Where is the [working class] Protestant Community today? (panel discussion)

panel discussion on Where is the Protestant community todayA panel discussion around the topic of “Where is the Protestant Community Today?” followed a preview of the play Paisley & Me and two well-received performances/readings by community drama groups in Westbourne Presbyterian Community Church.

Noel Thompson strongly chaired proceedings, and started the dialogue by asking the panellists – Sammy Douglas (DUP MLA), Jackie McDonald (UPRG), John Kyle (PUP councillor) and Michael Copeland (UUP MLA) – about their first memories of Ian Paisley. In their own way, each of the contributors disagreed with Paisley’s approach.

The next conversation starter was: Why are the Protestant population whinging so much at the moment?

Michael Copeland pointed out that parading wasn’t a common issue raised with him in constituency business.

John Kyle pushed back on the assertion that bad guys had won. He said:

The bad guys lost. Institute at Stomont is up and active and doing some of the business. We’ve got peace on the streets with less bombs going off. We’ve got less crime than you’ll get in Manchester. We’ve got more community cohesion than you’ll get in London … I think the bad guys lost.

He also pushed back on media presentation of loyalist bands saying “the bands are treated as a bunch of criminal hoods [by the media]” despite giving the young folk structure and discipline.

Moving away parading, the panel touched on suicide, education and educational underachievement. Michael Copeland got applause from the packed church when he said “personally I wouldn’t have religion in schools”. One audience member noted the lack of politically actively women on the panel.

A strong voice boomed out from the pews lambasted the BBC’s “bias” against Protestant culture (at length) and then walked out immediately after another man asked why marchers from a temperance lodge urinated in his garden.

A local youth worker asked “Is devolution working for working class Protestants?” Sammy Douglas pointed to the investment into East Belfast – whether East Belfast Mission (or “the hanging gardens of Babylon” one woman heckled!), Templemore Avenue school, as well as the Orange Order engaging with a Catholic church.

Jackie McDonald said it was a difficult time for politicians, talked about sharing and pleaded for elected representatives to build better communities and not to automatically vote against proposals from opposing parties. Later he suggested:

Until we get the victims in the same room as the perpetrators the peace process won’t go forward.

A Shankill Road pastor reminded the panel about victims.

The panel finished by explaining what message of hope they each brought to the process.

Sammy Douglas: Warts and all, Stormont is working.

John Kyle: We’ve come through 30 years of civil war and managed to a very significant degree sorted out our differences. Terrific community infrastructure, brilliant people. If we get our early years strategy right to treat our children well, society will be great.

Michael Copeland Reality is that I’d be glad to get through the next months with the Welfare Reform Bill: 54,000 words, each one removing money from this economy. There are a lot of communities in Northern Ireland, but one people. When it rains we all get wet.

Jackie McDonald: Education needs to be a big part. Once kids leave school, education stops at the school gate. Parents don’t help with homeworks. We’ve come a long way from the Good Friday Agreement.

You can listen to the audio, though it may dip a couple of times when  contributors on the floor refused to use the mics provided!

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • sdelaneys

    Apparently they are all running around tearing their hair our for want of band parades and big marches, hi, it’s their culture, don’t you know.

  • BluesJazz

    Michael Copeland got applause from the packed church when he said “personally I wouldn’t have religion in schools”.

    At last a reality check. No idea if Copeland is a good constituency politician, but kudos for that remark alone.

    If only Alliance would have the balls to make a statement like that, but they don’t. Money (top salaries and expenses) are the only thing that matters to them, as in gay marriage debate.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    If the PUP are ever to regain an MLA in East Belfast, John Kyle is the man to do it.

    A true gentleman.

  • leftofcentre

    I was at the event and enjoyed it. What I found interesting was that all the speakers where quite thoughtful and articulate. I would not agree with their politics but they put their points of view across well.

    If you give people time and space to have a reasoned discussion it can be very constructive. I am coming round to the view that the adversarial nature of political debate that for example the BBC normally does can do more harm that good.

    What the BBC claims as ‘balance’ by getting opposing view points just ends up as staged arguments.

