherhood and as wholly positive. That is not my experience, and my many discussions with OO members (including relatives)has left me feeling that there is a pernicious, exclusive intent at the heart of the organisation.

  • fair_deal

    On restriction of membership benefits another comparable example would be my trade union. It has a number of membership only benefits e.g. my house insurance.

    ” that was no reason to set up a separate superstructure based on a sectarian division”

    The reason was no or little provision. It was a choice between nothing or something. I am personally content with the OO taking the initiative and doing something.

    Overall, I think we have reached the stage as I did with Snapper earlier in the thread of agreeing to differ. Thanks for the exchange.

  • The Watchman

    May I agree with earlier contributors that this thread has been fascinating and very illuminating. Blogging at its best, with ball not man being played.

  • Karl Rove, DL

    Unless ‘The Man’ happens to live in a big hice (in truth, no more than adequately sized Β— those red setters *do* take up a lot of room), in which case He appears to be fair game.

    Fair play for the auld decency!

    Justice for the Malone Park 1!

    More Lottery handouts for decaying Georgian plasterwork!

  • cladycowboy

    fair_deal

    A huge if not majority input into ‘British Socialism’ and its achievemnts came from Irish immigrants and thier descendants in Britain. It could be argued that the Irish in Britain obtained more advantages for working class protestants than the British in Ireland ruling classes that they blindly voted for.

  • Biffo

    Excellent point cladycowboy, I’ve never looked at it that way.

    Fergus O’Connor, the Chartists and all that.

  • Roger

    Interesting thread that has a lot of truth about it. The view from the outside is that protestants are bigoted and backward.

    It is an unfair sterotype but one I don’t think will ever go away.

    The OO has been so badly demonised by anti orange elements that many see it as a withering influence I don’t know the truth of this however as there are countering claims as to its membership numbers etc.

    I think a huge problem for protestants within NI is that there numbers and areas where they have lived a gradually decreaseing so ultimately there is a fear and seige mentality.

  • fair_deal

    Cladycowboy

    “A huge if not majority input into ‘British Socialism’ and its achievemnts came from Irish immigrants and thier descendants in Britain.”

    Your attempted linkage appears at first glance a bit stretched. However, rather than dismiss it do you have some independent sources on the role of the Irish emigres in British Socialism?

  • Bored

    Any debate about the Protestant working (sic) class reminds me of ‘the Bonfire’, a documentary shown recently on BBC1? Quite astonishing – some of the highlights (for me) were:-

    (a) regular shots of quad bikes, mini motos etc. all being driven haphazardly and dangerously around the Springmartin etate and all, without exception, piloted by ferals under the age of fifteen;

    (b) Frank McCoubrey (he of UPRG ‘fame’) in a Hello Magazine style segment of the documentary showing us the interior of his hilariously vulgar home together with lingering shots of his young band of delightful offspring. Good old Frank had, of course, decided to help his children along in life by piercing the ears of all of his toddlers (male and female) and swaddling them in a mass of ‘Elizabeth Duke from Argos’ gold tat;

    (c) Various discussions by a bunch of old dears about how great everything was in ‘the good old days’, about how ‘nobody cared what religion you were’ and how all the Catholics used to come out and join in with ‘the twalfth like’ – only then to regale the company with various off-colour tales about how back in ‘the good old days’ Catholics were effectively put in their place, cowered in constant fear of random sectarian attack and knew to speak when spoken to;

    (d) Various families of work-shy scum with ferals named (and I jest not) Travis, Chad, Jake etc. complaining about how there are no jobs and they have no money – all the while puffing away on Superkings and Regal, chugging away on cans of hooch and stuffing their (almost without exception) amply proportioned gobs with grease-saturated shite;

    (e) Gangs of mindless ferals assembling an enormous pile of rubbish (the overwhelming constituent ingredient of which being good old carcinogen-belching tyres) before topping if off with a tri-colour. One hideously obese young oaf was then seen to comment ‘aye like…the flag like…well ehm…it’s like tradition like… eh…we’re protestant like…..and like…eh …it’s like burning the flag of all the catholics like.. and eh….like…..’ – having spluttered to a halt it became immediately apparent that for one split nano-second EVEN HE(!) had had a momentary understanding of how worthless, odious and utterly bankrupt his own ‘culture’ was.

    A number of matters occur:-

    (i) these people are scum.

    (ii) I am sick of supporting their lifestyle with my hard earned income tax.

    (iii) They (and their mirror-image scum of a republican persuasion) should be either (a) offered a selection of beers, liquors, cigarettes and assorted deep-fried foods and (as a last resort) hard cash in exchange for undergoing an immediate sterilisation procedure or, failing that, (b) transported to their respective spiritual homes, namely the slums and sink estates of, one the one hand, Bolton, Hull, Sheffield etc. and on the other hand Ballymun, Finglas, Darndale etc.

    I have had enough.

  • dee st

    “The OO has been so badly demonised by anti orange elements”

    Orangemen involving themselves in violence at Drumcree really helped their image.

  • Roger

    dee st

    What right did the parades commission have banning a march in rememberance of the battle of the Somme this all works two ways.

    Bored

    Is there no end to your sterotyping and prod bashing it is people like you that have brought about a situation which made this article necessary.

  • dee st

    The orders image at Drumcree suffered because apart from the televised violence from members

    Senior members refused to condemn the violence and the appeanance of loyalist paramilitary leaders at Drumcree.

  • Roger

    The orders image at Drumcree suffered because apart from the televised violence from members

    Many were proven not to be members and the OO never invited paramilitaries to attend. The violence was wrong and Gracey handled the situation quite badly by refusing to condemn the violence but I think the oder needs stronger and more focused leadership.

  • Bored

    Sorry Roger – all I’m doing is heeding the advice of that esteemed seer, sage and all round philosophical collossus – Roy Walker of ‘Catchphrase’ – “say what you see, just say what you see”.

  • fair_deal

    Bored

    What did you see outside Ardoyne shops?

  • fair_deal

    Bored

    What did you see outside Ardoyne shops on Friday night?

  • Bored

    If either fair_deal or Roger had had the wit to actually READ my post they would have noted that I alluded to the scum shown in the ‘Bonfire’ documentary having a mirror-image equivalent in Nationalist/Republican areas – which vermin were obviously on display outside the Ardoyne shops over the weekend. That both individuals managed to either ignore/overlook this merely highlights the lamentable knee-jerk, clamour to be offended – style that seems to run through so many posters on this site.

  • fair_deal

    Bored

    Apologies for not reading the last paragraph – its hard to get through all of a hate filled diatribe even if you purport the hatred is class based rather than sectarian based.

    However, I must admit your diatribes always seem to focus on Prod working class areas then include a throw away line about the same applying elsewhere.

    “in exchange for undergoing an immediate sterilisation procedure “

    Just thought you’d like to know that eugenics was discredited in the 1930s and 1940s germany.

  • fair_deal

    Fair_deal – the clue’s in the thread title – “Creating space for the working class PROD experience”. If it had been “Creating space for the working class TAIG experience” – I would have written accordingly – that’s not too obvious is it?

  • Bored

    Don’t know what happened there – previous post is of course by me and not fair_deal.