Does Loyalism Have An Image Problem?

Following my article about the Sandy Row bonfire last week, a fair amount has happened. It was burned down (it wasn’t me), it has been moved (by a few feet), it is going to be bigger in size (the base layer seems at least 30% larger than before), and the level of anti-social behaviour in the area has escalated to new levels.

The response I received across social media was generally one of, to me, common sense… along the lines of “crime is bad,” which it is, of course. There were a sizeable amount of people who seemed to think that I was mistaken with my observations of crime.

I and many other residents of the building I live in and the apartment building adjacent to it have witnessed and logged multiple crimes since then, the amount of youths on the bonfire site seems to have grown and is stable at between 2 dozen and 3 dozen at most hours of the day. And with that, comes crime.

I’m not going to go into the events that have happened since then, for they are too numerous to mention.

The comments section of Slugger can be a dangerous place to hang out, but I saw a diamond in the rough from An Ghobsmacht in reply to the many, many, MANY comments that seemed to suggest either A: I had no right to complain and/or B: There was nothing for me to complain about in the first place –

Could someone write a methodology or a list of instructions for how some one could criticise aspects of loyalist culture in a manner that would not automatically trigger the defences?


Every time someone (no matter what their background e.g. unionist, republican, ex-Crown forces, legitimist royalist etc) highlights things that are generally considered bad there is seldom a conversation that follows this line.

“I don’t like the risk of fire damage to my building” – “What about the IRA?”

“I think having banners calling for the deaths of everyone of a certain religion is a bit uncool” – “Why are you sectarian?”

“I’m all for Orange marches and don’t want to see them banned but could we tone it down a bit” – “What about the GAA?”

How can we discuss topics by their own merits?

We have this habit of attaching a false reference point to a topic. Rather than analysing a topic for what it’s worth we hijack the term ‘context’ in the hope of finding a parallel that would let the object of criticism off the hook.

If my house is a midden then I should view it from the point of view of a dirty house with poor housekeeping.

I should not think to myself “Well, Wayne and Waynetta slob, people whom I have no time or respect for and whom I rarely interact with have a WORSE standard of housekeeping, therefore my house is no longer a pig sty…”

If it’s boggin, it’s bogging – end of.

So, without further ado, here’s my two cents on the matter (in general, not specifically this bonfire):

No need for tyres or noxious materials.
No need to endanger lives or property.
No need to have flags, religious icons or banners calling for religious based genocide on the bonfire.
No need for underage drinking.

If you agree with these four points, then feel free to say so.

If you disagree with any of these four points then please explain why.

These four points do not qualify me as a ‘hater’ of loyalist and/or Orange culture.

They are not a call for a smothering and final annihilation of loyalist or Orange culture

They do not reveal an inner urge for a united Ireland and a driving into the sea the Protestant people.

They do not make me blind to what the IRA did for decades.

They do not betray a hatred of working class people.

They do not qualify me as a nationalist or a republican.

They are not filled with ‘bile’.

They are to my mind four reasonable points which should be judged on their own merits not whataboutery or ‘context’ (better known as a strawman defence).

I have seen this kind of behaviour constantly since my initial article, many vocal loyalists seem to see my criticism of loyalists who commit crime, as an attack on loyalists in general, as if they are unable to distinguish between loyalist criminals and loyalist law abiding citizens. Another common theme has been our dear friend whataboutery. That how dare I criticize criminal behaviour at a loyalist bonfire site (which is next to my home) when I don’t criticize incident R,S,T,U,V,W,X,Y or Z.

I do am not generalizing in any way that loyalism is a culture of crime, but there is a prominent (at the moment) subgroup of loyalist culture which is criminal, as with all cultures (before anyone starts at the whataboutery again). Loyalism at large though does have an image problem it’s a PR nightmare. When running journalists have running commentaries of the cost of the Twaddell avenue protest highlight the amount of money it is costing the taxpayer; when orange order bands deliberately seek to offend with inflammatory songs (or beach boys tunes… hmmm). When pictures of bonfires with “Anna Lo ate my dog” and “We’re not racists, we just hate n****rs” written on irish flags are burned in effigy. What PR firm would take on this account?

When THIS is scrawled over a building at the entrance road to Northern Ireland’s busiest bus station, a station that handles significant amount of Dublin-Belfast routes including tourists who have perhaps flown into Dublin and then travelled north…. THIS is what they see.

Bus Depot

I am loathe to call myself unionist, for I am pro-union, but there is too much of a link between unionism and loyalism, and I would never call myself a loyalist, not just because of this attitude, because I know it is in no way the case for EVERY person who defines themselves as such. But when someone speaks out against those who DO act in ways that bring the word “loyalism” into disrepute through acts of wanton criminality, by not seeing the potential for good in that, and seeing it only as an attack on a culture – by disregarding any acknowledgement that perhaps, JUST perhaps, there might be kids who are loyalist and are sexually harassing women, damaging property, attacking people’s homes, those who are not part of the problem, are not part of the solution either, and there’s a very good phrase about that…

If loyalism want’s to achieve something in Northern Ireland, if it wants to be taken seriously moving into this new century (that we started 15 years ago but sure it’s better late than never), as I have said many many times before, it needs to get its own house in order.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the whataboutery I’ve encountered in the last couple of days:

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If you cannot have someone criticize a loyalist who commits a crime unless that person also criticizes a nationalist for committing a crime, then all is lost, abandon ship and let the last remaining sink with the nation. If it really has come to that, I despair. That’s the kind of attitude that would take the BBC quote of Derry/Londonderry to a PSNI quote of “Loyalist/Nationalist,” and worryingly, I don’t find it impossible to imagine a scenario where someone put a private member’s bill into Stormont stating that arrests must be representational of community. It really isn’t unfathomable.

The attitude of many, and these images are only a small amount of this kind of response I received, that these kids are just being kids, that this is acceptable behaviour at a bonfire, that sure it only happens for a couple of weeks of the year… That I should move house if I don’t want to have a home that is surrounded by kids committing crimes…

When this is a significantly large vocal response from the loyalist community… they are beyond a PR agency, they’d need a miracle.

Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.