The Future of Loyalism session at the Political Studies Association conference started with two academics – Jim McAuley and Graham Spencer – introducing the Political Studies Association delegates to loyalism, loyalist themes and transformation efforts so far. Rev Chris Hudson – who acted as a conduit between the Irish Government and the UVF – spoke about his journey. [Click on their names to hear their 10 minute introductions.]
Finally, Jackie McDonald – introduced as a former UDA prisoner – spoke about his own experience of loyalism. He talked about experiences on his estate before the UDA was formed (when white collar workers met and sought to limit any increase in Catholic occupancy of their area), gave his view on Gary McMichael’s strategy and drugs entering the organisation.
(It was hard at times while listening not to sceptically wonder how far his revisionist dial was cranked up and contemplate which inconvenient facts were being overlooked or vastly simplified.)
In the Q&A session the opening remarks, Jackie McDonald was asked about the Orange Order. You can hear his five minute reply. But in the second half he questioned aspects of the Orange Order Belfast District’s plans for a ‘Covenant parade’ in May.
On the 19th of May – I’m not sure if everybody would be aware – the Grand Lodge is going to have (to celebrate the centenary of the Covenant which is going to be on the 28th or 29th of September) but they’re making that their baby, their thing, so the Belfast District are having one [a parade] on the 19th of May which is going to go to Ormeau Park.
But they’re allowing loyalism to join in. There could be 35-55,000 people walking. There will be thousands of people lining the route. There will be thousands of people in Ormeau Park to welcome them there.
The problem we have is … the Orange and the bands will take the first part of the parade, and then it will be the UVF in the Somme gear – the Somme associations and what they’re telling us is they’ll have the uniforms, they’ll have the antique motors with the machine guns on them and all the paramilitary flags – and the UDA will be suited and booted, the Ulster Defence Union will be wearing their green blazers and what have you.
If you’re a nationalist – and this parade passes parts of Short Strand or wherever – how are you going to feel? Are you going to feel threatened? Is that going to be a positive thing or a negative thing? And I’d very wary that as part of the peace process we should all be moving forward and we should be taking into consideration how the nationalists feel. But the Orange Order are saying “that’s not our problem, that’s the police problem”. People belonging to us have asked them what happens if the dissidents attack the parade? “That’s not our problem. That’s the problem for the police.” What happens if some of the local blue bag brigade joins in and causes problems? “Oh that’s not our problem. That’s the PSNI problem.”
But it’s not. It’s their problem. It’s their parade and they’re responsible for the behaviour of the people in it.
He finished the answer with the statement:
I support the Orange, but I don’t want anything to do with them if you know what I mean.
It’s positive that Jackie is publicly thinking first through the eyes of others. It puts his rhetoric in the same league as Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness who frequently now make statements that are deliberately inclusive and question their own community’s reaction to their neighbours. While the relationship between Jackie, the UDA and the Orange Order is no doubt much more complicated and baggage-laden than he expressed yesterday, his observations do raise questions about the institution’s plans to commemorate the signing of the Ulster Covenant.
Update – new post describing the organisers’ vision of the parade and rally.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.