The true colours of Loyalism


The removal of Confederate and Nazi Flags at loyalist bonfire site in Carrickfergus by local community workers is a positive step forward but this should not detract from a political settlement that rests on accommodating and institutionalizing the most reactionary elements in Northern Ireland, rather than seeking to uproot and transcend sectarian division in this mini colonial statelet.

As the clock ticks towards the annual Orange Order 12th of July marches, the sectarian marking of territory is underway as working class communities across the North are besieged with Loyalist emblems and paramilitary flags, indirectly facilitated by the PSNI who have turned a blind eye to this showcase of sectarian triumphalism and intimidation towards anyone who is perceived as the ‘other’ from Catholics to ethnic minorities.

While some on the left still continue to excuse this fascistic behavior and hail the PUP as the progressive face of loyalism, the PSNI have in the past claimed their armed wing have been involved in orchestrating racist attacks in South and East Belfast last year (1) and given the vast majority of reported racist attacks have occurred in perceived loyalist areas this is evident of a wider trend.

Ulster Loyalism and its various strands from the Orange Order to its political representatives serve a reactionary agenda in all its forms providing foot soldiers and henchmen for the ruling class and its armed wing via decades of collusion- a threat to any progressive movement that espouses real freedom and social equality.

Recently, the public has subsidized the opening of two new Orange Order museums costing 3.6 million pounds(2) It must be remembered that even while membership of the Orange Order is declining, that Loyalism should not be seen as the embodiment nor representative of the protestant working class and pandering to monolithic brands such as PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community needs to be challenged because this only solidifies reactionary elements led by the xenophobic, homophobic and sexist DUP and loyalist paramilitaries hungry to maintain their influence and power. Continuing tensions and conflicts between ‘big-house’ unionism and ‘loyalism’, which at times is a fractured relationship rather than a homogenous one needs to be exacerbated based on class politics.

Earlier this year Sinn Fein who have long ago abandoned any notion of progressive republicanism and now openly embrace austerity and their imperialist friends from Westminster to Washington, played the sectarian card to win votes in North Belfast citing there “a majority of 1,305 nationalists” in the constituency. (3) This was not the first time nor the last in which some shades of republicanism have embraced the sectarian narrative in an ‘Ireland of equals.’

The northern state is irreformable but that is not to say that that things aren’t changing at a grassroots level. The growing support for same sex marriage, abortion rights and workers struggles shows that they are - but such changes will never be adequately reflected at an institutional level. A movement for equality and revolutionary transformation must be in opposition to these institutions and the ruling class they protect.

Quite clearly the future for any sustained working class resistance to class robbery in the form of ‘austerity’ across the sectarian divide is quite bleak as long as we pander to sectarian forces and remain captive to the politics of fear and scaremongering that is promoted and fostered by those in power for their own selfish and strategic interests.

In this vacuum the wider left and labour movement needs to step up to the challenge and provide a principled alternative which provides a gateway towards transcending the zero sum game of sectarianism and imperialism.

The continuing imposition of flags and marking of territory represent a sectarian reality that cannot be swept under the carpet as it is helping to gloss over class conflict by providing a useful distraction for an unprecedented austerity programme of privatization, cuts to public services, workplace/welfare rights which were won through struggle over many years.

Meanwhile, the British state with their junior partners at Stormont are plunging working class communities into deeper levels of poverty, deprivation, rising cost of living and job insecurity - continuing the savage neo-liberal agenda of successive governments. Our response needs to be pro-active and aggressive because being right is not enough in a society built on protecting the wealth and privilege of the ruling class.

WORDS: Sean Matthews