On last weeks BBC Radio Ulster Stephen Nolan show questions were raised of commentators around how the grassroots unionist/loyalist community would react to the potential for a ‘backstop’ to be imposed on Northern Ireland.
The grassroots unionist and loyalist community do not have the same social media presence as pan-nationalism, or the liberal elite establishment. Loyalists aren’t part of the ‘twitterati’. There isn’t representation in the ‘acceptable’ mainstream commentariate for loyalist voices, unless it is in the guise of the increasingly transparent mainstream attempt to select voices they can describe as being loyalist and grassroots unionist voices, when in reality it is more like voices who the self-appointed liberal elite want to amplify because they are part of a of ‘progressive’ minority.
These persons are amplified as an example of how the unionist community should be- they are seen as being conducive to a consensus based, Belfast Agreement-loving, utopian New Ireland. These acceptable voices are then contrasted with the ‘deplorables’; those of us who don’t like the agreement one bit and who aren’t at all keen on playing our part in the ‘process’, and after all that’s what the Belfast Agreement is- a process which by its very definition has a beginning and an end. The end of the ‘process’ is a United Ireland. Forgive me for being hostile to that lofty ideal.
There is however another group of people- they do not speak out so they aren’t viewed as the deplorables, but rather they are a silent although quietly seething group of people who we shall call the unknowns. These are the people within the unionist community who scream at the TV, who are filled with rage when reading the newspaper and who silently within the workplace express inner disgust at how our community has been trampled underfoot post-98. The unknowns are also for the most part Brexit supporters. The kind of ordinary people who found their voice at the ballot box in 2016 and unleashed a little bit of their resentment at the liberal elite establishment via casting their vote to leave the European Union and restore sovereignty to the United Kingdom.
The unknowns make up the vast majority of the grassroots unionist community. They aren’t active politically on social media or aren’t expressing their views loudly in their often cross-community workplace, but they believe deeply in the union and deep inside feel a growing hatred for how our country is being betrayed.
The establishment knows the danger of this grassroots unionist group breaking out of their self -imposed silence. And so when it comes to Brexit there is an effort to present those who support Brexit as ‘far right racists’ or ‘anti-agreement loyalist extremists’. The real agenda here is to make the unknowns think twice about any thoughts of taking to the streets along with the deplorables should a Brexit outcome be imposed that would weaken the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
The relentless efforts to criminalise loyalism are part of the same state sponsored agenda. The establishment is terrified of the potential for a mass movement of resistance, and so the agenda is to pigeon-hole any resistance into a box that will make it unpalatable to law abiding citizens who usually reserve their political activism for when watching the Nolan show.
Could you imagine a backstop imposed on Northern Ireland which amounts to an economic all-Ireland?
Let us be clear, no self-respecting unionist could tolerate that. I suspect deep down the DUP know that, however we must be alert to efforts to fudge the issue. It should be clear in the minds of the DUP; any divergence from the UK in pursuance of alignment with the Republic of Ireland- whether with the fantasy ‘Stormont lock’ or not- is unacceptable.
It would be foolish to believe that loyalists would simply acquiesce to being edged further into a United Ireland. John Mooney, a respected Irish journalist, last week tweeted the following;
“I met a number of loyalists connected to the UVF in Belfast recently. The message was clear. Anything that changes status of Northern Ireland will be greeted as the start of a process to lead to a United Ireland. I would anticipate serious civil disturbance.”
I have no idea who John Mooney spoke to, but I would be surprised if a journalist of his caliber and experience published such an analysis without being sure in his own mind that the individuals he met were speaking with a sufficiently detailed knowledge of the thinking within a senior level of the UVF.
It is therefore reasonable to conclude that loyalists would not tolerate anything that altered the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. However, it is important that isn’t presented as an exclusively hardline loyalist position, most of the grassroots unionist community would be at one with the analysis offered by John Mooney, I would presume.
In an article last year I said an imposed backstop would, in my personal opinion, lead to a broad grassroots unionist response that would make the Anglo-Irish agreement and flag protests look like a day at the beach. Nothing has happened since to alter my viewpoint on that.
That demonstrates the high stakes nature of the increasingly aggressive efforts by the Irish Government and pan-nationalism to destabilise Northern Ireland in the course of their efforts to wedge us out of the United Kingdom.
The flag protests were only a little tremor. After the first week of the protest due to violence erupting, which no one ever wants to see, many ordinary people- the unknowns- turned their face away from the protest as the establishment successfully, and maliciously, portrayed it as a paramilitary, far-right, loyalist extremist protest movement (which is far from the truth).
However, when the very survival of Northern Ireland as a sovereign part of the United Kingdom is on the line we enter unchartered waters. The pan-nationalist assault on the union, aided by the EU ‘empire’, is increasingly bringing together the unknowns, the deplorables and even some of the progressives into a seething and defiant pan-unionist movement.
Common sense would tell you such an organic movement wouldn’t go quietly into an economic all-Ireland, regardless of how it is dressed up.