(You can follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter by clicking here)
In response to the parades unrest I made a simple case: that modern Northern Ireland remonstrate and stand against the loyalists that the world have seen “chipping away” at our good name. PUP councillor John Kyle responded here.
In a reply to John’s response I have the following to say.
I can see how my first essay could be read as conceited, maybe even arrogant; but neither was my intention. I can also see the hypocrisy in a well-fed liberal having a go at the unionist working classes. So I welcome the points.
But this is what I didn’t get: John Kyle anchored his argument by referring to loyalist communities and their intimacy with the armed forces. John then contrasted this with the middle-class ambivalence, subtly stressing the obvious hypocrisy of that. I’m reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘Tommy’:
‘Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep.’
I get it. But I respect the men and women who defend us while we sleep. I wasn’t referring to working-class Protestants at large (the demographic rightly associated with the armed forces), the majority for which I have the greatest of sympathy. I think that the specific reference to the armed forces was an irrelevancy to my argument.
In my first essay when I spoke of loyalism, I spoke of the violent, buckfast and vodka-in-hand, anarchic brand of loyalism, fully grown men dancing on police land rovers, teenagers having-a-go at the police with a reckless disregard for their future and the welfare of others, cheered and encouraged on by a scattering of thugs and the maladjusted, members of the loyal Orange Order hitting out at the forces which are there to defend us.
All of this barbarism in the name of Northern Ireland is rolling across TV screens for the world to see. Our country is being spoiled before the eyes of millions. That was my sole point – we cannot stand for the horror of their promiscuous violence.
This is the important distinction between what John said and what I’m trying to convey: The loyalists seen by the world aren’t men who defend us (now or ever). These are men who attack the men and women who defend us day and night. No right minded member of the armed forces would behave or be associated with behaviour recently seen on our streets.
So I will not have it said that I took an impassioned swipe at disadvantaged unionists, because flatly, that is not what I did. I took a swipe at loyalists who engaged in a pre-meditated campaign of violence overseen by the Orange Order and various illegal organisations.
I would like to respond more directly to John’s points. Before doing so I would like to explain my position and that of my peers, and then present my argument more fully.
Consider this. The words I wrote in the first essay sprung from the following context: I live, love and work with a great many normal people in Northern Ireland, tolerant Internationalists who live in the 21st Century, Catholic and Protestant, unionist and nationalist, atheist, agnostic and secularists – a creative, ambitious and industrious class. James Joyce said a century ago, ‘history is the nightmare from which we are all trying to awake.’
Because of the obstinacy of others we can’t fully awake from our dark history. Our wider fortunes are pegged to the mood of the old order, of the reactionary, holdout classes.
Against this context, my argument is simply that modern Northern Ireland should contest the barbarism that continually spills onto our streets. A sensible suggestion since this is a contest playing out all across the world, as Andrew Sullivan said in the Sunday Times here, ‘From Tehran to Turkey and Texas, the battle for tolerance is on.’ Except, in Belfast and Northern Ireland, it’s not.
Modern, normal, functioning Northern Ireland can no longer capitulate to intolerant extremists. Our heritage is not their violence. Northern Ireland’s shame is Absolutely NOT to be done in my name or anyone else’s. So we should contest and speak against such uninformed barbarism.
What about the normal, working, ambitious people exemplified by Hannah Nelson, Craig Gilroy and Leah Totton? Who speaks and acts for them? Brian Rowan said in the telegraph, “the standoff is in one part of Belfast, and here and everywhere else, people have other worries – food, bills, jobs, education.”
The traditional concerns of left, right politics are what animate the modern classes and the vast majority in Northern Ireland. Not the alien-concerns of a cartoonish outfit of holdouts.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are extreme nationalist parties, types which in England, Europe and America at which people would laugh (see the Tea Party, Golden Dawn, the Front National, Ukip, BNP) but in Northern Ireland we can’t get away from the pre-modernity über -nationalist, über-destabilising politics.