    John Kyle is a very nice man indeed, at the next election he really should go independent as I think being under the PUP banner does him no favours at all.

  • First of all, once again I think congratulations are in order once again for Alan for the kind of journalism which is not being undertaken elsewhere.

    I enjoyed it but the whole concept of “the Protestant community” bothers me.

    It’s the idea that we all get a metaphorical list and on that list we are expected to tick a number of questions the answers of which will put us into one of two categories. Therefore you can’t support the NI international and simultaneously the Down GAA teams?
    What if you are pro-Union but profoundly bored by Orange parades?

    I have as much in common with Jackie McDonald as I have with Gerry Adams- completely different backgrounds and different viewpoints on our history and even future.

    But being pro-Union I should automatically align myself with the “Protestant community” and the various concerns raised in the discussion Alan broadcast?

  • leftofcentre

    The topic of the debate was more accurately ‘Where is working class Protestant Community today’

    From this blog post title it might not have been clear that the discussion was focusing on the working class.

    I could be cruel and ask what do you call working class people that do not work, but that’s a whole new discussion…

    Once you break through all the complaining about parades etc it comes down to the simple fact that the devil makes work for idle hands, what these people primarily need is jobs. This is the same need as other underprivileged areas across NI, both catholic and protestant.

    In today’s society if you do not have qualifications or skills you are a bit screwed when it comes to getting a job.

    To me there is two obvious things the government could do:
    All these graduate teachers that can’t get jobs, the government could launch a massive public literacy campaign. That in the 21st century people leave school barely literate is shocking. Give the young teachers a basic salary so they get the experience and joey learns to read.

    Secondly why can they not have some form of public works for unemployed teenagers? Is there not buildings that need painted? parks tidied? etc. I know paternalism is out of fashion these days but a lot of kids are growing in in families were no one ever worked and they have zero work ethic.

    Spend the cash in the early years to give these kids a hand up, this will work out cheaper than the cost of jailing them down the line.

  • oneill – I was doing the sound for the evening, so it was easy to tape and type at the same time!

    leftofcentre – You’re right that it really was a discussion that despite it’s billing ended up solely focussed on inner-city working class loyalism, perhaps caused by the venue’s location and the audience. But the kind of issues and outlooks usually only heard in passing in mainstream media.

    It’s about time that politicians from all parties were more vocal about issues that impact working class communities the most.

  • andnowwhat

    Perhaps loyalists claiming all working class unionist or Protestant kids might be a place to start.

  • Neil

    I concur. A couple of very slick, interesting and readable threads. Good darts.

  • forthman

    Its all ‘dem taigs fault yet again!
    Pure sh-i! Republicans are like ‘Rats’, The battle of St.Matthews, was in fact an armed attack by a tiny minority against the huge majority of east Belfast!
    Noel thompson facilitating this crap. If you want to make the lives of working class ‘protestants’ better? Stop feeding them, these delusions of persecution.
    Stand on your own two feet!!!

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    You think the minority community are never responsible for starting violence at interfaces??

    Therefore you’d have to agree that the protestants in Torrens (before they were forced from their homes permanently), Suffolk, White City, Glenbryn and Bridge End are/were totally innocent?

  • tacapall

    You’ve a brass neck even mentioning Glenbryn DDB and have you forgot about Broadway where the UVF annually attack Catholic houses on the 12th july.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Once again I’ll ask for some proof to back up that claim.

    Once again you’ll disappear off never to be heard from again…

  • “what do you call working class people that do not work”

    Unemployed working class people, for christ sake is that so difficult?

    What do you think they are called, chavs, shameless, the underclass, or some other middle class generated insult.

    Even if it was unintentional, please bin the class prejudice.

    The fact is this section of the working class community in the north has been deliberately marginalized by the powers that be, to put it bluntly they no longer have any need for them beyond a bit of sabre rattling during the marching season. To say they have been totally betrayed for their decades of loyalty would be an understatement.

    Jackie can pontificate all he likes but he to date has been part of the problem not the solution, the loyalist paramilitaries allowed their communities to be used like lackeys and what did they get in return, diddly squat and the right to be insulted, looked down on, patronized and blamed for their current situation.

