For far too long, Loyalists have persevered in the hope that political Unionism will unite and stand up for the rights of our community. The unfortunate reality is while we cling on to that perennial hope, our rights as British citizens are being slowly diminished.
Firstly by the approach in how the Belfast Agreement has been implemented and now unilaterally amended (as of December 2020), but also now with the added desire to apply the NI Protocol in all its force or as Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and the Greens would put it, “rigorous implementation”.
The larger Unionist Parties promised the world to our working-class communities at rallies and meetings when trying to gain votes for the 2019 Westminster elections. We accepted the promises made to us as sincere and trustworthy.
Move forward to the current testing times of 2021 and we now find our political leaders finally able to meet in the same room. Despite the length of time this has taken, I welcome this move and hope to see the coalescence built upon, and even develop into a Unionist convention.
The strength of feeling on the streets over the Protocol needs to be addressed and this is possible when Unionism stands with one clear position. If big house Unionism cannot put the Union first and work together now, then when will it? Right now, the efforts of all our politicians at this very moment will decide the fate of their Parties.
In most Loyalist communities you will find support for the Belfast Agreement is at an all-time low. Now why is that? Is it because we feel we are being steadily and purposely stripped of our British Identity? Is it because our culture is under constant attack? Or is it because people are coming to terms with the fact that ‘power sharing’ was only ever accepted by Nationalists to surreptitiously create a stepping stone toward their end goal of a ‘United’ Ireland?
Pardon me for being suspicious, but so many people in our community were murdered for over thirty years in the aim of achieving that very goal.
It’s all too easy to try and attack this argument, we’ve heard it time and time again ‘let go of the past’ and ‘it’s time to move on’. Unfortunately for Loyalists and indeed Unionists it’s really not that simple. Certainly, I myself struggle. I am exasperated when I see Sinn Fein in the headlines again for eulogising PIRA hunger striker Thomas McElwee while paying no respect to Yvonne Dunlop, his innocent Protestant victim who lost her life as a result of his actions.
While some quarters are pushing the narrative that it is ‘time to move on’ , I can tell you my community is still angered by the dark memories of decades of hurt caused by some people who are now in Government.
So please, try to understand why we would question £100 million+ of taxpayer’s money going towards a GAA stadium for use by one side of the community that’s literally named after a Republican gun runner (Roger Casement) with a history of hosting events organised by the Provisional Republican Movement.
I ask, how can we be expected to move on and endorse a political sport such as the GAA when a certain GAC entertain a dissident commemoration on their property and others have grounds named after those who slaughtered our people? Add to this the seriously flawed report into policing in South Armagh and subsequent reportage of how the upset was somehow actually the fault of Unionists for being outraged about the recommendations.
Most Loyalists I know have little to no faith in power sharing any more, their confidence has been shattered by the consistent attacking of our very existence in Northern Ireland. It’s fair to say we recognise Brexit has brought about a notable intensification of campaigns to diminish our British identity, not only here but in Scotland as well.
A real fear of mine is what may fill the void of a united political Unionist voice against the NI Protocol. I fully understand the frustration coming from my community and I consider it fortunate that the melting pot of all these grievances has not bubbled over at this time.
It is important for our Government to remember that the ideas agreed upon in Brussels need to work on the streets of Northern Ireland. If not, we are at a dangerous junction, and I feel it’s important to stress that this is not a junction we want to be at. In coming times our community reps and groups on the ground could again prove vital in ensuring our young people are not forced into being pushed into making a wrong turn.
The good work Loyalism has done on the ground to safeguard the peace we have become accustomed to often gets lost in constant media vilification.
Demonising an entire community for having legitimate concerns over the more than perceptible disenfranchisement of the significant swathe of society they belong, coupled with seemingly never ending political and cultural assaults on their identity and very communal existence has done nothing to win over hearts and minds.
People often ask why I am prepared to be identified as part of the Loyalist community and my answer is always the same, I am proud of my community and I won’t stand by and let it be ripped to shreds whilst history is rewritten. I refuse to let one sided initiatives be forced upon my community without question. I am Loyal to the country of Northern Ireland and its place within the United Kingdom.
Troubles tragedies are still felt in my community, as I am sure they are elsewhere. There is no desire to return to the dark days.
It is however our job as individuals, activists and politicians to make our voices heard. We will send our message vocally to Stormont, the Irish Government, the UK Government and Brussels that the British presence in Northern Ireland is very much here, we were born here, we are proud of who we are and we most certainly are not going anywhere.