There will never be peace in Northern Ireland

As the Twelfth of July approaches, Bertie Ahern’s peace in the North looks as phony as his economic miracle.

I know I won’t win any popularity for posting this but I believe there will never be peace in Northern Ireland.

I say it as someone who detests the Nation Once Again nationalists, and the aggressive Provos selling an Phoblacht in Dublin pubs.  The Póg mo Thóin patriots turn my stomach.  I say it as someone who refuses to stand up for the national anthem just because some some bunch of leipreacháns decide it’s time to finish their gig.  I say it as someone who couldn’t give a rat’s arse if there was ever a united Ireland.

I simply say it as a fact.

Remove the people from it and look at the system.

Take a rational approach to the problem, detached and untroubled by preconceptions.

No logical study of any phenomenon would arbitrarily exclude facts about that phenomenon.   If you had to examine a chemical reaction, you would never say that half the equation was irrelevant because it was too old.  No mathematician would ever suggest beginning half-way through a proof.

And yet, in the Northern Ireland issue, we’re invited to ignore much of the history and to focus on the present.  Nobody has quite defined the stage in history when it would be appropriate to cut off our attention because these days our discussion of such matters has been influenced by the unreality-field generated by two consummate liars: Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

But the fact is we can’t ignore the process by which our current situation came about.  This is especially so when one party to the conflict is so deeply rooted in the past.

The loyalist community has never moved away from its origins as an invading force.  It has never ceased to see itself as something separate from the indigenous Irish, and continues to assert its British identity.  It has never ceased to regard the locals as inferior and deserving of subjugation.

This attitude comes from within the loyalist community, which celebrates, every 12th July, its conquest of the native Irish and feels no embarrassment about proclaiming its otherness.

If I say these loyalist people are not Irish, I don’t in any way reject them.  I simply repeat their own words.  This is what they themselves believe, although they and their ancestors have lived here for 300 – and in some cases 400 – years.  Of course, to facilitate this mass settlement, local people had to be displaced and defeated.  That’s the reality of plantation, whether it takes place in Ulster, North America or Israel.

Since that time, loyalism has never seen itself as anything but a movement of colonists and invaders, which is a great pity.

This may be your land, loyalism says, and the place names may be Gaelic, but we own it now and we’ll hold it by force of arms.

I wish they had a more conciliatory attitude to the Irish, and I wish they had integrated, but unfortunately, they didn’t, and it seems they never will.

Let’s take an objective look at the problem.

Are the Irish so aggressive that they’d launch attacks on their neighbouring island for no reason?


Would the Irish, left to their own devices, have produced the murderous Provos?

Clearly not.

If the Loyalists had found common cause with the Irish, would we have seen violent republicanism?

Plainly not.

Would the Irish have assimilated the loyalists?

Certainly, as history shows.

However, Irish history is dominated by the last three hundred years, in the minds of the  indigenous Irish and those who colonised the land.  Both are obsessed with religious affiliation as a marker of their faction, even though neither have any particular religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

This creates a bizarre situation where the Irish Protestants and Catholics whose alignment preceded the Ulster Plantations find themselves pushed into the same corners as the newcomers.

Neither the old Irish catholics nor the old Irish Protestants are the problem, however.

The real problem lies in the siege mentality of those who have never ceased to think of themselves as invaders and conquerors.  The problem will never go away until the loyalists free themselves of those mental chains and start to view the rest of humanity as equals, instead of enemies to be kept down in their own land by force of British arms.

I don’t say that as a rabid nationalist because, as any regular reader will know, I think nationalism is a curse.  I say it as a rational human being.

I can’t see the loyalists ever regarding the indigenous Irish as equals, and that’s why I think there will never be real peace in Ireland.   They will always think of themselves as the invaders, and therefore will always be looking over their shoulders.

What a shame.

45 thoughts on “There will never be peace in Northern Ireland

  1. Though I’m certainly no expert on the politics of Northern Ireland, I’ll have to agree with the points laid out here.

    With one exception:

    Are the Irish so aggressive that they’d launch attacks on their neighbouring island for no reason? No.