    By the way this is not a problem unique to the north throughout the UK once proud and vibrant working class communities through no fault of their own have gone much the same way.

    There is a way back but it will take the end of the political elites neo liberal group think. We are beginning to see a glimmer of light, outsourcing production etc to the far east is not inevitable and it must stop, business could still make a profit if they manufactured in the west, if they fail to do it voluntary then they must be forced to. People are more important than profits alone, not least because in today’s world the latter only benefit the few.

    Its having the political will to say enough! There is another way.

  • tacapall

    DDB why dont you ask the local Sandy Row UDA who’s carrying out those annual attacks as its them who say its the UVF, just like it ws them who revealed to the local IRA in the Iveagh, St James area that Bobby Moffet was a UVF dissident who was murdered because he was engaging in activity that the UVF hierarchy’s string pullers in British intelligence did not like.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Once again you’ve been unable to provide reliable evidence to back up a ridiculous lie.

    Next you’ll be claiming to have beaten up the late Robert McCartney on a ‘fair dig’ like your fellow yarn spinner andnowwhat…

  • tacapall

    DDB I dont live in a loyalist area but I do know the crack what happens in that particular interface area and I do remember just before Bobby Moffet was murdered a list of certain republicans names and addresses were posted on lamposts and walls around the village and Shankill road areas alleging those on the list were IRA members, Im sure you remember it on the news, some of their houses were targeted in bomb attacks shortly afterwards.

  • Red Lion

    Tacapall, theres a hell of a crowd appears on the falls side of broadway on eleventh nights of late who then go hell for leather with the police.

    Its hard to see how working class unionist communities (particularly urban areas) can go forward while the historical destructive impact of loyalist paramilitaries on their own communities isn’t fully acknowledged and got out into the open, and how such a destructive impact continues and persists and is in effect colluded with by other sections of society.

    Loyalist paramilitarism has driven away young people and families from unionist inner city areas and fuelled aging populations, contributed to suicide and poor mental health including high levels of trauma in such areas, organised crime and made such organised crime and drugs accessible to young people, racketeered and driven away investment – post ceasefire i believe this is continuing either directly or legacywise former personnel using their clout/connections to ‘bear grudges/throw weight about, and the media seem very weak on investagating it.

    Its a farce trying to build/invest/put in to such communities while the sinister elements aren’t directly challenged and exposed in taking straight back out again.

    Where are the unionist politicians ready to do this?? Where where where.

    Under what mechanism are NIHE new-build houses allocated in working class unionist areas?

    Loyalist paramilitaries arent/weren’t the sole influence, but their destructive and downward-spiralling influence was massive. I think Sinn Fein caught on to the how the IRA were negatively impacting their own areas, and this was a factor in them thinking it was time for this to stop and for the IRA to no longer have carte blanche in self-harming their community. Post ceasefire Sinn Fein have tried to build strong thriving nationalist communities, but unfortunately for them the Dissidents have continued the bullying/tormenting where the IRA left off.

    Most working class city communities will have some organised crime, just in Ulster ours is ‘extra’ organised,’extra’ sinister, and ‘extra’ brutal, while at the same time trying to gain some legitimacy through political mechanisms

  • tacapall

    “Loyalist paramilitarism has driven away young people and families from unionist inner city areas and fuelled aging populations, contributed to suicide and poor mental health including high levels of trauma in such areas, organised crime and made such organised crime and drugs accessible to young people, racketeered and driven away investment – post ceasefire i believe this is continuing either directly or legacywise former personnel using their clout/connections to ‘bear grudges/throw weight about, and the media seem very weak on investagating it”

    Tell us about it Red Lion, do you actually think its any different in Nationalist areas ? The suicide rate in nationalist areas over the past ten years far outweigh those of loyalist areas, we are far more economically deprived than loyalist working class areas but equally as tarnished by former personnel using their clout/connections to bear grudges, impose their authority or opinions about, but we dont have the same spotlight or political attention shone on us as loyalist areas.