Facing this double-whammy of delinquent communities and politics, modern Northern Ireland needs to find its voice. It needs to contest and remonstrate against the septic status quo. It needs to battle for tolerance. Having laid out my position, I want to look at the former PUP leader’s points more closely.
Firstly, John said that “Those of us who are established in our careers and positions of influence owe it to them to create employment opportunities, affirm their worth and provide role models and friendship.”
On creating jobs – the flag rioting and continuing and rolling unrest does nothing but destroy jobs and investment.
On providing role models my response is to refer to Newton Emerson who has written at length about loyalist paramilitaries and their pernicious effects. Newton Emerson has plainly said that “paramilitarism is the cause of social disadvantage.” These gangsters have a chokehold grip on loyalist communities and the young people within. The men in control have their hands on the community and quite firmly don’t want the status quo or their people to change.
As Christopher Hitchens said, ‘The power of this parasitic class was what protracted the fighting in Northern Ireland for years and years after it had become obvious to all that nobody (except the racketeers) could “win”. When it was over, far too many of the racketeers become profiteers of the “peace process” as well.”’ It reminds me of that old saying: ‘It’s hard to get someone to understand something when his livelihood depends on not knowing it.’
Furthermore, on this I have two associated points.
One, like I said, these are closed communities, so how could anyone help them? I don’t know any well-off unionist, never mind nationalist, who could just walk into one of these areas and try and in any way mingle.
Think of these bonfires, supposed towers of culture. If you’re not in that community and you wanted to take part and enjoy the culture before the 11th night, you’d get chinned. You’d have to speak to one of these self-appointed gatekeepers to get anywhere near the people.
Two, as an artist I tried to speak with a mural artist in a loyalist area. His response, a stone, Aztec-like face, empty eyes and a grunt that said ‘“f” away off’. These are closed people that resent the middle classes. The only way to unlock them is through the gatekeepers and paramilitaries. And so the circle goes on. (I should make it clear that I’ve also met and know some of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever come across who are from the loyalist community.)
My second main point follows on from the first. Many in the loyalist community are already helped to no end. They’re an indulged class who’ve been handed tranche after tranche of money, habitually siphoned off and squandered by “gatekeepers” so that the people who really need it are kept down, while the old guard can keep up their position of power and control, and so the circle continues.
It’s the same with the Orange Order. As Brian Feeney said, the Orange Order is showered with public money, yet they incite unrest and cost the public purse thousands.
So whilst John Kyle is infinitely more informed than I on this I do think that his response overlooked the nefarious role of paramilitaries and other holdouts. His response also overlooks the trend for indulging loyalist communities, and by his very doing, continued to indulge them.
Their indulgence is typified by the learnt helplessness and sense of victimhood – that it’s everyone else’s fault. Like Alex Kane said to the Orange Order, stop blaming everyone else and take some responsibility. We need to end this tremendous steam-bath of self-pity. It’s not about what Northern Ireland can do for you but what you can do for Northern Ireland.
Thirdly, on my use of language my response continues from the second point on indulgence. My reaction is to cite John Hewitt who wrote: “Speak peace and toleration. Moderate your tone of voice, and everywhere avoid what might provoke. Good will must be deployed in efforts to restore our balanced state.”
This was written fictitiously – a jab at the coasting middle-classes and polite society that just shut-up and put-up with the Troubles. Well no, I won’t moderate my voice and I don’t think anyone else should do so for that matter – softly, softly doesn’t work. I will speak truth to barbarism. So my use of words was quite right. You cannot pander or indulge such incivility.
For too long they have gone on unaccounted. As John Hewitt said, they’ve been ‘long nurtured, never checked, in ways of hate.’
To wrap these points up: the time has come to say, as Fintan O’Toole said to the old order classes in Ireland: ‘Enough is Enough’, enough of the pandering and indulgence; and enough of the standing idly by, enough of the fatalism, enough of the cynical inaction, enough of the shutting-up and putting-up. Fintan added:
“There is a fatalistic sense that nothing can change. The country needs to encourage participation in, and oversight and knowledge of politics, to make people feel that they have a right to challenge the old party machines and to make a difference. It is their country, after all.”
