Eleven reasons why “culture war” is a myth – by Brian Spencer

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We hear it like a mass ovine bleat, the cry of “culture war”. The new loyalist-DUP enterprise and slogan. It’s transparently false. It’s a myth and a hoax. Yet those who believe this absurdity, even this false absurdity, could later commit atrocities. Therefore it’s incumbent upon civil society to address and correct the DUP-loyalist fabrication.



Here’s 11 reasons why “culture war” is a myth and a hoax:


1 – Seamus Heaney


Seamus Heaney


Speaking with the Times in 2013, Seamus Heaney said: “There’s never going to be a united Ireland.”2


2 – Malachi O’Doherty


Fr Tim Bartlett (Irish Bishops Conference) and Malachi O’Doherty


Speaking in June 2014 at the launch of the Susan Hughes art exhibition, Malachi O’Doherty said:

“Unionism has lived with this myth, and it is a myth, that the Union is constantly under threat. And it isn’t under threat. It isn’t going anywhere.”


3  Lesley Carroll

Speaking also at the launch of the Susan Hughes art exhibition, the reverend Lesley Carroll said that we’ve heard all the same conversations, the same slogans and the same hysterics from loyalists before.  By failing to break the false grievance narrative we have allowed the cycle of extremism-moderation to continue.

And what we keep seeing is that dreary safari from fringe to centre which comes with age. Where we had a young Sam “Skelly” McCrory and his crew rampaging around Belfast spreading loyalist terror, we now have an old Sam “Skelly” McCrory clapping at Sinn Fein in government. As the waistline expands, the adrenaline gland contracts. Those experienced loyalists need to intervene, educate and inform those disillusioned, self-disenfranchised loyalists to view events with balance and perspective.


4 – John Major


John Major

John Major

Speaking in December 2013, John Major called loyalist fears “phantom fears”:

“I think it’s a phantom fear… It’s perfectly clear from the Downing Street Declaration and everything that for so long as Northern Ireland wishes to remain British, so long as the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain British, they will remain British. No-one is abandoning them, no-one is pushing them to one side. If you look at everyday life in Northern Ireland it is incomparably better than it was 20 to 25 years ago. Incomparably better for the people who are currently dissatisfied and for their children and for the future.”


5 – Raymond Lavery


The PUP's Raymond Lavery

The PUP’s Raymond Lavery

Veteran loyalist Raymond Lavery said that young loyalist protesters had a fundamental misunderstanding of events and processes. He said that they needed a “political education programme” to remedy their misunderstandings:

“What is important here is that this generation not only get a better formal education but they get a political education too, which there is a serious lack of. Sinn Féin are putting into people’s heads that because a flag comes down there is a march towards a united Ireland… Young and old believe that, even though it is not true.”


6 – Brian Rowan


Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan has made it very clear that loyalists and loyalism has been afforded a huge amount of time and attention, as much and even more time than anyone else in the process. Nobody has attacked loyalist culture, loyalism has self-enclosed, removed and isolated itself. “The process did not leave loyalism behind. Loyalism left the process.”


7 – John Tonge, academic and author author of ‘The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power’



John Tonge has echoed Brian Rowan’s point that loyalism has a problem of self-exclusion and self-demonisation and has a “everybody hates us and we don’t care”-“Millwall mentality”. Their leaders know this yet they do nothing. He said:

“They [loyalists]don’t see how much damage these attacks are doing to their own image, their own communities even if, to be completely fair, loyalist leaders on the ground see this…”


8 – Julia Paul

Speaking at the Conflict Journalism seminar at Queen’s University Belfast in November 2013, Julia Paul responded to the suggestion that the media has demonised loyalism and said that “they have demonised themselves by their own actions.”


9 – Paul Nolan 

The academic made it clear in his latest report that “loyalist culture is flourishing.” And the facts explode the bogus slogan of “culture war”:

– Loyalist marches have increased each year and it noted that “the year 2013 saw the highest number ever, 2,687”. The study said: “Only a small number of these, 388, were contested. All the others proceeded as the organisers wished.”

– There are currently 660 marching bands, “the highest total ever”.

– In the last 12 months more than £2million was provided by the European Union for a new Apprentice Boys visitors’ centre in Derry-Londonderry, while Ulster-Scots received £2.7million funding in the last year, and the Orange Order “received a grant of £900,000 from the European Union to help address the legacy of the Troubles in the Protestant community”.

– Attacks on Orange Order halls have declined from “a peak of 72 in 2009/10 to 27 in 2012/13”.

