If not loyalists, who else will do this job?

I’ve rarely heard such a lack of political sensitivity as Jim Wilson telling Stephen Nolan that, in applying to the British government to be deproscribed, the Red Hand Commando wants their ‘place in the sun’.

What a disturbing way to put it.

But at the same time, Wilson’s interview on the Nolan Show tells us so much about where loyalism is at in 2017. Still grasping for a political voice, still resentful of their exclusion from big house unionism, still frustrated that they can’t seem to access the kind of social and political legitimacy that they perceive republicans to have accessed.

In the mid 2000s, when I was lecturing in Sociology at QUB, I did some work with the RHC and UVF around their efforts to transition from paramilitarism to peace. Billy Mitchell (no relation), a former UVF commander and PUP strategist, who died in 2006, had invited me to spend some time looking into their work as he’d read some stuff I’d written on Protestantism and liked it.

A few years of hanging around with ex-prisoners, going to loyalist meetings, interviewing in the community, observing their interactions with OFMDFM (for whom I co-wrote an internal report, some of the research methods/findings from which are here), I learned a few things…

Loyalism craves political legitimacy. Most loyalists working in conflict transformation groups that I met, did not seek to excuse their violence during the Troubles, at least not to me. In fact many privately expressed regret. Instead, their real motive was to be understood as combatants who are on a journey from war to peace, and to be given some credit for the ways they were trying to move forward. Because this was, and is, a context where many unionists talk to loyalists in private, yet wash their hands of them in public. Where so much of what they do and say is mocked as the rantings of knuckle dragging thugs and fleggers. And it is a context where they haven’t been able to find a place in the political mainstream, often because of their own limitations, of which more below…

Calling this desire for legitimacy a ‘place in the sun’ is horrendous, utterly offensive to victims. I’m out of the loop now, so I can’t claim to know what the RHC’s sentiments in saying this, or applying for deproscription, really are. But what I heard in Wilson’s interview was the familiar frustration that whilst many loyalists have been working for positive change in their areas for a long time now, they feel that few people either notice or care.

To be specific about what I mean by positive change… I spent time in restorative justice programmes which tried to replace punishment beatings with community-based alternatives. Loyalist conflict transformation groups liaised between paramilitaries, youth workers, the PSNI and Probation Board to facilitate this. I went to anti-racism seminars that they ran on loyalist estates. I watched paramilitary bosses give powerpoint presentations to the rank and file about how the war was over, and the ways in which they needed to transition into peaceful politics and community work. They helped get kids get out of paramilitary groups. I saw loyalists’ close relationships with republican ex-prisoners, who they were in regular contact with, and indeed which peace was partly built on. Their mobiles would ring constantly, often having to leave to break up a fight at the interface, or to talk sense into some kid or other.

Just to be clear, I am talking about loyalist conflict transformation groups here, rather than paramilitary groups per se. These are ex-prisoner and community organisations who have links to, and influence with, loyalist paramilitaries. It’s a fine line, and I don’t think the difference is always clear cut. But it is a distinction worth making, because loyalist conflict transformation groups are aiming for a very different modus operandi (professionalised reconciliation workers, liaising with statutory bodies, supportive of the peace and political process) than the paramilitaries (many of whom are actively involved in crime and intimidation, operating totally outside the system). In a peaceful society, we wouldn’t need these kind of intermediaries. But coming out of conflict, these are jobs that need doing, and it’s fair to say that loyalist conflict transformation groups have been effective precisely because of their paramilitary connections.

In the mid-2000s there was little funding for this work, and loyalist conflict transformation groups would string out bits and scraps of grants, often not taking home a wage. The funding situation has changed now, notably with the UDA and Charter NI. But whilst loyalist groups want their work to be sustainable, I didn’t perceive the people I spent time with to be motivated by financial rewards. It was some mainstream recognition they were after. For people to believe that they could actually effect change. Like they saw Sinn Féin doing. They looked at demobilisation and reconciliation processes in other post-conflict societies, and tried to carve out a similar role for themselves in Northern Ireland.

Did they always succeed? Clearly not. Loyalist paramilitarism continues, and, according to a 2015 PSNI report, is still recruiting. Drug-dealing continues. Punishment beatings have declined but not stopped. Intimidation is still rife. Racism not only continues, but has mutated within loyalism in complex ways, almost in a Trump-like anti-migrant isolationism. Riots still happen at interfaces. But, in my experience, loyalists didn’t ever stop showing up for the work.

So why hasn’t their work paid off more? Why are they still on the fringes of political relevance, puzzling over how to be taken seriously?

Partly it’s their own fault. The way loyalists express their objectives is often jarring. This is not to deny the articulate, analytical ways that many loyalists like David Ervine and Billy Mitchell expressed their politics. But as a whole, there is a tendency to use blunt, stark language, an indisposition or inability to sugar coat and spin. This is not always a bad thing. But it has meant that loyalists have struggled to play the wider political game, with it’s nuanced massaging of words and phrases, to bring people along with the broader journey. And because they have never been able to sell their politics to a wider audience or indeed to voters, they often speak in the voice of angry, beleaguered outsiders. A vicious circle which alienates people outside loyalism even further.

