Victims In Balaclavas, With Guns

Pete Trumbore expresses concern about Loyalism. Professor Peter Trumbore blogs @ Observations / Research / Diversions.

(Photo from Belfast Telegraph)

A “new” and as yet unnamed Loyalist paramilitary group announced its presence on the scene this week by releasing a pair of photographs to the media (one of which is reproduced above) along with a statement in which they threatened to kill members of the PSNI and Parades Commission, which has had the temerity to place limits on the Loyalist community’s ability to celebrate their culture through displays of tribal dominance directed against their Catholic neighbors.

The statement that accompanied the photos played on what has become a familiar theme amongst many Loyalists in which they characterize an erosion of privilege as brutal oppression by the state they claim to love.

The group said that after police broke up a riot in a flashpoint area of North Belfast in a:

brutal assault upon the PUL community and the random firing of baton rounds aimed to seriously injure our people we are left with no other option but to announce the PSNI and Parades Commission are legitimate targets.

We do not want to take this course of action but our people have suffered enough over the last few years and we as disengaged and disgruntled loyalists feel like the time has come for us to take action. No Surrender.

That Loyalists would threaten to take up arms against the British state is nothing new. The original Ulster Volunteer Force was organized in 1913 with the express intention of waging war against Britain to prevent it from granting home rule to Ireland.

But within Loyalism feelings and complaints of victimization have become much more open in recent years, fueled by a sense that their victory over the IRA, which has secured Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future, is in fact a hollow one.  As I wrote back in March, it is the belief that while they have won the war, the spoils of victory have passed them by.

I first heard this expressed back in 2010 when I interviewed several former UDA and UFV men active in the Loyalist ex-prisoner community. Today it is the sentiment behind the ongoing flag protests, the protest camp at Twaddlle Avenue, and the above mentioned riot this week which broke out when Loyalists attempted to storm police barricades blocking them from marching past a Catholic area.

It is reflected in the statement released by the Orange Order in advance of Twelfth of July celebrations which I wrote about last week, in which they decried the intolerance of Republicans and the “petty restrictions” imposed by the state on their right to march and parade where and when they wish, despite any objections from residents.

It is reflected in the tweets of self-described anti-agreement Loyalist provocateur Jamie Bryson claiming persecution and a war waged by police and Parades Commission against the PUL (Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist) people.

A recent unpublished study by a group of researchers from Queens University suggests that the flag and other protests stem from working class Loyalists’ feelings of economic and social dispossession, paranoid siege mentality, a belief that their avenues of expression are being systematically closed off, and that they are being manipulated and exploited by the system.

Others (such as doctoral student Sophie Long at TPQ) have written much more eloquently about the state of Loyalism than I can.  And it remains to be seen if this new armed group will amount to anything more than empty posturing.

But from where I sit, and based on what I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, and conversations I’ve had, when I think about future threats to the peace in Northern Ireland, I am much more concerned about the alienation of Loyalists than I am the ambitions of dissident Republicans.


  1. Excellent Peter.
    The other Peter (Taylor) concluded his “who won the war?” documentary with the observation that the PUL community are in the same position in terms of grievances as the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. Always struck me as fantastical, and not standing up to scrutiny. It would be completely counterproductive for their broad aims (maintaining the Union) for them to take up arms against state actors.

    But metrics have changed in recent years, nobody on the “Mainland” now thinks a Police career should be synonymous with a risk to their life, so one shot PC now is probably worth 100 in terms of media coverage compared to pre-GFA era. All thanks to the wonders of Health and Saftey compo payouts and a Nanny state.

    Anyway I trust Republicans would do nothing to encourage them in this deadend endeavour.

  2. Peter

    How little things change in Northern Ireland. Back in the 1960s as the People's Democracy, NICRA and a sprinkling of veteran Republicans took to the streets demanding the same rights aforded British subjects in places like Birmingham, Manchester, and deepest Cockney London, a few old IRA men, Cathal Goulding included, pointed out that the working class Protestants were just about as bad off as their Catholic counterparts. Today's disaffected Loyalists prove that such an assertion was correct then and correct now. What have they gained for their loyalty? Not much, maybe nothing other than a secured union in a state dominated by a country (i.e. England) in which most find their brand of Britishness an embarrassment, a kind of vulgar jingoism. And as a journalist friend in Dublin (an Ulster Protestant by the way) has pointed out, many in Northern Ireland are having one hell of a time accepting the world's current indifference. The limelight has faded. Obscurity beckons. These examples of macho posturing, camo and balaclavas and guns, show an inability to move forward from a frozen mindset and a culture of violence.

    Peter, do you get the impression that these menacing images signal a renewed urge to target innocent Nationalists or is the posing merely a fist shake against the PSNI, Stormont and the discomforts of irrepressible change? You write here: "A recent unpublished study by a group of researchers from Queens University suggests that the flag and other protests stem from working class Loyalists’ feelings of economic and social dispossession, paranoid siege mentality, a belief that their avenues of expression are being systematically closed off, and that they are being manipulated and exploited by the system." Loyalists are not wrong in sensing that they are being manipulated. They always have been. It's time to imagine and seek something better than a smoking waste ground and a blinding hangover. The enemy is an old and familiar economic stagnation, a loyalty to loveless cousins. It's not a creeping green. Excellent piece, Peter.

