Has the Protestant Working Class lost out in the Peace Process?

That’s the title of a workshop that brought together working class loyalist representatives with some peers from other communities, interested academics and a small number of journalists. The day long event was organised by Dr Aaron Edwards and supported by the Political Studies Association’s Irish Politics Specialist Group and the Fellowship of Messines Association.

In an earlier post I posted an interview with PUP leader Billy Hutchinson at the close of the workshop.

With four sessions looking at different aspects of post-Good Friday Agreement loyalism, each session began with opening speeches from two or three delegates, followed by a 45 minute group discussion.

This post captures the prepared remarks of the contributors but not the subsequent dialogue which was conducted under the Chatham House Rule. As you listen to the speeches, bear in mind the context that the workshop was held two days before the start of the PSNI/NIO talks discussions in Cardiff.

PSA working class loyalism  workshop

The delegates were sitting around desks stretched across two interconnected rooms. Shuffling chairs on the wooden floor, mobile phones and heckling occasionally interrupted the speakers and the recording.

I’ve drawn out some quotes from the 10-15 minute speeches, but these are by no means the most interesting elements of what was said, and perhaps in some cases not said.

Steven McCaffery has a good write-up and analysis of the event in an article on The Detail website.

Session 1: The history, culture and politics of the Protestant working class

Dr Tony Novosel from the University of Pittsburgh recently published a book Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism which examined the PUP and the UVF (also available on Kindle.) I heard him speak a couple of years ago at the PUP conference. He has spent time engaging with the PUP and more recently their youth wing. [listen/MP3]

During the riots Protestant mobs fought vicious battles with the police as well as with Catholics so convinced where they that the police where being overrun with Catholics and that Protestants were being maltreated by the police. Confidence in the government was at a low ebb in the Protestant community. The unionists in the area attempted to assuage a growing band of government critics raising Protestant complaints against the police at Stormont. With such moves to pre-empt the anger the extremists were notably unsuccessful. Many Protestants now began to view the unionist party as utterly incapable of properly promoting and defending Protestant interests. A new organisation stood ready to welcome them into its ranks. They promised political action. The organisation of Protestant opposition to the unionists.

While it may sound like commentary from the height of the flags protest, the extended quote was adapted from an article by Graham Walker’s describing 1930s.

The Protestant working class returned to a life where the important issues of political and economic and social and marginalisation along with educational underachievement and social deprivation will continue to exist and may get worse. Even more damaging is the fact that – just as my research has shown – unless something within the community itself changes dramatically it will remain without a coherent and forward thinking political leadership and will be at the mercy of those … that do not have our best interest at heart.

Tony Novosel finished with a quote from an 1977 article “Think or Perish” which assessed a speech given by Gusty Spence:

Those of us who rejected the philosophy of right for the philosophy of populism in the past have been proven wrong. Let us not make the same mistake twice in so short a period of time.

Dr Gareth Mulvenna from QUB spoke next. His full text is available on the Long Kesh Inside Out blog. He also found parallels between the flag protest and the situation forty years ago. [listen/MP3]

In conclusion I’d like to say I purposely avoided dwelling too much on the conflict in this brief and informal paper. I just wanted to demonstrate how many of the losses suffered by the Protestant working class at the start of the Troubles led to a sense of frustration owing to the disaggregating effects of social forces and political violence on their sense of Britishness. This is not to say that the Protestant working class felt or feel any less British themselves. But an opportunity was lost for the Protestant working class to keep in tune with the ongoing refashioning of contemporary British identity.

While the white working class of the East End have adapted to the refashioning or withdraw into a familiar sense of British identity by moving away from the area, the Protestant working class in parts of Belfast are arguably still coming to terms with the breakdown of community and civic structures which occurred in the early 1970s. The Tartans who rioted in 1972 and the flag protesters who rioted in 2013 in East Belfast share the same core issues of unemployment and a lack of vision for the future, problems which young people across the UK faced then and now. However with the peace process, it is perceived to be designed for the benefit of republicans and a perception of being cut adrift from the rest of the British working class which once reflected their hopes, dreams and ambitions.

It is little wonder that Protestant working class in Northern Ireland feel marginalised and without direction.

Joe Bowers chairs the Fellowship of Messines Association. [listen/MP3]

So what is Britishness? I’m being told all the time what Britishness is. Is it a yearning for the glories of the world-wide civilisation of the Empire? Or is it the defence and promotion of the civilisation built by the struggle of working people at home? In which I include the Welfare State and the National Health Service as its most recent developments which are now under such dire threat … It seams to me that there are identities now that we didn’t have before, and that’s the result of the catastrophic history of the last three or four decades. We’ve got “PUL” in our [agenda] sheets. I remember when loyalism and unionism was a synonymous thing. It has emerged in our recent conflict as a badge of working classism: loyalism is working class.

He went onto refer to “unionist paramilitaries” and asked about the role of the Official Unionist Party in the setting up of the UVF.

He spoke out strongly against zero hour contracts and concluded by asking:

Is what’s happening in the streets a class issue or is it a unionist issue or a constitutional issue? These labels, you’ve got Protestant working class, Catholic working class, Protestant socialism, Catholic socialism [interrupted by mobile phone ringtone featuring the Red Army choir!] … Are we trapped? What’s the difference between Protestant socialism, Catholic socialism and national socialism? How far between them are we? Are we trapped? Is the Protestant working class trapped in an all-class alliance?

Even after only the first three speeches, I sense a feeling of loyalism being left behind, of history repeating itself, a separation of unionism and loyalism and of loyalism viewing its working class issues through the lens of republicanism victory.

