Unity – a word and concept that has been spoken of repeatedly in the loyalist/unionist community, for what seems like years now yet remaining a seemingly ever elusive reality. It’s been used in many different contexts, with its very own rhetoric, “we need unity to move forward”, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

For the loyalist, unity looks very different to what the republican narrative has saturated and lullabied the media with. Our desire to remain part of the United Kingdom, is one thing loyalist & unionist alike, can both unite around. The call for unity has went out again in recent months, to organise a forum for unionists and loyalists to map a way forward in the light of the issues that we are currently facing that require a united strategy. It is a call for loyalists to emerge from their slumber and wake up, it’s time to face the days ahead with fresh perspectives, new attitudes and cohesive strategy.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown us, it’s that our ability to come together around a common cause still exists. The willingness to go the extra mile to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities, still exists. The organisational skills and community wide collaboration needed to get a job done, still exists. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness that spirit to address the issues we face now? If we were able to rise together and meet the needs of our community against something that threatened life itself, surely, we can do it again in regard to things that threaten what we consider to be our community norms?

I am reminded of two famous phrases one from the Kevin Costner film “Field of Dreams’, “If you build it, they will come” – I genuinely believe that if one of the leaders calling for the unity of unionists and loyalists takes the initiative and sets a date and time, the community will come. The second phrase is Nike’s famous strapline “Just Do It!”

It’s time for loyalism to move on from responding to situations with lines like “Well if they are having their parades, we will have ours”, “What about the funeral, it’s alright for them, but it’s not ok for us”.

I get the sense of injustice that exists there, but why should the republican narrative decide our agenda or be the driving force behind anything loyalism does?

The foundation of being faithful and true to all that we hold dear is eroded with the childish “If they’re doing it then so are we” response, which funnily reminds me of something I hated my Mum saying to me: “Son, if they stick their head in the fire will you?” Come on we are better than that surely?

Our detractors ask; “Where is the original thought?” “Where is their forward thinking? When will they come up a response that’s more than “No Surrender”? When will loyalism stopthrowing its toys out of the pram? Don’t they know that approach does nothing apart from reinforce stereotypes and make their contributions irrelevant or at the worst, a joke? They are smarter than that surely?

Our detractors are also quick to point out that we are great at highlighting the problems, but not so great at coming up with solutions. The issue I have with that is this, these “problems” we are facing we already have a solution, the union! The union is the answer to almost every problem we face. Yet when this is voiced intelligently and backed up with facts, its treated as a joke and we can’t seriously be suggesting that the union is the solution, the union is the problem after all!

If we briefly look at some of the current problems, we can plainly see that the union solves them.

Restrictions on trade as a result of the protocol is a problem to the union of Northern Ireland and the rest of United Kingdom, implement the full union, unfettered access for all goods going to and from Northern Ireland, problem solved!

Come January 2022 there will be restrictions on medicines required to sustain the NHS that we all applauded during the pandemic, that creates a problem for the health service for all who live in Northern Ireland, with an unfettered union, problem solved!

The ridiculous number of checks being carried out at our ports to satisfy EU regulations so that we can have access to the everyday necessities of life is a problem, with an unfettered union, yes, you’ve guessed it, the problem is solved!

Some would argue that Brexit is the real problem that has destabilised Northern Ireland. But their problem with Brexit is quite simply that it didn’t just take the UK out of the EU, it reinforced the union! Hence the threats of violence and insistence on another way forward. There’s also the fact that some have been quick to erroneously declare that Brexit undermines the Good Friday Agreement. However, the fact of matter is that the protocol undermines the agreement, especially with regard to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent that were quietly clearly framed in the Agreement, “…the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people…”

It’s hard to talk about original thought and forward thinking when the fact of the matter is we don’t want Northern Ireland’s status to change. However, the way we engage, and the way others engage with us can change, for too long everything loyalism says or responds with is brandished as “whataboutery”, prompting dismissive cries of “Themmuns, Themmuns” as if loyalism was a meme that had been created for Reddit! For the emergent loyalist, a new “whataboutery” will guide our actions and responses.

What about acting in the opposite spirit? 

What about returning violence with peace? 

What about approaching injustice with common sense? 

What about returning injury with healing? 

What about turning the other cheek? 

What about doing the opposite of what everyone expects?

What about throwing off the shackles the republican narrative has placed on us?

What about evolving away from the historical dead-end strategies that hamstring us?

I consider myself to be an Emergent loyalist who is:

Inclusive: Communicating the benefits of the union for all who live in Northern Ireland.

Restorative: Demonstrating the ability to build relationships, maintain community and repair harm.

Intelligent: Responding appropriately to needs and situations.

Embracing: Entering into dialogue with all who are willing to engage.

Responsible: Accountable for my words and actions.

That may not look and sound like the kind of loyalist most people have known over the last 50 years or so, however I suspect that even if the ‘emergent’ was the type of loyalist engaged with, the response would most likely not look any different to now, which begs the question, who is it that really needs to change? Maybe it’s time to get off the trojan horse and look the emergent loyalist in the eye instead of trying to break our backs? Just a thought……