And so they have remained pariahs. They have a sense of victimhood and exclusion that outsiders find incredulous. But which makes sense to a bunch of people whose selfunderstanding is that they took to violence in their teens to protect their communities from the IRA. That they were used as muscle and then sold down the river by the unionist establishment. That their communities have lacked, and still lack, the educational resources to find better solutions to their problems. And all of this in the context of a deeply polarised society in Northern Ireland, where everyone is looking over their shoulder to check how much themmuns are getting. Never mind the wider context of late capitalism where sink estates are generally left to go ahead and sink, while the rest of society holds its nose. Loyalists feel they’re trying to move beyond all this, and that they need help to do so.

But there are further challenges to loyalist conflict transformation groups’ legitimacy. Principally, because they have not yet managed to get violent loyalist paramilitarism under control. While the RHC is small, has an older membership, and may not have been active recently, the same is not true of the UVF and UDA. People are still scared of them, and with good reason. People are afraid to complain about flags and bonfires, and feel in many cases that they have to accept loyalist rule in their area, or else…

In the mid 2000s, I was constantly frustrated with how slowly and painfully the progressive message from the PUP and UVF leadership filtered down the ranks, if at all. In typical Protestant fashion, there were splits and splinters and people who would not come along with the wider project. They lacked the focus and discipline of the republican movement. And this wheel is still spinning. A loyalist leadership with one version of their civic role, versus paramilitary battalions and individuals who couldn’t care less and do what they want.

As I’ve followed the progress of loyalist peace-building over the 2010s – from afar this time – I’ve also been consistently dismayed by the pull towards conservatism and the constant own goals. As a result, articulate, progressive spokespeople like Dawn Purvis and Sophie Long have been unable to keep championing the wider project. Not least because whilst loyalist groups were initially champions of left-wing and even feminist ideas, regressive and misogynist tendencies often bubble to the surface.

Whether this means we should then dismiss the whole concept of loyalist conflict transformation groups, I don’t know. What are they for now, if not to bring people beyond conflict? How long does ‘post conflict transition’ last – is 19 years enough? Will we still be here in 49 years? But at the same time, if they’re open to scrutiny, take a clear stance against criminality, support the political process and some people simply won’t come along, are they just to be written out? Should they become ‘normal’ and assimilate into youth and community services? Maybe. But could they then reach who they need to reach? Could wider unionism or the DUP help with this work instead? I don’t think they are equipped to deal with grittiness, nor have they shown much of an interest to date. More than this, unionist parties have often whipped up sectarian tensions for electoral gain, rather than seeking to calm them.

Do I think the RHC should be legalised? Hell no! It’s 2017 and it’s a Commando! But then again, do I think that the DUP and Sinn Féin are also picking over the bones of the conflict rather than imagining new and transformative ways forward? Absolutely. The RHC cannot be singled out for using the language and structures of the past to grasp at meaning in the present. I am no fan of bonfires and flags. But airbrushing them out, in the context of continuing deep division, is impossible. Saying thanks very much, now please go away, would leave a gaping hole in struggling loyalist areas. And I don’t want to imagine what might fill this hole instead…

Which keeps me coming back to the same question… If not loyalists, who else is going to do this job? Who else cares about loyalist estates, the hoods and the fleggers? Who else will be able to tell the ceasefire soldiers why paramilitarism is not all it’s cracked up to be? Who else is going to be able to call out racism in a way that loyalist communities have ears to hear? Who else can offer a narrative of loyalist post-conflict transition? I have more questions than answers. All I know is that when I was a regular in loyalist areas in the mid 2000s, I didn’t see anybody else signing up for the job.


Claire Mitchell is a freelance writer. Formerly senior lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a member of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but all views are her own. More at www.clairemitchell.net

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  • james

    “And so they have remained pariahs”

    Good. They should remain pariahs – unrepentant terrorist thugs, in the main. Much like the IRA and Sinn Fein.

    It is interesting to note that neither unionists nor nationalists vote for former terrorists in an any signifigant numbers – although Republicans do.

    The Loyalist former terrorists have been forced to the margins and that is where they should stay. Once the Irish Republicans have the maturity and basic human decency do the same with their former terrorists we might actually make some progress as a society. One is optimistic that whenever Gerry Adams finally does retire, or die of old age, that might actually happen.

  • ted hagan

    Interesting article. Gary McMichael deserves a mention for his efforts and is sadly missed. So many well-meaning loyalist groupings seem to end up in faction-fighting and a reversion to paramilitarism. The truth is that most people from within and outside their enclaves simply don’t trust them and with figure heads like Dee Stitt, who can blame them?

  • ted hagan

    How to turn an article about loyalism into a silly rant about Republicans and Gerry Adams. You amaze me James.

  • Jim M

    I found the point about racism mutating very interesting – care to elaborate?

  • james

    It’s an article about what to do with former terrorists in modern society.

    Surely you can see the relevance to Sinn Fein and the IRA?

  • ted hagan

    No. It’s specifically about loyalists and their efforts to gain political acceptance.

  • Steven Denny

    Ted, you are correct about the subject… but surely, you can draw the parallels.

    I must admit reading this… I started off saying “f@ck them”… they are the worst part of all things bad in NI, and should be treated as the pariahs that they are. I did change half way through it… maybe they do need a degree, and it makes strategic sense to support groups accordingly.

    The problem is, they have no strategy or political leadership, outside of “bad street behaviour” if they do not get their own way.

    It is a weird world when SF give “political strategy” lessons to Loyalism.

  • Claire Mitchell

    I was thinking about Jolene Bunting’s recent event with Britain First outside City Hall, and the ways in which opposition to Islam is really taking root in some sections of loyalism, tangling together ideas about ISIS and and the IRA.

