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Flags and political loyalism January 31, 2013

Posted by smiffy in Loyalism, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, The North, Ulster, Uncategorized, Unionism.

Regular readers may be interested in a newly-published book on political loyalism by U.S. academic, Tony Novosel, entitled Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism. published by Pluto books.

Over at the Pluto website, Novosel has published an interesting and timely article, situating the current protests around flags within the context of an historical pattern of the exploitation of working-class loyalist political mobilization by mainstream Unionist parties. While not uncritical of loyalist communities and their political expression, he does give the current situation an important added dimension, going beyond the sometimes easy stereotyping of #flegs.

Left Archive: The Prison Experience – A Loyalist Perspective, by Marion Green, EPIC research document No.1, 1999. January 30, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Miscellaneous Documents, Miscellaneous Left Publications, Official Sinn Féin, Progressive Unionist Party, Sinn Féin.
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To download the above please click on the following link:LOYALPRISONDOC

This document [and many thanks to the person who donated it] may seem at first sight an unlikely one to be part of the Left Archive, however it provides both an overview of the general conditions and history of the prison system in Northern Ireland for political prisoners – Loyalist and Republican, and also gives an insight into the relationships between both as well as a developing political consciousness on the part of the former.

Produced in 1998 by the EPIC (Ex-Prisoners’ Interpretative Centre) in Belfast it provides in a series of chapters

The Preface notes that EPIC ‘as a community based self-help organisation welcome [new arena’s for addressing differences and representing communities] and will continue to give our support to these latest developments at the political level, we are also conscious of the impact and legacy of violent conflict at community level’.


EPIC has taken responsibility to assist in the reintegration and transformation of ex-prisoners who engaged in the violent conflict. As an integral part of this work EPIC has undertaken intensive research into prison-related issues – whether describing the background to the prison experience itself, or cataloguing the many predicaments, problems and concerns which politically- motivated ex-prisoners encounter upon release.

The Introduction further notes that:

For the past thirty years there have been thousands of Loyalists incarcerated in NI’s prisons and yet very little has been written about the subject. That neglect is all the more noticeable when one considers the number of books and other publications which have appeared dealing with Republican prisoners.

And most importantly given the left orientation of some Loyalist originating political parties:

Just as remarkable has been the crucial impact former prisoners and their associates have made upon the political process – a process once kept remove from working class aspirations and interventions. Within the Loyalist working-class community parties such as the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party have done much to help move this entire society away from the politics of intransigence and violence to the politics of accommodation and dialogue, while proving that no surrender of identity or aspiration need be involved in the process.

Inside the document there is a chronological approach, with sections addressing ‘The Early Days: Crumlin Road Jail’ – with interesting anecdotes about how the various paramilitary groupings had to liaise in order to maintain discipline, ‘Internment and Long Kesh’ – and demands for political status where, as is noted, ‘we didn’t get much help from the UUP or the wider unionist population’, ‘Early Prison Protests’, ‘Coping with Life inside’, ‘Fighting Criminalisation’ and so on.

A telling point is made when it is noted that:

Not all the prisoners were interested in politics, some just wanted to get on with their sentences, but a small number of men were interested and they got involved in political debates and discussions, not only with fellow Loyalists but with Official Republicans.

The sense of the prison experience as a crucible for ‘fresh political thinking’, as the document puts it, is strongly reinforced by these observations.

Well… I guess it’s an idea: or Magill, and the concept of Revolutionary Unionism. January 18, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, Ulster, Unionism.

Reading the December/January issue of Magill (the site is a month or so out of date) was quite an experience. First up was the editorial by Eamon Delaney which calmost constituted a point by point riposte to smiffy’s recent piece about the quality of Magill (not that we’re so self-important round these parts that we think he’s ever read us). Delaney gave a staunch defence of the magazine listing the various areas covered in the current issue lauded as a ‘reinvention’ and ‘a vibrant use of graphics, illustrations and photography’ (useful if you intend to publish a text based pictorial magazine, one would think), these including the ‘political front…foreign stories…cultural content’ and so forth (again, of some worth if that magazine covers current affairs). In fairness it is a better issue than the previous one. One of the strong points according to Delaney is the ability ‘to keep the mix varied and lively and not appear predictable’. True, very true. But if one is looking for any real divergence from it’s centre right course one will be, perhaps predictably, disappointed.

Anyhow, enough damning with faint praise, I buy it every issue, and little publicity is bad publicity, so everyone is happy – eh?

