In Defence of Jamie – and Others like him: by Sophie Long

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I have watched, with interest, the ongoing exchange on Eamonn Mallie’s site, between Jamie Bryson and Brian John Spencer. The two figures represent two, opposing camps, within ‘Unionism’, in its loosest sense.

Spencer, the spokesman for the “silent majority”, is emblematic of liberal Unionism, or, as they are often called, ‘garden centre Prods’. Bryson, on the other hand, speaks for a different group, perhaps best characterised as ‘T.U.V. supporters’, or anti-Agreement Unionists. We don’t have much time for anti-Agreement Unionists in the new Northern Ireland, and I believe that is a dangerous place for us to be.

Indeed, some commentators have criticised Eamonn for giving Bryson a platform, and dismiss Bryson’s views as inconsequential, unrepresentative, or downright irrational. They believe he should be excluded from sites such as this one, because he advocates things which are anathema to them. I am writing in defence of Jamie, not because I agree with him, but because I believe we need more dissent, not less, in Northern Ireland.

Dissent is necessary to a healthy democracy. We are a multi-faith, often no-faith, class-stratified society, which is undergoing rapid internal change, and is subject to the external shifts of Unions which we are part of. The dominance of one group and one set of beliefs, in such a society will not lead to progress. Disagreement and dissent benefits us all.

What shape that dissent takes might be uncomfortable for some, in particular readers of Eamon Mallie, who perhaps prefer their political narratives to be palatable, and broadly in line with their already held beliefs. Those same readers appear relatively happy to consume Spencer’s musings, indicating that there is something about Bryson, and what he is saying, which prompts a particular reaction.

We could, as some readers have demanded, cease to give Bryson, and those we most vehemently disagree with, a platform from which to speak. But what good will that do? We are a society emerging from conflict. We haven’t dealt with the past. We lack mature, political leadership. We are divided on a number of issues, not least what the new Northern Ireland ought to look like. Therefore, at the very least, at a civil societal level, we should be seeking more voices, not less.

That means welcoming all of our citizens into the discussion, and listening to what they have to say. There are sound reasons for doing this. If we only talk to those whom we agree with, we will reproduce the same narratives, and exclude those voices which unsettle those narratives. Political theorist Cass Sunstein argues that dissent performs a critical function in society:

“Dissenters are often portrayed as selfish and disloyal, but Sunstein shows that those who reject pressures imposed by others perform valuable social functions, often at their own expense. This is true for dissenters in boardrooms, churches, unions, and academia. It is true for dissenters in the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. And it is true during times of war and peace.” (2004)

I am not suggesting that Bryson ought to be granted special rights, after all, he is only one, but instead arguing that we would do more damage by excluding him, and others like him, than letting them speak. He is using a keyboard, not waving a gun. He is making arguments, and taking criticism. He is engaging with those who are unhappy with the outcomes of the peace process. A group whom, I might add, are not small in number. Why are they unhappy with the peace process? What shape would they like peace to take? I’d like to know, and I’m happy to listen.

In addition, I would agree with Bryson that you can be anti-peace process, and pro-peace. I don’t doubt the logic of that position. We have achieved a marked reduction in organised violence, post-Agreement. But we do not have a peace which includes all of our society. That’s a serious problem, and one which won’t go away, unless we begin to talk to those who have been excluded. What would you prefer those people to do, rather than speak up?

Of course, some argue that his views are offensive, or incoherent. I agree with him on some issues, such as the one outlined above, and indeed on the case which he makes against a neutral Northern Ireland. To me, neutrality means an absence of that which makes life interesting, and the presence, instead, of sanitised, consumable cultures and products.

On the other hand, I am firmly opposed to what Bryson has to say on equal marriage. But listening to him, or reading his articles does not harm, or oppress me. It offends me, on occasion, but that is not the same as harm or oppression. I can argue with him if I wish. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But I would rather he was on a site like this, and talking to a range of people, than isolated.

What harm do incoherent arguments, or morally offensive statements, cause us? If we follow the reasoning of John Stuart Mill, who claimed that free speech was vital to a liberal democratic society, we must accept the right to free speech of all, even those voices which make us uncomfortable.

Because, as Mill argued, if we allow a range of claims to be made in the public arena, we are not obliged to agree with them. We can dispute them. If they are untenable, then they will be revealed as such via democratic argument. If they have some merit, we will improve our position by considering them. Debate, therefore, acts as a crucible, out of which we can only hope to produce some form of ‘truth’ As such, we have nothing to fear from dissenting voices. We have everything to lose from silencing them.