An identity trapped in a negative vortex.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll look at the next session – Challenges for Protestants in “Dealing with the Past”.

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  • Chris Donnelly

    I’m very glad to see you blogging on this topic, and discussions such as those which have taken place are essential to moving politics forward in this society.

    The answer to the headline question is a very decisive ‘No,’ and it is very important that the inconvenient nature of the facts pertaining to the relative socio-economic and cultural status of the protestant working class community vis a vis their catholic neighbours is emphasised throughout the discussion to prevent the cycle of myths fuelling discontent from being perpetuated and used as an excuse for the periodic outbreaks of violence emanating from loyalist quarters. See Newton Emerson’s article in the Irish News mid week for more on this.

    Of course, I have blogged on this topic in the recent past (linked below) and will be returning to it again shortly:


  • Delphin

    Has the Protestant Working Class lost out in the Peace Process? I would say yes. Their perceived superiority over their working class comrades, who happen to be Catholic is seriously dented. The glory days of the UWC strike are but a distant memory. Add to this the decline of traditional heavy industry and you have a recipe for a disgruntled people.
    All they can do now is stick flags on lamp posts in impotent rage

  • Neil

    If they’ve lost out it’s only because they were on the pig’s back as far as certain jobs and housing were concerned. But the facts do speak for themselves:

    CATHOLICS in Northern Ireland are in poorer health, are more likely to be un-employed and live in larger households compared with Protestants, latest census figures show.


    Is it some people’s view that the inequality in society is not unequal enough? That Unionism’s inherent advantage should be enhanced further so they don’t feel bad about losing their prior dominance?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Was this a male-only affair? Not seeing many women, looking around the table.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Alan astutely refers to “loyalism viewing its working class issues through the lens of republicanism victory”. There are enough challenges to face without loyalists creating phantom ones – they are not helping themselves. They mistake Republican triumphalism for Republican victory.

    If they only asked themselves what Republicans really got in the Peace Process – and what the limits are on what Republicans ever can get without unionist consent in the future. The answer might surprise and cheer them – and enable to them to engage much more self-confidently in politics.

    Economically it’s tough and those of us broadly on the left ought to be focussed on how to stimulate a recovery that doesn’t place a burden on the least well off – this is what loyalism should be talking about right now. But in terms of identity and constitutional politics, the truth is loyalist don’t need to be as concerned as they seem to be. Loyalism (or rather Unionism, but Loyalism benefited) actually won decisively in 1998 with the acceptance by nationalism in the GFA of the equal legitimacy of our British identity to their Irish identity on the island. Game over for Irish nationalism, as this was accepting that Irish identity should not be applied to everyone on the island, ergo no single Irish nation of all people on the island, ergo the 32-county project’s raison d’etre no longer exists. Loyalism should be breathing a sigh of relief and revelling in the post-nationalist space.

    But as ever, its greatest enemy is its own lack of self-belief. They make the classic mistake of over-estimating the power of their adversaries and under-estimating their own potential, which is huge. It’s like when United in the 90s used to lose all those big crunch Champion’s League games to Juventus, until they started to realise Juventus had feet of clay. All it takes is some imaginative, self-confident leadership to show everyone the Republican emperor has no clothes. Where’s David Ervine when you need him?!

  • Barnshee

    CATHOLICS in Northern Ireland are in poorer health, are more likely to be un-employed and live in larger households compared with Protestants, latest census figures show”

    Would that be in anyway related to family size? (perhaps the oft quoted increase in roman catholic population Versus protestant population)

    1 How much is heath related to genetics, lifestyle and in its widest sense environment ?

    2 Why will a (free) choice exercised on family size give anyone a right to special treatment–a bigger house?- at others expense ?

    3 At any one time there are a limited number of jobs available – where there are more job applicants than jobs a level of unemployment in the remaining population is inevitable

    4 If ,in the AFM remaining population there are more of Group X people than Group Y people, unemployment levels are likely to be higher in X than in Y -its hardly the fault of Group Y.

    In short what are the root causes of Health, Employment and housing problems?

  • Morpheus

    @Mainland Ulsterman

    I completely disagree with your analysis of the GFA. I agree with your sentiments about recovery of NI but I think you really need to take a look at the GFA again if you think it means ‘game over for Irish nationalism.’

    The GFA brought choice where once there was none. It rightly states that Northern Ireland is British because the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished it to be so at that time – and that still applies today – but it also gives the option for a United Ireland if the majority of people in Northern Ireland and also the Republic of Ireland wish it. To achieve a United Ireland by democratic means was not possible 20 years ago, it is now. That is a massive plus for Irish Nationalism, especially when one looks at the changing demographics of NI.

    Who knows what the situation could be like in 20 years from now, especially when the nationalist and republican parties get their fingers out of their backsides and start addressing the real issues highlighted in Chris’s thread:

    Maybe they’ll be sorted and it will solidify the union.

    Or maybe they won’t and the constant marching coupled with decisions like Girdwood and the A5 will force people to start looking towards the country which was polled 10th in the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index. ‘The Land of Milk and Honey’ it is not’ but maybe it will start to look like a good alternative

  • sonofstrongbow

    The usual laughable stuff from some nationalists. Ok I can understand their disquiet at loyalists infringing their MOPE copyright – especially so given their penchant for cheering on the deprivation within sections of the nationalist community.

    ‘Vote for us and we’ll make sure you continue living in sh*t’ is a bizarre but seemingly winning formula for Shinnerdom.

    And a point of order: a united Ireland by democratic means was always on option. The nationalist murderfest was just a pointless and completely unjustified indulgence. It is regrettable that some nationalists still buy into the ‘no other choice’ myth.

