Watching media coverage of young Loyalists attacking the PSNI brought back a feeling of helplessness which I witnessed in March 1986 as a News Letter journalist reporting on the Day of Action against the then Anglo-Irish Agreement in Ballymena.
Tensions had been building throughout the day, but the political leadership of the United Unionist Action Committee (UUAC) in the Ballymena Borough was helpless in preventing hot-headed young farmers and Loyalists driving their tractors and trailers at speed towards a predominantly Loyalist housing area to confront the then RUC.
Many involved with the UUAC were practising Christians, but could not physically stop the charge of vehicles towards that locality. It was one of the ironies of the pro-Union community and ideology of that period of the Troubles.
Easter 2021 saw another explosion of Loyalist violence and confrontation. There were many Unionist political voices calling for calm and condemning the violence.
There was even a vibrant debate in the Stormont Chamber with the Assembly returning early from the Easter recess because of the rioting.
All to no immediate avail. Indeed, there has even been anger directed towards the DUP from sections of the Loyalist community, which is rather disturbing given the DUP’s working class Protestant roots.
The success of the DUP in that North Antrim constituency and being the dominant and ruling party on the then Ballymena Borough Council was that its founder, the late Rev Dr Ian Paisley, had been able to give a political voice to two previously muted sections of the pro-Union community - working class Loyalists and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.
Indeed, to some, the fundamentalist denomination which he founded in 1951 - the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster - would later be dubbed ‘the DUP at prayer’.
In spite of the DUP’s electoral success over the years, especially in overtaking the once dominant Ulster Unionist Party as the leading party of Unionism, there has always been a bubbling tension between Loyalism and the Christian Churches in Northern Ireland.
Is it a case that some in the Protestant clergy from an evangelical or fundamentalist theological background merely saw working class Loyalists as either street cannon fodder or election day fodder?
Is it a case that some evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant clergy or Churches would ‘fire up’ working class Loyalists with vehement sabre-rattling sermons and speeches, and when Loyalists acted on that rhetoric, those same clerics and Churches condemned them?
Is it a case that because of the perceived actions of these evangelical and fundamentalist clerics and Churches, that clerics and Churches of a more theologically liberal and ecumenical nature has their influence muted?
Is it this distrust of some evangelical or fundamentalist clerics and Churches which prompted numerous Loyalist activists to turn to socialism and its more extreme forms as a backlash against the so-called ‘demagogue dilemma’?
Or is it simply a case that many working class Loyalists, in terms of ‘defending’ the Union and Northern Ireland, turned to the security forces - the police, Army, prison service - rather than the Loyalist terror groups?
Whilst the Provisional IRA and INLA tried to present themselves as the defenders of the nationalist community, the Loyalist terror gangs did not enjoy the same electoral support in the pro-Union community as Sinn Fein has accomplished, not just in Northern Ireland, but right across the entire island and particularly in the Dublin’s Leinster House.
In spite of the political shotgun marriage between evangelicals and fundamentalists and working class Loyalists via the Protestant Unionist Party and its 1971 successor, the DUP, these tensions between the Churches and Loyalism still exist today.
Revolutionary Loyalism is not just about rebuilding that trust; it’s about making the slogan ‘For God and Ulster’ a genuine reality rather than a chant.
It is also about forcing the Christian Churches - especially in Protestantism - to face up to their moral and Biblical duties to adopt the Good Samaritan ethos towards Loyalists as a people and Loyalism as a set of beliefs.
I fully recognise that sections of the Loyalist community have suffered because of the so-called ‘demagogue dilemma’, so that in stating that Revolutionary Loyalism will strive to build bridges between Christian Churches and Loyalism, that some in Loyalism will immediately dump my Revolutionary Loyalist ideology into the same historical dustbin which is already cluttered with the remain of numerous Unionist political parties!
Ironically again, in trying to forge this rock solid alliance between Revolutionary Loyalism and the Christian Churches, I face a mirror image of the ideological and theological dilemmas I encountered in the last decade when researching and writing my e-book, An Saise Glas (The Green Sash) The Road to National Republicanism and especially the chapter entitled Putting Christ Back Into Republicanism.