    Well, we raided Britain often enough in the Dark Ages. From about 460 A.D. on, we spent every weekend over there looking for slaves (from whence St. Patrick). I think I only heard about it indirectly though the various retellings of Tristan and Iseult–it wasn’t mentioned in history class.

    Anyway, I suppose slavery is a good enough reason to launch an attack on a neighbouring island.


  2. Excellent article Bock.
    “This attitude comes from within the loyalist community, which celebrates, every 12th July, its conquest of the native Irish and feels no embarrassment about proclaiming its otherness.”
    …this reflects the stiff neck that will not allow for change. Truly a shame. My NIre (non-loyalist) friends are want to talk of it, but are still hoping for peace.
    I’m slowly trying to learn the ins and outs of things your way, and appreciate your writings. I grew up hearing of why my mother’s family left Ulster: religious and political turmoil and how they wanted a new and better life. Of course, I think they applied some of what they learned there to the plantation mentality of the American south. :( Strange how things are connected, at least in part with attitudes and culturally.

  3. Bock,
    I tend to agree with you view on Nationalism being a dead duck and not woth a fuck to anyone, as Capitalism is what rules both our and Brithish lives now, we both have the same enemy, they are the governments and banks that even during the troubles caused most of the problems (not lending or respecting one end of a community instead of open door policies), but I have to disagree with your view on Ireland not doing the same- We need only look at how pissy and Clanish we become when Dublin/Limerick/Cork or whomever get slagged off, it becomes solely us and them, those bastards from Dublin have it too easy, those culchies from Limerick are all knackers and so on, when Ireland and more so Irish people living on the Island of Ireland realise that we’re all flesh and blood and where you come from as far as North/South/East or West is geographical and not life changing. People need to get over themselves, I’m a Dub, I’ve slagged off every other county for fun and sometimes through anger but we Irish only respect our Irishness when we go away from this land, then we’re all Paddy’s pulling together. It seems that this disunity suits everyone, competition is key, if everyone hates everyone else then people make money, not me and you, but banks/politicians and so on. How can a sitting member of Dail Eireann only represent his community, do we not need to see the bigger picture.

    I stopped slagging off where people come from, its their ignorance that baffles me, and rather then slag, if you find someone who in your eyes is a worse person, well learn what makes him worse and use it to improve your own life. Loyalists showing such loyalty to a Queen and family who’s cost their state 39million pounds last year just show their ignorance to the rest of the world. You’ll not find many Loyalists reading your blog because most are busy illiterately reply to Sky Sports comment pages calling Irish posters every name under the sun.


    No disrespect to Limerick/Cork or anyone else.

  4. Cycles of violence are linked to economic downturns, so I suspect with the City of London Spivs in control in the UK and the banker’s molls in control here, we will see an increase in violence.

    You are right, there is no resolution to a conflict based on historical identity.

  5. wrap the green flag around me’ and bring on the queen’ the times they are a changing sorry bock

  6. The Loyalists I met while living in Belfast (and from the books I have read) largely consider themselves British AND Irish. They argue that a man in Scotland is both Scottish and British so why can’t a man in Northern Ireland claim to be [Northern] Irish and British?

    Don’t forget that Irish Protestants are also descended from pre-16th century “natives” that eventually converted.

  7. Andrew — I did make that point in the post about the Irish Protestants who have never been in any doubt as to their Irish identity. Are you talking about loyalists or unionists?

    What I’m talking about here are people who absolutely reject any suggestion of being Irish and who openly celebrate their victories over the locals that led to so much suffering through the generations.

    What I’m talking about here is a particular mindset that sees itself in a direct line of descent from the original planters. Read de Tocqueville’s account of his travels through Ireland in the 1830s, his descriptions of the dreadful conditions in which the peasantry lived, and the popular perception of the Orange Men’s role in keeping those peasants down. It’s not a proud tradition to be celebrating, and neither the 11th night bonfires nor the Lambeg drums are a celebration of a peaceful culture. They’re about reminding the natives of their place.