Ah yes, consider an article nestled between the covers by Dr. John Coulter, political journalist for the Irish Daily Star. In it we get a brisk run through the Unionist thinking on the St. Andrews Agreement and after. Coulter thinks that Sinn Féin might by delaying it’s response to the policing issue deliver a ‘double whammy’ on the DUP by boosting dissident anti-power sharing Unionists and ultimately forcing Paisley into powersharing.

Later on in the article some good points are raised. Because Coulter notes something which isn’t often examined in the Good Friday Agreement process, the impact of operational North South bodies on the Unionist community. He appears to think this will have a fractious effect upon the various strands of Unionism, but particularly on DUP support.

However, it’s after this that things get…well different. Coulter spins off into the necessity for Unionism to consider an all-Ireland dimension, particularly if the GFA collapses and Dublin and London implement Plan B. He proposes that Unionist parties will in that context be irrelevant. Or alternatively if the GFA prospers the all-island dimension will negate Unionism.

He posits that something he terms Revolutionary Unionism (named after the Glorious Revolution) should step forward. This would see a 32 county dimension for Unionism, one that would push for rejoining the Commonwealth, withdrawal from the EU or as he puts it ‘Unionism needs to start believing in the concept of the Occupied Twenty-Six Counties, and begin the process of feeding the rapidly expanding Southern Irish middle class the reality their future lies in rejoining the British Commonwealth of nations’. This idea, which he has been hawking around the most unlikely points on the net for some time now (including the free market Open Republic and the vaguely dissident Republican Blanket), includes the concept (that he uses on the Open Republic site): “On the religious front, the ‘one faith’ concept seeks to unite the various Protestant denominations under a single Biblical foundation as espoused by the New Testament text St John Chapter 3, verse 16, commonly known as the Salvationist principle. Given the growth of the evangelical movement within modern Irish Catholicism, Revolutionary Unionism could have a strong appeal to Catholic voters because of its Scriptural stance on opposition to radical Islam, civil partnerships, divorce and abortion”.


He advocates the establishment of a Unionist ‘Embassy’ in Dublin. Not a particularly bad idea as such, and certainly one which by it’s own ideological lights makes sense for the projection of a Unionist identity.

He also notes, at least on the Open Republic site, being perhaps a tad more reticent on the Blanket, that “Given the increasing European federalism, Ireland as a geographical entity, could find itself well and truly on the fringes of the planned United States of Europe. The real danger is that the whole British Isles, but especially Ireland north and south, would become an ethnic dumping ground for vast legions of unskilled migrants or asylum seekers who want to take advantage of their nations’ new-found membership of the European Union, but who cannot find work or will not be admitted into the EU’s so-called ‘super nations’ of France and Germany. A United British Isles may well have to seriously consider the option of leaving the EU and form an independent economic global block based on the British Commonwealth.” On the Blanket we are treated to the idea with a different spin ‘Revolutionary Unionism would take the British islands – including Ireland – out of the EU and into the global economic security of the Commonwealth’. Hmmm… yes, those balmy climes of the economic security. A further justification for this economic act of self-immolation is that ‘Many Southern Catholics and Northern Prods could be attracted to a pro-Commonwealth Unionist movement – driven by an evangelical radical Presbyterianism – which guaranteed their middle class lifestyles would not be threatened by the ever expanding European Union’.


In Magill this is somewhat massaged into a more emollient, but no less striking, analysis which warns of a new set of Troubles as ‘Christianity goes head-to-head with the growing ethcnic communities and Islam in particular. Given the rise in racially motivated crime, it is only a matter of time before the ghost of former neo-fascist (neo? Surely some mistake) boss, General Eoin O’Duffy of the Blueshirts returns in the form of a populist party or candidate campaigning against migrant workers, asylum seekers and Islamist radicals living in Ireland”.

Okay squared.

Gloomy stuff, but what on earth does it all mean? On Slugger O’Toole his writings have been likened to Conor Cruise O’Brien, well, C O’C at his most eschatological, and there’s more than a hint of that there. But it’s strange stuff.

Not so much the idea that an all-island Unionist identity is such a bizarre notion, although one it is difficult to see sustaining itself in the manner he proposes. But more the strange lack of empirical evidence for any such ‘Revolutionary Unionism’. If one uses that universal “find an ideology” Google one will see nowt about it. Consult learned tomes on the subject of Unionism and one will find nothing. Perhaps it’s about to manifest itself, but so far nothing. Perhaps it’s so new, despite it’s intellectual origins that it’s springing up all over. Or perhaps, just perhaps, and I know I’m going out on a limb here, this is a very very recent invention…

Then there is the curious slide into the apocalypse regarding what appears to be warnings about an incipient race war on the island. And what exactly is the prescription to solve this problem? An evangelical Unionist party dedicated to removing the RoI from the EU? One could reasonably ask whether the cure would be any better than the disease.