Just as National Republicanism needs to spark a revival of the concept of Holy Mother Ireland, so too, does Revolutionary Loyalism need to recognise the true meaning of ‘For God and Ulster’ instead of becoming swamped in a secular sea of atheism, agnosticism, pluralism, humanism and especially Marxism.
Indeed, the development of Revolutionary Loyalism is inter-woven with National Republicanism as the two ideologies’ central aim is to pursue their agendas by totally peaceful and democratic means.
In this respect, I am under no illusions about the massive mountains ideologically which both National Republicanism and Revolutionary Loyalism have to climb to attain any acceptance, relevance and reality in their respective communities.
Specifically, Revolutionary Loyalism recognises the role of the Churches in helping those Loyalist communities, but the Churches’ role is one of calming medicine when political temperatures rise, not in stoking the flames of sectarian hatred which has prompted so many young Loyalists to commit actions which landed them in gaol or an early grave.
Revolutionary Loyalism needs to get the Churches to recognise that Loyalists cannot simply be dismissed as ‘hell-bound sinners’ and should be ignored because of the bad image such Loyalists would give places of worship.
Indeed, is much of the tension between Loyalism and the Churches because of the view that middle class churches do not want working class Loyalists in their pews because of the poor image it would give those churches in society? Is Loyalism still plagued and frowned upon by the concept of the Unionist ‘Fur Coat Brigade’?
Can Revolutionary Loyalism understand the depth of the gulf which has to be bridged with the Christian Churches by understanding the mirror image of the rift between Irish republicanism and the Catholic Church?
Old-style republicanism has always enjoyed some sort of partnership with the Irish Catholic Church. This Church/State bond was at its most influential when Eamon de Valera was President of Ireland.
However, while the republicanism which led to the Treaty in the 1920s, and the republicans who ran the old Irish Free State, even the republicans who secured full status for the 26 Counties as a full-blown republic developed the concept of Holy Mother Ireland, the republican movements which emerged after the defeat of the IRA in the 1956-62 Border campaign seemed to want to permanently scrap the ethos of Church and State.
During the conflict known as the Troubles, the Official republican movement of the Official IRA and Workers’ Party, the Provisional republican movement, and the various factions of the republican socialist movement (such as the IRSP and INLA) had an exceptionally fractious relationship with the Irish Catholic Church and leadership.
The republican movements which evolved in the late Sixties onwards developed at a time when Left-wing revolutionary politics was becoming a world phenomenon.
The modern republican movements wanted to see themselves as part of a global revolutionary organization, rather than a sectarian anti-Protestant movement on a tiny island on the fringe of the European continent.
The root cause of how republicanism has got itself bogged down with the secular movement goes back to the failed Easter Rising of 1916. In the immediate aftermath, Britain had the high ground. The Irish Volunteers had been defeated, and even spat upon by some Dublin Catholics as they were marched into captivity.
If Britain had boxed clever in 1916, it would have given the leaders a jail term and told them to grow up politically. Instead, it allowed General ‘Bloody’ Maxwell to take charge of ‘mopping up’ the aftermath of the failed Rising.
It was Maxwell who insisted that the Rising leaders be executed. At that time, because Britain was bogged down in the an equally bloody trench campaign of the Great War, the British political leadership agreed to Maxwell’s assertion that the Rising leaders should be executed by firing squad.
By giving the leaders a soldier’s death, Maxwell immediately and substantially raised their status from troublesome rebels to international anti-colonial martyrs. James Connolly’s death was particularly gruesome. Although wounded in the Rising, he was strapped into a chair for his execution as he was unable to stand.
Until those British bullets dispatched him into eternity, Connolly was not a republican hero, but a largely insignificant Scottish communist dabbling in Irish politics. Connolly was first and foremost a Marxist, not a Catholic nationalist.
But his execution elevated his writings, beliefs and actions to a new level in Irish nationalism. Connolly’s communism became a significant factor in the rapidly emerging Irish Republican Army which fought the War of Independence a few years after the doomed Rising.