    Yes there is large crowds gather at Broadway on the 12th night, the majority drunken drug fulled teenagers who act in the monkey see monkey do manner but they dont carry nail bombs and they are not organised by any paramilitary groups..

  • Red Lion

    I don’t think its any different in nationalist areas but this thread is about working class unionist areas. Even so i made reference to dissident torture of their own communities.

    I don’t see much difference generally between eg shankill estate and ardoyne, or tigers bay and new lodge. I dont see a lot of point in making differences as the same issues affect the same communities.

    are you sure about those suicide rates? they are pretty bad for both sets of working class communities. The suicide rate is bad for NI, and its bad for north Belfast, though I see east belfast has had a recent spate, tragically, On many issues I tend to nowadays just think of one community im glad to say. Like i said i focused on the unionist community in my post as the thread is about the unionist community.

    I thought that at broadway-falls road riots with police there was evidence of dissident organisation

  • andnowwhat

    Just thinking here, imagine if Sinn Fein or republicanism in general, laid claim to all working class catholics/nationalists.

    I’m just not getting how working class protestant or unionist equates to loyalist. Those of us from the nationlist community saw the long progression of Sinn Fein for over thirty years, the work non the ground to the open goals the SDLP gave them. It is far too late for loyalists to try and emulate the SF model, although the Ervine model may have done it had the guy not passed away.

  • Red Lion

    Most of the ongoing tormenting of the unionist working class community by loyalist paramiltaries or former connectees doesnt make the news. It remains hidden , the light doesnt get shone on it and the press is weak on it.

    Theres a lot of similar tormenting goes on by dissents which doesnt make the news either,and remains hidden. IBut somedissidents activities do make the news, including whats going on with RAAD.

  • Red Lion

    correct anw, youll notice how i go out of my way to type working class unionist instead of applying the ‘loyalist’ label willy-nilly.

  • tacapall

    Im pretty sure about those suicide rates Red Lion although East Belfast has in the last month been hit hardest Im not denying Loyalist areas are not as similar or as poverty stricken as Nationalist areas its just that most of them are centered around the most industrious favoured areas, they are living in a state now that Catholic areas have experienced from the beginning of this state in terms of employment and poverty.

    This thread is about the working class Protestant community and I do accept that they suffer just as much as the Catholic community but I shake my head and wonder how people like myself can give an opinion on it without screaming, tell us about it.

  • andnowwhat

    Red Lion

    I wasn’t getting at you but was commenting about the initial topic.

    Addressing your other post, we saw how the police and media are so unwilling to address paramilitary loyalism with the riots in the greater N’abbey area a couple of years ago and the Short Strand attack by the UVF last year. There’s also the group that attacked a republican and put their faces on Facebook straight away and the inaction there.

    People like Martin Meehan Jnr, on the republican side, and Winkie, on the loyalist side, have simply nothing to offer. Meehan et al are shunned by nationalists and mainstream republicans for the Sealed Knot jousters they are. Maybe some similar action is needed within the PUL community?

  • Adding a link to the News Letter’s coverage of the panel discussion in which they draw out the panellists views on the Big Man, including DUP MLA Sammy Douglas’ point that ““he came good in the end [though] he lost huge support within the church and DUP for doing the deal”.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    tacapall – you are yet to provide a shred of evidence to back up any of your ludicrous lies about the UVF.

    Perhaps in future you should stop telling outrageous sectarian tall tales and stick to discussing the topic at hand.

    Then maybe the comments on Alan’s excellent threads can stop going off on a different tangent.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    People like Martin Meehan Jnr, on the republican side, and Winkie, on the loyalist side, have simply nothing to offer.

    What’s the problem with Winkie? What’s he done to negatively impact on the people of his community?

    I think your ingrained bigotry can’t comprehend an articulate, working class Unionist sticking up for his community and challenging the anti-Loyalist bias in the media and politics in Northern Ireland.

  • tacapall

    DDB I care little what you believe about the UVF or Bobby Moffets murder but the fact is Bobby Moffet was a UVF dissident who was murdered because he was engaging in activity that the UVF hierarchy’s string pullers in British intelligence did not like, although you can believe he was executed because of a row over the price of dulse but the truth will come out.


