Understanding Loyalism

ul I have a few thoughts on the protests going on at the moment which I’d like to post, but, first, I thought it would be useful to say something about Loyalism itself.  There is a lot of misunderstanding around loyalism and generalisations made about it which can be very unhelpful. I think one of the main problems is that when the media talk about Loyalism, they speak about it like it’s one thing; it’s not. Finding a definition for loyalism is problematic.
Loyalism is generally understood by many people as a militant off-shoot of unionism which is rooted in working and low-class communities. However, this is an over-simplification. It is difficult to locate a central core to loyalism outside of an allegiance to the union and the preservation of the state of Northern Ireland.  Historically, Loyalism has been too fractured and splintered to build a sustained, coherent political voice. Within Loyalism there exists a broad spectrum of political voices. These include progressive, regressive, militant, socialist, right-wing, liberal, and conservative; each contributing to their own nuanced brands of loyalist identity. The tradition of militarism within Loyalism was not distinct from the progressive elements. Some of Loyalism’s most progressive thinkers were also militarists. For example, Gusty Spence and John McMichael were both militarists who championed progressive thinking within the UVF and UDA, respectively. In addition, there are those who identify as Loyalists who reject totally the tradition of militarism. It also contains a range of religious outlooks, including the ultra-fundamentalist protestantism of British Israelites, elements of the Orange Order, and even outspoken atheism. All these variations contribute to a myriad of outlooks within the wider family of Loyalism which makes it impossible to locate a definitive version or a universally accepted nucleus.

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