Belfast Telegraph

We're still waiting on leadership... and not from X Factor wannabees

By Lindy McDowell

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Or in the case of the flag street protests, cometh Jamie Bryson. We don't know a whole lot about the background of this self- appointed champion of the flag but what is immediately clear is that he's not exactly Winston Churchill, Jamie. Is he?

Bryson (below) is one of a smattering of new faces churned up by the turmoil representing the leadership of what Billy Hutchinson has fatuously claimed to be a "people's revolution". What we know about Jamie Bryson, who is in his early 20s, is that a few years ago he ran (unsuccessfully) for election to North Down Council on a "community" ticket, that he sees himself as a bit of a preacher and has published a booklet on Christianity.

During a recent web chat he was asked why he'd shaken hands with Martin McGuinness when he met the former IRA commander a couple of years ago. Bryson replied: "I shook his hand because if Jesus could let Judas kiss him I am sure I could shake hands with Martin McGuinness."

This self-comparison with the magnanimity of Christ would suggest that Jamie does not suffer overly in the low self- esteem department. He exudes a barely repressed excitement that his time in the spotlight has finally arrived. He's the panting political equivalent of the deluded X Factor wannabee about to blow us away with his hitherto hidden talent. The mix of religious fundamentalism and political ambition might suggest a Bryson recycling of the Paisley template. But Jamie isn't a replica Big Man of Ulster politics. He's a 21st century Wee Man.

The protests have also spotlighted a couple of other newcomers amid the usual "community activists" and Willie Fraser, whose odd obsession with Dublin remains unabated (never mind Loving Ulster, does Willie truly Love Dublin?)

One is the much more articulate (than Jamie anyway) Jonny Harvey who has gone from UPV (Ulster Protestant Voice) to PUP (voice-piece of the UVF.) Then there's youthful Wayne Gilmore who may mature politically but frankly still sounds like a wean.

Asked about the shameful TV footage of an elderly man angrily denouncing the jeering yobs preventing him from getting to the hospital bedside of his dying wife, Wayne launched into a heartless riff about that's what protests do, they disrupt. In fairness he did say it was wrong not to have let the man through. But, like a DRD spokesman during a burst water mains emergency, he also pompously opined that during the hours of street protest "we are advising that people seek alternative routes." As if this may not have occurred to the desperate pensioner.

It's all utterly despicable: the anguish caused to people trying to reach hospitals or attend funerals, medical staff being held up at barricades, police officers being attacked, working-class areas being devastated.

Surely the decent honourable people in those areas (by far the majority) deserve better than this? Better than Jamie and Jonny and Wayne? And come to that, better than Peter and Mike?

The flag issue which sparked the protests/riots has, mistakenly, been interpreted as something which has rankled exclusively working-class unionism. In fact, it's raised hackles throughout all sections of a unionist community dismayed at what it sees as dismissal of its many real and legitimate concerns. Why have these concerns not been addressed by the leaders of mainstream unionism who must be aware of them?

The two main parties appear to be more bothered about the dangers of rocking the peace process boat. Or the destabilisation of the Stormont gravy train.

Because the protests/riots have been confined to working-class areas, the media spotlight currently focuses upon the unionist working class. Or the loyalist "lower orders" to use the dubious phrase of one commentator. Has there ever been a section of our community so traduced, let down, stigmatised and derided? The unionist working class is pilloried by the posh and, just as bad, patronised by the socialist left. It's portrayed as poor yet somehow privileged. There's old-fashioned talk about Big House unionism as if every Prod has a corresponding Downton Abbey and that hoary old backhanded inference that unionist working-class voters stupidly kowtowed down the years to what they perceived to be their "betters".

As a product of council house unionism myself I believe that there's not a hair of difference between the experience of the unionist and the nationalist working man and woman.

The division in this community that should have been tackled post-Agreement has been allowed to fester. That nothing was done to address this is one of the great failures of "the process". It has led us to where we are today. We have been let down by the self-serving lot of them. By all our leaders.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman)? We're still waiting.


From Belfast Telegraph