This month saw the anniversary of the IRA ceasefire and on October 13 it will also be ten years on from the Combined Loyalist Military Command announced a halt to loyalist paramilitary “operational hostilities”. A decade on from both historical announcements Ulster Political Research Group members Sammy Duddy and John Bunting explain why they believe that ten years of peace has brought little benefit to the Protestant community in North Belfast

Shortly after the IRA announced its ceasefire in 1994, the Combined Loyalist Military Command, which represented the core loyalist paramilitaries, followed with a halt to what it called “operational hostilities” in a statement read out to the world’s press by Gusty Spence.

Some eight years later and just 18 months ago, the UPRG was set up in the aftermath of a bloody loyalist feud between the UDA and UVF in 2000, which would claim seven lives and saw a mass exodus from the Shankill Road.
Since its inception the matter of political cohesion for the UPRG has been hit with issues like parades, allegations of UDA drug trafficking, extortion and murder as well the British government not recognising the UDA ‘ceasefire’.
As a result of these issues and others, the North Belfast branch believe they are at a crossroads, both politically and at grass roots level.

In Sammy Duddy’s mind, the problem is not one of support levels draining away, but rather an increase in the desire for civil rebellion against what protestants see as a ‘strangulation’ of their communities in North Belfast.
According to the UPRG representative, the general perception remains that Sinn Féin has a goal to completely eradicate all vestiges of protestantism in North Belfast.

And according to John Bunting, membership to the UDA is on the increase, at a significant pace in North Belfast, with recent events in Ardoyne and Torrens, he believes behind the surge.

“Ten years after the IRA’s ceasefire, protestants admit to feeling no sense of relief in their entrenched areas,” said Sammy Duddy.

“Indeed, many have noticed very little change in their well-being. Granted loyalist and republican death-squad activity would appear to be a thing of the past and bombing incidents have been replaced by grass-root politics, but generally there is always the fear that a return to the ‘bad old days’ could easily be set in motion by the activities of dissident republicans.”

Shore Road based UPRG members Sammy Duddy and John Bunting both agree there is a common assumption that catholics numerically outweigh the number of protestants in North Belfast, despite the last census showing the balance as 51.86 per cent protestant and 44.93 per cent catholic in the Parliamentary constituency of North Belfast.

But this protestant majority is not reflected in feelings on the ground the two UPRG men say.

“Instead, they feel as if they are being walked all over,” John Bunting said.

He believes that the demographic shift outwards of families from core Nationalist bases such as Ardoyne and Cliftonville into previous Loyalist bastions, proves that protestant and loyalist families are being shunted into the surrounding hinterlands.

“The slow strangulation of protestant areas has increased over the past ten years,” John Bunting said.

“Torrens is the most recent example where the patience and forbearance of the few remaining protestants finally evaporated, and the triumphalist Tricolour was promptly hoisted in a public declaration of intent.

“That show was not missed by concerned protestants who were witnessing the gradual takeover of yet another area.

“Ask any protestant what they think of Sinn Féin and prepare yourself for an eye-opener. They say, ‘Sinn Féin is seen as the IRA in suits. They couldn’t beat the protestants in a military fashion so they altered their agenda and are now trying to defeat us politically and geographically’.

“There is no level playing field. The protestant population is being squeezed on a daily basis,” Sammy Duddy added.

“Sinn Féin has been laying down markers and earmarking protestant areas for eventual takeover. While all this is going on in an insidious manner, our ‘protectors’, the British Government, woo Sinn Féin and bend over backwards to appease them. This creates fear and suspicion in the protestant community and creates difficulties for community workers.”

There is general concern, Sammy explained that Torrens, Dunmore and other future new-build areas have already been requisitioned for catholics.

“No attempts have been made by our political representatives to address this problem. This ‘head in the sand’ attitude of our politicians has not gone unnoticed.

“When protestant churches are being taken over by catholics and turned into Irish learning classes and trauma centres it causes alarm bells to ring in the protestant community. “When did you ever hear of a catholic chapel being handed over to protestants?”

As community workers in the area, which covers the Shore Road, York Road, Ballysillan, and Westland and the men say that they find themselves in multiple job roles.

“It is like we are doing the work of our elected politicians and not getting paid to do it,” said Sammy Duddy.
“People round here traditionally vote for either the Officials [the UUP] or the DUP, but when there’s trouble and we’re called out in the middle of the night, you can bet they’re not around to calm things down.

“When all those people were moving out of Torrens, Nigel Dodds only turned up on the day they left. What was the point in that?”

As they call it, the UPRG see themselves as playing a significant active role in trying to progress the ordinary day lives of protestant families.

But when it comes to election time, they say it’s hard to change patterns of a lifetime.

“Over the years people were afraid to vote against the DUP and the UUP. That’s when they had a bit of clout.

“If you were working in the shipyards, there was no way you were going to vote against them. If you did, you’d be out of a job.

“Nowadays, people come to us for help and we do the very best that we can. But that isn’t reflected when you look at last year’s election figures. The DUP are the biggest party here, but where are they?

“We’re the only ones here working on the ground.”

Membership to the UDA is on the increase says John Bunting and points to the UDA’s show of strength on the Westland Road on the eleventh night as an example.

“The UDA is getting bigger and stronger all the time, and particularly up here,” John Bunting said.
“But it’s getting bigger for all the wrong reasons. We need to educate our children and tell them there is another way, a political way and not paramilitary.

“Education in this way is crucial. When we’re on interfaces and there is an incident, say someone’s just stoned a catholic’s house, and you ask them why they did it, and they say ‘Just because they’re a Taig’, you just shake your head. It’s all wrong, and we need to change it.

“Education of our youth is the most important task facing us today, I believe, and the worst thing is that we’re getting ignored by the British Government for funding.

“It has been said that there is too much hatred on both sides and people have long memories. Yet one of the aims of the Peace Process was to take this on board. To date there has been no inclination to grasp the nettle and that hatred is being allowed to fester and infect our children.”

Asked about the future of the UPRG, both men say they would like to see a viable and vibrant political party by at least 2008.

It appears that a slowly, slowly option is being considered – at a conference of the UPRG last weekend, members agreed that they were not ready to field more candidates in the projected May 2005 local council elections.
“We are still in a period of transition,” said Sammy Duddy.

“We have three councillors and they will be standing next year but there’s not enough time to put more people on the ticket. At that conference it was clear that some wanted to go political and others wanted to remain at community level. So a decision will have to be made about that.

“The thing is, we recognise that we don’t tend to get the votes. It’s like people expect us to defend them at times of crisis, but when it comes to elections we don’t get their votes. Unfortunately we’re not like Sinn Féin. We’ve some way to go yet on that one.

“Nevertheless the republican dream of a United Ireland is as far away as it was in the ‘60s. The South of Ireland certainly doesn’t espouse to it, many northern Catholics would refuse to consider it and the Protestant majority would forcibly resist it. The myth remains a myth.”

The UPRG: a brief history

The Ulster Political Research Group was formed 18 months ago to represent the interests of the Ulster Defence Association at a political level.

The political face of the group was created after Gary McMichael’s UDP was given a vote of no confidence shortly after the Good Friday Agreement and two loyalist feuds later ripped through loyalist North Belfast. Since its inception the UPRG has gained three seats in local elections under an Independent banner – Frank McCoubrey who represents the Shankill area for Belfast City Council, Frankie Gallagher in Castlereagh Borough Council and Tommy Kirkham who sits on Newtownabbey Borough Council in the Macedon ward.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?