You know what, I didn’t like the guy. I thought he was mostly words and few actions. But one thing David Ervine did do for what is commonly called “Loyalism” is he won it friends and influence. Since his passing, this has not happened at all.
Yet again yesterday, Loyalists made themselves a laughing stock. Far from being marginalised, they merely further marginalised themselves. Yet again they made an opponent look good; yet again they made objective observers swing against them; yet again they pinned themselves into a corner. There is nobody more out of touch with the reality of modern Northern Ireland than the modern Loyalist – which is why modern Northern Ireland scares them.
There really isn’t much more the rest of us can do for them. Few places have gained more from “peace money” and so on than the East Belfast interfaces – location of so much violence six months ago. One predominantly Loyalist area is about to gain from the largest state (taxpayer)-funded housing project in the British Isles. This summer, no one in NI will have had access to more free (i.e. funded by other people) programmes for kids than your average Loyalist. Combine that with free movement and so on, and you have one hell of a peace dividend if it suited anyone to point to it.
There remain horrendous problems of course. Access to education (and thus, in the future, to jobs) is a nightmare – yet that is not why the Lord Mayor was jostled in Woodvale yesterday. Indebtedness and addiction continue to blight too many young lives – yet that is not why the Lord Mayor was jostled in Woodvale yesterday. Health provision is being scaled back – yet that is not why the Lord Mayor was jostled in Woodvale yesterday.
And by the way, the Orange demonstration proceeded as normal in (80% Catholic) Derry on 12 July, which somewhat gives the lie to the notion someone is trying to restrict “British (ahem, Ulster-Loyalist) culture”.
Unfortunately, post-Ervine Loyalists have not yet come to terms with the fact they are not the majority (indeed, they are nothing near it) and thus they are not going to get their way by brute force or pure numbers. Indeed, they have a peculiar skill for turning potential supporters and sympathisers dead set against them. They are going to have to make a coherent case, based on reality and not on (politically convenient but actually erroneous) perception, and win friends and influence people with it. Otherwise the (self-imposed) marginalisation will merely continue.