Loyalism and paramilitarism are two different things, says Jamie Bryson
Loyalism is not a byword for paramilitarism, blogger and commentator Jamie Bryson has said.
And many former paramilitaries are now committed to working for peaceful change in their communities, the loyalist added.
Mr Bryson was responding to points raised by commentators in the Belfast Telegraph last weekend in reaction to his earlier comments on his Unionist Voice website suggesting that Northern Ireland was a cold house for loyalists.
Barrister and former UK Unionist leader Bob McCartney, PUP Belfast councillor Dr John Kyle, author Ruth Dudley Edwards, former SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, historian Philip Orr, commentator and former UUP director of communications Alex Kane, and journalist Malachi O'Doherty contributed to the debate in Saturday's newspaper.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Bryson said: "A number of contributors raised challenges, especially around the perceived linkage with paramilitarism. I would strenuously point out loyalism is not a byword for paramilitarism. The conventional view ignores the reality that many loyalists who had active roles in proscribed groups are now wholly committed to peaceful activism, driving positive transition within their communities.
"I think the language around such transition - such as assertions that groups should 'disappear' - puts forward simplistic and unworkable solutions to a complex social problem. Loyalist organisations are made up of human beings who are part of loyalist communities; where is it suggested they should disappear to?
"If persons are bound by a shared history and friendships developed over many decades, how is it proposed that you forcibly decommission people's minds to break that social cohesion?"
He said the IRA did not disappear: "They simply transitioned their military structures across to political, community and civic activism. There was no such pathway for loyalist combatants, given political parties linked to such groups enjoyed only limited success."
He continued: "The real challenge is for former armed loyalist groups to dismantle military structures and use the social cohesion that has grown from them to effect positive change."
Mr Bryson said he wished to challenge the "blanket criminalisation of loyalist communities by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force". He accused it of "seeing crime and loyalism through the same lens and thus feeding the alienation within sections of the loyalist community".
He said he supported "the pursuit of all crime" but objected to "attempts to portray loyalism corporately as little more than a criminal enterprise".
Mr Bryson said Malachi O'Doherty and Ruth Dudley Edwards had made "valid points around internal loyalist suspicion of the media" which must be addressed "in order that we can showcase a confident and a rticulate brand of loyalism".