From the loyalist blog It's Still Only Thursday the sixth interview for the Ordinary Voices Project.
As with all interviews for the Ordinary Voices project this interview was conducted via email.
Question 1: How would you describe yourself politically?
Respondent: Described by many in the media as a Loyalist activist but for me I’m a proud Unionist.*
Question 2: Do you think there is an inherent bias when it comes to legacy issues?
Respondent: There is a widely held perception of bias when it comes to legacy issues. That suspicion is cemented in the mind when people see the cavalcade of SF/IRA inspired groupings parading for the cameras seeking justice for conflict related events dating back decades. The state kept evidence, albeit questionable at times due to the inability to preserve crime scenes during mass riots etc., armed groups didn’t and this allows the spotlight to be focused in an imbalanced way on the state.
Question 3: Do you believe that legacy issues are damaging to the Peace Process?
Respondent: Legacy issues are highly damaging to the peace process, any confidence which existed in the Unionist/Loyalist community has long since evaporated since the signing of the Belfast Agreement. The main protagonists of our recent conflict murdered over 1,700 men, women and children. To see some of them hold political office today and remain unrepentant of their past actions and, in fact, glorify said actions has, and is, causing huge concerns in the Unionist/Loyalist community. There is a huge concern that Republicans are demanding of everyone else’s truth yet deny that same ‘right’ to many hundreds of victims they themselves created. The proposed legacy mechanisms fall far short of what is expected by many of these families.
Question 4: Would you agree that Loyalism is not given credit for the political thinking advanced by people like John McMichael in the 1980s?
Respondent: It is no secret that John McMichael’s ‘Common Sense’ document was, in fact, the blueprint for the power sharing assembly at Stormont, something which he and others within wider Loyalism were never credited with. In many ways John was indeed a man ‘ahead of his time’.
|Brigadier John McMichael|
Question 5: How would you say that poverty and social deprivation impact working class Loyalist communities, in Belfast in particular?
Respondent: It is also no secret that our recent conflict was fought out, predominately, by the working classes from both communities. Many of the better off Protestants and Catholics profited greatly from the conflict. The Belfast Agreement promised much to many people, but the words of the then US President Bill Clinton struck a chord with the working class when he promised that the US would walk with the people on the journey to, “peace and prosperity”. Sadly we have only managed to achieve relative peace and as for prosperity, those who were rich then remain so today, yet those living in working class areas in Belfast who bore the brunt of the conflict are still listed as amongst the worst areas of deprivation in Northern Ireland, particularly in North and West Belfast.
Question 6: Do you think that there has been a deliberate campaign to demonise and dehumanise Loyalists by certain people?
Respondent: Loyalism appears to many in our society to be a dirty word at this moment in time. This broad brush approach to Loyalism is both patronising and offensive in equal measure. Many people ignore the vast amounts of work taking place within grassroots community groups and the ex-combatant community to better the community they once ‘defended’. This work is very often dismissed by those who should know better than to do so. Community empowerment, political lobbying, anti-drugs campaigns, positive regeneration activity, education programmes, engagement with PSNI, Equality Commission, Human Rights Commission, Parades Commission etc. are all happening on a regular basis. Tell the media about an upcoming event like that… silence! Why is that the case I wonder?
Question 7: Do you believe that legacy issues have been well handled thus far?
Respondent: Legacy issues should have been handled immediately after the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 when the euphoria of ‘peace’ was taking hold. Instead the language of constructive ambiguity was allowed to prevail and legacy, like other issues such as sectarianism, integrated educated etc. were kicked down the road to be dealt with at another time. That time has long past and has now led to the poisonous debate on these matters today.
Question 8: In your opinion, has Loyalism done enough to reach out to the nationalist/republican community, in the spirit of reconciliation?
Respondent: In announcing their ceasefires in 1994 the Combined Loyalism Military Command offered true and abject remorse for all Troubles related actions, something never reciprocated by Republicans. Instead they now seek to rewrite their past, sanitising many of their previous actions as reactionary to state violence. This is perverse in the extreme and makes true reconciliation between combatant groups much harder to achieve.
Question 9: Would you agree that Irish republicans have been attempting to rewrite the history of the conflict, in an effort to sanitise and minimise the worst excesses of republican murder gangs?
Respondent: As in Q8, Republicans have now adopted the narrative of revisionism, which cleverly ignores the massive hurt caused by Republican death squads throughout the conflict, both here in Northern Ireland and beyond.
Question 10: Do you think that enough has been done to address the problems of those mentally scarred and traumatised by the Troubles?
Respondent: Another legacy issue is the huge strain today on our NHS which is inextricably linked to mental health issues and drugs and alcohol issues arising from our conflict. Many former combatants, ex-prisoners and ordinary citizens are now suffering for their lived experience of the conflict years. A clear and coordinated strategy needs to be put in place to tackle these issues, requiring clear leadership and concise measures to be put in place, but more importantly, to be shown from our government.
|Loyalist West Belfast|
Question 11: Do you think that Brexit will cause an upswing in support for a so-called ‘united Ireland’?
Respondent: Definitely not, what it has caused, and will continue to cause, is the re-polarisation of our communities, a retreat to the trenches we thought we’d left behind. Brexit has been turned into a ‘donkey issue’, pick a donkey, pin a flag to it, and the plebs will vote for it en masse as the issue has now been turned into one of sovereignty fuelled by the incessant ramblings of SF/IRA on their demands for a border poll.
Question 12: What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of Northern Ireland in the medium to long term?
Respondent: Northern Ireland needs to be governed by all, for the benefit of all its citizens. In order to do that we need an in-depth review of the Belfast Agreement and all its component parts. Mandatory coalition as set out by the agreement has clearly failed to deliver as promised and needs root and branch reform. A coalition of the willing may not be preferable for some Unionists or Loyalists, but if it is inclusive and if it is embracing, then Loyalism should not be fearful of this concept. The days of big house Unionism patting Loyalists on the head when politically expedient to do so are long gone. We have our own feet; we must be prepared to stand on them!
My final cliché is this and it has been said many times by many people but it remains true today. I never wish my children or grandchildren to witness the horrendous things I saw as a child growing up in Belfast. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that we break the cyclical nature of violence on this island, for the betterment of us all, not least for the generations to follow us.
Our sincere thanks to West Belfast UPRG for their contribution to the Ordinary Voices project.