Beware Loyalist hidden dragon: Gulf between working and middle class getting wider

Dr John Coulter with a piece that initially featured in the Irish Daily Star on 12 August 2013.

The seeds of a violent dissident loyalist movement are now blooming.

Sinn Féin must be careful it does not taunt these loyalists into a campaign of terror which will make the Troubles look like a Sunday School picnic.

The recent Woodvale incident involving Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Mairtin O'Muilleoir is only a taste of what is to come if the loyalist dragon is not calmed.

The Shinners need to understand that a huge gulf exists between the middle class dominated Unionist parties and the loyalist working class – and it is getting wider.

The problem is that the solid bond between Sinn Féin and the Provos does not exist between the Unionist parties and the loyalist terror gangs.

The republican movement always had the discipline to be able to turn on and off the taps of street violence, bombings and shootings. Loyalists have no such discipline.

Okay, so nationalists can point to the DUP's links in the past to paramilitary groups such as the Third Force and Ulster Resistance. But that Paisley-era DUP has long since vanished.

The modern Robinson-led DUP which shares power at Stormont with Sinn Féin seems to have largely burned those bonds with the loyalist working class.

Sinn Féin worked the peace process very effectively to gain a massive raft of benefits for Catholic working class communities, especially in the republican heartlands.

While Unionists fought over who should be the main Unionist party, republicans instead majored on how to get millions of pounds into nationalist areas.

The loyalist working class looked on green with envy as previously wee Catholic enclaves became flourishing republican heartlands, while traditional Protestant districts became economic wastelands.

This regeneration of nationalist areas was misinterpreted by loyalists as a cultural war against their British heritage and identity.

What republicans saw as creating a shared future built on equality, loyalists viewed as a form of ethnic cleansing. For a generation, loyalists watched as the IRA and INLA murdered Protestants by the hundreds.

Now many loyalists view the parades and Union flag disputes as evidence of killing off their culture by republicans.

The Shinners need to be careful about rubbing loyalist noses in republican culture; that's has been the effect of the Tyrone Volunteers event at Castlederg.

All this does is plant the seeds in a section of loyalist opinion that violence pays. Loyalist violence could not guarantee a parade past the Ardoyne Shops, but it did prevent First Citizen O'Muilleoir from carrying out his duties.

Unlike Sinn Féin, the Unionist parties and the Orange Order do not have the same control over the tap of street violence.

Many loyalists remember that the Stormont government of the early 1970s was powerless to prevent the civil rights movement deteriorating into a republican terrorist campaign.

A generation on, loyalists are voicing the same concerns about their civil rights; that the current Stormont parliament seems unable or unwilling to help their plight.

Just as Sinn Féin has held onto its working class Catholic bastions, so too, republicans must educate their Unionist counterparts how to engage with the loyalist working class.

Sinn Féin must share the skills it has learned to help working class Protestants. Republicans, too, must learn the secret of calming the loyalist dragon – not egging it on to pour out its flame.


  1. I'm not too sure that the wedge being driven between the Unionist middle class and the 'working' class is a bad thing.

    One one hand some may think of the middle class as being a sort of restraining hand but as we can see from the OO, it counts for nothing when tempers start to flare and reason gives way to passion.

    If the loyalist working class areas kick off then who'll be their targets?

    They'll isolate themselves from any sympathy that the middle class may have had for them, at least back in the day there was an element of understanding as the place was being torn apart by the IRA.

    If the gap is widened sufficiently then perhaps the middle class will take the only logical card unionism has left to play: Make Northern Ireland more appealing to Catholics (at the expense of flegs and certain parades), if there is at that stage an unbridgeable gulf between the two then they won't fear their loss of votes as they'll be gone anyway.

    They may resent their areas becoming like their opposite numbers in estates in Britain (places like Liverpool, Glasgow etc), but that's being hoisted by one's own petard: You want to be so British, well this is the reality.

    It's not like they make these estates welcoming for their own people: If you have an interest in your families history and culture but no interest in politics then you find yourself wandering down the road of old Presbyterian culture: Gaelic, rebellions, folk music.
    WAY to similar to the culture of themuns.

    I know there's exceptions but by and large the tribe will eject you if you dabble with these dark arts.

  2. The article was pretty much in the line of my own thinking at the minute.

    Sad, but true. The PUP are on the rise, but will they calm the Loyalist dragon of working class loyalists?

    Perhaps one section of loyalism at the best, I am still unsure of their strategic interests and how they can prevent blatant violent sectarianism, if all you do is hype them up on their culture, heritage, county being eroded and stripped from you from the pan nationalist front.

    It is simply volatile language and recipe for disaster. When I look at the loyalist leadership especially in the PUP, I doubt they have the capability in the long term to calm in the sectarian dragon, however peaceful the may start or sound.

    I do not want/ need to see a return of the violent sectarianism here. It is futile. I have said before, the protestant elite are so out of touch with these people, that they simply cannot calm their fears that the catholics are doing alright at the expense of us, tribialism.

    Stormount has failed on combating sectarianism. Both the respective camps tend to be happy enough of using the sectarian strategy to keep them where they are in power.

    This could not last forever this strategy, as working class communities, especially the protestant are viewing the catholic side as prospering, advancing on a social, economic and political basis, while they remain static, in limbo even.

    Put simply in its most basis terms the croppies look like they are now winning.

    The loyalist leaders in these communities are spinning this perception as the catholics are stripping us of our identity, culture, heritage. Funding is being pumped into the protestant community, with no real accountable transparent benefit, that I can see for the people who live there.

    The community leaders are doing alright, but what else has been achieved other than photo-shoots and a bought peace.

    The losers will be the ordinary working people, unless something changes that's for sure.

    I hope I am wrong. I hope the mood changes.

  3. I hope this will make the Unionists stand up and think.

    What Are We Going To Do Now.

    Its a long read, but well worth it.

    Is Ulster Doomed For Repartition

  4. John:

    "Sinn Féin must be careful it does not taunt these loyalists into a campaign of terror which will make the Troubles look like a Sunday School picnic."

    What planet are you from , do you think for one minute that Nationalists are sitting doing nothing?, Shit stirring creates death.