Loyalist rioting isn’t at all ‘complicated’. It’s just history repeating itself.

Loyalists petrol bomb a bus & DUP's Ian Paisley 1980s
Support us and go ad-free

On 9 April, when writing in Byline Times about British loyalist rioting in the north of Ireland, Otto English (Andrew Scott) wrote:

The roots of the violence that flared up over the past week on the streets of Belfast are like everything else in Northern Irish politics – complicated.

And, given English’s approach to that article, you’d have to agree that politics in the north of Ireland is indeed “complicated”. Because before dealing with the “complicated” matter of loyalist rioting, English wrote four paragraphs (195 words) implicating Irish republicans in those riots.

Except that English is wrong. The riots have nothing to do with Irish republicans. And politics in the north is only as “complicated” as any other land mass. Because once you understand that politics in the six-county statelet boils down to the fact that neither loyalist nor unionist wants ‘Roman Catholics about the place’, it becomes a whole lot simpler. And independent media must be ruthless in exposing that.

“They don’t want a taig about the place”

The Social Democratic and Labour Party’s (SDLP) Alasdair McDonnell caused a stir in 2015 when he was apparently heard saying:

The DUP don’t want partnership – they don’t want a taig about the place. I’m sorry, it’s as brutal as that.

But these weren’t really McDonnell’s own words. Because as a member of the SDLP, McDonnell is a ‘taig’ (tayg is a racist term for an Irish Catholic). He was merely paraphrasing the words of Ulster Unionist Sir Basil Brooke. In 1933 Brooke apparently boasted to an audience that:

Read on...

he had not a Roman Catholic about his own place

Because he apparently believed Roman Catholics were:

out with all their force and might to destroy the power and constitution of Ulster

And Brooke’s mentality played a significant part in the makeup of ‘Northern Ireland’ since partition in 1922. Because that unionist statelet used gerrymandering to limit republican participation in democracy and to discriminate against them in housing and employment. So it’s the erosion of that mentality, since Irish republicans took a stand against it, which causes unionists and loyalists such angst today.

Because today, republicans are elected to office, even though election to that office is far from what Irish republicans ever stood for. Nonetheless, unionist and loyalists can’t stand it. Republicans no longer live in squalor or accept second rate jobs. Well, no more than anybody else does at least.

But, but… isn’t it complicated?!

There’s plenty of terminology to bandy about for those who like to complicate things. But really it’s lots of different words for two pretty simple sides of the argument. Some will disagree, but I tend to categorise as follows (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Political/Geographical:
    • The north/ the north of Ireland/The six counties/Northern Ireland/Ulster (even if ‘Ulster’ is factually incorrect) – take your pick
    • Derry/that other place – take your pick
  2. Political/National:
    • Republicans/Catholics/Nationalists/Irish/United Irelanders – take your pick
    • Loyalists/Protestants/Unionists/British/Orange Order/United Kingdomers – take your pick

I’m clear about which ones I chose, and I have my reasons, but ultimately they’re just words. English’s “complicated” article on the other hand is significant. Because it’s insulting. It’s insulting as it’s effectively telling the reader they’re too ignorant to work this out. It’s too complex for mere mortals, so stay away.

Yeah but…the rioting is complicated

The exact reasoning behind this latest spate of loyalist rioting may be complicated. But this current period of unrest reveals an uncomplicated big picture – on the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and after almost a century of partition – of British unionist repulsion at power sharing with Irish republicans.

Of course, if we want to get into the nitty-gritty of the Northern Ireland Protocol in terms of what it says about import quantities and documentation, then yes, it’s complicated. But so are most other international treaties. The north’s no different. Yet I seriously doubt any young loyalist who petrol bombed that bus did so because they were fed up completing colour-coded importation documents in triplicate and returning them to Brussels within 3-5 working days. Maybe it’s more to do with the DUP winning the Brexit vote but losing the Brexit result.

And it’s not just the north

It’s probably safe to assume that almost every land mass on the planet has “complicated” processes and politics. I mean, look at the UK. The UK prides itself on law and order yet it doesn’t have a single written constitution. It allows unelected people, in its upper house of parliament, to decide British laws.

Its duke of Edinburgh came from Greece, lived in London and had no say over what happened in Edinburgh. Maybe because the UK has enveloped itself in so many complexities, it assumes everywhere else is the same. Should we also avoid UK politics?

Didn’t the Good Friday Agreement fix everything?

To cut a long story short – no. The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) stopped the mass killing. But, as civil rights campaigner Bernadette Devlin McAliskey said:

The killing has stopped, yes. But the killing wasn’t the start of it. The killing was the consequence.

McAliskey believes social inequality was at the core of the conflict in the north of Ireland. And that social inequality remains today. McAliskey claims there are 370,000 people in the north (in a total population of around 1.9m people) living below the poverty line. So the underlying problem is still there. And anyway, the GFA has been problematic since the get-go.

While it set out a model for power-sharing between Irish republicans and British unionists, those power-sharing institutions have collapsed several times. And they’ve essentially collapsed because unionists hate sharing power with republicans. Just as they hated the 1973 Sunningdale power sharing arrangement or even the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

And unionist unwillingness to share power has nothing to do with the connection between some Irish republicans and Irish republican paramilitaries. Nothing. Irish republican paramilitaries were relatively inactive between 1922 and 1969. Yet still there was no power sharing of any real consequence. Unionists dominated that landscape, discriminated against republicans and resisted attempts to reform.