  • Granni Trixie

    On the radio, did not (the own goal) of “place in the sun too” imply that the speaker was comparing the situation of loyalists to that of Republicans?
    You could nearly hear him thinking “now how did they do that?”

  • Neil

    One is optimistic that whenever Gerry Adams finally does retire, or die of old age, that might actually happen.

    You Unionists seem to have a bit of a memory problem. We often hear that Unionists would love to work with Nationalists if it wasn’t for that nasty Sinn Fein why everything would be just dandy, conveniently forgetting that they had many decades to work with Nationalists when Republicans got hardly any votes and they chose to have them battered off the streets for having the temerity to seek access to jobs, housing and voting rights for all.

    You had your chance to work with non terrorists and you couldn’t stomach it because they were Catholics Jamesy.

  • james

    Indeed. Loyalists are former terrorists, often unrepentant, who want access to political power, influence and (presumably) cash.

    The IRA, and a fair salting of Shinners, are former terrorists, often unrepentant, who have gained access to political power, influence and (presumably) cash.

  • Claire Mitchell

    You’re right. Both about Gary McMichael, and about the situation now. Although I do see some of that good work continuing, those more radical forward-thinking loyalist leaders may be thinner on the ground these days.

  • mickfealty
  • William Kinmont

    Such a tragedy where might we be now.

  • ted hagan

    Sinn Fein has skilfully managed to remodel and divorce itself from a violent past and gained a mandate, following a path that other parties in Ireland have trodden.
    Loyalists are still in the foothills, if that, but it would be of benefit to this society, democracy and their communities, if they eventually succeeded.

  • Muiris

    Really interesting article, thank you Claire. If the next generation are not shown a different way, there will be no change. Most of what all of us are/do is an accident of birth. What republicanism (small ‘r’) means to me is that everyone gets the same opportunity, despite their ‘accident of birth’ if need be.

  • Granni Trixie

    The elephant in the room is that labels such as “Loyalists” tend to be associated with criminality – with good reason even up the present day. I suggest that the solution is that the “good” UVF go find themselves another grouping if they really want to contribute and make up for misdeeds.

    At the moment it looks like all the rest of us are expected to abide by the law whilst the likes of the UVF are allowed ‘transitional’ status/leeway.

  • Jim M


  • Christopher Owens

    Fascinating reading. Thank you Claire for taking the time to compose this.,

    Loyalism, from my Nationalist perspective, suffers from feeling a kinship with a unionist establishment who openly despise them, yet use them for their own ends. And loyalists know this themselves (Ken Barr from the UWC once remarked that if the Official Unionist Party had sent a donkey up the Shankill Road with a Union Jack, everyone on the Shankill would have voted for it), yet they still kowtow to their leaders.

    The perfect example of this thinking was when Gregory Campbell told Peter Taylor that the NICRA were “…fighting for rights that I didn’t have.” Really, that should have been the moment when Campbell realised that both communities were being mistreated by the state for their own ends, and united with NICRA to become a truly non-sectarian organisation. However, his eventual pathway into the DUP (becoming a member of the same establishment that had not bestowed him said rights) was all too predictable.

    As a result, there disillusionment and discontent in working class loyalist areas, which you’ve rightly pointed out are often run down and neglected (at one point, I believe a quarter of the housing in Tiger’s Bay was boarded up) and with foreigners (who maybe aren’t aware of the intricacies of our history) moving into these areas and working, it’s a recipe for disaster. These poor people bear the brunt of inarticulate loyalist frustration through racist attacks. There should be someone who can tell these racists that they should be subjecting their vitriol at a unionist establishment who have neglected them.

    Say what you want about Sinn Fein and the SDLP, there’s no denying that they’ve used their influence to fund and regenerate nationalist areas, giving communities a sense of pride in their area.

    I genuinely suspect that many middle class unionist are people who genuinely abhor sectarian violence, but were secretly pleased when loyalists began targeting republicans, because it made them feel safer. Would these same people vote for said loyalists as they attempted to offer an alternative to violence? Not a chance, they’d just stick with big house unionism which protected their financial interests and kept well away from the riff raff.

  • james

    I’ll refer you to my reply – held up for moderation for reasons which escape me…

  • Granni Trixie

    You appear to imply that it is inaccurate or illogical to lInk ISIS with the IRA . From the POV of many (not just Loyalists) each terrorised people which leads to such a conception.

  • Steven Denny

    Ted, I think that is a fair enough statement… the problem is they don’t want to do the hard yards.

    “Provisional” Sinn Fein has been nearly 50 years in the making… it can also claim a moral legitimacy (rightly or wrongly) on Civil Rights… and thus Terrorism, that Loyalism can not.

    Loyalist Terrorism is something very different to that… inter alia… if PIRA doesn’t stop, we will kill somebody, innocent or otherwise. Simplified, but I think this is essentially the difference.

    Whatever way you cut it, Terrorism needs to be proved to be unsuccessful and will be hunted down and seen to not be an acceptable alternative. Any normal Society would accepted this… and the last time I checked… this was a normal society, despite the protestations of people who want to describe it as different.

  • Steven Denny

    Does this also not come from an “Ultra” British type identity. Much of the EDL/Britain 1st rhetoric is very much the same as that of Loyalist thinking, but to be honest, you would hear this on the football terraces in any Saturday afternoon. So, it may not be too deep under the surface in a “British” right leaning mentality.

