Dispelling the Myths Sustaining Loyalism’s Grievance Narrative: Part Two

The publication of the Parades Commission determination regarding the contentious Crumlin Road parade presents an opportunity to pre-empt the anticipated avalanche of cries from unionist politicians suggesting that British and unionist culture is being eroded in the north of Ireland.

On their respective appearances on The Nolan Show in the past year, Jeffrey Donaldson has spoken about his “identity and tradition being beaten into the ground” due to the decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union Flag on designated days, whilst East Derry MP Gregory Campbell claimed that ‘protestants would like some equality.’

Already, political unionist reaction to this Parades Commission determination has been along similar lines. As David McCann tweeted last night after noting the vocabulary employed by the assorted unionist parties in their reaction to the determination:

DUP- ‘illogical’ PUP- ‘Cultural apartheid’ TUV- ‘monstrous.’ Anyone want to take bets on which one calls PC decision criminal first?

The bogus nature of the loyalist grievance narrative is evident to all but the most jaundiced of observers, but an outline of the objective facts is always a welcome addition to such discussions. Previously, I have comprehensively outlined how the assertions that the protestant/unionist community was ‘losing out’ in a socio-economic sense were factually wrong (see Willie Frazer’s Tiger’s Bay video produced in the interim to get an idea as to how such erroneous claims are dangerously employed to further a bogus grievance narrative.) Given the Flag Furore and subsequent anticipated row over this specific parade determination, I will illustrate below the absurdity of the contention that the British and Unionist identity is being eroded in this part of Ireland.

Northern Ireland might be a contested entity, governed as a result of an internationally binding consociational power-sharing arrangement in recognition of the two National communities co-existing within the state, but it remains a region overwhelmingly identified by a distinctly British and unionist ethos.

From the statues of the UVF co-founders at Stormont Buildings and array of British memorabilia sprinkled throughout the interior and exterior regions of Belfast City Hall (and other local government chambers) to the very names of our bridges, buildings and roads, the north of Ireland remains excessively British for a region in which its inhabitants are stubbornly or otherwise resigned to a future where parity between the Irish nationalist and British unionist communities holds the key to enduring stability, as embodied by the existence of the OFMDFM office into perpetuity.

Much of the relevant ground to this discussion was covered during the months of the flag protest, when numerous commentators pointed out the many ways in which the British and unionist culture is evident in northern society.

Yet a brief internet jaunt has enabled me to compile this list of how the British and unionist tradition has been celebrated in the past 6 weeks alone, a number in ways that would be deemed controversial (and no doubt an erosion of British culture) were directly reciprocal moves to be suggested and followed through with by nationalists.

UDR Conspicuous Gallantry Cross window unveiled at City Hall

An updated Conspicuous Gallantry Cross window unveiled at City Hall, remembering the controversial Ulster Defence Regiment. A plaque was also placed in the Garden of Remembrance and a permanent bench will follow on the site because, clearly, there aren’t already enough items in the grounds of City Hall commemorating the British/ Unionist military tradition.



Carrickfergus Armed Forces Day:

British regiments with bands spent the day marching through the town and putting on a number of demonstrations for the assembled audience.

Flying Armed Forces Flag at Belfast City Hall

Alliance joined with unionists to ensure the British Armed Forces flag was flown for 6 days from Belfast City Hall in spite of the obviously controversial nature of this decision.

British Regiments given Freedom of Two Majority-Unionist Boroughs

Territorial Army regiment given Freedom of Castlereagh and more Territorial Army soldiers given Freedom of North Down in the past six weeks.

Belfast City Hall will be illuminated for ‘Orangefest’

Next year, City Hall will be bathed in red, white and blue for the British Queen’s Birthday in June, and orange and purple in July for Orangefest.

Loyal Order Marches and funded loyalist bonfires

By the time July passes, there will already have been thousands of loyalist parades this marching season. Indeed, PSNI Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, has indicated that there are some 500+ parades on the 12th July alone this year. Furthermore, many council-funded loyalist bonfires will have been left to smoulder after being lit on the 11th Night, many others defined by the reckless manner in which they have been assembled (here and here.)

And, of course, mixed residential communities and village and town centres will already have been bedecked in an array of flags, bunting and arches exclusively associated with the British/Unionist identity in a manner which would simply not be countenanced were it to be reciprocated by nationalists at another time of the calendar year on anything approaching a similar scale.

The thousands of loyalist parades will predominantly be held in majority unionist communities where they will either be welcomed or treated in an indifferent manner, as are the overwhelming number of republican parades in the nationalist districts hosting such parades. The sensitive nature of some parade routes (and I have written before on the theme of this specific parade dispute (here and here)   will continue to vex our political class precisely because there is no agreement regarding the equal legitimacy of expressions of the Irish and British cultures within the state, never mind on who should be forced to ‘host’ such political/cultural expressions. And, on that note, it is worth acknowledging that the annual Lundy’s Day Parade in Derry marks the most significant act of one community playing host to a political/cultural expression of the Other. Perhaps one day Lisburn or Bangor town centres will host a republican parade of a similar (or any) scale……

The Crumlin Road determination will have been met with a collective sigh of relief from the PSNI leadership, whose handling of the loyalist flag protests left them vulnerable were they to adopt the traditionally pro-active approach to dealing with illegal road blockers in Ardoyne on the 12th July.

Nigel Dodds on The Nolan Show today has claimed that the Parades Commission have ‘rewarded bad behaviour’ with this determination. That conclusion requires society to blank out the antics of north Belfast loyalists since last July, when we have seen the notorious Famine Song incident, direct calls by unionist politicians to breach the subsequent Parades Commission determinations regarding parades at St Patrick’s Church, loyalist rioting in autumn in the area over parading and, last but very far from least, the illegal street protests and associated violence linked with the political unionist response to Belfast City Council’s decision to limit the number of days when the Council would fly the Union Flag.

Them’s the facts……