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Mad Dogs and Ulster Men

9.29.2005

What with all the recent activity in the North, attention here has again moved away from the loyalist community north of the border and squarely back onto the IRA or ex-IRA or Sinn Fein on its own etc, fact is the loyalists get short shrift at editorial meetings again. However a timely essay from Stephen Howe (part1 of 2), is available on open Democracy and it details in an interesting fashion the current issues at play up North.
His first diagnosis on the coverage of the Riots which flared up across the north in recent weeks is as follows;
"Much media and political comment has “explained” the profundity and rootedness of this feeling in terms of bigotry and criminality, of archaism and atavism."
The implicit point being that such reporting evidently missed the point. The following essay, perhaps half-essay, is a more reflective attempt at giving some socio-cultural background to the events of recent years and the particular societal difficultie in loyalism they are a symptom of. Its tough going in parts, a tad detached and academic but offers a very global insight to the plight of current identity politics in Loyalism.
Deep deep sociological breakdown is cited as a major problem which struck, strikes even, at a confluence of other tense events in the North.

"De-industrialisation, demographic decline, the tendency of the more enterprising or successful to move out to the suburbs if not further afield, low rates of educational achievement and very high ones of family breakdown, petty crime, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse – all these are features which the poorer Protestant districts of Belfast, Portadown or Ballymoney share with those of Liverpool, Glasgow or Swansea, and indeed those of Dresden and Detroit."
This reading of events includes belfast in the growing litany of failing social structures which are being ravaged by the new dawn of unfettered globalisation. While it would be unfair to draw the conclusion that the riots are a direct result of global forces, indeed foolish to ascribe such power to those forces as yet, it is clear that issues affecting aspects of identity politics in Loyalist areas are common to many other major, or former, industrial giants.
The process of de-modernisation as Owen terms it, can have the very real effect of removing one or more social pillars which prop up common identity in communities. The removal of such familiar aspects by forces beyond control of the local people is a mightly dry tinder onto which to throw the peace process.

"On that level, their crisis is generic, a variant on the crisis of socio-economic modernisation which afflicts large sectors of the older industrial economies everywhere. Not only has “globalisation”, in many of its aspects and especially those which enthusiasts hail as positive, enabling, freedom-enhancing, never fully penetrated those sectors, but in a sense it has already been (it was there, for instance, when Belfast could truly claim to be at the centre of worldwide networks of trade and manufacture), offered its tantalising promises, and then gone again."
What follows is a denser examination of Loyalist sociology, not the subject matter of this post, however it is worth noting that its place in his thesis seems to be that the removal of some form of economic certainty from the indentity of Northern Loyalists, has forced the unhappy observance that similarities exist in cultural expression and now may be increasingly forced upon them in the guise of the Peace Process and cross community governance.
To simplify such conditions down to merely broad resentment at the benefits, perceived or otherwise, afforded catholics is not to do justice to the current very real identity crisis in Loyalist politics.
Identity globally is threatened by globalised popular culture, the merits of which are argued at length elsewhere, the confluence of this crippling problem with a community already insecure of its own role, relevance and security of being, is a flame waiting for oil. The Northern authorities will have their work cut out for them if they desire to truly build a community in any sense of the term, for many hurdles have been erected and not properly addressed.
The sad fact is only some of these are direct results of the troubles and subsequent peace process and therefore avoidable.
RR

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