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  1. Naomi is only too happy to defend Bryson, I know they both come from privileged backgrounds with Naomi going to All girls Bloomfield Collegiate Grammar school and Bryson his parents money. Does Naomi forget that Bryson is only 25 years old and his opinion doesn’t matter, as he never experienced the Terrorism nor was he even old enough to remember it.

    Quote from kareklabs “Jamie Bryson only cares about Jamie Bryson and hasn’t been back at Karekabs, he only wants a peace II funded Community workers job”

    • Not Naomi, and not from a privileged background.

      In addition- yes he is 25, but do we only allow those who lived through the Troubles to shape the present?

      • He supports the UVF too, the very organisation that murdered my dad 26 years ago for no reason. Why do you lot give him a platform to spread his bile, he’s all over the IRA for killing Innocent Protestants and Catholics. But when it comes to the UVF’s own murder of Innocent Protestants and Catholics, he’s surprisingly quiet on the subject and doesn’t return the tweets of others who continue to question him.

        Also for some weird reason, he’s latched onto Provo co-founder Joe Cahill’s great-niece Mairia just like Anne Travers before her…….Wonder why hmmmm

        Before that he shook McGuinness’s hand…..something I wouldn’t do, then there’s the pics with GAA flag and Hurly bat!

        • For all of the points which you raise about Jamie- alleged UVF support and a history of engagement with particular Republicans, my argument still holds. We don’t have to be morally pure to make useful contributions to debates. In fact, the 1994 ceasefires and subsequent Agreement were negotiated and sustained by the (arguably) morally impure. Why,now, at a difficult point in peace-building,would we start to shut out particular voices?

          • There’s NOTHING alleged about his support for the UVF, he tweeted it. Although he deleted it, the tweet was screen grabbed and circulated. I’m sur LAD can furnish you with it. Then there’s him at a UVF mrmorial


            There’s also the video of him involved in an attack on nationalist’s homers, celebrating when a pensioner’s window is broken. Worse than merely being a fireside bigoted warrior, Bryson is an opportunist, with his hatred of all things Irish being shown as newly manufactured, the photo of him with a caman in hand is also freely available. If thyere’s such support for his cause, why can’t they get a decent count for their protests?

            Like his friend Willie Frazer, the law gives him a fool’s pardon and a fool he is, the man who ate a curry just hours in to his hunger strikke, How a normal society treats the ilkes of Jamie, Willie, Winkie, Kim Wilson, Billy Hutchinson et al can be seen in how the English treat Tommy Robinson and Nick Griffin

          • Ben De Hellenbacque on

            Eh, useful? Now Sophie, re-read what you wrote and reflect on the use of that word please. Take as long as you need.
            A more valid question: why now at a difficult point in peace building are we hearing the voices of opportunistic, delinquent troublemakers?
            Take as long as you need with that poser too.

          • Useful- as in, of some use. Serves a function. He doesn’t have to be correct to be useful. And as I said, there are a couple of areas where I agree, broadly, with points he has raised. He certainly seems to have incensed you…

          • Ben De Hellenbacque on

            Your inappropriate use of the word useful is what incensed me, Sophie.
            You follow a very peculiar logic (and a limited knowledge of human behaviour) if you think any individual can simultaneously experience outrage and mirth.
            Why have I encouraged him to pen more? Refer below!

          • Regardless of your personal feelings about Jamie- consider those like him, who voted TUV at the last election, and who are dissatisfied with the current political landscape. Should they not have the chance to speak?

          • Ben De Hellenbacque on

            Most definitely! Because through speaking and discussion, particularly in public, ideas and arguments are exposed to analysis.
            You’re pretty hung up on your notion that disagreement with or even mocking anyone represents a desire to silence. This is false assumption and therefore false reasoning. False reasoning is the enemy of debate because it means that you haven’t properly listened to the counter message. I thought you were all for debate.
            P.S. When you assume you make an ass of u to me.

          • Well that’s grand- that was all I was appealing for. Let everyone have their say- and if what is being said is incoherent etc, then we are all free to point that out. I have no problem with you mocking others- free speech- not always constructive- but still would not wish for that to be impinged.

          • Ben De Hellenbacque on

            And you’ve finally returned to your central argument. The circuitous route you took to get back there shows a tendency to convoluted and easily distracted thinking. Your tendency to infer things that aren’t there won’t make you a reasoned debater. Resist those tendencies in future for your own sake.
            BTW, that’s useful and constructive advice.

