By Jamie Bryson– Editor@UnionistVoice.com
A recent Unionist Voice article highlighted an imbalance in terms of the religious background of Northern Ireland’s most senior judicial posts. Let me say from the outset that I am not in favor of quotas or equality of outcome- I believe in merit and equality of opportunity.
However, the majority who voted for the Belfast Agreement voted for positive discrimination in order to encourage catholic/nationalist support for the structures of the state and specifically the policing and justice system. One of the most controversial areas was in the reform of policing which enforced 50-50 recruitment.
The very structures of the Belfast Agreement are built upon a mutual veto for the largest designations, with the purpose supposed to be about protecting minorities from discrimination. It is therefore the position of most people in Northern Ireland that there should be balance based upon religious background in public posts, in Government and in policing. This is evidenced by the fact the majority of people support the structures of the Belfast Agreement. One cannot support the Belfast Agreement but oppose the notion that balance in terms of religious make-up is a pre cursor to community confidence in the structures of governance.
Nationalists have recently raised the issue of confidence in policing and directly correlated it with a lack of catholic officers. This has led to suggestions from nationalist politicians, and even some senior PSNI officers, that we may need to return to 50-50 recruitment. Therefore, surely it is legitimate for the PUL community to look to the judiciary, which plays an equally important role in society, and ask why such a huge imbalance in favor of those from a catholic background is deemed acceptable?
Indeed one need only look at the replies on social media to the Unionist Voice story. Scores of nationalists expressed outrage at the fact Unionist Voice would even dare raise this issue, seemingly oblivious to the blatant hypocrisy of their own outrage given nationalism’s long-time grievance narrative. Others took the opportunity to mock loyalists using dehumanising stereotypes; this is designed to create an underclass within society and exclude those from a loyalist background from having a stake in society or political discourse in Northern Ireland.
I must say the media assist in building this stereotype given their overt strategy of amplifying liberal and nationalist voices (I call them the liberal elite) whilst wheeling loyalists out into public discourse only to talk about flags, bonfires and parades. This is further demonstrated by the fact that nationalist contributors are often described in neutral terms simply as ‘commentators’ whilst unionists or loyalists are identified as a ‘unionist/loyalist commentator’- why the disparity?
It should be remembered that the justificiation put forward by the IRA for their terror campaign was that young men felt disenfranchised and excluded from the system. Whether people believe it or not, there is a sizeable section of angry young loyalists who feel disenfranchised from the state- with the very same fears, frustrations and genuinely held feelings of exclusion as republicans would claim drove them to turn to violence. Unless those who claim to have been the oppressed are deliberately seeking to become the oppressors, I am at a loss as to why nationalists appear so keen to dismiss those who would point out that many feel Northern Ireland is becoming a cold house for Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists.
The political class, the media, civic society, the police and the judiciary are all seen by large sections of the working class loyalist community as being the apparatus of nationalism. There is no doubt some truth in the perception that there is a ‘liberal elite’, largely made up of nationalists, that exert influence across the media, legal and judicial sphere. The impact of this may be disproportionately magnified since there is circle of political-media-legal professionals who use their public platforms to amplify each-other and their various agendas.
Loyalists are shunned by the media (one need only look at the fury sparked by my joining the National Union of Journalists, largely with the objective of flushing out that group’s sectarian snobbery) are disengaged from education, unrepresented in the legal profession and treated as an underclass by civic society. That is a problem and one that is being compounded by dehumanising stereotypes of loyalism which are either by overt approval, or by virtue of those complicit by their silence, reinforced by the professional class, media and civic society.
There is a sizeable number of people from the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community feeling disenfranchised and excluded from having a stake in society within Northern Ireland. Whether those feelings are based on reality or perception, they are nevertheless genuinely held
That is why there needs to be a debate not only around our judicial system, but our whole media, legal and civic structures which in the eyes of many within the PUL community are imbalanced to the point of being exclusionary.