On Wednesday night I met up with three of the brains behind Loyalist Against Democracy (LAD) for a few pints beside City Hall for their first sit down interview. Billy, Rab and Ron talked with me for the well over an hour and no topics were off limits. My first impressions of them were-not at all what I expected; they are smart, professional and have built up a well-read blog and a solid following on Twitter.
I began by asking them what their initial reactions were to the flag protests in December 2012?
Billy told me about his disappointment at the treatment of Naomi Long and the Alliance party during the entire episode. The anger he felt that that people were causing so much trouble in the city he ‘loves’ motivated him to create LAD which he wanted to help ‘diffuse’ the city by essentially being funny.
For Rab, it was slightly different as he told me ‘when I first heard about it I did the usual thing and ignored it, until it started directly effecting me, coming home from work, getting to work, all that kind of thing.’
For Ron, LAD was ‘an outlet for my frustration’ as he seen family members caught up in flag protests being stopped from getting home.
How did they think the DUP responded to the protests?
Billy told me;
They were out actively supporting it You had Councillors and MLAs who were turning up at protests. There is just something quite wrong there. I don’t have a problem with the politics of the DUP. I understand that that’s their politics and that there are people who vote for them. But they caused the problem, Paul Givan was on the TV the other night talking about the policing overtime bill and he had the cheek to say that who have brought the flag protestors out on to the street should take some responsibility but his party were part of that problem. They didn’t stand up and show leadership…
When I asked about Sinn Fein’s response the guys were critical of the filming of the flag coming down and the tribal nature of politics here that encourages that type of behaviour amongst politicians. But as Ron was keen to point out that no matter how dark the politics of that time were that it was a very small minority of people involved in the protests.
At this juncture, I was poised to ask, where LAD not a bit out of touch with a great deal of the people in Northern Ireland who seemed to care about the flag vote? To this they said that they were confident that they were in touch with their people, who they defined as ‘in the middle’ and not aligned to either side. But essentially as Billy boldly declared;
We don’t really care…I have never cared what other people think. I know what I think.
The lack of caring about other peoples opinions is a key ingredient of the groups success.
What about their critics?
We are just a voice. We have as much right to articulate our point of view as somebody like Dave Magee does…I would very much believe that if somebody has a problem with you, it’s their problem, not your problem.
We are also very proud of what we do, especially since Christmas, we have changed our focus a little bit but it was intentional, we always wanted to do that. But whenever you see people coming on and being blatantly stupid and not getting it about what we are trying to do it is deeply annoying and offensive…we do it for the best of intentions.
I wanted to move on some more substantive things they have done and I turned to the recent blog post by Ann Travers on their site. Billy was clear from the outset that he was not fan of some of the actions that she and Allister pursued during the course of the Spad bill. However, he told me ‘just because I don’t agree with somebody, doesn’t mean I won’t sit and talk with them.’ These nuances in LAD’s thinking are sometimes lost in their combative style on Twitter but as Billy explained how his understanding of Ann’s situation improved after she wrote for them, you see that the notion of an unmoving ideologue is not really an accurate picture.
When I jokingly asked if they would ever host a blog from Jamie Bryson? They said that they had already approached some detractors from other parties and groups but have been turned down. This was the aspect of the interview which really shocked me as they seemed totally un-phased about the attempts by people to find out who they are or those who sit and criticise them. For Billy, it would not be an issue for him to sit and debate Jamie Bryson but the alias he uses for the blog are all part of a character which he uses every time he logs on to the LAD account.
We then got onto talking about the PUP and its future direction. Billy and Ron told me they were admirers of David Ervine and have actually read pieces of work that he has written. Today’s PUP they believe bears no relation to the party established by people like Ervine and Hugh Smyth. Only John Kyle they believe is the last remnant of the old order that ran the party and that some of the party’s current candidates would be kicked out of the party if Ervine was still leader.
At this point it was time for another round…
In part two-we discuss where the LAD goes from here?, Jamie Bryson and are they too one sided?
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs