The stereotype of working-class Protestants as “poor white trash” was attacked at a conference held in Belfast this week.
The gathering brought together high-profile loyalists alongside republicans and academics, with the theme of the discussions being: ‘Has the Protestant working class lost out on the peace process?’
Joe Bowers, chairman of the Fellowship of Messines Association, was among the first to address the meeting.
Mr Bowers, 71 and from Monkstown, Co Antrim, spoke about the concept of Britishness, and posed the open question: “The creation of the welfare state – is that not part of our British history?
“The National Health Service – is that not the most important part of our British history? Is it not more important than the Union Flag?
“Why are we not mobilising people around the defence of the NHS with the type of same determination?”
Academics from as far away as America were there to speak, and one described loyalism as having become a “pejorative term” used by some to falsely brand such communities as “poor white trash”.
Speaking outside the meeting on Wednesday, Jackie McDonald, 65-year-old member of the UDA-linked UPRG, acknowledged that the taking down of the Union Flag had unleashed “a tsunami of hate and bigotry”.
“Somehow we’re going to have to help the flag protestors see through the red mist and understand where the future lies,” he said.
He said the history of the Troubles, which formed part of the topics under discussion, should be better explained to youngsters and there is also need for more integrated schools, as well as jobs.