A loyalist activist has said that unionism “needs to have a look at itself” in terms of female representation and how it treats women both in politics and society.
Shankill activist Stacey Graham was speaking ahead of the launch of Let’s Talk Loyalism, a new forum to amplify the voices of young loyalists across Northern Ireland.
The project to be launched this weekend, aims to focus on voices that have otherwise been marginalised in the mainstream political discourse.
“We can’t wait around on change coming from the top down, so we want to create change from the ground up, giving a voice to the grassroots of loyalism”, she said.
Ms Graham said what started as a platform for loyalists to speak up has quickly grown into a much bigger project.
“It was originally an idea for an online platform to post articles and blogs but we are now looking at policy research, looking at issues such as academic selection and academic underachievement and even housing issues and how that impacts the loyalist community.
“We’ve also plans for workshops and educational projects around loyalist culture with panel talks, hopefully bringing those to schools and youth groups in the future.
“While this is just the beginning, it’s very exciting, we want to dispel those negative stereotypes and show there is a good side to loyalism, to show that rather than the negative.
“In one of the launch videos I talk about what my loyalism is and what it means to me, the importance of stepping up, speaking out and creating a path for others to do the same.
“We want to bring together a cross section of unionism, who may have different political and social views but the one thing that unites us is that we want to stay in the United Kingdom”.
Ms Graham said in terms of who replaces Arlene Foster, “I think it’s completely irrelevant, it doesn’t make any difference to me who the DUP leader is, I don’t feel represented by them, but that’s just my view”.
Loyalist activist Moore Holmes is one of the founders of the project. He said the next DUP leader will need to “rectify the mistakes of the past”.
“Whilst I will not hold my breath, it is easier to change the person than change the policy. The problems run much deeper than Arlene Foster, the new leader must effectively succeed where she failed.
“You can have all the best intentions, and I’ve no doubt Arlene did, but in politics mistakes have consequences. Whoever the new leader is needs to rectify those past mistakes”.
He added that Let’s Talk Loyalism was a way for those frustrated at the recent political decisions around the protocol and policing to channel that positively.
“We want to articulate loyalist perspectives and initiate positive change within the loyalist community. Loyalists across Northern Ireland are standing up and speaking out. Let’s Talk Loyalism is a vehicle to support that”.
He said that for too long loyalism has been defined or misrepresented by others. “At the heart of Let’s Talk Loyalism is communicating loyalism and enabling change in the hope that as an advocacy group, we can help equip and empower the loyalist community to build a better future,” he added.