  • “the extended quote was adapted from an article by Graham Walker’s describing 1930s.”

    Alan, here’s a link to exchanges in Stormont on 10 July 1935 about recent Belfast disturbances; these exchanges are probably more relevant than the observations of strangers long after the event; they certainly provide a wider context.

  • Morpheus

    “The nationalist murderfest was just a pointless and completely unjustified indulgence.”

    I completely agree. The changes that have occurred in NI came about because the electorate decided that enough was enough and demanded change…which is happening all the time.

    That said, judging from Chris’s thread many more changes are needed to bring true equality to Northern Ireland and these changes will come bigger and faster in the future. For a start I think we can all agree that there needs to be massive investment in the most deprived wards – but ‘8 of the most deprived 10 wards when assessed across all criteria’ are Catholic- how will those changes be received?

    If (I’m not sure if I can use the actual term so we’ll go for ‘those who shall not be named’ handle each and every change in the way they have handled the cosmetic changes so far then more and more ‘unicorns’ will be pushed further and further away.

    It’s like Princess Leia once said “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” 🙂

  • Brian Walker

    C’mon it’s surely not so difficult to understand. We can agree can’t we that nationalism/republicanism made relative gains while unionism/ loyalism made relative losses in the sense that the post- 1998 State was no longer “ their “ State? So the perception of the loyalist working class losing out is surely real enough.

    There’s a host of reasons for it. The collapse of monolithic unionism that appeared to include them, followed by unionism and State elements in turns conniving with and repudiating loyalist violence “in defence of the State.”

    Remember too that the loyalist paramilitaries as well as the IRA were defeated, ground to a halt , whatever term you prefer, so the hard liners or the most paranoid are still bruised by that.

    The difference was that IRA leadership won enough political support to take office while loyalists didn’t.
    Paisley had preserved the illusion of a people united against the overthrow of the State if divided on the methods. He would argue this forestalled far worse loyalist violence He exploited their sense of betrayal and victimhood for decades, right up to the point of abruptly accepting powersharing almost without explanation. No wonder loyalists are badly confused.

    None of this nor academic class analyses helps much now. If you’re talking about what to do next it’s not enough surely to argue – however rightly in my view – that the sense of loyalist loss is just part of the old deluded zero sum game that Catholic gains were won at Protestant expense.

    Unionism as a whole has to find a way to embrace the settlement more warmly. Survival would be a good reason, a more content community another. To be fair most of the elements are present, only that they are so often drowned out by the beat of the sectarian drum and intra- community rivalry. More confusion is the inevitable result.

    SF are ahead of unionism strategically, however much they are mistrusted . One can see why Robinson is so frustrated at unionist fragmentation when he observes SF’s self confidence. But he seemed to lose touch at the height of Swish Family Robinson. His own defeat showed that DUP support could be fragile, a point surprisingly often overlooked.

    Loathe though I am to admit it there seems to be no one in unionism in government to match Paisley’s gift for grass roots grafting and appeal in the old days of endless opposition.

    The immediate urgent need is for a deal on parades. No one seems very optimistic that they’ll do better than squeak through day by day.

    Leadership is lacking. The DUP despite its comfortable majority follows more than it leads. The elephant in the room is the rise of Catholic numbers which will have to be honestly and responsibly faced by both sides. Endless nitpicking and prevarication only increase frustration all round. The elements of a strategy are available but they will have to adopted and sold to the people.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The fundamental premise of this question is the notion that the Catholic working class has done significantly better over the same time period. I’m not sure that this is the case. The gap in income equality throughout the UK during the past number of decades has continued to widen.

    I think this particular debate has become one of our usual navel-gazing clichés. People want something or someone to blame for the state of things rather than dealing with the real issues themselves.

    I know what doesn’t help, though, and that is the ongoing presence of paramilitaries in these communities, controlling protests, racketeering building sites, intimidating people etc etc. By right the police should be aggressively pursuing and working to frustrate these people. Instead the police are inviting them to a junket in Cardiff for a nice chat.

  • “embrace the settlement more warmly”

    Brian, the 1998 constitutional arrangement is essentially the problem; it incites nationalists to go for change and unionists to oppose it.

    “Leadership is lacking.”

    Stronger and more adept leadership on both sides would inevitably make matters worse.

  • Mainland Ulsterman – There were two women – who both made strong contributions – amongst the forty or so folk at the workshop. It’s something I’ll come back to in tomorrow’s post: the voice of the women who held together families while combatants were in prison or on the run are still missing from the top table in these conversations.

  • “more changes are needed to bring true equality to Northern Ireland”

    Morpheus, ‘equality’ is a nice buzz word but nationalists seek to erase ‘Northern Ireland’, not to agree arrangements with unionists and others that would be of benefit to all.

  • Morpheus


    Equality and the UI issue are separate. Are we to not give equality in NI because a nationalist has the (legally enshrined) aspiration of a UI? The last I checked the nationalists in NI paid the same tax and contributions as everyone else so their areas deserve the same levels of investment as everywhere else – the fact that they have an aspiration of a UI should not come into it. Can you say that has been the case if ‘8 of the most deprived 10 wards when assessed across all criteria’ are Catholic? (and I know that it is clumsy to equate Catholic with Nationalist, I am just using Chris’s comment)

    Equality is not a buzzword – it is a necessity when two camps of similar sizes share a tiny speck of land on the extreme fringe of Europe.

  • Chris Donnelly

    So the perception of the loyalist working class losing out is surely real enough.

    Brian Walker
    ‘perception’ being the operative word, and that needs to be underlined.

    Ownership of the state was precisely the problem; a shared future by its very nature implies joint ownership, and an acceptance that the state will reflect the differing traditions, and not be the preserve of just one tradition.

