About ‘that’ crossroads: Moderate Unionism at Twaddell, April 2014

The illegal loyalist protest camp at Twaddell (hitherto rebranded ‘A Camp Called Malice‘) has been the site for regular parades, rallies and political speeches from the full range of loyalist and unionist representatives since last summer.

Last Saturday, it was the turn of the Ulster Unionist Party’s Belfast councillor, Chris McGimpsey.

His speech is worth watching and listening to in its entirety, for it effectively encapsulates all that is wrong with the political leadership of mainstream unionism- never mind the purportedly moderate wing.

“The Ardoyne brethren…have not had a dignified return to their homes yet.”

Chris begins with the guff about the ‘Brethren’ not having yet completed their walk home past the catholics since last summer. This is a lie. I should imagine that every one of the loyalists who took part in last 12th July parade that descended into vicious rioting actually made his way home that night, and have managed to sleep in their beds quite peaceably at a time of their choosing. Alas, the good people- catholic and protestant- who reside close to Twaddell have unfortunately not been provided that opportunity as the noise from the bands parading into late evening has denied many children of school age the opportunity to get an early night’s sleep.

The second falsehood in this assertion is that it ignores the fact that numerous loyalist parades have continued along the stretch of Crumlin Road in the interim period of time, including last Monday.

“We have an administration that is afraid to stand up to lawbreakers.”

In the irony-free world of political unionism, this statement hardly stands apart. But, given that Chris McGimpsey was speaking in support of an illegal (erm, ‘lawbreaking’) protest camp this takes some beating. And that’s before we even consider how the PSNI have been rightly criticised for failing to consistently stand up to the lawbreaking loyalist protesters since the flag and parade protests were launched in December 2012.

“Our leadership betrayed us.”

A blood and thunder speech to the beat of the Orange drum is never complete without a reference to a Lundy figure, and in the Belfast leadership of the Apprentice Boys, Chris found a handy Lundy. Poor Chris and the other 24 Apprentice Boys of Clifton Street are being betrayed, and Chris felt able to draw parallels between their plight and that of the 13 Apprentice Boys in Derry all those years ago to drive the point home. And what was this betrayal, you ask? The Lundy leadership decided to talk to catholics.

“We have a situation now where major criminals get bail and walk out of court but members of the protestant, unionist and loyalist community are going through those courts like a conveyor belt.”

This one deserves to be highlighted and follow up questions from the media brought to the UUP leadership. It suggests that the Ulster Unionist Party is objecting to protestants, unionists and loyalists being brought to court for criminal offences, and also appears to suggest that members of said PUL ‘tribe’ are somehow facing harsher court treatment than others. Again, a baseless assertion without the slightest trace of evidence.

“We’re losing everything in this city. We are now in a society where the protestant, unionist and loyalist community is suffering, they are being treated like 2nd class citizens not only by the police, and the courts but by the whole government.”

Again, this one warrants further probing by the mainstream media as it very clearly involves a senior Ulster Unionist Party politician alleging that the police, courts and indeed government are anti-PUL ‘tribe’. Furthermore, McGimpsey invokes a sense of being oppressed (‘suffering’) and facing defeat (‘losing everything.’)

It is a speech which mixes fear, loathing and downright lies with the clear objective of cultivating a heightened sense of communal/tribal awareness and antipathy towards The Other. It is what Twaddell is all about- hence the banners positioned to face The Other and the regular marches to the point of interface.

Loss and fightback are the major themes. The speech can essentially be summarised accordingly:

We are losing. The Taigs are getting everything. The police, courts and government are against us. They’ve gerrymandered to take our city from us. We must stand together to win- like the 13 Apprentice Boys in Derry & the 25 in Clifton Street.Vote protestant, vote unionist, vote loyalist. No other criteria should be applied to voting preference. Nothing else matters, now or ever!

Indulging the fraudulent assertions perpetuating the loyalist grievance narrative (here and here)has brought unionism to the low ebb that Camp Twaddell has become a metaphor for, whilst allowing a public profile to be developed for absurdly incoherent and vacuous individuals like Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson.

Nothing that has been said or done by the mainstream political leadership of unionism suggests that the right lessons have or are in the process of being learned.

Moderate Unionism was once said to be at a crossroads. If that is so, it is clearly travelling in a different vehicle now.