    “The police ombudsman in Northern Ireland has launched an investigation into allegations of collusion between the police and senior members of the Ulster Volunteer Force in the Shankill Road area of Belfast.”

    Bunter, No Neck, Winkie and the rest of the Barcardi Brigaders are Police informers who are paid to put young loyalists in early graves or prison while they pretend they are fighting for their communities.

  • andnowwhat

    Winkie is articulate? Wise up!

  • tacapall


    Theresa May promises life sentences for gun suppliers

    “I think it is right that we introduce that offence, because those people who are supplying the firearms are as guilty as the people using them when it comes to the impact.”

    Hopefully time is running out for those RUC special branch officers who supplied and allowed the UVF and the UDA to murder innocent people at will while at the same time paying them a retainer.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Three separate tinfoil hat tall tales from tacapall and not a shred of evidence to back any of them up.

  • tacapall

    Aaah DDB you hurt my feelings now. Do you not believe Bunter , No neck and Winkie are touts, who are paid, just like Mark Haddock to act like circus monkeys for British Intelligence, do you think British Intelligence gives a fk about you or your comrades, the leadership and indeed the majority of the UVF are police informers, numerous ombudsman reports or inquiries have supported that fact, do you want me to post the proof up, this next ombudsman report into the relationship between the UVF leadrship and the security services will uncover the truth and joe no-bodies like yourself will be left scratching their heads say we’re dicks.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    ‘…the majority of the UVF are police informers…

    So more than half of all UVF members are/were paid police informers?

    Have you any idea how much such a massive operation would cost to run over forty years???

    Where did the money come from??

    ‘…do you want me to post the proof up?’

    Well, that would be a first for you. I’ll not hold my breath…

  • galloglaigh


    an articulate, working class Unionist who might well be blowing smoke up his own you know what… On this very site?

  • andnowwhat


    Maybe, self praise is no recommendation?

  • tacapall

    “The British army has been accused of a ’cover up’ after it was disclosed that it has withheld evidence for more than three decades revealing that UDR units were being used to finance and support the UVF in Belfast, with at least 70 soldiers on one base linked to the loyalist terror group.

    The Detail website can reveal top secret government papers which disclose that the UDR’s Belfast battalion was heavily infiltrated by the UVF in the late 1970s”

    “Special Branch officers protected loyalist paramilitary informants and failed to stop them committing up to 15 murders, according to a damning report by the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland published yesterday.

    There was clear evidence of collusion between members of the banned Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in north Belfast and police officers over a period of 12 years, the ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, declared.”

    “Haddock was paid at least £80,000 by police handlers between 1991 and 2003 for information he supposedly handed over.”

    Widespread collusion between loyalist paramilitary killers and the British forces in the Six Counties in the murderous bombing of Dundalk on 19 December 1975, and other deadly attacks in the 1970s, was confirmed on 29 November 2006 by the Oireachtas justice sub-committee report into the bombing of Kay’s Tavern.

    The killings of Jack Rooney and Hugh Watters in Dundalk and others elsewhere involved UVF/RUC/UDR personnel (the so-called Glenanne Gang) and, it is suggested, there was also involvement of state knowledge and direction.

    The killers of Seamus Ludlow, from Mountpleasant, north of Dundalk, in May 1976 are known to have been members of a different gang (the Red Hand Commando, an offshoot of the UVF) from the Comber-Bangor district of north Down – though two of them were also members of the UDR!

    “According to the oireachtas report members of the then UK Labour cabinet and leaders of the main opposition party, the Conservative Party, certainly knew of the RUC/UDR involvement with loyalist killers in the 1970s and did nothing. By doing nothing they let it continue – an act of collusion in murder”