    The problem is to be found in political unionism’s failure to emotionally come to terms with the GFA, never mind failure to sell the idea of a shared NI.

    The parades issue, like flag flying and opposition to power-sharing, is but one manifestation of the residual supremacist tendencies within political unionism which must be faced down by a unionist leadership conscious of the fact that the ‘culturally Irish’ who they now accept will form an electoral majority in the not too distant future will require more than a Party Conference speech once every couple of years to be persuaded to join the cause of the Union.

  • Ulster Press Centre

    I see from the photo that MI5 were well represented at the meeting.

  • Framer

    So we know Joe Bowers’ mobile phone tone is the Red Army choir so why can’t we also be told of his Communist Party pedigree where the party worked tirelessly to keep the Labour Party out of Northern Ireland and restrict Protestant working class trade unionists and progressives to an anti-imperialist (i.e Irish nationalist) political position.
    Little wonder the class was leaderless.

  • “Ownership of the state was precisely the problem”

    Agreed, Chris – hence my suggestion back in the early 90s for shared sovereignty and, later on, the merger of strands 2 and 3.

    “The parades issue – is but one manifestation of the residual supremacist tendencies within political unionism”

    Gerry Adams let the cat out of the bag in 1997 at that gathering in Athboy when he admitted that the ‘parades issue’ had been worked on for three years ie the ‘parades issue’ was a substitute for the armalite. The Irish government facilitated the Athboy conspiracy and, unintentionally, blew the cover on the nature of shared administration and political policing here. The young civil servant who supplied me with a transcript of the latter briefing is currently the Irish ambassador in Seoul.

  • Morpheus

    “a shared future by its very nature implies joint ownership”

    Exactly Chris – joint ownership, not a ‘Unwanted Tenants V. Landlord’ relationship.

  • Morpheus, I don’t have a problem with equality [follow the links] but I do have a problem persuading unionists, nationalists and others working together for the good of all.

  • DC

    Ownership of the state was precisely the problem; a shared future by its very nature implies joint ownership, and an acceptance that the state will reflect the differing traditions, and not be the preserve of just one tradition.

    What about the existing constitutional culture of that there is currently only one?

    Joint ownership is not correct what you mean is in a pluralistic democracy, an all party government enforced by statute, all political parties should have the right to effect change and that is a party political thing and must not be equated with joint sovereignty and both flags because it would be illogical to do so.

    But you are right things culturally irish should be on the table.

    Remember Porter wrote a book about the greening of the union and a greened-out union flag was the vision, it was not its complete removal – such was the attempt at Belfast City Hall.

    The union flag has been removed in other council areas where unionists had been the majority but became a significant minority, I am thinking such as magherafelt and fermanagh. There wasn’t any kick back such as what happened in belfast, so spare us the supremacist nonsense.

    In Belfast people just expected the Alliance party to spot a bigoted complete removal motion for what it was, instead it ‘compromised’ and in doing so showed the people in NI that the alliance is not a hybrid party but its own thing and there are now three communities: unionist, nationalist and the alliance community (closer to nationalism than unionism on how it handles british and in particular loyalist identity in that it won’t deliver 100% removal of stuff but will deliver 90% of the way).

  • anne warren

    As Alan suggested I read Steven ‘s article on The Detail website which brought out several interesting points. I have copied some here because they seem to show Loyalists are on a steep learning curve. And they will need to learn quickly if they don’t want to become
    The Tribe that Time Left Behind

    1) “A separate contributor said discussions on how loyalists might begin to show a greater acceptance of Irish culture and identity could perhaps be developed in the Unionist Forum”.
    It doesn’t matter where the discussions are developed. The important point is that Loyalists are finally beginning to realise that they need to accept Irish culture and identity

    2) “He added: “There is a supremacist attitude within Orangeism that states that we’re better, that `we’re the people’.
    “And that, I think, is one of the characters that needs to be seriously addressed by ourselves.
    “We are all equal.”
    How very sad that we are in the 21st century and Loyalists and Orangemen are finding it difficult to accept the principle of equality – which stems from the American and French revolutions. However realising they need to accept it is another step forward

    3) “He added: “The flags issue raised serious concerns for me because of how it was focused around something that, let’s face it, most of us wouldn’t have even noticed, ie the flag flying over the city hall.
    “I think the rallying around that flag … the conduct of it was wrong.
    “It came across as supremacist, it came across as fascist … moderates [were] pushed aside.”

    No matter how far the Loyalist conception of British citizenship lags behind the current view on the mainland, they would never, ever want to be tarred with the Fascist brush. Here’s hoping this opens up questions for them and they start asking themselves what it means to be British today and coming up with some better answers than “Flegs” and “No Surrender”.
    That really would be an enormous step forward.

  • I’ve just done something I do not recall from any previous Slugger thread: I printed off the whole thing so far. I wanted to study it as a text.

    Then I tried to think through a summation. It came out remarkably similar to that by Brian Walker @ 2:23 pm.

    Then, to muse on …

    Why is NI so different? After all, most of the social comparisons are not greatly out of line with the rest of the UK. Certainly not to the extent they were historically.

    For a start, it is not to my mind quite the case propounded by Gareth Mulvenna:

    While the white working class of the East End have adapted to the refashioning or withdraw into a familiar sense of British identity by moving away from the area, the Protestant working class in parts of Belfast are arguably still coming to terms with the breakdown of community and civic structures which occurred in the early 1970s.