  8. Surely the Catholics in NI are not typically Irish. Otherwise they would not have declared war on the Protestants but rolled over on their backs and accepted NAMA, the smoking ban, the crap health service,the crooked politicians and all the other gombeen rubbish.

  9. Are not the British Protestants ? Why did they declare themselves prisoners of war ?

  10. I believe the British may have many different religions and denominations: Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Rastafarian and many more besides.

  11. There are those who, for the greater good, choose to live in peace, albeit with differences. Then there are those who are of a mindset set that they must possess power and control at all costs. Or, is their belief of superiority based on secret fears of inferiority?
    …so, do you think the peaceful Prods, and non-denoms. can have no influence on the Orange ‘cousins’?

  12. I don’t know. I can’t speak for Prods or Catholics since I’m neither one nor the other.

    However, the loyalist mindset is firmly rooted in a past time of injustice, when indigenous people were expelled and killed to make way for the new settlers. This happens all the time, all over the world, but the victors don’t usually continue to taunt the defeated for three hundred years. They do, however, despise those they have taken from, as we saw in Australia, South Africa and the US, among many others. The problem the NI Irish have is that they’re white.

    Could you imagine annual marches in America celebrating the Wounded Knee massacre or the corralling of the Plains Indians?

    There’s an old saying. Never kick a man when he’s down — he might get up.

    In my opinion the loyalists know that what they celebrate was an injustice, and their discomfort with that knowledge has festered over the centuries, damaging their society at a deep psychological level. The sooner they stop celebrating ethnic cleansing, the sooner everyone will find peace.

  13. Hi Bock
    As I`m sure you know the orange order style themselves as the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. They also consider themselves as loyalists. I know that this may be hard to get your head around., but it is worth thinking about.
    I agree with the view that we may never have peace in the north. But the orange order are only one part of the problem. Segregation in housing and more importantly apartheid in education are at the heart of the matter. The vested interests( Politicians, churchmen, teachers and civil servants) that run education have too much to loose if the kids in the north are educated together.

  14. Mel — That’s a hangover from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which was also in the name of the Conservative party.

    The Ireland in the title is the geographical entity, not the cultural identity.

    As regards housing, the trend towards segregation is driven by the people who have clustered with their own.

    Incidentally, and ironically, the majority of attacks on foreigners are taking place in loyalist areas because of their suspicion towards immigrants!

  15. At the heart of the loyalist attitude is a deep sense of insecurity.The marches and drum beating is not so much about showing the natives who’s boss but more about reassuring themselves that they are.Their victory over the native Irish was never a total victory only a partial one.And a victory which has left them feeling isolated and under siege.While I detest much of their views and actions I do however respect their straighforwardness and honesty when speaking.Very difficult to see how they could ever fit into the Gombeen “culture” in Dail Eireann for example.

  16. You’re absolutely right about the straightforward nature of the Northern unionist folk, but I must emphasise that this is about loyalism. Unionism is an entirely different matter.

  17. Wiliam has it fairly right Bock.
    The notion of loyalsm should be examined. Loyality to what, a flag, a Germanic dynasty, tea on the lawn? The notion of loyalty to a flag is fairly transparent, be it a union jack or a tricolour. We have all witnessed the flag waving halfwits, on both sides in the north. What they do when they finish their coat trailing, I don`t know. A wise man once said ” You cannot eat a flag”
    No different to many societies the loyalty is to the gravy train.
    Over 60% of jobs in the north are in the state or semi -state sector, funded by the westminister government. Thats what loyalism is.Loyalty to the greenback. The same stupid loyalism that prompted the electorate in the Republic to vote Bertie and his kebal of crooks back into power in 2007.
    The majority of those on the gravy train in the north (nationalist or loyalist) would be horrified at the prospect of a United Ireland, a federal Europe or anything that would affect their standard of living.

  18. The loyalists look to the Crown above everything else, but I don’t believe the majority of them are on any gravy train. In fact, it was the realisation that grassroots loyalists were so disadvantaged that persuaded the likes of David Irvine and Billy Hutchinson to think again about what they were doing.

