Monday, 11 July 2011

Flags & Identity.

It would seem there is unrest amongst the Loyalist communities. All the talk is of a section of society that feels abandoned, left behind, marginalised. I think, to some extent, that feeling is valid. My problem is that this community is the same community that right now insists everyone else be subjected to their celebrations and traditions. To put it another way, a minority is inflicting it's will on the majority.

I've argued before about the absurdity of a group of people claiming to represent the majority (as Loyalists often do) whilst not being able to return a single political representative to Stormont. I'll not go over that ground again in this post except to say that this unrest comes only a couple of months after elections to Stormont & Council so  quite frankly, moaning about betrayals from political leaders is pathetic and doesn't wash with anyone.

I am an Englishman. I was born and raised in England and for nearly all my adult life I travelled all over the UK whist working in construction. I eventually settled in Northern Ireland because I fell in love with the country and in love with a Northern Irish girl. Never has anyone called into question my British identity. Well, at least not until recently when I got involved in a discussion about Loyalism and, principally because I said I didn't like the idea of hundreds of flags being strung up all over Bangor, it was suggested that I may not be a proper Brit at all.

I have to say, I was slightly taken aback at this. After years spent around the UK, it is quite clear I have been living amongst others who, due to the lack of overt patriotism in the form of flag flying, are clearly not Brits either. There was I, and 60 million others, happily content with my identity when all along, we were all just unwittingly playing Sinn Fein's game for them.

Of course, that's nonsense. I am British. It is my birthright to call myself as such and it is for no man to say otherwise, least of all a Loyalist. Yes, you may deck yourself in the Union Jack and give it your all when singing the National Anthem but that does not give you the right to decide what classifies as Britishness.

There is another aspect to this type of behaviour and that is religious bigotry. There is the explicit and implicit suggestion that Protestantism means Britishness and vice versa. Such thinking is prevalent amongst loyalist communities and it is wholly offensive to the millions of Britons who are either not religious at all or worship under a different faith.

Loyalists should be allowed to celebrate their history and they should be allowed to celebrate it in their traditional way but only when that doesn't impose on the rest of the population. The painting of kerb stones or any other public property in the colours of the Union flag is not patriotism - it's vandalism and it's territory marking of the worst kind. Hanging up hundreds of cheap nylon Union Jacks from lampposts does not make the place look pretty and glorious - it makes it look cheap. If you want an example of how to use flags to create the right impression, look at The Mall before the Royal Wedding.

I don't want to keep writing about Loyalism in a negative light but until Loyalist leaders start to talk about their communities along the right notes, I'll continue to criticise when they hit the wrong ones.


  1. Loyalism is splintered. They where spoon fed so long by the British Government and got their way so many times in the past, that when the British Government took away the spoon and asked them to fend for themselves they couldn't. Loyalism isn't a culture. Loyalism is a means for thugs to make money and hold their community to ransom. Loyalists will flex their 'muscle' over the next few weeks and the 'poor us' argument will be trailed out again and again alongside the crumbling ideals of the 'religious' orders.
    Loyalism has to get its house in order. It can no longer sit in enclaves and erect flags to mark their territory; there is a huge world out there that see them as troglodytes. Its up to Loyalism to create a hub to allow Loyalism to expand and become what Republicanism already is, a recognised power on a global stage.
    How is this done? Care for your community as a whole, don't let the same people do this for you on a daily basis, do this as an as entity.
    Its time Loyalism stopped spitting the dummy and pretending it has a place in society. Modernise and move on, move on with the world, that is the only way you will start to gain respect.
    In conclusion, a flag isn't an identity until you can represent it truthfully, something loyalism cant do. They only bring shame upon something they claim to respect.

  2. I take issue with the above comments on the grounds that they are ill -informed, nay ignorant, of much truth. To suggest loyalists and loyalism are simply about territory marking or merely of caveman mentality is to be both disparaging and to be guilty of the same offence for which you rant against us.
    From where did loyalism within Nortrhern Ireland dawn?
    Why after so many years have they 'not gone away?'
    Is it a myth to be a loyalist is to be a paramilitary?
    Is loyalism an under-culture within a broader British / European context?
    Flying Union flags (cheap nylon or not) does not make a loyalist nor a loyalist community.
    Ask Dr Peter Shirlow for his definition on loyalism and loyalists before your next comment. It may at least mask some of your ignorance.

  3. I'm sorry but your comments bear no relation to my post.

    I did not suggest that Loyalism was about territory marking but that the draping of the Union Jack on every lamppost and the painting of kerbstones is undoubted territory marking. To try and pretend otherwise is, frankly, idiotic. I'm not a big fan of anecdotal evidence, but i've heard many, many loyalists praising such things as showing everyone that Bangor (or whichever town/area) is loyalist. That's marking territory in anyone's eyes.

    I didn't question where Loyalism dawned from. I did not make any reference to them going away, nor did I express that desire. I have never, and will never claim that being a Loyalist is the same as being a paramilitary.

    I do think Loyalism is an under culture within a broader British/European context. My issue is that many Loyalists refer to people like myself, who don't subscribe to Loyalism as not being as British as they are.

    Instead of making unsubstantiated claims about my ignorance, why not address specific points in my post?

  4. 1) Loyalists do not claim to represent the majority. Can you give evidence where this has occurred?
    2)We do not insist everyone be subjected to our celebrations and traditions. What we ask is to be afforded the same courtesy as others, without discrimination.
    3)The betrayal you suggest we speak about is in our eyes not so much a betrayal as a disdain and disrespect for our people and traditions.
    4) Can you show were recently any protests we have engaged in has made a British citizen feel less British because they may not deem themselves loyalist?
    5)Where do you get the idea that we would suggest Protestantism means Britishness. (Why does Sir John Gorman come to my mind?) Neither would we promote religious bigotry.
    6)If painting kerbstones is vandalism what would you suggest flying a tricolour is or painting St Patrick's Day colours in areas such as Downpatrick, Newcastle, Newry etc? As for the Mall before the Royal Wedding, nice if you have the funds to do it. NDBC offered £50 toward celebrations.
    I will end here as your argument falls short. An Englishman abroad couldn't make such assumptions - the dye is cast!