As Steven McCaffrey said: “It is certainly the perception within sections of unionism that its culture is under attack. But on the basis of the evidence, it is an argument that could prove increasingly difficult to maintain.”


10 – Rural Orange Order




There is a clear divide in perception, philosophy and practice between the rural and urban lodges. Where we hear urban Orange man George Chittick talk transparent nonsense, rural Orangemen can only grind their teeth in despair. As one anonymous Fermanagh member said in a recent report:

“No matter how we create good relations in Fermanagh we will always be let down by the hooligans in Belfast who tarnish our reputation.”


11 – Martin McGuinness


Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness


Atticus Finch said “You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Spare a thought for McGuinness. Look from where he has come and what he has done. Spare a thought for the republican and nationalist community. Some even like Linda Nash denounced McGuinness for shaking the hand of the Queen for her alleged terror. These meetings and handshake has wrought a stratospheric change in policy and attitude.

It may not be a big deal for unionists, but it really is. Unionism was in hysterics when republicans were bombing, now they get in hysterics when they play by the rules of democratic western society. Get a grip and realise that McGuinnes has fully embraced Britain and British culture by submitting himself to its laws and processes and practices and pageantry and formalities and personalities.

Please give it a break. You’re entitled to your own facts, not to your own made up opinions.


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About Author

Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.


  1. Matthew Symington on

    Only one of these points actually has any factual basis, the rest are just people expressing their opinion. Also not quite sure what to make of this line: “Unionism was in hysterics when republicans were bombing.”

    • That’s the point. The ‘culture
      war’ is only based in opinion with no basis in fact. If anything the facts argue against it. Read it again.

      • Matthew Symington on

        What facts argue against it? Whatever those facts are they should have been in this article. The way to debunk a myth is through the production of verifiable facts, not just quoting what other people have said. I’m not claiming the culture war exists, but if it did I would use facts to make my case.

  2. “Unionism was in hysterics when republicans were bombing.” – Any credibility that the article had went out the window with that sentence. It was unfortunate to say the least and also extremely patronising towards the Unionists who lived under constant threat during The Troubles. Lecturing the Unionists in such a manner isn’t going to get them on your side.

  3. I’m not sure how many of the 11 points evidence that the “culture war” is a myth? Certainly they reaffirm the belief of many that a United Ireland is not going to happen any time soon, but surely that is a completely different question? I’m sure that if I tried hard enough I could come up with 11 reasons why many believe the “culture war” in not a myth, starting with Gerry Adam’s speech in Athboy in 1996. I’ve chosen to focus on the parading issue below, as this is the nub of the culture issue.
    Whether or not Sinn Fein have adjusted their attitudes since 1996, as suggested by Brian Kennaway, they appear to be unwilling or unable to act on this. The truth is that in 1996 Gerry Adams set out a clear strategy of engineering opposition to Loyal Order parades, in order to build support through street politics. What we see now in 2014, particularly in areas such as Ardoyne, is the so called “dissident” republicans, some of whom are ex Sinn Fein members, attempting to emulate this same strategy in order to build their own political base. If you are going to tell the Loyal Orders that their is no “culture war” it is evidence to counter this mindset that is needed.
    Writing as a unionist, I have my own thoughts on how we can potentially change this perception. I believe that main arterial routes, such as the Crumlin Road, should not be a no go area for Loyal Orders. I do recognise that there are genuinely held concerns (e.g. behaviour) around these parades. These issues should not be insurmountable – the message needs to be loud and clear that peaceful and dignified parades will be tolerated. That would blow the “Culture War” myth right out of the water.

  4. Why did it take 10 points to get to the one that has had the author jumping about? This rushed article smacks of ‘I am so more enlightened than you’ it becomes hilarious by the end. Homework:

    1. Learn the differences between Unionism and Loyalism. They are not the same thing and cannot be swapped around in an argument.

    2. Learn how to stop using sources for the sake of using sources. It looks forced and shows that you don’t really know your topic.

    3. Understand that your argument is not going to explain itself and is not self-evident. It needs to be explained in the context that it is applied.

    4. Explain the context, not just your views on the context.

    5. Learn that a decrease is not a cessation. 27 attacks on Orange Halls is still 27 sectarian attacks. 27 is a number greater than zero (just in case your maths is substandard too).

    6. Realise that you are fooling only a small few if you believe that your thinking is new or revolutionary in any way.

  5. 9. Since when did Ulster-Scots become ‘Loyalist culture’? I suppose therefore Irish is Republican culture, yes?

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