    I had to revisit and old stamping ground — Dagenham and beyond (“not so much mad, as seven stops beyond Barking”) — three times in recent weeks. What was interesting is the old Becontree Estate is one of the few areas in London where the Union Flag, and more commonly the cross of St George, are commonly flown. Note that is not the same as #flegs: it is largely a continued protest against ethnic mixing. That means the “white working class” (frequently third and fourth generation immigrants themselves, many from Ireland, imported to the Ford plant) feel “their” housing stock is being alienated.

    So what is the gripe among the “Protestant working class”? It is more to do with status, and the lost right to swagger.

    That leads me on to the main difference of NI “Britishness”. The ambition of those patriotic NI “Britons” appears to have again a statelet all of their very own. As they had between June 1922 and March 1972; and which was so badly managed, it relied on oppression and coercion. The Ulster Unionism of that half-century is still felt by many to be the norm.

    We’ve been waiting a while for the next bit of Chris Donnelly‘s analysis. So far he focused on employment (or not) and education.

    Now, as I recall in 1923 unemployment in NI was 23%. By 1938 it had risen to near 30%. Much of that total and disproportionately more of the increase seems to have impacted on the topic here: the Protestant working class of Belfast. H&W was down to some 1500 employees. The “Wee Yard” had long gone. There were the unemployed disturbances of 1924, 1926 and 1932. I’d be asking why the social order then was side-tracked into the later Protestant sectarianism, by whom, and to what effect.

    Today there is the odd isolated pocket where unemployment reaches those levels of the pre-War period: as I recall, Larne — those 260 jobs at FG Wilson — and Magherafelt in particular. I believe [West] Belfast is rapidly matching Derry as a jobs black-spot? But even then no worse than (say) Hull or Middlesbrough. And certainly well below parts of Birmingham.

    Finally, that photograph in the headline piece. I don’t know whether the presence of two women represents “equal opportunities”; but balding males of a certain age and girth seem to predominate.

  • gendjinn


    Morpheus, ‘equality’ is a nice buzz word but nationalists seek to erase ‘Northern Ireland’, not to agree arrangements with unionists and others that would be of benefit to all

    They are the same thing.

  • sonofstrongbow

    So it seems that in order to hasten us all to the (not quite yet but coming soon) Land of Milk and Honey all that is required is for ‘working class loyalists’ to “embrace” ‘Irish culture’.

    Yet strangely some aspects of local Irish culture are deemed by some as nasty and “supremacist”. After all what could be more ‘Irish’ than the Orange Order?

    There again perhaps I’m (a few stops beyond) barking and it’s a nationalist defined Irish (mono) culture that those loyalist types are required to embrace?

    Pity the poor loyalist. So out of kilter with both Irish and contemporary British culture. But is that the culture of Dublin 4 or the Bogside; Notting Hill or east Bradford?

  • sonofstrongbow @ 5:37 pm:

    … a nationalist defined Irish (mono) culture …

    I guess you’ve never stood between a Dubliner and a Corkman at the same bar.

  • anne warren

    Son of Strongbow
    You appear to have misunderstood what went on at the meeting.
    As Alan has already said, around 40 participants discussed events under the privacy of Chatham House rules Mc Caffery writes “there were community workers, trade unionists, loyalist politicians, ex-prisoners, a republican known now for campaigning on social issues, researchers and a number of academics specialising in the study of loyalism and Protestantism”.
    Please note there was one (1) republican at the meeting.

    Participants talked abput accepting Irish culture – not “embracing it” See my post above

    “The speaker’s comments on “supremacist” views in Orangeism were echoed by others from a unionist background ” – Mc Caffery

    You can continue wilfully refusing to understand and become a member of the Tribe that Time Forgot.
    Or you can start educating yourself to 21st century realities.

  • DC

    All good points Anne – although your question of the ‘fleg’ is a double edged one, unionists didn’t make the flag issue a live one by proposing and seeing through change, it was nationalists who seem to have found it excessive. on that basis, i am not sure who exactly has moved on or away from flag politics.

    Crudely speaking if flags don’t matter why bother with them, especially if you are looking for unionists to accept irishness if irishness in an NI context is simply about removing union flags then acceptance will be difficult, argumentative in response and bitter in outcome.

    it does look as if political nationalism enjoys removing things of meaning to unionists, than say getting enjoyment out of improving on the stuff that matters to them, their culture and irish tradition.

    maybe union flag removal is part of the irish tradition and if so your question is again double edged and therefore shouldn’t just focus on loyalists as backward looking.

  • anne warren

    Just stop reiterating/worrying and fixating about/ obsessing over/
    “maybe union flag removal is part of the irish tradition ”

    Accept that Designated Days are British policy.
    And as far as I know, for the forseeable future.

    You don’t want to look as if you’re suffering from some delusion, do you?

  • Red Lion

    Its mainly a question of leadership.

    When it came to political big house unionism, working class protestants suffered the cycle of ‘used, and discarded, used and discarded’. Led by the bloody nose up a blind alley. The flags protest was just the latest example.

    Then the leadership from within – loyalist paramilitaries. Talk about self destruction and self-harming. How to quantify the murders, maimings, traumatising, depriving, criminalising and exiling of their own communities by loyalist paramilitaries??This factor tore apart the fabric of their own communities as much as anything else.

    And the substantial residue of the latter point continues today. The ‘political wing’ of loyalism has not been able to stop it, I’m not sure they particularly want to. They seem to turn a blind eye and deny it.

    Even 15 years post ceasefire political loyalism and political unionism still hasn’t plotted a strategic path for working class protestants, or unionism in general. Woeful woeful leadership.

    Contrast this with the transformation across the peace wall. Many former IRA combatants some who have commited heinous atrocities are up in Stormont and have transformed their movement away from violence into something much more constructive for their communities. There is no mirror image in the working class Protestant community.