But worst of all is the way in which at various points previous progressive, or reasonably progressive, Unionist incarnations, from Norman Porter’s civic unionism to the ‘new’ unionism of David Trimble are dismissed. Worst of all because in the absence of any vehicle within which Revolutionary Unionism can be driven forward all this is simply rhetoric.

Entertaining rhetoric, sure, but rhetoric nonetheless…

David – we hardly knew you… or David Ervine and the curious case of Ireland’s most popular Unionist. January 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Ireland, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The Left, Unionism.

And that’s the problem. Seriously. We hardly knew David Ervine. There were David Ervine’s aplenty. There was the avuncular telegenic figure of the last decade and a half. Clearly interested and interesting. Someone with a serious agenda and willing to put himself on the line in pursuit of that agenda.

Then there was the UVF member. That part’s a little more opaque, or as the Irish Times put it he was ‘reserved’ about the circumstances of his arrest. Just what did he do, bar the famous incident of being caught by the RUC carrying a bomb? That he was forced to disarm it is more telling than many people might admit. Here, after all, is the archetype of the ‘bad’ terrorist, the bomber, bringer of indiscriminate death.

Friend of Gusty Spence.

There was the student. Open University no less. Someone with a clear intellectual ability and acumen.

The newsagent and milkman. Newsagent? Milkman?

I was wondering was Ervine’s popularity because he was frank and open. Well Paisley is frank and open, but few enough are fond of him. Was it because he was true to his beliefs? Perhaps, but again so was poor (politically) departed Bob McCartney – another Unionist of a Labour bent – and look what’s happened to him. Was it because he was in some sense ‘modern’? Ervine, a man who in his 40s smoked a pipe, spoke in an erudite but somewhat mannered way and hewed to a form of socialism described as Old Labour. Because Ervine wasn’t modern at all. Ervine was somebody from the 1950s or 1960s transported by his own personal time tunnel to the mid-1990s.

Lest this sound carping, it’s not meant to be. But the chorus of laudatory comments over the past two days (of which I very tangentially participated in myself) was remarkable. Ervine managed to united Republicans – mainstream and dissident, Unionists both Ulster and Democratic, SDLP members, Labour, Fine Gaelers and Fianna Failers in a broad spectrum of praise and sorrow.

Will the obituaries and eulogies of – say – Martin McGuinness be as amiable? How and where do we place their relative worth as politicians, as freedom fighters as terrorists as… well apply whatever term is suitable or fits your own political belief system? Or is this a case of the other, simply by dint of being the other, getting a free pass, one built up from one part ignorance, one part denial and one part sentimentality of the ‘we’re all human after all’ sort.

smiffy raised a very important point on P.ie, that it was incredibly contradictory (there is another word, but I don’t want to use it) of the Peace Trains of this world to be picketing Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna while feting Ervine (a similar attitude is visible in one Labour party poster on P.ie who lauds Ervine in his signature but excoriates SF as ‘nazi’s’). Contradictory if only, if only, because the distance travelled by Sinn Féin as a party and movement was considerably greater than the distance covered by David Ervine as an individual. He didn’t deliver decommissioning or the disbandment of the UVF. They’re still there, they haven’t gone away.

That’s not to say he delivered nothing at all. His presence in 1998 beside David Trimble was essential if only to send a message to the DUP that they no longer could hide behind the threat of the Loyalist paramilitaries in the way they had done previously, if only to prove to one segment of the Unionist/Loyalist base that their political leadership could stomach the agreement. Moreover his political analysis is one that I would have largely supported, in so far as he actually was in favour of dialogue and a degree of compromise and conciliation and that he was representative of an often submerged but very real strain in Unionist thinking that was Labourist, socialist and – yes – in many respects progressive. But most importantly – and the key to his success – was perhaps the fact that he was willing to talk, was willing to forge real links with the South (as evinced by his and the PUPs support for the GFA) while remaining utterly convinced of the accuracy of his political analysis that the Union was the best possible environment for the six counties.

And aside from the personal tragedy to him and his family, there is the broader tragedy that Unionism has only produced one or two examples at a political level of rational, articulate defenders of the Unionist position who recognise that dialogue isn’t defeat, that engaging with one’s political opponents is the only sensible course in a divided political entity and that all-island engagement on a political, economic and cultural level doesn’t have to result in the jettisoning of a living and vital Unionism retaining links into the UK.

So perhaps the praise, for all the flaws of the man and the movement he represented, is more than half justified. Perhaps more than three-quarters justified. He will be missed not merely for who he seemed to be but for what he seemed to represent and for the lost opportunities of contemporary Unionism.

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