Why criminalising loyalism is designed to serve a political purpose
By Jamie Bryson
When Tony Blair said “I will deal with republicans, the Chief Constable will deal with the loyalists” it wasn’t just a flippant remark, but rather a Government policy that prevails until this very day.
It is not just a policy pursued by the Government, but one which is embraced by the republican movement and those they have wooed into what they would described as a ‘progressive’ coalition.
When you look at the words carefully it is a damming indictment of Government policy towards loyalism and by extension the unionist community. It separates loyalism and republicanism into two categories of responsibility within the separation of powers- loyalism is deemed a crime problem to be dealt with via a security policy and republicanism is deemed a political problem, to be dealt with by the Government.
Never has this policy been so evident as when loyalists and former members of the security forces are hunted down like animals for alleged historic offences, whilst the Government, in the words of Norman Baxter “tamper with policing” along the road to providing amnesty letters to IRA terrorists.
Of course the Government, as a stated policy, does not engage with criminals; therefore the lumping of loyalism solely into the sphere of a security problem legitimises civic, political and media isolation.
It is firmly in the interests of the ‘progressive’ pan-nationalist coalition- which in broad terms encompasses Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and an assortment of other radicals- to dehumanise and demonise loyalism. By doing so it assists in re-writing the past and painting the republican movement as freedom fighters and loyalism as merely state-sponsored crime gangs. It also seeks to remove loyalism as an obstacle to building a ‘New Ireland’- code for pushing the peace process to its envisaged conclusion of Irish unity.
That is why Declan Kearney and Sinn Fein are waging a linguistic war against all expressions of unionist and loyalist culture. It is all about presenting loyalism as a ‘rogue’ element of society that need to be dealt with by the PSNI. The real purpose is to dehumanise loyalism, to delegitimise political or civic support for loyalism and thus, as aforementioned, to remove a potential obstacle on the road to a ‘New Ireland’.
When you hear commentary in relation to the PSNI/NCA ‘Fresh Start’ it is almost exclusively around how it should be directed towards loyalism. It is almost as if crime is a loyalist problem, rather than a societal problem. One would have to be extremely naive not to see the wider political agenda in the criminalisation policy.
If a loyalist breaks the law it is loyalist criminality, when anyone else breaks the law it is simply crime. Crime is a problem within society- and this includes white collar and political crime- it does not originate with loyalism.
There is, however, a fatal flaw in the criminalisation policy that loyalism must exploit. It is the expectation that loyalism will react in a defensive manner, namely by resorting to violence or going underground. Loyalism must react differently and instead forge political inroads, engage positively in the media and build alliances with influential persons within civic society. In short loyalism must be persuaders for, and instigators of, a ‘pan-unionist coalition’.
In order to do this loyalism must not walk into the bear traps that have been carefully set. There is an agenda to bait loyalism into violence or throwing the head up, because that moves loyalism into the security sphere- and that is where the ‘progressive’ pan-nationalist coalition want it contained.
A long -term strategy to encourage loyalism to engage in law, journalism and politics must be the response to the criminalisation policy. The political establishment want to drive loyalism underground and pursue the loyalist community as a crime and security problem. They do not want loyalism to have a voice in civic society, the media or political establishment. You only need to look at social media on any occasion that any spokesperson for loyalism articulates a political position- the ‘progressive’ pan-nationalist coalition are incredulous, infuriated that the media would provide loyalism with a platform or opportunity to engage in political debate. This is because they have themselves been indoctrinated, along with a large majority of society, with the narrative that defines loyalism as ‘clowns’ and ‘criminals’, and after all, who wants to listen to clowns or criminals?
To use one personal example. Around a year ago I wrote a piece for Eamonn Mallie’s website, this piece was subsequently carried on Slugger O’Toole but in error the editor Mick Fealty attributed the piece to Eamonn rather than to me. Many of those who would normally be the most venomous in criticising any of my writing or views took to the site to wax lyrical about the quality of the piece; until they found out that there had been an error and it was in fact me that had written it. Instantly the piece became ‘crap’, ‘illiterate’ and ‘garbage’. The lesson here is clear, many people have no interest in substance but instead judge the quality of an argument by its source. And so it goes that when the source is a loyalist, then instantly the substance of the argument should be dismissed.
Of course some ‘loyalists’ are welcomed and championed by the ‘progressive’ pan-nationalist coalition. It is this brand of loyalist that they demand should be heard, because naturally their views fit into the ‘New Ireland’ agenda and are acceptable. Such compliant unionists are held up by nationalism and liberals as how loyalism and unionism should be. But therein lies the problem, if your political enemies are championing your cause, then common sense would tell you that your more of a help than a hindrance to their own political agenda.
The ongoing policing, civic and political onslaught against loyalism is fundamentally a battle to force loyalism into the sphere of crime and security and thus remove the potential for loyalism to be an obstacle to the political ‘process’.