    The only hope I see is if the new Jasil party can articulate a vision of Britishness and Northern Irishness which is sufficiently cross-community and liberal which can gain traction in working class Protestant areas, and allow them finally to throw off old fears and demons. Make them comfortable in their British skin, not fearful. Part of this has to be an education and action towards pluralist Britishness that we see across the water. I trully hope the Jasil party works hard to gain candidates and members in working class areas who can see a spiritual home in the broader vision for Britishness. The conclusion of this should not then be about building one tribe’s community over another, but building one community where everyone benefits and rests easy and comfortably in a pluralist Northern Ireland-in-the-UK.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Judging by S McCaffrey’s report referenced above, the supremacist tendency is being acknowledged even by loyalists now.

    It is not about unionists having to embrace Irish nationalism, but rather find an equal place for it within their narrative in the same manner that nationalism/ republicanism is challenged to find a role for expressions of the unionist tradition- political and cultural- in their vision of the future.

    That’s going to mean unionists accepting a legitimate place for the Irish National flag within the northern state at some stage. After all, Peter Robinson’s Castlereagh Council found a place for the Orange Order’s flag to be flown.

    As ever, spot on with the shared sovereigntly angle but ridiculously off mark with Athboy. Read a history book: we’ve had centuries of trouble with Loyal Orders’ marches. Ormeau and Garvaghy long preceded by Longstone etc

    The second part will arrive in the coming weeks.

  • DC

    That’s going to mean unionists accepting a legitimate place for the Irish National flag

    Chris, we’ve been down this road before.

    In those councils that have a nationalist majority and are nationalist-run all you have to do as you guys did do with the union flag is use local democracy, this time have a vote to fly the irish tricolour and move away from neutrality – if it passes then fair enough. You don’t need political unionism for this, you know that!

    Try it and see what happens and if it doesn’t withstand the test of time and has to come down it will not be by the forces of unionism but more than likely a legal challenge and you can’t blame unionists for that if that is what the law determines.

  • Brian Walker

    Add to the list, loss of core industry, depopulation and loss of a sense of community, all inner city vices. Plus buckets of self pity and patronising commentators. All this arid analysis only produces PhDs. In the real world we can expect no comprehensive, macro-political solution.

    Much of working class Belfast is moribund. Why not think of something practical?

    In the early 80s the Housing Executive carried out a near-milltary semi-secret operation to flit part of Catholic East Belfast to the new estate of Poleglass. Surely we can do better than that today. With the splitting up of the NIHE why not set up a virtual planning exercise?

    Form a Housing Association in partnership with government or council of mixed youngish membership, located in inner city brownfield sites such as the old Sirocco works site or the gaping holes between the Woodstock and Beersbridge roads. Zone in a little light industry. What would be the response? Mixed or segregated? How would they keep the crypto-paramilitaries out? By pricing or policing? This is the sort of project that should attract real energy enterprise and and engagement ,not obsessively chewing over the horrible politics.

  • “ridiculously off mark with Athboy. Read a history book”

    I don’t think so, Chris. Can you name a history book that contains the Gerry Adams revelation and the Dick Spring briefing? The BBC didn’t have the guts to repeat this briefing or to publish a transcript on the internet; I passed to copy to CAIN but it’s not been published there either.

  • “How would they keep the crypto-paramilitaries out? By pricing or policing?”

    Brian, you seem to be unfamiliar with ‘charities’, registered as limited companies, that contain a mixed membership of paramilitaries, police officers and other public servants, UK and Irish, serving and retired. I presume such arrangements have been endorsed, possibly encouraged, by London and Dublin through those mechanisms which have been in place since 1985.

  • Comrade Stalin


    How does your Athboy narrative explain the rioting, and subsequently, the rerouting of marches away from the Obins tunnel area of Portadown in the mid-1980s (long before Adams’ comments or Spring’s involvement) ?

  • Comrade Stalin


    I think it’s revealing that I thought a thread about the Protestant working class losing out would be about housing, jobs, education and opportunities, and you thought it was about flegs.

  • It doesn’t, Comrade; three years prior to 1997 takes you to 1994, the year of the ‘cessations’ by republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

  • Morpheus


    “Morpheus, I don’t have a problem with equality [follow the links] but I do have a problem persuading unionists, nationalists and others working together for the good of all.”

    That one is a problem that we all have to face.

    Take the example of the A5 debacle from a few weeks ago. The DRD proved that there was more than enough demand for ‘The Famine Road’ to be built but despite years of building roads the DRD ‘forgot’ important documentation. It was then taken to the courts and wasn’t even fought. Big shock.

    That was about 1 thing and one thing only – a finger in the eye for SF. Sod the people who need it as long as SF don’t get what they want.

    Then look at what going on with the Narrow Water Bridge. The thing would be bought and paid for by funding from Europe and bring jobs into an area which greatly needs them but yet again they are at loggerheads.

    Again, sod the people – it’s one in the eye for SF.

    That’s the level we are dealing with here in NI.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin, indeed. So please stop repeating your black helicopter conspiracy theory rubbish.

    Northern Ireland is a place that has been subjected to 100 years of cultural domination. It is inevitable that as the swing turns the other way and heads back towards equilibrium (which is where it must stop) there will be changes.

  • “So please stop repeating your black helicopter conspiracy theory rubbish.”

    Poor Comrade, I’ll leave the ‘theory’ rubbish to you.

  • DC

    Hi Comrade, flags were mentioned by chris and in the blog post above – and losing out is just as much wrapped up in identity issues as economic ones as well.

    I’m actually shocked and surprised, a blog about the protestant working class and you haven’t mentioned paramilitaries – proud of you!