  19. Pre-1916-1922 everyone thought of themselves as Irish. Protestants are a minority, both on the island of Ireland and in the UK and as far as they’re concerned the cry of ” Home Rule is Rome Rule” was accurate and they’re now blamed for being correct in their analysis. The dodgy excuses of nationalist or republican politicians that the decline in numbers of protestants in the Republic being partially down to the Ne Temere Decree is so much tosh as no civil law was enacted to counteract it. The application of the language requirement for government jobs one nanosecond after independence was deemed sectarian by Noel Brownes wife in her autobiography “Thanks for the tea Mrs Brown ” In the early ’70’s the IRA knocked on the doors of protestants in the republic and told them ……. ” if the BBC or anyone interviews you be sure and tell them how well you’re treated here in the South ” ! Imagine that. Last year Batt O’Keeffe decided that Protestant schools didn’t deserve a further grant-in -aid and the most that the supposedly new, groovy Ireland had to offer by way of defending its one and only minority was a mumble that schooling should be secular.
    Criticism of loyalism is predicated upon the ridiculous notion that you can go into a two up two down industrial slum in the republic and get a nuanced response to political events but all you’ll get in a corresponding loyalist area in the North is violence. Crap, if I may be so bold.

  20. Bock I am disappointed at your approach on this matter. You make no attempt to understand loyalism in its broader form.
    Let me say I am no apologist for sectarianism in any shape, form or size. However this doesn`t mean I don`t need to understand what drives people to nail their colours to the mast in such an irrational manner.
    You are right that Hutchinson and Irvine made their mark and to me their approach made a lot of sense. Sadly however they were rejected in the main by most loyalists. They hardly made a dent in the DUP vote.

    My earlier point was that loyalism ( protection of the status quo) is validated by the actions of those in positions of power in the Northern Ireland establishment. Equal Opportunity legislation over the last 20 years has ensured that approximately 50 % of these positions are held by catholics. This coupled with the institutionalism of apartheid in education and the jobs that go with it, not to mention the jobs for the boys the Shinners have taken on government bodies, means that many catholics are “loyal” to status quo.

    This loyalism may not be overt. However it does help in understanding why most nationalists in the north are tolerant of the antics of the Loyalist halfwits for a week or two every summer.

  21. The post ysn’t about understanding why people do things. It’s about the component parts of a system. It’s amazing how people always read things that aren’t there.

  22. … it was the realisation that grassroots loyalists were so disadvantaged that persuaded the likes of David Irvine and Billy Hutchinson to think again about what they were doing

    I hate that word ‘disadvantaged’. It hides what’s really going on. Why not use a word that accurately describes the situation? Like oppressed? Or abused? They are not disadvantaged in the way england’s soccer team is disadvantaged (by being rubbish), they are deliberately oppressed and abused by their masters.

    In the early ’70?s the IRA knocked on the doors of protestants in the republic and told them ……. ” if the BBC or anyone interviews you be sure and tell them how well you’re treated here in the South ” ! Imagine that.

    I can’t imagine that, because it is the most absurd thing I have ever read. My eyes are literally burning at the stupidity of the assertion. You’re claiming that the IRA knocked on the doors of protestants (what? all of them?) and issued media talking points? Are you on drugs?

    Last year Batt O’Keeffe decided that Protestant schools didn’t deserve a further grant-in -aid and the most that the supposedly new, groovy Ireland had to offer by way of defending its one and only minority was a mumble that schooling should be secular.

    This is actually true, but Batt O’Keeffe is a prick, so if the LVF want to whack him, I’m OK with that. Point of information though, protestants are not Ireland’s one and only minority.

  23. I asked several Protestant friends what they thought of that claim about the IRA. I’m afraid none of them ever heard of it.

    However, I wish people would realise that this post isn’t about Protestants, Catholics or Muslims.

    The posts on the Catholic church and the republic are also on this site and anyone can read them at their leisure, but this one is about loyalism.

