Call me a cynic but I never thought the Good Friday Agreement was worth a warm bucket of spit. For years I would tell anyone who would listen that the entire process was superficial and that the real issues had not been dealt with but had, instead, been swept aside so that Blair could claim his spurious place in history as the man who brought “peace” to Northern Ireland. His address to the cameras at Stormont perfectly summed up his superficiality…and his conceit.
“A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders. I really do.”
Blair never seemed interested in the long-running sectarian tensions that have characterized Northern Ireland’s political landscape for the best part of 50 years. Once the ink was dry on the document, power-sharing at Stormont and the renaming of the Royal Ulster Constabulary seemed to be the only items on the agenda. In fact, an inordinate amount of time was spent trying to find a neutral-sounding name for the much-hated (by Republicans at least) RUC. In the end they settled on the Police Service of Northern Ireland – a real mouthful.
And the sectarianism? It was allowed to fester.
What strikes me most about Loyalists is their overweening sense of entitlement. The slightest move towards any kind of change is met by violence from them. Indeed, we can trace this back to the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and the formation of the original Ulster Volunteers (UVF) by Edward Carson (it is his statue that stands on the approach to Stormont) and his pal, James Craig, who bought guns from Imperial Germany (that’s something Loyalists don’t like to talk about). The same people who joined the UVF would later find themselves fighting the Germans in WWI. Loyalists see no irony or contradiction there.
The Ulster Volunteers were the first Loyalist paramilitary group to be organized in the North and it could be argued that Carson and Craig had ruthlessly exploited Protestant fears of Home Rule for their own ends. It is ironic, at any rate, that the Home Rule movement was led and orchestrated by Protestants like Isaac Butt and later Charles Stewart Parnell. Loyalists conveniently ignore that.
Loyalists will tell you that their “culture” is bound up with the Union flag and that the flying of the flag over Belfast City Hall is a matter of life or death to them. But if their culture hinges on a piece of cloth, then that isn’t much of a culture. Beyond the flag, all they have are pipe and drum bands and Orangeism. Curiously enough, Carson was no admirer of Orangeism and famously described the Orange Order’s speeches as “the unrolling of a mummy. All old bones and rotten rags”. Carson was born in Dublin, by the way.
If you think the arguments of the Loyalists sound eerily similar to those of the far right on the so-called British mainland, then you would be right. Loyalists and the British far-right have long enjoyed close ties. In fact, the EDL have made contact with the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). They have in common, the traits of thuggishness, victimhood, obsessive paranoia and a blind hatred of anything that vaguely resembles compromise. The fact that the Union Flag isn’t flown 365 days a year over town halls in England, Wales and Scotland cuts no ice with these people. They want their “fleg” (sic) to fly over Belfast City Hall all year round.
The BNP, led by MEP Nick Griffin, has yet to crack the political hustings in Northern Ireland despite at one time setting up a base in Dundonald, east Belfast to promote its political views and raise election funds.
Now loyalist sources said the BNP are trying to muscle in on Northern Ireland’s political scene in an effort to recruit new candidates and new voters.
And sources said they believed that Nick Griffin will come to Belfast in the New Year to seek the views of loyalists in supporting his party.
“The BNP are sitting in England looking at the political unrest in Northern Ireland and thinking to themselves this is our opportunity to get in there and establish a firm base,” said a loyalist source.
With this kind of ignorance dominating Loyalist discourse, it’s hard to see how anyone can get them to see sense. The sad truth is that the Protestant working class is ill-served by Loyalism and those who lead the various Loyalist gangs. They would do well to abandon the dead-end of Loyalism and seek rapprochement with their Catholic working class neighbours to form a society based on more than flags and the poisonous rhetoric of tattooed hard men.