Familiar, yes. Complicated, no.

So whether it’s Sunningdale, the GFA or the Northern Ireland Protocol, it matters little to British unionists. They can’t tolerate sharing power with Irish republicans. And that might very well be the reason why young, working class loyalists are doing the dirty work of older, middle class unionists. It’s that simple.

The more complicated media outlets make the north sound, the more this suits the unionist agenda. We must keep calling it out.

Featured image via – YouTube – BBC NewsYouTube – Channel 4 News

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. When Bernadette mcAliskey pointed to social inequality being the cause of the conflict, she applied this to all working class people in N. Ireland.
      ‘ McAliskey believes social inequality was at the core of the conflict in the north of Ireland. And that social inequality remains today.’
      Yes that social inequality remains today, even though the discrimination in jobs and housing for catholics is long gone.
      You have lumped all pro-unionist groups together and claim that they are one homogeneous entity, which doesn’t want to share power. This is simply untrue, and you can be sure that Bernadette McAliskey would not be too happy about you using her name to give credibility to this argument, especially since she has often shared platforms with some pro union, left progressives.
      The DUP is a reactionary party whose unionism is triumphalist and sectarian. This is the party which funded the Brexit campaign and held the balance of power in May’s government, using this to ensure a complete break from Europe. Their short-sighted nationalism backfired and has weakened, rather than strengthened the Union with Britain. This party does not represent the majority of pro-union people here. The biggest section of voters here do not vote for the DUP, or SF for that matter, they don’t cast their votes at all. Some of these people did however go to vote remain in the referendum. Many of these people would like also to remain in the UK rather than a united Ireland, not because they are sectarian and not because they don’t want to share power with others, but they simply want to have a public health service and an education system which isn’t controlled by a church.
      I would add this: Partition should not have happened, but simply reversing it won’t solve the problem, because partition was the outcome or symptom of a much wider problem, one of the mode of production i.e. capitalism. It was simply a tactic to divide and rule, to ensure that the workers in Ireland would not unite and remove the real cause of their oppression. The answer to the Irish question will not be found in moving borders, it will only be solved when the cause is removed and that is capitalism.
      I support The Canary as it is a good journal which gives a left-leaning perspective and honest account on most issues facing the working class. When it comes to Ireland however, it has taken the Sinn Fein line. Sinn Fein is as socialist as I am a martian, and too many people in Britain have been taken in by its rhetoric. Nationalism, whether British or Irish is incompatible with socialism. It is a dangerous petit bourgeois philosophy which uses the working class for its own interest.

    2. BTW-the DUP did not won the Brexit vote- in N.Ireland 56% voted to remain within Europe.
      Mike56 is living in cloud cuckoo land by implying that the majority-apparently mostly socialists didnt bother to vote at all.So where are all these socialists?Maybe Mike will start a revolutionary party which will remove the shackles of capitalism and we will all live happily ever after.As for the assertion that Bernadette McAliskey “often shares platforms with some pro union left progressives” I would love to know where they too have been all my life.Finally,if Sinn Fein is not a socialist party then Mike56 is indeed a martian.

      1. Where did I say that the DUP won the brexit vote?
        The biggest percentage of voters don’t vote, fact! What do you think their politics are? I didn’t imply that they were all socialists, what I am saying is that they don’t see the point in voting because it doesn’t change anything. These are people who actually thought about it instead of following their tribe.
        Martin McGuinness opened a branch of the Stock exchange in Belfast, how very socialist of him.
        James Connolly wrote a pamphlet entitled’ Socialism Made Easy’. I suggest you try reading it. Might also be a good idea to look at The Labour Theory Of Value, while you’re at it, then come back and tell me how ‘socialist’ SF is.
        Capitalism is destroying the planet, and its continuation is a threat to human existence. You go on supporting that mode of production, while asking yourself which one of us lives in ‘cloud cuckoo land’.

    3. Very good article Peadar O’Cearnaigh!

      To be fair, the two main communities in Northern Ireland have far more in common with each other than either the UK mainland or the Republic of Ireland. The DUP and other reactionary “Unionists” would be absolutely HORRIFIED if all UK social legislation was transferred over Ulster. All of it. Every last bit – after all, aren’t we a “Union”?

      No, the Loyalist & Protestant NIsh are in reality as homeless as the Nationalist & Catholic NIsh, and they have now just realised how casually the London Tories would dump them if they could make some personal dosh from the situation.

      And how utterly clueless their political leaders are – which is surely a concern for the DUP, as if it is no longer the largest Unionist party, it couldn’t block the investigation into the heating funding corruption scandal; which means Sinn Fein will rejoin Stormont, and govt can start functioning again.

      And somehow deal with Brexshit, a Unionist bad decision the Nationalists were warning them about even against their best interests.

      Unionists Peadar. As much as its hard to like hard-souled racist settler colonists, it’s also worth bearing in mind they didn’t CHOOSE to be born into this situation. And their roots in Ireland also go back generations now. What they of course fear is what they intended to do be done unto them.

      There’s probably something in their Bible that refers to that if they squint hard and bite their tongue in concentration, though TBF it should probably be highlighted in all versions of Holy Books for peoples engaged in colonial occupation.

      Hopefully, one day they will come to their senses, and arrange to become an independent country in the North, seperate from both UK & RoI.

      For they have more in common with their shared experience, than they do with us.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.