By Jamie Bryson– Editor@UnionistVoice.com
The events at Avoniel over the past week attracted huge media interest across the United Kingdom, and further afield. Mainstream unionist politicians dipped their toe in at various points, but ultimately it was a victory won by the grassroots PUL community who stood in defiance of attempts to railroad the unionist people into surrendering to the latest nationalist act of aggression.
The ‘siege of Avoniel’ as it has been described by many is a momentous and hugely symbolic victory within the context of the larger cultural war. It is the first time in many years that loyalists have defeated the combined forces of pan-nationalism and humiliated them so publicly. We shouldn’t apologise for that- remember how nationalism crowed and cheered when they- along with Alliance- tore the union flag from City Hall?
The Chief Constable’s position is, to be frank, ludicrous. He appears to bemoan the fact that rather than responding with bottles and bricks, that loyalists responded with bouncy castles and peaceful carnivals. And this gives the game away; there is a disbelief that those pesky loyalists manage to completely outflank not only nationalist Belfast City Council, but also managed to strategically move the situation into a place whereby if the PSNI wanted to move in then they would have to rampage over a community carnival in order to enforce the wishes of a nationalist council.
There is fury that loyalists would dare to strategically defend the bonfire and by extension the very legitimacy of unionist cultural expression. Listening to the Chief Constable you would think loyalists should have formed a guard of honour and invited the PSNI and masked contractors in to tear down the bonfire in order to comply with the wishes of the aggressive pan-nationalist agenda. The unspoken message is ‘how dare these people resist us peacefully. How dare these peasants think they could out-manoeuvre us’.
The strategy deployed by loyalists was a simple one. If nationalist Belfast City Council wanted to move in with masked mercenaries and the PSNI, then they would have to do it openly in a manner where the world could watch as TSG units navigated bouncy castles, a children’s carnival and ice cream vans. All that loyalists sought to do was to create a situation which would expose the aggressors for what they are.
The Avoniel bonfire belonged to the bonfire builders and the community. Not the UVF. The Chief Constable appears to almost wish the bonfire was manned by masked UVF men, because that- if we follow the logic of his commentary- would have justified his officers invading the site. The fact is that the people who stood in defence of the bonfire, including the women and children, did so because they wanted to stand for their community in the face of what they felt was yet another aggressive assault on their culture by nationalism in the guise of Belfast City Council.
Is it so hard for nationalists and statutory agencies to grasp that expressions of unionist culture doesn’t equate to paramilitarism. There are a great many ordinary men, women and children who are sick, sore and tired of being treated as second-class citizens and being expected to roll-over to nationalism’s every demand because a failure to do would be ‘anti-peace process’. Utter nonsense.
Sinn Fein, Alliance and the SDLP wanted loyalists to engage in violence in order to further feed the dehumanisation and criminalisation of loyalism and justify their latest assault on cultural expression. Loyalists completely out-played them and did so without so much as a stone thrown.
I said when addressing the protest on Wednesday night that ever since the previous Sunday I was firmly of the view the PSNI did not want to move in. I met senior officers in the PSNI as part of a EBCC delegation and had regular engagement with senior officers throughout the week. Nothing changed my original view.
The retrospective analysis of the Chief Constable appears to either be (a) entirely at odds with the views of his own silver/gold command officers or (b) a cynical attempt to pander to nationalists who have went into an almost hysterical fit because they were unable to get their own way. The Chief Constable should not undo the positive work that has been done in terms of building confidence in the loyalist community. There is a belief that perhaps we may begin to see even-handed and fair policing; that must be welcomed.
The PSNI analysis of the situation provided to Belfast City Council was equally skewed and appeared to lay the blame at the door of the UVF, despite the fact it was plain to see for any person who came to Avoniel that the bonfire was a community event with young people and families all gathered together.
However, if you were cynical then you may form the view that the threat analysis provided to Belfast City Council served everyone’s purposes. I do not believe the PSNI ever wanted to go in, by providing the sexed-up threat assessment they put an end to the notion any contractor was going to take on the task. This ensured the PSNI were off the hook and ultimately it was a factor in ensuring the Avoniel bonfire stayed. That is why there were very few loyalists getting too angry by the PSNI threat assessment- it was total nonsense dreamt up by PSNI gold command; but it was ultimately useful nonsense.
It is worth pointing out that the real tangible threat of violence at Avoniel came from republicans- two of whom have been arrested. They threatened to murder me and orchestrated a hoax bomb at the bonfire site to terrify women and children taking part in a community carnival.
Avoniel was a symbolic victory (and let us not pretend that it wasn’t ) for all those loyalists who are committed to protecting traditional expressions of unionist culture. Nationalists are looking towards the career ‘peace processors’ within loyalism and mourning the fact that it appears those opposed to neutralising unionist culture and blindly becoming pawns in the ‘harmonisation’ agenda are in the ascendancy.
There will, of course, be the opportunity for the ‘acceptable’ unionists to explain how we must tone down our cultural expression and be more considerate and compromising. I am sure in the BBC Talk Back studio you will find fertile ground for such approved ‘peace process’ speak, however across the grassroots unionist community there is an energy and a new found confidence; a belief that we can defeat the pan-nationalist movement by simply playing them at their own game. Avoniel proves that.
Loyalists used media engagement, peaceful protest and strategic vision to deliver victory. And make no mistake about it, victory would not have been possible if there had been any descent into violence. The ‘siege of Avoniel’ was won because loyalists defied the stereotype and surprised everyone.
The pan-nationalist coalition of Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance ended up looking petty, spiteful and vindictive. Those who preach tolerance showed themselves up to be the most intolerant of all. The slipping of their mask should also be a warning to those within unionism that would urge compromise- you can not compromise with these people.
Every concession only makes the nationalist aggressors more aggressive and as we seen at Avoniel, compromise is only a good thing in their eyes so long as it is unionism doing the compromising and nationalism doing the advancing. No more.
Credit to all those who stood peacefully at Avoniel. I fundamentally believe we now have an opportunity to fight back in the cultural war and harness the new found confidence and energy to bring in a new era of loyalist politicisation that will be focused not on compromising, but rather upon rebalancing the current cultural war and stemming the tide of constant nationalist gains.