Claims such as ‘there’s a lot of anger in are (sic) community’ and ‘are (sic) British culture is being chipped away’ have been made a lot in recent months. These and similar such claims are made in an apparent effort to justify loyalist violence. To argue the contrary with the average loyalist (or indeed some unionist politicians) would seem to be a pointless exercise. There is no discussion to be had with someone blind to the truth and to simple, hard fact.
For years, loyalist communities have been entrenched behind metaphorical walls built to keep common sense and progress at bay. It is a world of paranoia which has been nurtured by unionist politicians and the interestingly named ‘community workers’ who appear to have unlimited access to the criminal gangs in such areas. Paramilitary gangs operate without hindrance, not protecting these communities, but acting as a catalyst for misery and deprivation in order to ensure their own power in the communities. This happens as the silent majority, along with the rest of the world, moves on.
Unionist politicians seem to support the notion that loyalist areas have been left behind, happy that the ‘anger’ is not directed at them, but conveniently at society as a whole. The fires of paranoia amongst working class loyalists are stoked by unionist politicians who outwardly, appear sympathetic to these views but in reality are more interested in looking for votes from these communities to support their own positions, rather than actually working to tackle the real issue of social deprivation and not the ‘cultural war’ they have convinced loyalists is happening.
While many Catholics decided to get educated to get ahead, their Protestant counterparts relied on the belief that there would be a job for them at the likes of Shorts, Harland and Wolff and so on. There was no incentive to seek a half-decent education. The loss of thousands of these jobs instantly disadvantaged working class Protestants who found themselves unqualified for alternative positions and thus, the downward spiral began.
It is important to note that, contrary to the belief among loyalists, the most economically and socially deprived areas are all nationalist. That is a simple, incontrovertible fact. What then is the difference that means nationalists aren’t mirroring the behaviour of their loyalist equivalents? Granted, there is the anti-social element but on nowhere near the same scale. Is there a connection to the level of political engagement?
Parties such as the PUP claim to represent the political aspirations of loyalism, in a similar way to Sinn Féin’s political representation of republicanism. There is one glaring difference though. The PUP has no elected MLAs and at their very best, only ever had two. If loyalism has such a strong voice, why is the PUP not getting votes? The only way loyalists are going to bring about changes for themselves, is if they are willing to become involved in the political process. It’s easy to see why they would display such apathy for politics given their experience with the DUP. It is also very easy to carp from the side-lines about the lack of representation and criticise the political process when not actually involved in it. Much more difficult is the job of being part of the political institutions and working to solve problems for your constituents through democratic means.
|This is where to make a difference|
Dawn Purvis made an excellent job of representing those who had voted for her (one of the few genuinely motivated politicians at the Assembly) and it was disappointing when she lost her seat. Whether or not this was due to her parting company with the PUP is anyone’s guess. It would be sad to think that someone who worked hard for their community became unelectable purely because they weren’t aligned with the PUP. Perhaps it was merely a symptom of the indifference to politics among loyalism and it would be interesting to know how things would have panned out if not for the untimely death of David Ervine, a man who was able to see beyond petty politicking.
The ‘cultural war’ unionist politicians peddle and loyalists speak of so enthusiastically, realistically amounts to little more than the democratic decision, not to “tear down” the Union flag from Belfast City Hall, but to fly it instead on designated days, and a change in dealing with contentious parading. This has meant the PSNI, rather than forcing parades through areas where they could be said to cause most offence, i.e. not wanted, are instead stopping the parades and in turn, being denigrated for doing so. The following information clearly shows how a small minority of parades obscures the bigger picture.
|From Parades Commission Annual Reports|
Despite these hard figures and millions of pounds of funding pouring into loyalist areas, the prevailing attitude remains one of neglect and deprivation. Someone is benefiting from that attitude and it isn’t the average loyalist on the street.