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.