Editor's Viewpoint: Loyalism needs to find a new voice
Published 24/11/2011 | 08:00
Many people will agree with UDA leader Jackie McDonald when he describes young loyalists as more interested in getting drunk or high on drugs than in their future prospects.
As a man from the mean streets of working - or non-working - class Protestant communities he knows very well what goes on there. What he is describing is a sector of society being left behind in the new Northern Ireland and seemingly unable to find any positive role for itself beyond the gangsterism and violence of the remaining paramilitary rumps.
Unlike republicans, loyalists were never trying to build anything or aim towards any goal. Their role, if indeed there was any role, was simply to protect Ulster from its enemies. When the threat of armed republicanism receded, loyalism found itself out in the cold and the former enemies in government, a bitter irony which they still cannot really fathom or accept.
While Jackie McDonald is something of a loyalist poster-boy given his high-profile friendship with former Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, he is desperately trying to find a relevant role for the people like himself who grew up in the ranks of paramilitaries and for the younger generation of loyalists who see no investment in their areas and little future and who do not have the skills to alter their situation. And he is working on the ground to cement the peace process.
Since the decline of the Progressive Unionist Party, loyalism has had little or no authentic political voice.
Loyalism needs another David Ervine, a figure who can speak with the credibility gained on the streets and who has a passion to improve the lot of those who feel forgotten.
It needs friends at Stormont and it needs action in its decaying strongholds. If loyalism cannot see, or gain, a future beyond gangsterism and violence then that is a recipe for disaster for that community, and maybe even wider afield.