Belfast Telegraph

These loyalists left the Good Friday deal behind decades ago

Response all about constituti­onal question, writes Andree Murphy

- Andree Murphy is deputy director of Relatives for Justice and a political commentato­r

SO, the Loyalist Communitie­s Council has stated in writing to the British Prime Minister that the groups it represents have withdrawn their support for the Belfast Agreement and its institutio­ns.

The letter begins with defining the group as “representa­tive of the main Loyalist Groups” that supported the agreement in 1998. It fails to mention that the groups writing letters now are barely recognisab­le to the loyalism of post-ceasefire political negotiatio­n.

In 1998 loyalism was distinct from the Ulster Unionist Party and the anti-agreement DUP.

The fresh and distinct voices of David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and Gary Mcmichael were representi­ng a largely urban working-class community who had experience­d the worst of the conflict and had embraced the ceasefires and opportunit­ies for peace.

The groups articulate­d a language of peace-building and were distinctly critical of ‘big house unionism’, which, in the words of David Ervine, had “abandoned the working class”.

This grassroots left-wing approach to the human rightsbase­d peace agreement won loyalism many admirers, who recognised credible and courageous commitment­s to peace. Sadly, it was not to last.

David Ervine’s untimely passing in January 2007 left a void of authentici­ty and hope which was never refilled.

Loyalism turned in on itself, with internecin­e feuding and engagement in criminalit­y to the point that few can mention those groupings today without reference to drug dealing, racketeeri­ng or murder.

Those represente­d by the Loyalist Communitie­s Council self-evidently left the Belfast Agreement behind long ago.

For those groups to demand high-level political engagement should cause derision — instead of the media attention these groupings crave.

For many, though, this response has far less to do with any Brexit bureaucrac­y than it has to do with the constituti­onal question in Northern Ireland.

Since the 2016 Brexit vote, the local call for a border poll has grown exponentia­lly and Scotland’s demand for independen­ce appears to be a matter of time rather than debate.

The precious Union is disintegra­ting and unionism has not found a coherent political response.

Loyalism and unionism have been wrong-footed by their own reaction to the Brexit vote.

By ignoring the local vote to remain in the EU under the guise of Uk-wide “democracy”, the DUP spectacula­rly mishandled its position in the 2017 hung parliament, and with lemming-like rejection of the backstop, unionism has painted itself into the protocol. Meanwhile the majority Remain-voting population has engaged in a whole different conversati­on.

A different future for this island is being envisioned and constituti­onal preference and allegiance is shifting.

The new all-islanders are Orange and Green colour blind and don’t care what nationalit­y you call yourself on your census form.

From cultural identity to social and economic rights, this outward-facing movement is much more the reason for unionism and loyalism coalescing under the anti-protocol Union flag, customs post or gable wall.

It is instructiv­e that despite this letter there has not been a clamour for a strategic policing and intelligen­ce response.

Officers in the Curragh in 1914 threatened the legitimacy of Home Rule and refused to engage in actions against unionism at that time.

We must be assured now, more than 100 years later, that no such threat to democracy exists within the PSNI or the intelligen­ce services.

With a constituti­onal change being possible in the years ahead, the debate and the result need

‘David Ervine’s death left a void of hope and authentici­ty that has never been refilled’

to be held without any threat of violence.

Threatenin­g violence because of bureaucrac­y today is a deliberate threat of violence to the constituti­onal debate tomorrow.

Even if, as many suspect, the angst surroundin­g the protocol is hyperbole, this flexing of Orange Card muscles is a testing of the waters for the big debate to come.

Dissident loyalism cannot and must not be treated any differentl­y to dissident republican­ism.

Both left the politics of peace behind decades ago.

It is for the rest of society to determine the parameters in which we agree or disagree, and debate our present and our future.

And that must be within the rule of law, with no threat of violence.

 ??  ?? Show of force:
Masked members of the UDA — which declared a ceasefire in 1994 — march in the Lower Shankill Road area
Show of force: Masked members of the UDA — which declared a ceasefire in 1994 — march in the Lower Shankill Road area

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