  3. Unionism/Loyalism is in a sorry state indeed. The slam dunk victory of the GFA could not be celebrated as such lest Gerry not be able to get decommissioning completed. Most loyalists believe themmuns actually won. The DUP care nothing for the protestant working class and the PUP lack the image and charisma to make a breakthrough. As the wee 6 becomes less like the rest of the UK the English would love to get rid. Unfortunately for republicans Dublin has less inclination than even the English to have to pay for and police the North, and rioting at Ardoyne and INLA "heroes" marching in Londonderry isn't going to change that.

  4. Loyalists have always been unwitting pawns in the game played by the british terror state. Now they are increasingly turning their guns on the state and biting the hand that once fed them. A bit of chickens coming home to roost for britain and the ruc/psni.

  5. Michael, to answer your question, none of the loyalists I've talked with have suggested that "their side" wants to go back to war against nationalists. Most reject that outright as a ludicrous suggestion. The few who told me they thought it was possible all said the first shots would be fired by the other side.

    The former loyalist paramilitaries I've talked to were all active in the '70s, '80s, and early '90s, and like their former Provo opponents have aged out of militant politics. Both revolution and counterrevolution are young people's games. It's the youngsters I'd be worried about now.

  6. Peter Trumbore

    Yes, the potential for violence is much greater in those who lack the active memory of its consequences. As you said, the old guard have certainly moved on. They lived the bad old days and though dissatisfied, maybe even plagued by a sense of defeat and a job left incomplete, these former paramilitaries do not relish a repeat of the past. This is at least true of the old Republicans that I know. Ironically, as the days of violence recede into the past, the susceptibility of the young to the temptation of picking up the gun increases. Amnesia has its dangers. Just goes to show that an honest and courageous appraisal of Northern Ireland's recent past is essential to preserving a fragile peace.

  7. Even if 'dissident loyalism' were to go back to armed actions they'd be unlikely to be any more effective than their republican counterparts have been to date.
    Malign manipulations of loyalist terror gangs, as previously practised by the security and intelligence agencies, are most unlikely this time round ... thus diminishing sustainability of any campaign. In truth further armed actions offers nothing to any section of society save yet more squandered lives.

    As PT and MM have pointed out, most of the old codgers have matured and thankfully transcended their previous violent tendencies. Of course and unfortunately there are still a few of that cohort (old codgers) bound by their unresolved traumas to a futile violent path. In reality their distortions have nothing to offer the disaffected youth except 'cooling off' time in Maghaberry and as such rightly ought be challenged and corralled by more mature and educated elements.

  8. "Malign manipulations of loyalist terror gangs,..."

    Don't you mean State Sponsored Terrorism..there Henry?
    It's funny that words like those and terms like collusion are in fact state sponsored terrorism.
    The love that dearth not speak it's name.
    So much to hide when you suck up to da Brits..isn't there.
    Brits out.

  9. Ozzy if you prefer to call it State Sponsored Terrorism rather than 'Malign manipulations of loyalist terror gangs, as previously practised by the security and intelligence agencies,...' that's ok by me. No huge disagreement about that.

    My choice of words on this occasion were influenced by Michael Mahoney's observation
    "Loyalists are not wrong in sensing that they are being manipulated. They always have been."

    Ozzy somewhat like disgruntled Loyalists you have a choice ... you can stay stuck in the past and keep banging your head against a wall or you can wake up to current realities, accept them and get on with your life as best you can!

    (If your in any doubt as to what the current reality is have a look at Peter's comment above ... the Brit's would love to be out of it and Dublin can't even begin to contemplate taking it on).

  10. State sponsored terrorism Ozzy, are you referring to the Lynch FF govt creation & sponsorship of PIRA in the late sixties or the collusion of the Gardai in Dundalk with PIRA to murder Harry Been & Buchanan & protestants living in the border areas.

  11. Eileen No. Because most of that is rubbish.
    If the IRA waited around for the Free State to arm them..well they'd still be waiting.
    That Dundalk stuff is rubbish..It was even stated that the IRA needed zero help in carrying out that ambush.
    Also there are plenty of allegations concerning those two " RUC" at least one of which conerns the Glennane gang.
    As for the ethnic cleansing in border areas.
    This is Unionist mopery.
    The whole idea of partition was done by unionists due to the entire fact that they couldn't stand living in Catholic majority state.
    Ergo..when Catholics become a majority they up sticks and leave.
    That's their choice.
    Now..Why don't you refer to the "ethnic cleansing" of Brixton.
    Same type of bigotry over Afro Carribeans by the English as the bigotry over Catholics and by unionist in border areas..
    What are you going to say about the changes West of the Bann?
    What bogeyman are you going to make up?
    Unionism contains within it the seeds of it's own destruction.

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