  • Brendan Heading

    It is interesting to note that neither unionists nor nationalists vote for former terrorists in an any signifigant numbers – although Republicans do.

    This is undoubtedly true. which is why it puzzles me that both the UUP and DUP muddy the waters of their own mandate by talking to, and often deferring to, paramiilitary leaders who barely get their friends elected to a measly council seat.

  • ted hagan

    No, there was little reason for middle-class unionists to be ‘secretly pleased when loyalists began targeting republicans’ because very often loyalists didn’t. They simply targeted innocent Catholics..

  • Aodh Morrison

    The only thing that prevents loyalist terrorists from gaining their “place in the sun”, aka a political position, is themselves, and more importantly, the macro community they come from.

    They have failed to divorce themselves from criminality, or at the very least the taint of criminality. The communities which they inhabit are all to well aware of this; and whilst those community members must, for personal safety reasons, kowtow to them in public, in private (especially within the privacy of the polling booth) they despise and shun them.

    It is then their ‘own’ communities who provide the shade from the sun.

    Remember back to the central disgraceful outworking of the GFA, the release of convicted terrorist criminals? In many nationalist areas they were welcomed as heroes, and subsequently voted for by thousands.

    Loyalist terrorists returned to parties within loyalist shebeens cheered by their fellow travellers. Whenever they tried to get elected they received derisory numbers of votes. So much for ‘community activists’. Did they ever get beyond a couple of MLAs or a handful of councillors?

    The MOPE narrative they have fashioned over the last few years, the distaste they engender from so-called ‘big house unionism’ and their distance from acceptability within the unionist voting public, is not imposed by some powerful cabal within political unionism. They have been rejected by the unionist community. In my opinion rightly so.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Which football terraces do you frequent, Steven, where you hear these kind of things?

  • Oggins
  • Neiltoo

    Islam is obviously not a race, so why do seemingly intelligent people keep talking about it as if it is?

  • Christopher Owens

    Yes, the overall murders from that period were of innocent Catholics. However, to deny that republicans were being killed (with the aid of RUC information) is flat out denial. It clearly had an effect as certain branches of Sinn Fein (particularly the more rural ones) found it difficult to find people willing to stand in council elections for fear they’d be targeted as loyalists and is often cited as one of the factors involved in calling the 1994 ceasefire.

    And, whether we like it or not, the average middle class unionist (as personified by the likes of John Taylor) had a sneaking regard for the loyalist paramilitaries for this, as they felt the IRA were getting “a taste of their own medicine.”

    The bigger issue here is the fact that these well to do types were quite happy to support murders when it suited them, while ignoring the social/economic issues that drove certain people into paramilitaries.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    I feel quite sorry for this grouping of people. One of the main ways Unionism is different to Nationalism is that, in identifying so much with Britain, it hugely buys into a social class system (in this case the class system of our neighbouring isle). Thus we find at one end of the Unionist social spectrum a professional middle class that aspires to become a “Lord Kilclooney” or a “Sir Jeff” – all affected “posh English” accents, cucumber sandwiches and pin stripe suits. At the other end of the spectrum we have the grouping that forms the subject of this piece: poorly educated and deliberately held back, all the better to do the dirty work of the former grouping. They are the very definition of “cannon fodder” and that is to be pitied.

  • Granni Trixie

    You’re making a lot of assumptions about the “average mc Unionists” plus JT is hardly typical.

  • Stephen Kelly

    The train left your station twenty years ago.

  • Christopher Owens

    Considering he was voted into Westminster (pretty much) consistently from 1965 to 2001, then in the Assembly from 1998 to 2007, I’d be confident in saying that his supporters are obviously aware of his take on this. And the same way early critics of Sinn Fein would cry that a vote for them was a vote for the IRA, a vote for the likes of John Taylor was a vote for this attitude.

  • Sprite

    I’d have been happier if Jim Wilson had said they were going to retire the RHC name and ensure we’d see no more RHC flags on lamp-posts. Carry on working positively in loyalist communities by all means but put the militarism of names such as RHC in the past.

  • Claire Mitchell

    Didn’t intend to conflate the two. I think it all gets muddled together in practice though. As in, the current climate of opposition to Islam results practically in attacks on brown people in NI.

  • james

    Not sure what you’re saying here. Do you have a point?

  • ted hagan

    I’m sure the likes of John Taylor shed no tears over the death of an IRA member but at the same time I believe he abhorred loyalist paramilitaries. The vast majority of nationalists and unionists deplored paramiliitary violence throughout the Troubles

  • Mister_Joe

    Maybe they should stand for election to show the establishment that they have a constituency who should be recognized and appreciated.

  • notimetoshine

    What I don’t understand is, why are they trying to rehabilitate the RHC organisation? When I watched this story on the news, the one question in my mind was what would be their function? The ‘Red Hand Commando’ is hardly a great brand for a community organisation.

  • Paul Mead

    Mainstream Unionists have always viewed loyalist terrorists as gangsters, therefore without a coherent political standpoint & no hope of ever gaining a political foothold within their own community, they have few ways of expressing themselves, unfortunately the actions of the Irish Govt/nationalist parties in their obsession at disrupting Brexit & calls for a United Ireland have exacerbated their sense of isolation, therefore it is hardly surprising that they continue to recruit through their junior wings – Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV) & Ulster Young Militants (UYM), somehow a way has to be found to ensure that these organisations are brought firmly into the political process, Until all paramilitaries are held to account for their murderous activities in the Troubles, it is essential that none of them are legalised

  • james

    Little real difference that I can see, just a few minor wardrobe changes. And the fact that most of the goons of SF/IRA go clean shaven. The leaders of each group are both bearded, mind.