    Oh hold on, take that back, you have!!

  • Expat

    Undoubtedly the GFA was an advance for nationalists at the expense of the PUL community. Chris’ saying it gave them an equal claim to ownership of the state perfectly describes the situation. The GFA was a settlement that represented a fundamental and irrevocable shift of power. It was a new reality, and the perception of the change a part of that reality. The CNR community may remain disadvantaged relatively, but are nevertheless in the ascendant, so that their becoming the dominant community is foreseeable. The new situation amounts to the final demise of the old Protestant/Unionist power order, the responses to which we have witnessed and are understandable.

    What came out of the flags protests above all was the disaffection of the loyalist working-class community with their elected representatives. The unionist forum was little more than an attempt by the parties to whip the working-class back into line by their being led to believe that the elected parties represented their interests – they were a part of the ‘unionist family’! The reality is that these parties, while relying on working class votes, are actually of the right and represent middle-class values. They nevertheless prey upon the identity and sectarian instincts of the working-class as though the immediate protection of the union and the maintenance of the position of the PUL community were the issues to override all others. The consequence is that these parties cannot embrace the terms of the GFA or be amenable to concessions to a shared future, lest it be seen as a betrayal of those who elect them. The call for the unionist parties to give leadership to their communities on the shared future agenda is therefore misplaced – they (primarily the DUP) rely upon the sectarian divisions for the maintenance of their strengths in the assembly.

    The ugly antagonisms of everyday life in NI are experienced most keenly by the working-class in city interface areas. These communities feel the brunt of the effects of segregation and are inevitably involved in the daily defence of their respective traditions in response to perceived challenges. The pity of it is that these same communities, which are equally the most deprived, have the most to gain by recognising and acting upon their common interest. It is surely a source of grief to all to see such self-defeating and hopeless division manipulated and exploited by the unionist parties as we do.

    The main nationalist parties are, in varying degrees, of the political left and generally reflect the social and economic aspirations of their supporters. There are no equivalent parties representing the unionist working-class. It would seem that the best real hope for a new era in NI politics will be the emergence of a party to represent the unionist working-class. I wonder, is there such a party?

  • aquifer

    Jobs lost by generations of conflict and recessions and an overvalued pound will be well nigh impossible to get back. InvestNI are right to go for high value smart business that can generate income and demand for services, but making things would help create jobs for the rest. Growing local businesses bigger still makes sense as people and their families here are ‘sticky’, unwilling to go away as before.

    We need to persuade people to come to a still beautiful country where a good lifestyle is affordable, but disorder destroys that prospect.

  • Morpheus

    Invest NI? They need to work for the whole of NI, not just Belfast:

    Investment visits in 3 years:
    Fermanagh-South Tyrone 0
    West Tyrone 0
    East Londonderry 10
    Foyle 30
    West Belfast 26
    North Belfast 64
    East Belfast 132
    South Belfast 164


  • Comrade Stalin

    DC, paramilitaries are a serious problem in Protestant working class communities. They racketeer and intimidate people out of business, and the jobs leave with them.

  • aquifer

    It is not clear that the Peace Process has much to do with this. The losses the protestant working class have suffered they share with the British working classes in other UK cities, but they are also losing out when it comes to available jobs in a more administrative and service-based regional economy. They will continue to lose out unless local politicians invest the subvention from the South East of England very cleverly to train retain and attract talent to work in the NI private sector.

  • Hopping The Border

    unionists didn’t make the flag issue a live one

    That’s odd, I thought it was they who ensured the Union flag was flown from CH 365 days a year despite the designated days policy of most other UK city councils.

    As for denials of a “supremacist mentality”, what exactly does “we are the people” mean?

    Unionist politicians have spent so long trying to out do each other that they won’t give (another) inch and how they are going to “smash sinn fein” again that they have forced themselves into a corner in relation to explaining to the loyalist sections of their electorate that:

    (1) the Belfast Agreement did not contain a clause that nationalists would stop being nationalists

    (2) that decisions will be taken democratically

    (3) that there will be a cultural adjustment to incorporate the Irish section of Northern Ireland’s population.

    (4) that extreme protestant nationalism will not be able to do what it likes when it likes

    (5) that it is possible that a majority of Northern Ireland’s population will at some point in the future vote for unification with ROI.

    In short they have been deceived by those purporting to represent them to the point that everything seems to be a concession to the other side forced on them rather then agreed.

    Loyalists should lay the blame solely at the door of those they voted for, who simply aren’t brave enough to tell them the truth.

  • What no one has mentioned is that on top of loyalists losing much of their comparative advantage with nationalists in terms of jobs and housing, is that the period from the signing of the GFA until IRA decommissioning in Sep 2005 was largely one of both governments trying to appease SF. This seemed to confirm Republican triumphalism in the minds of loyalists. The SDLP was also disadvantaged by this appeasement, but much of the electorate of the SDLP is educated and is not as dependent on perceived favors from the government as working class communities. Combine these two factors, loss of status and appeasement, and much is made clearer. Than after May 2007 the party of most of the loyalists, the DUP, is seen to be sharing the spoils with the Shinners and a general sense of abandonment is quite natural. Remember, loyalists have been raised on the Siege of Derry myth with the villain being Lt. Col. Lundy who wanted to open the gates of the city to the Papist (at least in NI mythology) forces. Now they see their champions in the DUP exposed as modern-day Lundys.

  • GEF

    “Has the Protestant Working Class lost out in the Peace Process?”

