Loyalist identity: demographic retreat is generic

The demographic trend throughout the western world is towards an ageing population. In Northern Ireland Protestant communities have cohered to this norm much earlier than their Catholic counterparts. This, Professor Howe argues, created a particularly problematic dymnamic for Loyalist working class communities.

Previously: reflecting a modern condition

The working-class Loyalist communities of west and north Belfast are in a probably irreversible territorial, demographic, economic and political retreat – hence, in large part, the rage and fear of those who mobilised in autumn 2001 against the “threat” of Catholic schoolchildren passing through their streets, who repeatedly battled over Drumcree, and who have fought the police and army in recent days. Paramilitary warlords and drug barons fight over the ruins.

De-industrialisation, demographic decline, the tendency of the more enterprising or successful to move out to the suburbs if not further afield, low rates of educational achievement and very high ones of family breakdown, petty crime, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse – all these are features which the poorer Protestant districts of Belfast, Portadown or Ballymoney share with those of Liverpool, Glasgow or Swansea, and indeed those of Dresden and Detroit.

On that level, their crisis is generic, a variant on the crisis of socio-economic modernisation which afflicts large sectors of the older industrial economies everywhere. Not only has “globalisation”, in many of its aspects and especially those which enthusiasts hail as positive, enabling, freedom-enhancing, never fully penetrated those sectors, but in a sense it has already been (it was there, for instance, when Belfast could truly claim to be at the centre of worldwide networks of trade and manufacture), offered its tantalising promises, and then gone again.

  • Plum Duff

    ‘The working-class Loyalist communities of west and north Belfast are in a probably irreversible territorial, demographic, economic and political retreat…’

    And this is exactly where their ‘leaders’ (sic!) have so badly let them down. As Professor Howe argues, the UUP have long abandoned their working class supporters and now, as the DUP becomes the leading unionist party, they themselves are drifting towards middle class values and have forgotten how to embrace their root electorate. All the old certanties have gone, and with them, the jobs – in Short’s, the Shipyard and Mackies, etc. They therefore feel lost – and to whom can they go for help? One party is happy with the ‘haves and have yachts’ and the other can only offer rhetoric about ‘concessions’ and allegations that the ‘other side have got everything’. The UUP negotiated, relatively successfully, but sat on its hands for far too long thereby allowing the nay-sayers to capture the momentum. The DUP has never negotiated with Nationalists or Republicans and have no experience in this format other than the power of the majority vote. So far, they haven’t delivered anything. Rate relief on Orange halls?? Yeah, that’s gonna put a lot of dosh and jobs in the Shankill…

    One thing is plain. Nobody is going back to the so-called halcyon days of pre-68 where Unionism ruled and the rest kept their heads down. The world has changed, as has the confidence of the opposition. But the main difference now is that *ALL* the elected Nationalist/Republican parties appear to be willing to sit down and negotiate a better future within the present structure of Northern Ireland. It may be time for the DUP to consider this possibility and stop stalling under one pretext or another. I do not ignore the importance of ongoing criminal shenanigans of the IRA in the equation but given the extremely muted response to Loyalist paramilitary crime over the years and to the outbreak of the recent violence, the moral high ground seems to be becoming more and more slippery.

    It’s about time Unionism started to play ball and not let the carpetbaggers of Westminster jack up rates, close hospitals and bleed the system-structures dry without putting up a fight.