The fallout from the Treaty meant that the Irish Catholic hierarchy largely supported the Free State forces rather than the anti-Treaty IRA. The images as portrayed in the hit 2006 film, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, of the priest hearing IRA confessions and blessing the terrorists before they left to attack the British in the War of Independence, had long since faded into mythology and folklore.
It should not be forgotten that more IRA prisoners were executed by the Free State forces during the Irish Civil War than killed by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence. When republican goes to war against republican, the ensuing bloodshed can be even more sadistic than republican terror campaigns against the British state.
The Free State victors and subsequent Dails for generations to come guaranteed the Irish Catholic hierarchy a central role in the political life of the 26 Counties. Clerical sex abuse, whether by individuals or by institutions, went unchecked and unpunished.
Connolly’s atheistic Marxism within republicanism became a viable alternative to the sexual crimes of Irish Catholicism’s institutionalized religion. For many Catholics in Ireland, the Catholic Church came to symbolize Christianity.
Connolly’s atheistic Marxism became a vehicle to challenge the previously unquestionable power of the Catholic priests. This naturally led to friction between republicans loyal to the Connolly tradition and the Catholic hierarchy, especially during the Eamon de Valera years. It was he who maximized the concept of Church and State.
Is the bitter medicine which the Christian Churches must swallow is that they are partly to blame for the rift between Loyalism and Christianity, driving many influencers in Loyalism into the arms of socialism, Marxism and communism?
The main ethos - and high wire act ideologically - of my Revolutionary Loyalism is to re-introduce true Biblical Christianity, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself, back into Loyalist thinking and actions - without coming across as ‘yet another demagogue’.
A major stereotype which Revolutionary Loyalism will seek to eradicate is the false perception that Biblical Christianity is the institutionalized litany of the Protestant denominations under another name.
Revolutionary Loyalism will seek to encourage Loyalists to view the Churches in another light - places of worship they can work practically with, rather than a collection of demagogues who will lead them up a hill politically and then leave them on their own to fend for themselves.
Biblical Christianity is not ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ politics; it is about constructive leadership. Biblical Christianity is precisely what its title states – the true Christian beliefs as stated by Jesus in the Bible.
Just as National Republicanism will dismantle the structures of the Irish Catholic Church in Ireland and establish a Biblically-based Christian Church which is free of Vatican control and this new Church will be based on Biblical principals, so too will Revolutionary Loyalism seek to create the working environment whereby the Christian Churches and Loyalist communities can work together as equals.
Revolutionary Loyalism will revise the concept of Church and State in Ireland – north and south. Instead of the bond of Church and State, Revolutionary Loyalism seeks a rebirth of the concept of ‘For God and Ulster’ through the strategy of Christ and State. Revolutionary Loyalism wants to see a revival of Biblical Christianity – which our patron Saint, Patrick, introduced to the Emerald Isle – as our national personal faith.
I emphasise the term ‘personal faith in Christ’ as opposed to ‘institutionalized religion’, which many in the Christian Churches represent.
The modern Revolutionary Loyalist movement, especially those who see themselves as socialists, want to see the development and expansion of a pluralist and secular society in Northern Ireland under the supposed banner of a democratic socialist nation.
In reality, many modern Loyalists despise the Christian Church hierarchies, seeing many clerics and elders as the modern-day equivalents of the Biblical Pharisees.
Revolutionary Loyalism seeks to restore confidence in the Biblical Christian faith. Ironically, if we take one of Loyalism’s most famous slogans, ’For God And Ulster,’ many Loyalists were influenced in prison by the writing and words of the late Gusty Spence and late David Ervine, who both followed a progressive socialist path.
Many Loyalist prisoners found themselves in jail because they followed the ‘blood and thunder’ sermons of Protestant fundamentalism, a fundamentalism which largely deserted them once those Loyalists found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Just as Loyalism abandoned the Christian God in ‘For God And Ulster’ so too, many republicans turned their back on the Catholic concept of Holy Mother Ireland.
