Loyalists have not been “neglected” at all

It is not quite what Jonathan Powell said, nor what he meant, but there is an on-going development of a nonsensical narrative that in the decade and a half since the Agreement working-class Protestants, often referred to simply as Loyalists, have been “neglected”. This is not only untrue, it is fundamentally part of the very system of political self-empowerment of the few at the expense of the many which has resulted in many inner-city majority-Protestant areas becoming increasingly isolated. As ever, leftie voluntary sector types should know better than to buy into this false narrative!

On the contrary, inner-city areas of NI have received more spending per head than any other part of the UK; masses of extra funding came through EU Regional Aid, other European programmes, US and international funds, and from elsewhere. As a result, new community centres, IT suites, sports facilities and so on have sprung up; and many activities have been provided by taxpayers’ money (and not always even UK taxpayers at that), typically free of charge in majority Protestant areas (in fact, these usually attract a charge in majority Catholic areas). This is a serious peace dividend – the fact it hasn’t really turned around any communities is because, by and large, it was misdirected and wasted. It is not because it didn’t exist!

Inner-city majority-Protestant areas suffer much the same type of social isolation as any other across the British Isles, particularly in post-industrial cities. Family and community breakdown, lack of education, worklessness, indebtedness and addiction play out in much the same way in the estates of Greater Belfast as they do in Liverpool or Glasgow or Newcastle upon Tyne. One fundamental barrier to the problem is gangsterism (what we call “paramilitarism”); another barrier is well-meaning people diverting heaps of resources in a sporadic, untargeted way; and a third barrier is less well-meaning people (typically seeking votes or funding) deliberately creating “client communities” of people by promising them the world, citing a “bogey man” (all too easy in NI), but never actually doing anything to reverse the community’s decline.

Note that none of this constitutes “neglect”. In all post-industrial cities, the first barrier is the elephant in the room – by buying into the gangs rather than seeking to break them up, funders (most obviously the government) ended up feeding part of the problem. The second barrier is the way funding is distributed – in an essentially completely haphazard and short-termist way in which even the best third sector organisations end up spending half their time filling in funding applications (or subsequent audits) rather than actually doing the work; and the third of course is the deliberate way in which people who benefit from having poor communities in their midst (not least politicians) have sought to create “issues” (such as flags) while ignoring the real fundamental challenges – such as an ill-fitting education system, absence of skills, inability to budget effectively, and rising levels of addiction.

How will we turn this around? As I have written elsewhere, we probably won’t bother. Most of those who are genuine about turning it around get alienated by people (often politicians) whose position would be endangered if people worked out how truly ineffective they are.

How should we turn this around? Firstly, we need to identify that gangs are fundamental to the problem, not the solution; community representatives must be elected or appointed on merit. This isn’t likely – it is too sensitive. Secondly, we need to change (and de-bureaucratise) our funding system completely, so that organisations are assessed on merit but allowed to operate in the long term (and so that all an organisation’s funding streams are audited together, once). This isn’t likely either – it would cost a few administrative posts. Thirdly, we need to elect politicians with a comprehensive grasp of the problems (and how they are interlinked), throw out all those who talk in simplistic terms of how it’s all the fault of ‘themmuns’, and actually bring some intellectual rigour (rather than sectarian hearsay) to how we tackle social isolation. You can guess how likely that is!

The narrative that Loyalists have been “neglected” is an enticing one for the very politicians and civic leaders who have failed to deliver. But it isn’t actually true – and people who really care should realise they are doing immense harm by buying into such a falsehood.


9 thoughts on “Loyalists have not been “neglected” at all

  1. David alderdice says:

    Once again, Ian, I agree entirely with your post.

  2. Cally Annett says:

    I live in loyalist west Belfast and I can assure you we haven’t seen anywhere near the level of investment that you claim we’ve received.

    What kind of democracy tolerates the shambles of SF not representing us at Westminster and we get little help from our 5 SF and one SDLP MLA.are they really going to represent and promote our area when they are opposed to our right to even live here as UK citizens.

    Streets have been knocked down and not replaced,school standards have slipped to an all time low,jobs are scarce and there are huge areas of wasteland which should be renovated and factories and proper housing built to generate the local economy

    • That’s precisely the point. You haven’t *seen* it – that’s not because it wasn’t there, but because it has been diverted away from the things which really matter (education, anti-addiction, work skills and so on).

      Our “democracy” is a sham, yet I know people from your area who will say they get more practical help from SF constituency offices than from Unionist ones. Small wonder not enough of you bother to turn out to elect a Unionist MLA, even though the numbers clearly exist to do so.

      Fundamentally, a lot of people are interested in your vote but – with few exceptions – few are really interested in your future. That’s the shame in all of this.

    • Eoin Fitzpatrick says:

      Did your part of “Loyalist West Belfast” vote for SF to represent you in Westminister? They don’t stand in Westminister for a reason, and its not just to annoy loyalists. Brilliant article Ian though.

  3. The Listener says:

    Hard hitting and sadly true! If this mess is ever going to be fixed the comfortable 40% or so of citizens in Northern Ireland should join and change political parties and vote for competent politicians, who will then lay down the necessary parameters to achieve what needs to be achieved. Whilst those who are comfortable in NI pay very little attentionto the levers of power this mess will never be cleared up.

    • harryaswell says:

      Hardly going to be Alliance though! Parsley can say what he wants, but perception is as perception does! It is “percieved” that the Working Classes are and have been neglected. NOT only Loyalists by the way, but Republicans also. The DUP and Sinn Fein have a cozy alliance, (pun intended), and will listen to noone about what they want to happen, making the arrogant mistake of presenting us with fait accompli only. Alliance is seen as a non-Unionist party now. It will be exciting times at the next elections!

      • The Listener says:

        Harryaswell, has drilled down to the sad facts. Unless the comfortable and complacent who do not vote or bother to take an interest in what passes for politics here actually stir and influence matters, the sad scene will be ever thus for some time to come.

        On the brighter side, the Executive and what passes for parliamentary debate is gradually improving, and will over a lengthy period deliver, as a younger generation populates and replaces those who naturally fade.

      • In fact, if you read the post, you’d see I largely agree.

        The whole point is that the DUP/SF cosy alliance is set up to suit politicians, not the people who need assistance.

        It goes beyond politics. We have a whole raft of funded “Third Sector” organisations, none of whom can do all the great work they could because of the bureaucratic inadequacy of funding systems; and many of whom can’t do any good work because actually they are targeting the wrong things.

        If any of us were serious about tackling any of this, we would stop voting cosily!

        It is self-evident that the Alliance Party has few of the answers either – it couldn’t possibly; it is an incredibly small organisation in practice with fewer resources than most of the aforementioned Third sector bodies!

  4. other paul says:

    I’m not sure what Jonathon Powell was thinking using an emotive word like “neglect” without having actual solid data to back it up. It’s very unhelpful in this powderkeg called NI. I think most people would certainly agree with “disenfranchised”, but I think your solutions at the end come across as far too high-minded and for the first time I find myself in agreement with @harryaswell (apart from the DUP/SF cosy alliance).
    I sort-of think that at least some of the DUP/SF cohort are trying to make the assembly work, but are hindered by the electioneering of the SDLP/UUP/Alliance parties. It’s an early democracy and the rules are being made up as we go along so it was never going to be smooth. But the last paragraph of your blog almost reads like frustration at being outmanoeuvred politically by “mere” gang-members.

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