When I talk about the modern classes (both unionist and nationalist), it’s their country too and they need to lose the fatalism, contest the lunacy and battle for tolerance. They cannot be held hostage and prisoner to events by a rogue community. Too long we’ve moderated our voice, spoken peace and toleration and everywhere did what would not provoke. Well, enough is enough.
Finally, I want to finish with two points that loyalism and its leadership must consider.
Firstly, it’s quite clear that the unrest is the expression of fear, paranoia, insecurity and uncertainty, fear that their culture is being “chipped away”. These are totally understandable concerns, but rioting is not the answer. How so? It’s suicide on a number of levels:
One, it’s an own goal against moderate unionism.
A final thought for now: has moderate unionism simply been replaced with opt -out-couldn’t-care-less-about-the-whole-thing-anymore unionism?
— Alex.Kane (@AlexKane221b) December 28, 2012
Two, it’s an own goal against catholic unionists: a very real body politik which Gerry Moriarty spoke of recently in the Irish Times here.
Three, it’s an own goal against mainland Britain who will continue to tire of the living on of the religious wars of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Theresa Villiers rightly said:
“It’s hard to think of anything more unBritish than wrapping yourself in a union flag and attacking the police who are there to uphold the law.”
Four, it’s an own goal against tourism and the NI economy.
Five and worst of all: the rioting and unrest play into the hands of Sinn Fein. Let it be said very plainly: the rioting, the fear, the insecurity, the paranoia, the unrest and the uncertainty is exactly what Sinn Fein want. The shouting and roaring is exactly what Sinn Fein want loyalism to do.
Alex Kane recently quoted a Sinn Fein member who commented on the unrest. He said: “we can always rely on unionist disarray or paranoia to help us out.”
We should also remember what Mitchell McLaughlin said in 2006:
‘… asked to explain exactly what Sinn Féin had achieved for its supporters, media-disaster Mitchel spluttered for a moment before blurting out: “The degree of uncertainty and the lack of confidence in the unionist community!”’
Secondly, as Alex Kane suggested, loyalists need to play Sinn Fein at their own game, slow-boil, strategic politics. PUL needs to think long term, educate the people, switch them on electorally, rid the communities of paramilitaries and enlighten loyalism and most importantly, explain to them that the changes aren’t the end of unionism. They ought to employ smarts and take confidence and advantage of the changing demographics and of identities (Life and Times Survey etc.). As Newton Emerson said:
“It falls to unionist leaders to explain that the world has changed but not ended.”
The electoral issue is very important. Alex Kane has said that ‘the unionist/loyalist working classes represent a significant demograph—with probably enough votes to add a few seats to the unionist tally on Belfast City Council and maybe even an extra 1 or 2 MLAs.’
To carry on along the track of the status quo would be a triumph for idiocy and blinkered radicalism.
My absolute and final conclusion is to look at Rosa Luxemburg, a great thinker and writer who possessed an internationalism so strong that she despised anything to do with lesser or sectarian “identities.” This internationalism led her to oppose the infantile and explosive nationalist claims made by her fellow Poles and fellow Jews. She said:
“I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”
The Rosa Luxemburg way is the way of modern, normal Northern Ireland. Modern, youthful Northern Ireland can be Irish, Northern Irish and are happy to be with Britain for ever or for now. This mentality and tolerant thinking must be shared. This broadmindedness and internationalism are the way forward.
Up until now normal, modern Northern Ireland has had no critical faculty. This must change. The young and ambitious must learn to contest and question the endless rolling violence and mutual hatred. They must stand and express a sane voice of opposition that can be heard above the hubbub of tragedy, futility and riotous passions.
The old politicians are locked in the 70s and 80s. Their minds are locked in a world of green and orange. So change that. Young people need to stand up and make their voice heard.
Galileo said, “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.” Give them tough love; but most importantly, give them something and someone to aspire to.
(You can follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter by clicking here)