There was a point in a recent discussion on Slugger at which the acronym PUL (Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist) was invoked to described to describe an apparent group behaviour. But what is PUL in this day and age? Who who is a loyalist is not also a Unionist? And for that matter what is the CNR (Catholic, Nationalist and Republican) community, who who is a nationalist is also not a Republican?
These terms once delineated a real and substantive difference, and the line of difference was really what we used to call pro or anti agreement on the Unionist side and militant or constitutionalist on the other. But now, just five years after what passes for normal politics resumed, none of these terms adequately explain political difference in any real or satisfying way.
There are, to be sure, people on both sides who are still holding out against the settlement. But neither are large enough to be defined by the terms Republican or Loyalist. Nor has Loyalism nor Republicanism become meaningless; they still describe core identities albeit identities that are a great deal more mobile than they were ten years ago when David Trimble was ‘barred’ by Loyalists from entering the Mourneview estate in what was then his Upper Bann constituency.
Which leads me to a certain anxiety I picked up yesterday in Belfast, that the ‘new’ Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy is going to be little more than A Shared Future MK II. By which I mean a document that would have been fit for the place both communities were in 5 years ago, but not today. It remains to be seen whether that anxiety is well founded or not.
But given that most Loyalists (in the broadest sense of that term) seem to have accommodated themselves to the reality of having a former paramilitary leader as dFM, perhaps we need something more ambitious than analogue bridge building?
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