  • Steven Denny

    Tochais, I work in UK atm, and this would be largely typical, in general terms, of what the Average Joe is thinking. Stoke, Wolves, Walsall, Port Vale, Birmingham.

  • Gopher

    Simple difference is, indoctrination has too much competition vis a vis Mono cognitive nationalism. It’s probably at its root a “reformed Protestant religion” thing. There is police and countless civil authorities to deal with the numerous problems percieved by the poster and career opportunities to go down those routes without the need for “yahoo’s” to put their hat in the ring and the wider “normalcy” get that. “Shadow” civil service will always appeal to nationalism which is broadly socialist and before any political hubris don’t give a rats ass where the money comes from or is taken away from to fund whatever demand or imperative is in vogue. This is backed by a pseudo intellectual brigade of Lisburn Road coffee shop commentators from Mallie to Feeny whose only difference is prose and the outright fanatical bloggers. Whichever “unionist” bloggers that do exist would get hunted for writing similar piffle. So to paraphrase why don’t you tell the “Normalcy” which part of our limited budget this flight of fancy is going to be funded from?

  • Christopher Owens

    I’m not so sure about that. Go to 46:25.

  • Sub

    I’m afraid that they are to busy out campaigning for the DUP to do so

  • Granni Trixie

    I hope so.

  • Tochais Siorai

    I obviously frequent a better class of terrace, Steven!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    When they do, support is low because having links to paramilitaries attracts moral opprobrium among Protestants. They are also seen as disorganised, and ineffective in the wider political scene, with little political influence. Looking over at their Catholic counterparts, it’s night and day. And to my mind that difference is down to two main factors: (1) the IRA, as main drivers of the Troubles, were the ones who had to be appeased to make them stop – and SF won political concessions and therefore an impression of being effective from that; and (2) the C/N/R electorate has tended to be less clear-cut than P/U/L people in their rejection of paramilitary violence on the whole. So I think if Loyalists think they can copy the SF model, that won’t work. The SF model is actually deeply problematic – look at the political vacuum we have now and the negative effect of SF’s success on community relations for decades – it’s the last thing we should want emulated within Loyalism.

    What Claire reports in her excellent piece is that there is great work going on from some former Loyalist paramilitaries who now reject what they did, but that there is a political vacuum there. I would hope for it to be filled by a radical party of the left that is unequivocally a supporter of the Union and has nothing to do with the gansterism and paramiltarism of past or present. That is probably only a remote possibility but who knows? A charismatic person may emerge and it suddenly becomes possible. Any new party like that would need to be comfortable though with aspects of Loyalism and not reject it completely – it was the violence and paramilitarism that was wrong, not the idea of standing up for working class unionist people, defending unionist culture, or rejecting the ethnic scapegoating of P/U/L people.

    The key is to realise that strong and proud community identity does not have to follow the SF model, where it’s dependent on putting the other community down, achieving victories against them. Indeed the left wing party I’d like to see would embrace positive parts of the Republican tradition too – pluralist and championing local differences under a big umbrella of progessive politics focussed on the needs of the have nots. Not against flags and marches, just paramilitary ones. Zero tolerance towards glorifying the paramilitary past would be a defining feature.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “deliberately” held back? Can you back that up?

    Why would the UUP or DUP not want unionist people to prosper?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree, the refusal of unionist people to make these guys the leaders of unionism deserves a lot of praise. If only we’d seen that on both sides, we’d ALL be in a different and better place now.

    That said, Claire reports very positively about the genuine. change some have made and the invaluable work they have been doing to make amends. That work and those people do deserve recognition and kudos. That’s how former paramilitaries can play a positive role in society. But running for office while still justifying their old crimes is not a recipe for moving on from the past. They should leave politics to people without the stain – or in the eyes of some, the glow – of their terrorist past.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    A vote for the UUP was not a vote for Loyalist terrorism. It was against all terrorism. You could vote PUP if you wanted to do that. A vote for SF during its “armed struggle” though is hard to see as anything other than at the very least an ambivalence towards the terror.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Active Citizenship : For citizenship to have any real meaning for the individual loyalist, he or she must be an active citizen. That means playing an active role in the life of one’s community. A Loyalist is someone who thinks and behaves and acts in a certain way as a citizen and will be committed to promoting the common good of that community through active participation in its social and political life. This statement on Active Citizenship is taken from the document and template ‘The Principles of Loyalism’ I welcome any advancement from former loyalist paramilitaries to follow this path of principle. If I was the RHC I would go further by staging a final drum head presentation of its colours back into the safe keeping of Loyalist History to signify the completion of a military campaign and thus moving its emblems and existance into the political history of Northern Ireland.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think Ted puts it well below. “Well to do types” within unionism supported above all the security forces and unionist politicians. Loyalist terrorism was mainly seen as an embarrassment which let the unionist side down. They took great pride in the general levels of restraint in the face of the IRA campaign. Loyalist murders showed some unionists were no better than the IRA. This could not be allowed to infect the whole of unionism though, so respectable unionists hived off Loyalist terrorism and disowned it – quite rightly.