          • Answer me this sophie, has your dad been murdered?

            Mine was only walking to the doctors when your heros in the uvf shot him dead, how old are you sophie cos I was 12 when ceasefires were called.

            I was 6 years old when 2 cowards from east belfast uvf shot my da dead!

            I bet there was collusion in it cos the murderers were never caught, despite having family on the force. They were too jobsworth, if it was me. I’d have went out and shot them dead!

  2. Ben De Hellenbacque on

    Please Jamie, keep them coming! And thanks Sophie for the encouragement. Everything he ejaculates is always hilarious, whether it be narcissistic, specious, incoherent, unfounded, vainglorious, untheological, rabble-rousing, unintelligent, misinformed, hollow, invented, onanistic, disjointed, ill-educated, spurious, illiterate, tendentious, inflammatory, grandiloquent, illogical or irrational. I’ve tried really hard to look for anything remotely connected to reality or truth in his juvenile demagoguery but joyfully failed. Maybe Sophie can endeavour to find something valid in one or two of his efforts. But then that would spoil the fun.
    If this is the best dissenting voice that Sophie recommends then I suggest she get out more, like to the library. But the internet is more accessible. You’ll find the true, intelligent and humane voices of dissent there quite easily.
    At least Bryon’s Queen’s English has improved – he must have been hothoused and that means he has to have paid attention to someone outside his echo chamber.
    My only concern is for the reputation of Eamonn’s website.

  3. Bryson is not a dissenter in the sense that he is against any established order. He, and his supporters, wants the return of the established order as it was up until 1969. The idea that a British identity is under threat through the peace process is nonsense. It’s the old idea of “what we have we hold” and the perceived loss of that idea through power sharing that threatens Bryson and people like him. This is perfectly illustrated through the reaction to the flag being taken down from Belfast City Hall and the policy of designated days. There is also a gap in the unionist psyche since the demise of “paisleyism” which has not been filled. To call Bryson a dissenter is to flatter him.

  4. Am Ghobsmacht on

    Funnily enough I was talking about himself today and where his views come from.
    Here he’s depicted as a dissenter.
    I put it to you (all) that he is the opposite of that.
    He is a yes man.
    In the pecking order of flute bands my impression has always been that flag bearers and standard bearers are near the bottom of the food chain, just below new fluters, dummy fluters and “can play the sash, Derry’s Walls and Sandy Row only” fluters.
    Flute majors, drum majors and bass drummers are at the top.
    Jamie (as far as I’m aware) is a flag bearer.
    He may have worked his way up to fluter (flautist IF you must).
    He may even be a good one. I don’t know.
    I wouldn’t normally care nor mention it but given how much of his attacks and blogs are near-endless steams of man-playing and fantastic speculation then all bets are off.
    So, following with this (completely unbackable speculation, but, we’re playing by Bryson’s rules here so facts matter little) train of thought it appears to me that rather than do the right thing such as criticise the use of tyres on fires, criticise the playing of evidently sectarian songs, criticise the likes of ‘The Billy Boys’ etc as a strong leader would he instead fears the wrath of his band mates.
    A decent Christian heart can see the hurt and damage caused by the darker elements of marching culture.
    Effigies of the Pope, Virgin Mary or deceased children are clearly unacceptable to Christian practice.
    Does he condemn such practices? Not that I’m aware of.
    If he did then it would put him in the position of us Lundies for Jamie knows that the band won’t listen to him nor respect him.
    He will have expelled himself from the tribe.
    Long story short, he’s not a dissenter (in general), he’s a Theon Greyjoy, a castrated yes man.
    He knows what is right.
    He is indeed intelligent.
    But he can’t stand up to the band nor defend his points, rather he can only hammer them through the faintest resemblance of moral shaped holes.
    That’s why his blogs and open letters and counter points etc are so laden with man playing e.g. someone (whom coincidentally disagrees with Jamie)always has some sort of psychological negative such as an inferiority complex or a god complex (or whatever it was he said about Kyle Paisley) or some-such hokum).
    You say dissenter, I see a boy who can’t stand up to the cool kids.
    (Normally I wouldn’t be so personal but to be fair he has set the precedent)

  5. . He is engaging with those who are unhappy with the outcomes of the peace process. A group whom, I might add, are not small in number.

    He was born in 1990 who is he to not be happy about the peace process he has no idea whatsoever what he is on about

  6. Only one way to sort Northern Ireland…joint authority by Dublin and London…with both flags flown at Public buildings…

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