  24. Totally ridiculous posting. Why do you bother? So you don’t like A Nation Once Again. Big deal. There will be one 32 county united Ireland because it is morally, historically and democratically the right thing to do. Whinging bloggers notwithstanding.

  25. There are a million people who are prepared to fight and die not to be a part of it.

  26. Clanrickard — You don’t like my opinion? Tough.

    I love this. A knee-jerk republican objecting to a post that criticises loyalists.

  27. I didn’t say your post was crap. I said that the assumption from which much of criticism of loyalism originates ie. that there’s a particularily violent response which is unique to loyalism is crap. There was nothing sophisticated about PIRA either in their gestation or methodology which would allow anyone to seperate them from their loyalist counterparts. That they suceeded is down to the endless repitition of their mantra… “we are not sectarian”
    which was swallowed hook line and sinker by the more gullible of their supporters in the 26. I am not shilling for protestant fundies and their thug paramititaries by the way.

  28. Look. We’ve had posts about Provos and we’ve had posts about governments. Why can’t you let this one be about loyalists in their own right, without having to compare them to anyone else?

  29. Defender. Not aggressor. Defender of the Protestants against the onslaughts of the priest-ridden hordes etc etc.
    And what’s a ” chip shop ” ? That I might be on my guard , that is .

  30. Bock,

    I’ve just come across your site (does Slugger O’Toole have a link I have not noticed?) and thank you for what you have created here.

    And as a loyalist Irishman (yep, Irish and British, like Scottish and British) I am intrigued by one assertion you make: that Loyalists don’t consider the Irish/Nationalist/Catholic population equal. Its not equality that loyalists object to. Its not tolerance, or indeed integration. The current power-sharing government that’s staggering day by day into a slightly better future should lead you away from such assertions . Loyalists just don’t want to not be part of the UK. The alternative, being part of a United Ireland, is deemed inferior (even with the great leaps and bounds that EU membership – and its attendant laws about human rights – may have delivered for the ROI).

    Much like a Norwegian would consider being part of Sweden inferior, but would not quibble with the idea that a Norwegian and a Swede are equal human beings, or have equally valid Nations – so Loyalists consider living in a United Ireland as a deeply inferior fate.

    I have one identity, and I do realise the absurdity of how the next bit sounds, but I push it out nevertheless -my one identity is Loyalist, Irish and British. And i’m as proud of my Irishness as i am of the other two parts that make up who I am.

    And to the blogger who mentioned education: Northern Ireland has had something of a revolution in education due to the good souls behind integrated schools, of which we now have dozens at every stage of a child’s life (despite the protestations of the Catholic Church and unreconstructed Loyalists). I had the good fortune to go to one. The only downside to integrated education, for me at least, is that all my best friends in Ireland / Northern Ireland are now all catholic.

  31. Leslie — Strange. I would have considered your position as unionist rather than loyalist.

    I’m always intrigued by loyalists describing themselves as British, since NI was never part of Britain. It’s part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (originally GB and Ireland since the Act of Union, and before that, simply Ireland).

  32. Well, maybe, but I reckon that behind every Unionist rib-cage is the heart of a loyalist – which is why the DUP managed to usurp the Official Unionists in almost every major constituency. Of that i am sure, although I was somewhat surprised when my own* die-hard loyalist constituency of East Belfast (99 per cent loyalist), voted the multi-cultural Alliance in at the last general election, heaping further problems on our very own gombeen, Peter Robinson.

    With regards to the (rather pedantic) point about loyalists describing themselves as British – British is the cultural affiliation, the identity moniker. In technical terms, yes, you are right, i am the citizen (subject!) of the UK but not of Great Britain. But you wouldn’t raise the issue if a person from the Isle of Man said he was British, or a (tax dodging) Jersey chap described himself as British. Further afield, many Europeans and Dutch folk refer to the Netherlands as Holland – a common but unofficial title for the whole country.

    To further confuse matters for you – my mother refuses both Irish and British as descriptive political terms and wont even accept Northern Ireland as a description of her polity. She’s from Ulster!