Modern Loyalism and republicanism are – ironically – both trying to cut religion out of their respective ideologies. Both seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet that Marxism and extreme socialism hold the keys to the future development of their respective communities.
This is a huge error of judgment, especially for Loyalism. Having read Karl Marx’s Das Capital from start to finish, I can only conclude there is a startling similarity between the type of ideal society which Marx is trying to create, and the Biblical Christian society which Jesus wished to create.
Revolutionary Loyalism is seeking a return of Biblical Christianity as a central core of Loyalist political thinking by getting Loyalists to focus on the New Testament account of the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ as told in St Matthew’s Gospel Chapter Five.
In this aspect, Christ outlines a series of attributes, commonly known as The Beatitudes. There is a school of ideological thinking – to which I personally belong – which maintains that Marx based ‘Das Capital’ on The Beatitudes and his overt criticism of religion was merely a tactical ploy to disguise the fact that he had pinched his ideas from the Bible, and the words of Jesus Himself.
In reality, Jesus Christ was the first real communist – not Karl Marx. The Christian Churches in Ireland need to recognise this.
Revolutionary Loyalism’s Christ and State ideology is, therefore, based on St Matthew’s Gospel chapter 5, verses 1 to 12. Many of the Beatitudes begin (using the Authorized King James translation) “Blessed are …”
However, when the words of Jesus are taken in a modern context, they make the basis for a realistic political agenda for Revolutionary Loyalism. Here are the key points which the Beatitudes highlight:
- The poor in spirit (verse 3) – the need to restore national pride in society;
- Those who mourn (verse 4) – the need to remember and help the victims of the conflict in Ireland;
- The meek (verse 5) – the need to help the working class, and for the rich to invest their wealth in helping those less well off in society;
- They which do hunger (verse 6) – the need to combat growing poverty in society, and also provide a sound educational and health system for all;
- The merciful (verse 7) – the need for a fair and accountable justice system;
- Pure in heart (verse 8) – the need to restore the moral fabric of society, to encourage family values and implement the concept of society’s conscience;
- Peacemakers (verse 9) – the need for compromise and respect of people’s views based on the concept of accommodation, not capitulation;
- Persecuted (verse 10) – the need for Revolutionary Loyalists to have the courage to stand up for their beliefs in a non-violent expression;
- When men shall revile you (verse 11) – the need for a free press with responsible regulation, and especially the freedom of expression of Revolutionary Loyalist beliefs.
Revolutionary Loyalism is about the creation of the concept of responsible Christian citizenship which does not use street violence to pursue its agenda. Under this concept, compulsory voting – as exists in the Commonwealth nation of Australia – would be introduced to Ireland, north and south.
A key emphasis of Revolutionary Loyalism is Christian pride in the nation under the banner of ‘Loyalist Pride in Ireland’. Revolutionary Loyalism wants to combat the so-called ‘Brain Drain’ whereby Northern Ireland’s young people feel the need to leave the nation and not return, and to radically improve educational and mental health standards among working class Loyalists, especially young men.
Revolutionary Loyalism would not only seek to keep this generation on the island, but to encourage those who have emigrated to return with their skills to the island.
In this respect, all Northern Ireland citizens would complete a two-year compulsory National Service in the nation’s armed forces, during which time they would also learn a vocational trade.
The Christian Churches would have a role in encouraging people of all ages to develop a community service role.
In conclusion, it must again be emphasized that Revolutionary Loyalism is not seeking to re-establish the rule of the fundamentalist demagogues. Readers of Revolutionary Loyalism must not confuse having a personal faith with Jesus Christ with those who want to implement a draconian form of institutionalized, ritualistic worship. There is no role for a fanatical demagogue in Revolutionary Loyalism.
Revolutionary Loyalism seeks to bring peace between working class Loyalism and the Christian Churches so that both sections of society can work in harmony and partnership for the benefit and betterment of Loyalist communities.
Note: In the next chapter, I will be examining how Revolutionary Loyalism must re-define its relations with Ireland’s Loyal Orders and Southern Protestants.
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Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at http://radio.garden/listen/sunshine-104-9fm/tBZsuX1o