    “Middle class” or “big house” unionists are so often lazily depicted as hypocrites or puppet masters etc. But revulsion at terrorism, including Loyalist terrorism, was genuine in my “big house” experience and disdain for Loyalist paramilitaries was genuine. It would have been really socially unacceptable in my family’s social circles to have any paramilitary sympathies.

    But of course, people did see the IRA as the main problem – they were – and reacted to any IRA death with “couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow”. But still there was a clear sense that a Loyalist killing an IRA man was wrong (and of course very, very rare in the Troubles). Loyalists had an ‘any Taig will do’ policy, people knew that and it was hardly likely to increase their standing or sympathy among respectable unionists. I think there were many with an urge to see the IRA get a taste of their own medicine – I’d include myself in that – but what you really wanted to happen was for them to blow themselves up with their own bomb, or get shot while carrying out a terror attack, like at Loughgall. Loyalist murders though were on a completely different moral plane, utterly wrong. It’s not an irrational distinction either, it’s the same one the criminal law makes.

  • Brendan Heading

    Someone’s been overly inspired by Starship Troopers.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Ah yes the usual condescending bull s from the usual suspects !

  • the rich get richer

    Lets say for the sake of argument a border poll was passed in favour of a United Ireland……

    Would the Loyalists be best situated to help this democratic decision be smoothly effected……

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    You will have to ask the UUP and DUP why they have done so very little for the working class communities they purport to serve. There are numerous academic articles out there that discuss the growing sense of alienation gripping this working class community and the lack of action from their “establishment” leaders to address it. If this were a recent phenomenon I would not have used the term “deliberate” but what else can one conclude when one listens to the agitated voices of those concerned? These people are being wilfully brushed under the carpet.

  • NewSouthernMan

    Do you know what changes people’s minds? Money.

    When unionists/loyalists eventually realise they economic future will be much better in an united Ireland, attitudes will change very quickly.

  • Sub

    When you spout sentimental crap about a bunch of sectarian terrorists murderers and drug dealers as if they were some kind of army,expect people to treat it with the contempt it deserves.

  • Sub

    They should leave politics to people without the stain – or in the eyes of some, the glow – of their terrorist past.

    That would leave only the SDLP Alliance and the Greens on the political stage. All other parties have a terrorist past.

  • Sub

    A vote for the UUP was not a vote for Loyalist terrorism. It was against all terrorism. You could vote PUP if you wanted to do that.

    You mean like the UUP voting them to be the Mayor of Belfast in the same month as their military wing carried out the Loughinisland massacre using weapons smuggled in by the DUPs military wing Ulster Resistance, that sort of being against all terrorism

  • Claire Mitchell

    I haven’t a clue about football terraces! But yes, I think you’re spot on with the overlap with new kinds of English/British nationalism. The anti-migrant stuff is similar, and the disdain for mainstream media, snowflakes, the elite etc. And how it mixes up with the deep impact of austerity & resource competition. There’s less to go around. It takes slightly different forms in NI but there are similar impulses. Not all loyalists think like this of course. I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for current loyalist leaders, how to process these new narratives.

  • @MainlandUlsterman:disqus

    Have a wee watch of this; I time-stamped it and all, just watch about 50 seconds of it.


    Unionist voters are absolutely fed-up, disgusted and tired of the DUP doing nothing for them except using identity as bait. Simply put, Unionists have basically little choice; DUP ideologues, TUV wing-nuts or the failing UUP who can’t play politics. I’m from an area that has >60% DUP representation and I could only name about 2 of them I believe actually care. The dogs on the street would tell you the DUP don’t give a flying feck about anyone, let-alone loyalists they view as plebian.

    Hopefully Unionism and Loyalism will represent itself better sometime soon, but until then, we’ll get the shower of shite we lovingly called the DUPe

  • Yup, the clip I posted backs this up.

    People know the DUP do little for them, but they’re cornered by the choice of “Us or them”

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The Gramscian model of “the oppressed colluding in their own oppression” applies here even if you accept the Marxian term ‘oppressed’ as exaggerated.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Why do these communities exclude more than they include?

  • tempest

    There’s still hate on all sides, don’t kid yourself or try to kid everyone else

  • tmitch57

    Many of those voting for Sinn Fein since 2001 were former SDLP voters–so they would be nationalists if you want to make a sharp distinction between nationalists and republicans. It is simply a fact that a party associated with terrorism is more acceptable among nationalists than among unionists. This is probably due to that party sharing the same end goal of a united Ireland, whereas among unionists the loyalist parties were seen as simply a unionist version of the Shinners.

  • tmitch57

    Did it change the attitudes among nationalists and republicans for all those decades when the UK was much more prosperous than the Free State/Republic?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    http://www.nvtv.co.uk/shows/focal-point-tuesday-5-september-2017/ Listen to the two young people being interviewed about demands for new social housing in the Market. The young girl Mooney nails it with her statement “Safety” from wishing to still want to remain and live within side that community !

  • aquifer

    Pistols are a problem. A close range assassination weapon deployed against anyone who has not previously bent the knee to some religious or political ideology, or who has simply refused to give up their property and freedom of speech. It gives the balance of power to nutty religious cults and extends the life of musty ideologies. Leftists of limited learning like pistols as a way to lever in revolutionary juntas, useful tools upon which to build political pyramid selling schemes where more will lose than win. Pistols are a political prick for young men too, instant power unencumbered by wisdom or restraint.