    * I now live in London

  33. I’m not trying to be pedantic about it. In these situations, descriptions are important, and I think I would question a Manx person or somebody from the Channel Islands if they called themselves British by virtue of where they live.

    Of course, if they claimed to be British because their ancestors in an unbroken line derived from Britain, that would be a different matter.

    In any case all this is slightly off the point, because the post was about that strand of loyalism that takes a triumphalist line towards the natives and that celebrates its status as the conquering invader. We see many examples of that.

  34. It is pedantic because its a technical issue that adds nothing to knowledge or insight.

    But, back to your point, that there will be no peace in Northern Ireland – who can say for sure? But the goal of the as-yet-not-derailed peace process is that there can indeed be peace. We just cant address every single fundamental issue (for issue read dreadful problem) all at once.

    Can we morph loyalism into something less triumphant? Probably, over time. But, that will also require everyone to accept that no-one can clam any victory as we build a Northern Ireland with institutions that receive legitimacy from the vast majority of all the people – and a civil society evolves with these institutions. Despite the best efforts of the latest IRA splitters – and a renegade batch of Orange-folk, we are still making slow progress.

    You could do your part by trying to view Loyalists differently. If i had arrived yesterday in Ireland and set up home in Belfast with 1m other folks, please, call me and mine a conquering bunch of invaders. But after four centuries (or, if you like, 1000 years) of unbroken cultural affiliation with GB, that notion looks decidedly weak. Northern Ireland has been British longer than most nation states on earth have existed.

  35. Leslie — I’m not calling your people a conquering bunch of invaders. I’m taking issue with the people who see themselves that way.

    On the other point, there’s a sizeable group in the North who would not consider it British, and they’re not being pedantic.

  36. From information I’ve gathered in talking to Loyalists down through the years, the one thing that they are loyal to is their own community and ‘Ulster’. History has shown that they would side with Britains enemies if they thought the British government might betray their way of life as the Larne gun run showed. Many loyalists detest the British government as much as any northern republican would. They do show affection towards the royal family however and respect that institution. They have the most respect for the British armed forces. This is the main cultural link. Many July 12 marches are remembrances for war dead. This is because their people have been active members of this institution since way back in the time of the millitia’s.

    I would disagree with your suggestion Bock that loyalism has always seen itself separate from the ‘natives’. Back in the day the penal laws also discriminated against Presbyterians who make the largest Protestant denomination in the north. During the 1798 rebellion, one of the largest battalions of United Irishmen was raised in Co. Antrim and consisted mostly of Presbyterians. The British realised that their Anglican ascendancy would be in trouble if they didn’t repel the penal laws, so emancipation for non-Anglicans was granted at the price of the act of union of 1801 to ensure that even with emancipation, Anglicans remained in charge of the country but Presbyterians were now in the loop and were satisfied with the new deal.

    The separatism that exists today is a product of 20th century politics. It suited both sides to see themselves as ‘not the other’. It carved a wedge between the sides and polarised the communities. The sectarian carve-up of Ireland in the 20’s ensured two sectarian states which were only interested in their majority. The minority faction in each state could go fuck themselves. Since the percentage on both sides was a lot closer in the north than in the south, the unionist regime was able to use this and the IRA’s ill fated border campaign to scare up support for their privileged status and keep themselves in power. Loyalists from the day will tell you that the only time they saw their local unionist politician was on the back of a trailer come close to election time pontificating about fenian plots to rape and murder their Protestant way of life.

    One last factor is knakerism/chavism/spiv-ism. Destructive youth from disadvantaged areas are a common site in most British and Irish towns. If under peace time you can see factions forming and fighting between towns or even within the same town, imagine adding something like the Troubles to the mix.

    Ireland will be united one day under the United States of Europe and the (4th, 5th?) ascendancy of faceless EU bureaucrats will rule over us all. They will measure our bananas (oh matron) and do their best to turn us into the bland automatons prophesied in Terry Gilliam ‘s ‘Brazil’. And De Niro won’t be able to save us because he can’t even save his own career these days.

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