These loyalists left the Good Friday deal behind decades ago
Response all about constitutional question, writes Andree Murphy
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the Loyalist Communities Council has stated in writing to the British Prime Minister that the groups it represents have withdrawn their support for the Belfast Agreement and its institutions.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.