Principles of Loyalism: An Internal Discussion Paper comes as a breath of fresh air after recent turmoil within loyalism. It is a compilation of papers prepared for the PUP and 'associated organisations' and represents a clear exposition of loyalist thinking. It reflects the rational, progressive discourse that has continued within loyalism despite negative images engendered by sectarianism, racketeering and drug dealing in sections of so-called loyalism.
It begins with an analysis of disunity pervading loyalism and suggests that disagreements over the Good Friday Agreement have split communities and families, inflicting pain and bitterness.
The impact of division was especially damaging where it could generate deadly violence. The document laments: "Our churches are divided, our political parties are divided, our loyal orders are divided, our paramilitary groups are divided." Such internal conflicts hamper possibilities of addressing the inter-community conflict.
The document considers loyalism's raison d'etre through an analysis of the 1912 Ulster Covenant, the 'birth certificate of modern Ulster'. This is a 'revolutionary document' because it suggests that the will of British citizens here "took precedence over the will of the Imperial Parliament".
However, the Ulster Covenant is primarily committed to material welfare, liberty and equal citizenship. The first principle, according to the author, is the need for a sound economic basis to facilitate the quality of
life essential to full enjoyment of liberty and equal citizenship. In this sense, unionism was built upon bread and butter issues because a successful Ulster economy required outlets available within the UK.
This first principle is expanded to include the need for a social agenda involving decent housing, gainful employment under satisfactory conditions,
adequate and free health care, efficient public services, safe healthy environments, free education and life-long learning.
Loyalists realised they had a role to play but must earn the trust of the people. They must be with the people demonstrating that their material interests are at the heart of loyalist politics. They must 'empower the loyalist people to take ownership of their
own lives and their own future'.
The second principle is civil and religious liberty which, the author
states, was always a matter of concern for Ulster Protestants and remains an essential prerequisite to a just, equitable and pluralist society. Citizens must be free to practise or not practise religion. This is regarded as a legacy of the Puritan and Glorious Revolutions of the 17th century. These
freedoms, it is admitted, were less than perfect because Catholics along with Protestant Dissenters suffered discrimination in Britain as well as under the notorious Penal Laws in Ireland. Freedom has, however, become integral to the British way of life.
The policies of the early Irish State demonstrated that Protestant fears of home rule were well founded in that the Catholic Church successfully intervened within the state.
The IRA is seen as sectarian in a specifically religious sense and Sean McBride is said to have disapproved of all Protestants. It is claimed that he organised the attack on Belfast Protestants at Bodenstown in 1934.
The suggestion is that Sinn Féin is at heart a Catholic nationalist party despite their public avowal of non-sectarian politics.
The document argues that while the south remains a confessional state this is not acceptable in the north. Instead loyalists must promote a multi-cultural, multi-faith society akin to rest of the UK. The Catholic minority suffered under a Stormont government that mirrored De Valera's 'Catholic Constitution for a Catholic Nation' and so Northern Ireland became, in David Trimble's terms, "a cold house for Catholics".
However, today north and south appear to be moving towards more equitable, pluralist societies. Loyalists must uphold everyone's rights regardless of gender, race, colour, religion, political orientation, disability, prison record or social background. All are to be treated with equality, dignity and justice.
In all of this the PUP is setting high expectations but we all know that "Without a vision the people perish."