    Surely all working classes irrespective of religion or culture in Northern Ireland may have lost out in the Peace Process when it comes to unemployment, education and recent legislation on welfare benefits cuts, bedroom tax etc etc:
    However this negative dilemma among the working classes is also relevant in other parts of the UK and the ROI.

    The one positive result of the peace process re 1998 GFA was an end of terrorists (most who came from the working classes) murdering themselves and so many other Northern Ireland citizens over the past 40 years: Read here:

    Deaths in the Northern Ireland conflict since 1969

  • The second part has now been posted – though the session title Challenges for Protestants in “Dealing with the Past” may not entirely reflect the speakers’ comments! But they cover border polls, identity, insecurities and more …

  • Morpheus


    How did the 2 governments try to appease SF exactly?
    Investment in Catholics areas? No, that’s can’t be it because Chris has shown that 8 out of the 10 most deprived wards today are Catholic.
    They brought jobs to Catholic areas? No, that can’t be it either because Catholics in Northern Ireland are still more likely than Protestants to be unemployed:
    Did they put massive investment in infrastructure in SF areas? No, that can’t be it either because the A5 has been scuttled and those tax-payers in the West of the province are driving on roads which in parts have double the minimum requirement for a duel-carriageway. It looks likely that the same thing is going to happen on the Narrow Water Bridge project even though Europe is paying for that one.
    Do Invest NI bring most of those interested in inward investment to SF strongholds?
    Well no, 40 investment visits in 3 years ventured out of Belfast, while 296 over the same period went to East and South Belfast. (Take SF out of it and there wasn’t a single trip to Coleraine, Enniskillen, Ballymena, Omagh, Armagh, Antrim, Lisburn, Newry etc.)

    Where exactly is the appeasement?

    “much of the electorate of the SDLP is educated and is not as dependent on perceived favors from the government as working class communities”
    In 1998 the SDLP got 22% of the vote compared to SFs 17%. Race forward to 2011 and the SDLP had dropped to 14% and SF had skyrocketed to 27% – where do you think the educated SDLP voter went?

    SoS, feel free to talk about moping – even I will admit that I laid it on thick to make a point. 🙂

  • Brian Walker

    nevin. Too stuck in a negative rut again!. Why not use all that intelligence to explore and improve solutions?

  • aquifer

    So the Brits will only pay for shared citizenship, not protestant supremacy. So far so clear.

    Post 9 11 and Afghanistan nobody gets to sponsor terrorism, though extortion counterfeiting and drugdealing mean that it can sponsor itself. So still a potential problem if five loons with pistols or gangs prone to anti-social behaviour do not like what the democrats decide.

    Sinn Fein need to keep protestants wound up, needlessly, to keep their own political circus on the road, so will keep characatures of proddie intransigence in power and marginalise the middle ground.

    In western democracies the resources given to representative democracy are only sufficient to generate consent, not mass compliance. The state enforces private property rights, but does not have large amounts of money to engage the jobless.

    With me so far?

    We live in a rich resourceful country with fertile fields.

    Enjoy the twelfth, the memorial for the eighteenth century capitalist revolution that the Brits do not understand but which made them great. Bang your drum. You won.

  • “Too stuck in a negative rut again!. Why not use all that intelligence to explore and improve solutions?”

    Brian, I’m just telling it as I see it and experience it. I can’t stop the BBC being a government mouth-piece and I can’t force you to read the links I provided.

    Chris has agreed with my early 1990s recommendation for shared sovereignty but, unsurprisingly, is uncomfortable when I draw attention to the Athboy conspiracy.

  • @Morpheus,

    The appeasement was in the form of making concessions repeatedly to SF in an attempt to get them to deliver on decommissioning. After each big manor summit there was a new concession given to SF, several for things that they had already committed themselves to doing previously. Ordinary Catholics might not have benefitted from the concessions, but the concessions were made to SF, the party that claimed to be their representatives.

    I think the professional middle class voters stayed with the SDLP, it was younger first-time voters who started voting for SF. This was both because of “sneaking regarderism”–the romantic whiff of cordite–and because the Shinners were seen as much more effective at extracting things from London than were the SDLP. Seamus Mallon made this accusation bitterly to Blair or one of his reps and was told that this was because the SDLP didn’t have any guns. The Shinners were also much more efficient organizers than were the SDLP and had a newly unemployed “army” to help with the campaigning (something which also occurred during the war as testified to by Martin McGartland in his memoir.)

  • Morpheus


    I don’t see any appeasements in your post. Are there any specific appeasements that you could mention or is it an over-arching feeling of appeasement?

    I think voters have left SDLP in their droves because the SDLP have become practically invisible, bland, vanilla. They lack a charismatic leader to rally behind and I believe if they got that back then the voters will come back as well.

    I know many highly educated people who vote SF because they have watched them come in from the extremes and take over the middle ground traditionally held by the SDLP. Support for the PSNI, being on the Policing Board, condemning the dissidents etc are all indicators that they are coming in from the extremes – although stupid mistakes like Newry playground are still being made.

    That said, I think Gerry/Martin will never be accepted by Unionism no matter what they do or how much time passes. SF need a new approach…maybe Pearce Doherty taking over the reins – he is very talented and has no blood on his hands.

  • Red Lion

    Proper representation is whats needed. We need someone who carries sway in Prot. working class communities to stand up and be counted and offer a pluralist and liberal version of Britishness, and to counter the DUP version. Who though? The Jasil party should go hell for leather at providing an alternative for a cross-community NI within in the union, and in so doing starkly contast itself with the exploitative and manipulative nature of the DUP. To this end the Jasil party needs to pitch for working class candidates amongst its potentially diverse support base. I can see the likes of Dawn Purvis being very good at this, her left leaning politic being compatible with Basil’s social conscience.