    John Weir’s Affadavit

    Statement by John Weir 03.01.99


    “21. Constable McBride was a gunsmith and, following this initial meeting with him, guns changed hands on several occasions. On one occasion, after McBride had told me that he had received four new sub-machine guns from Down Orange Welfare, I contacted Armstrong who soon arrived with McClure at Newry RUC station. Armstrong had a conversation with Chief Inspector Breen, whom he knew well, and the three of us went to McBride’s house where we collected the guns. These sub-machine guns were transported to Mitchell’s farmhouse where I later test fired them in a hayshed. They worked perfectly. Mitchell subsequently sold these weapons to Jackie Whitten, a UVF paramilitary leader in Portadown for 100 pounds each. I then gave the 400 pounds to McBride so that the money could be used for the manufacture of further weapons. In summary, Down Orange Welfare was using RUC officers in Newry RUC station – McBride, Breen, myself – and another RUC officer, Sergeant Monty Alexander from Forkhill RUC station – to supply weapons to the UVF in Portadown. I later learned that these weapons were being manufactured by Samuel McCoubrey in Spa, Co. Down.

    – By the way is that the same Chief Superintendent Harry Breen that the Smithwick inquiry is about I wonder would they accept John Weirs testimony as evidence, after all he’s a former RUC officer too.

    Samson inquiry, Stevens Inquiry, Peter Cory inquires, Operation Ballast, and finally now the their time has come – Operation Stafford.


    “It is believed investigators will examine claims that no one has been charged or convicted in connection with the murders because informers were being protected”

    How many loyalist police informers will be in the dock when this new supergrass trial stars, are you confident all UVF personnel are not police informers ?

  • Glenn B

    Alan, again, an excellent piece of reporting.

    It is unfortunate that Loyalist working class areas have been unable to bring forth a leader as articulate as the late Billy Michell or Davy Ervine to give voice and hope to those that presently feel unheard. Fate played a cruel role in both men’s untimely passing.

    It is a reality that ‘protestants’ and ‘unionists’ in general, historically, don’t vote for paramilitaries – is it a coincidence today that John Kyle and Hugh Smyth are the PUPs only representatives (both untarnished by militarism) or that the UPRG have no elected representatives?

    Add to that, the reality that the DUP are anti-GFA: they opposed & voted against it and there are elements of the Agreement they have absolutely no interest in promoting.

    This all makes for a polluted, ad-hoc representation which will only be made if it suits ‘party’ policy. It is certainly not consistent community service.

    My own personal view is that there should be no Loyalist Paramilitaries – just as PIRA changed semblance and exited stage left, the UVF and UDA need to go away. Stating that a mandate comes from ‘the silence of guns’ is not a reality today that is acceptable to wider society. Stand down.

    Those that are genuinely interested in politics for real and about providing service to their community then need to reorganize and get back to the provision of ground truth community services for the areas in which they live or work. They need to tackle social injustices and eradicate sectarian ignorance. The people will respond to authentic civil duty, and vote. Indeed, they’re crying out for it.

    At that point, those presently unheard will secure a voice that can challenge the Political Establishment and bring about the much needed social reform so desperately required in our ravaged working class communities.

    In agreeing to enter a mandatory government with Sinn Fein it is correct that politicians today acknowledge the courageous step Ian Paisley took however Ian was 1 man in a huge sequence of political dancing that occurred at the time, and none of us should pause for too long in admiration because there are countless unseen faces of the peace process and political settlements who did much more.

    All focus today should be on supporting communities where lack of education, lack of vision, lack of investment or social infrastructure is prevalent. While that is happening, myths, taboos & legacies of the most recent Troubles or history need discussed, debated, contemplated and rationalized. Then and only then will people in these communities feel as one with wider society.

  • tacapall – try not to get distracted from the post’s topic.

  • tacapall

    tacapall – try not to get distracted from the post’s topic.

    “Where is the [working class] Protestant Community today”

    I am Alan, a lot of them are heading straight to Maghaberry when this new supergrass trial starts, another lot are hiding and will be getting their collars felt by the PSNI when this new inquiry starts into the relationship between the RUC/PSNI and the UVF leadership.

  • andnowwhat

    Looks like the PUP’s armed wing are back in the frame, as are their security forces handlers. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20031596

  • HeinzGuderian

    Looks like the PUP’s armed wing are back in the frame, as are their security forces handlers.

    They haven’t gone away ye know……….nor have the pira ‘army’ council. 😉

  • galloglaigh


    And nor has MI5 nor RUC Special Branch!