Marching the Road to nowhere- Loyalism’s crisis of confidence

Marching the road to nowhere- Loyalism’s crisis of confidence

The actions of the Orange order and a number of Loyalist flute bands in the past number of weeks has caused much consternation and debate amongst the media. The blatant sectarianism and triumphal on display by the YCV flute band in cave hill, the defiance of the parades commission by the orange order and the support lent to both by unionist politicians has sparked a debate about what exactly is the issue behind the trouble.

At no point has any media commentator bothered to analyse the incident within a broader look at Loyalism post GFA. The truth that no media commentator dares speak apparently is that since the singing of the GFA Loyalism has been convulsed by a series of problems all of which stem from it’s internal political contradictions and lack of class awareness.

From the feuding which erupted between the UDA and UVF, LVF and UVF and now internal tensions within both the UDA and UVF the paramilitaries have not adapted well to the new arrangement. What does hold them together is a continued commitment to racketeering and widespread drug dealing. This is a result of the fact that there is no political rationale for their continued existence.

The GFA was in essence a victory for unionism. It delivered all the core goals which they demanded. The Loyalist paramilitaries however are distinct from mainstream unionism. They emerged from the sectarian mire which engulfed working class Loyalist areas. They were politically incoherent, a useful state counter gang for the British government. Their political representatives that did exist failed to formulate anything approaching an analysis which would explain their activity. Loyalists know instinctively that they are useful pawns. Their representatives try to articulate the widespread discontent within working class protestant communities with mainstream Unionist politicians. It is a mixture of confusion as to why the state which ensured their supremacy has changed and a bitterness that they have not reaped the political sway which the Provisional movement did following the GFA.

By fighting to ensure British control in the six counties Loyalists have always been fighting against their class interests. From being used as cannon fodder at the Somme to being a useful negotiating ploy by Ian Paisley they have been used and abused to ensure the status quo. What underhinged their acceptance of this was the belief in their own superiority and supremacy over their catholic neighbours. This manifested itself in many ways, from the bastion of political dominance in Stormont, the privileged status of protestant workers in places like Harland and Wolff and the annual parading by the Orange order. Since the signing of the GFA many of these institutions and privileges have been rolled back. Catholics are now entering universities, employment and all other spheres of cultural and political life in ever greater numbers and with greater confidence.

This reality unsettles Loyalism. It creates a political crisis within it as an ideology because they have no framework to explain it. Their loyalty to British rule was largely based on the colonial basis that they were the elite and that the natives remained subjugated. The GFA ensures British rule but to appease the Provisional movement moves had to be made to make the six county state a warmer place for Catholics. As such the Loyalists have a political victory and a social failure. They have no political explanation for this that would not force them to examine their core beliefs about their identity.

The result of this can be seen in many ways. The attack on the short strand by the UVF, the annual coat trailing at Ardoyne, in short any opportunity for them to get a taste of the old order of affairs. They are placated by the PSNI and mainstream unionism in a number of ways, be it through “peace money” to the paramilitaries or police protection for provocative marches. However this state of affairs cannot last for ever. Sooner or later Loyalism is going to face an implosion amongst its crisis of confidence. It is unlikely that the paramilitaries who are thoroughly under the control of the British will be allowed to return to their sectarian murder campaign. It is also unlikely although entirely possible that they will be allowed target Republicans. Internal feuding, attacks on immigrants and further shifts to random sectarian brutality are the likely avenue.

The Republican argument is one which offers a genuine place for working class protestant in Ireland. Republicanism has its roots in Presbyterian dissenters who were also suffering discrimination along with Catholics. They filled the ranks of the United Irishmen and fought side by side for a secular Republic. Our argument and vision remains the same. Whilst British rule continues the protestant working class will be divided and ruled and used as a cosh against their neighbours. The only loyalty which will serve the working class of the six counties will be class loyalty.


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