    The neo-liberal downsizing of democracy has left us terribly vulnerable to oppression by big money, or by pistol-toting gangsters. The DUP are complicit in this, and it is clear that these sectarian hoodlums and SF are in cahoots, enforcing and promoting a traditional view of political divisions that maintains them securely in power, free from the challenge of new ideas.

    These armed subversives are a threat to the stability of this state, and by denying an exemplar of democratisation, disarmament, and peace building, a threat to global order.

    The criminals should be swept off the streets, to expose the divisive and vacuous nature of the SFDUP political offer.

    If socially constructive individuals lose jobs out of it, perhaps they can then build support for political movements that do not see public good as something to be shot down in the name of financial religious or racial purity.

  • NewSouthernMan

    As a matter of fact, it did. Many nationalists were quite happy to remain in the UK up until recently. What changed? I believe the strong southern economy had a lot to do with that.

    History lesson: Almost 100 years ago, unionists broke away from the rest of Ireland because they saw their economic future was better in the UK than outside it.

  • babyface finlayson

    I agree that seems like the sensible solution.
    We do not want a community organisation called the ‘Red Hand Commando dropin centre’ any more than we would want an ‘IRA community help and advice centre’.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Enjoyed that, but what is your point?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Are the UUP and DUP oppressors of their voter base, are you saying? Or who is the “oppressor” in this model?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    A mistake and it shouldn’t have happened. However, it didn’t make the UUP “for terrorism”, and their voters would certainly not have regarded them as such.

    The reference to UR being “the DUP’s military wing” though is off-beam. The DUP shouldn’t have set up UR but did so within what was allowable within the law. Sailing as ever too close to the wind for my liking, but it was above board. What then developed in terms of the criminality and weapons-smuggling was done against DUP wishes and behind the back of the party leadership. The DUP disowned UR when it was discovered.

    I’m not saying this out of love of the DUP, just to stick to the truth of what happened. Paisley saw himself as a “militant” politician and liked to portray that publicly. And I think he liked aspects of Loyalist paramilitarism – the solidarity, the pride in the flag and most of all the willingness to *defend* Ulster in the last ditch. But he did not agree with their terrorism, something the Loyalist paramilitaries mocked him for. What Paisley wanted was something like 1912 – that was his model. That is, a *legal* force, using existing rights to publicly assemble etc and with legally acquired firearms like those held by farmers, that would remain undeployed until and unless Armageddon happened. Its presence could remind those in power not to push unionists too far; and in Paisley’s case in the 80s, would serve as a counterweight to the political pressure of militant nationalism. But what he wasn’t keen to engage in was pro-active terrorism. You’ll understand a lot more about how the DUP related to Loyalist paramilitaries if you grasp that. Paisley wanted to take the “good bits” about Loyalist groups, from a political point of view and leave the bad bits. So he flirted with them; but he actually didn’t really flirt much, or at all, with Troubles terrorism. His big failing was in not treating them like pariahs as he should have done. But in his mind I think, he wasn’t doing anything wrong – he was their friend when they did constructive things in his eyes, like involvement in the UWC strike; he reserved the right to condemn them, and did, when they murdered people.

    In my view, they were pariahs and should not have been courted in any way. But there were a few unionist politicians who took Paisley’s approach. It wasn’t as bad as supporting terrorism (for nearly all of them at least) – the Sinn Fein comparisons are way off – but it was highly inappropriate and insensitive. There is less of this now from the DUP but you still see it around the edges at times.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t think that’s a fair depiction of the UUP in particular, or even the DUP. Both have made a few dodgy decisions on occasion around dealing with paramilitaries, and have had a member or two that has been ejected for links, but neither has ever actually supported terrorism as a matter of policy.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m sure those parties would argue they have been trying. The social issues in less affluent areas of NI are significant and I’m not sure it’s been in the gift of those parties in recent decades to fix them. It’s the same all over the country, we need a massive overhaul of how the country is run to build more sustainable jobs and so on and economic development based on social democratic values. But I’m not aware of unionist parties arguing against the pumping of more development money into working class unionist areas. Didn’t the DUP just negotiate an extra billion for NI from the Westminster government’s budget?

  • Skibo

    How did Rev McCrae treat Billy Wright as a pariah when he shared a platform with him?
    If the DUP shunned UR, why did they so readily accept Emma so quickly into their ranks?
    How can you acknowledge the UVF of 1912 as legal when they were formed to oppose British legislation being enacted in Ireland?
    Unionism played footsie with Loyalism under the table and dropped them like a hot potato for fear people would then accept the right of political violence. This treatment of right wing military groups was mirrored in South Africa.

  • Skibo

    I think you do not fully understand the policy of establishment terrorism that the Government of Northern Ireland used for seventy years to keep the Nationalist community in check.

  • Skibo

    What about the legal combatants that were involved in murderous activities but did it under cover of a uniform, should they too be held to account?

  • Steve

    I’d argue the very opposite.

    Unionism has a poor track record of making logical decisions that are in its own interests. Instead it just thinks it can freeze the world in an era of its own suiting, even whilst everything around them is clearly changing. It’s stuck in a snow dome thinking that it controls the political weather.

