Loyalist Dead End?

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According to the new issue of Humanism Ireland, loyalism in Northern Ireland is at a dead end. In an article entitled ‘Loyalist Dead End’ Brian McClinton argues the case. Coming from the Shankill he claims to speak with authority. He states,

When you look at the components of the Loyalist world view – macho militarism, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, right-wing imperialism, extreme monarchism – you have to ask yourself, “What kind of person inhabits their universe?” How could anyone in their right mind embrace such a ghastly creed? How could anyone with an ounce of moral decency believe these things or even associate with people who say or do these things? How could anyone with a modicum of intelligence believe that a cause with such a cancerous collection of hateful thoughts would ever find acceptance beyond the lunatic fringe in any sane society?

I know I posted about it recently, but I’d like to include a few excerpts from an interview I carried out with Billy Mitchell in June 2006, shortly before his untimely death. As a loyalist, his personality doesn’t chime with the lazy stereotypes McClinton has retreated to in his latest article.

What is loyalism?! For me it’s about…loyalty to the state…its working class unionism – that’s the way the media have defined it. Unionism is about civic unionism, loyalism is about the working class. Loyal to your community and the democratic wishes of your community…that’s basically it.

I think McClinton has fallen back on some of the most regressive and entrenched images of loyalist paramilitary subculture rather than telling us anything tangible about ‘loyalism’. Yes, loyalism has been encumbered by the knuckle-dragging, unthinking psychopaths; but for all of those revanchist and negative figures (Murphy, Stone, Adair etc.) there have been many rational and forward-thinking loyalists (McMichael, Spence, Ervine and the aforementioned Billy Mitchell). What benefit does McClinton think will be gleaned from reinforcing the negative stereotypes?

As for ‘extreme monarchism’ – that’s a new one on me. I have always struggled with the loyalty working class people have for the Royal Family. In my interview with Billy Mitchell he attempted to explain this dichotomy:

I’m not a monarchist…maybe that’s a Presbyterian heritage…I’m not a monarchist…the group that I would associate with, some would be monarchists out of a sense of position and while there’s a monarchy there they’d support a constitutional monarchy; to me it’s a crowned republic. Mary McAleese has more power than the Queen and certainly George Bush has more power as a President than the Queen has. I’m not a monarchist by conviction but while it’s there I’ll support it. If there’s democratic will to remove it, I’m easy…my loyalty is to the state. I see the Queen or the Crown as a unifying factor; other than that it’s simply a figurehead…

…for the DUP cultural identity would be fundamental Protestant. Even their loyalty to the Queen depends on her being Protestant, which to me is daft. At the minute I don’t think the Royal Family…they may be Protestant in name, but I don’t think they particularly set a good example in Christian morality…well Betty (Queen Elizabeth II) herself might, but the rest of the family certainly don’t show much Christian morality. So why would your loyalty to the Queen be dependent on her religion or on Charles’s religion? The DUP would be ‘Protestantism first and the Union second…

Tantalisingly McClinton went on in his article to talk about the loyalist community in an ‘East-West’ context. He states,

There is much talk of social losses, of working class loyalist communities in irreversible retreat, deindustrialisation, demographic decline, low rates of educational achievement, high rates of family breakdown, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and so on.

Yet these are features that the poorer Protestant districts of Belfast, Portadown or Ballymoney share with those of Liverpool or Glasgow.

In my last post in which I posted the paper I gave at Tony Novosel’s book launch I elaborated on the breakdown in the relationship between Belfast’s Protestant working class and the other deindustrialised cities in the U.K. McClinton leaves the uninitiated reader hanging with no attempt to explain the importance of this ‘East-West’ relationship.

Perhaps the most fanciful and depressing lines of his article are the following where he positions the ‘dead end loyalists’ against the seemingly positive vision of Britain promoted by the 2012 London Olympics:

Withdraw the ‘lifeline’ of the IRA and the threat to the Union and we now see Loyalism stripped bare, with little to feed on beyond a macho ‘hard man’ culture, a culture which is inherently against civilianisation, against education, and against progress – a narrow, closed British nationalism light years removed from Danny Boyle’s brilliant Olympic vision of an open, tolerant, multicultural, multifaceted, self-deprecating 21st century Britain at ease with itself.

McClinton has pushed loyalism into a box of his imagining and hopes that these ‘hard men’ will stay there. As for Danny Boyle’s vision of modern Britain – I didn’t realise Boyle had now set a mandatory social and cultural tempo and mood for all British citizens.

In conclusion McClinton sticks to the line Humanism NI took in October 2005 following the loyalist rioting of that autumn; that:

Loyalism is nothing but a poison that eats away at the very soul of the Protestant working class.

The positive stories that have been told recently in Tony Novosel’s book and Pete Shirlow’s ‘The End of Ulster Loyalism?’ don’t seem to be relevant to McClinton’s view of the loyalist community. For him there is no hope. There is no positive work being carried out by ex-combatants – there are no attempts at dialogue and engagement with those outside loyalism. That’s a dead end of the imagination.

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