    Unionist politicians have some inkling of the longer-term political reality, but are in denial. The ordinary Unionist/Loyalist people would be terrified if the penny ever dropped for them, and would lash out at any leaders who tried to articulate it. So project ostrich will continue until there’s some kind of seismic shock (e.g. Sinn Fein as the biggest party, with a Nationalist majority in both Stormont & in Westminster MPs)

    You just have to look at how, even with an Assembly in which unionists no longer hold the majority for the first time ever, the DUP still thinks it can call the shots and prevent the equality measures that the majority want. Unionism was built entirely on dominance and existed that way for centuries. It’s finding it extremely hard to accept things are no longer that way.

  • Steve

    Sorry – that’s just a distortion of history.

    Unionists didn’t break away from the rest of Ireland. How could they when there was no such nation state to break away form at the time. It was the Free State that broke away from the UK and the north that chose to remain. Its revisionism to try to present it any other way, and a bit odd to be honest.

  • Ruairi Murphy

    Thoughtful and interesting piece.

  • lauradaly

    There is a couple of things about Jim Wilson and his mates in East Belfast looking for “a place in the Sun”. Firstly over the last few years the gap between Unionism and Loyalism has grown. Unionists live in nice houses and away from the Loyalist ghettos of East and South Belfast and have no real interest in what the gangs in tracksuits and Rangers shirts on the Lower Shankhill want or indeed need. The Dup, UUP and Jim Allister are happy enough to allow Jim Wilson and Winkie Irvine to run the ghettos. They only use them when they need them. The vacuum in Working Class Loyalism is one in which has created the space for Jim Wilson, Jamie Bryson and allowed the UVF to continue to keep up a reign of terror in East Belfast. However having said that Working Class Loyalism looks over the peace wall and sees Sinn Fein on the very same working class ground only in a different shade and asks where are my leaders. And up steps Jim Wilson and Winston Irvine.

    The so called LCC is backing the the Red Hands application, but that leads you to ask well if them why not the UVF and the UFF alongside them. The answer to that is simple the UVF are still running the show of terror particularly in East Belfast. However the need of the Red Hand to do this is just another grasp at the call to protect Orange Culture. Its the wrong way to go about protecting the Orange Culture. If they want to help their community which they have every right to do is by disbanding the Red Hand.

  • Skibo

    I find it difficult to separate the Red Hand Commando and the UVF. If the UVF are still intertwined in gangsterism, why is the RHC not?

  • NewSouthernMan

    From Wikipedia, History of Northern Ireland:

    “The fourth and final Home Rule Bill (the Government of Ireland Act 1920) partitioned the island into Northern Ireland (six northeastern counties) and Southern Ireland (the rest of the island).”

    “The Treaty was given effect in the United Kingdom through the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922. Under Article 12 of the Treaty, Northern Ireland could exercise its opt out by presenting an address to the King requesting not to be part of the Irish Free State. ”

    “Article 12 of the Treaty accorded to Northern Ireland the right to secede from the new Free State and rejoin the United Kingdom, giving its parliament a month in which to decide: the so-called ‘Ulster Month’.”

  • Sub

    Are you for real.? How often does it have to be pointed out to you hat the Unionist party effectively introduced the gun into modern Irish politics by importing a huge arsenal of illegal weapons and threatening terrorism if the UK govt did not accede to its demands. As for the DUP their links can be traced from the present right back to the formation of the party. As for your claim of a member or two were ejected for links who and when was this?
    As for your claim they never supported terrorism as a matter of policy that is kind of hard to do when the former Deputy leader/leader of the party did not even regard loyalists as terrorists. So it is a fair depiction. My argument still stands. Only the SDLP the Greens and Alliance are untainted by the stain of terrorism. No amount of head in the sand revisionism by you is going to change that simple fact

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Oppressors & the oppressed are interchangeable with exploiters and the exploited.

  • I Can Confirm This

    Racism not only continues, but has mutated within loyalism in complex ways, almost in a Trump-like anti-migrant isolationism.

    That’s because in part loyalist and working class communities in general do not believe the benefits of migration to be ‘self-evident’ in fact would have experience of it being the opposite, with isolated migrant micro-communities living around them separately. Migrant communities are as happy to split off and live among themselves in splendid isloation.

  • I Can Confirm This

    The PUP if it focused on national (Britishness) and local (parades) identity issues along with progressive social policies of equality towards all British citizens, this may have been a firm basis on which to attempt to grow the base. Instead, it allowed the party to be hijacked by extreme left-wingers like Sophie Long and Izzy Giles who engaged in high brow feminist/leftist/global arguments and rhetoric online and other silly crap totally divorced from the living conditions of the electorate that it purported to represent, all this nonsense left most people confused about the PUP and its direction.

  • Granni Trixie

    If you are correct in you assertion could it be that Nationalists see some justification for IRA violence? (Not me).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m none the wiser Ben. Who is the oppressor / exploiter in this scenario

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I am very much for real. I note your arguments but obviously don’t buy that analysis. Not sure we’re going to get anywhere with this.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I understand the Republican fairytale you refer to completely

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you seem to me to be taking a slant on events to enhance a political point you want to make. You don’t like unionists and you’re determined to tell the most negative and least empathetic story you can, rather than admit that unionists are decent people too. It borders on sectarianism at times.

  • tmitch57

    Yes, some are “sneaking regarders” and some are those who wanted to encourage the Republican Movement to remain peaceful by allowing Sinn Fein to reap rewards for the IRA ceasefire. Others, especially as the decade proceeded wanted to support the winning horse.

  • Sub

    Of course you dont, because your head is firmly buried in the sand. You need locked in a room with Dr Eamonn Phoenix for about a month.