Loyalist anger is justified, but the violence is counter productive, says Jamie Bryson

Loyalist Jamie Bryson believes the seeds for the recent disorder across Northern Ireland were sown long before the decision not to prosecute anyone for attending Bobby Storey’s funeral.

Monday, 5th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 5th April 2021, 2:18 pm
The aftermath of the violence at the Cloughfern roundabout in the O'Neill Road area of Newtownabbey at the weekend. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

He told the News Letter of the anger with the PUL community, but warned that turning to violence would be following a “deeply worrying” precedent set by nationalism.

Discussing the catalysts for the recent disturbances, he said: “There are a number of issues in the melting pot. I think there is the overarching issue that for two decades the unionist and loyalist community has been expected to concede more and more as a price of appeasing republicans as part of the peace process. That isn’t genuine peace, it’s peace with a gun to its head.

“And then more specifically we have the issues of the protocol, and in keeping with the foundation of the peace process, what that protocol has done in the eyes of many is to reward nationalist threats of violence, with the PUL community again expected to bear the burden for that with a border in the Irish Sea.

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Cars on fire on Saturday night at the Cloughfern roundabout

“That has created a powderkeg precedent whereby many young loyalists look at the protocol and conclude that violence is rewarded. On top of that you have two decades of post Patten policing. You must remember the PSNI was conceived in the womb of political appeasement.

“It’s very creation was an exercise in politically placating nationalism, and in my view the PSNI has maintained that residual core function within its subconsciousness. The Storey funeral was just a visible manifestation of that.”

Asked if he condoned the actions of rioters, he said: “I don’t think the cause is advanced by such actions. I certainly do not condone the burning of anyone’s vehicle, people work hard for their property and ironically those whose vehicles were burnt probably live in unionist communities.”

He said that people have a right to protest peacefully, but warned against violence: “I think the anger is justified, but when it manifests itself in violence of the kind we have seen then in my view it’s counterproductive.

“We must remember that this didn’t come out of nowhere, angry young loyalists didn’t just wake up one day and decide they wanted to engage in violence. They saw a template being set by nationalism, and they felt they suffered the consequences of that with their identity being shredded.

“So they then conclude that the way to defend their identity is through violence. That’s such an unhelpful and deeply worrying precedent which has been set.

“I think the anger needs to be directed into peaceful protest, but more than that there has to be a strategy and an objective and the only route to achieving real change is via using the law.”

He did not think the disorder was being co-ordinated by any of the mainstream loyalist organisations: “I base that firstly on what appears to be the largely disorganised and organic nature of outbreaks of violence, alongside the age of the apparent participants.

“I think if violence was orchestrated by the traditional loyalist organisations then you would have seen a far greater scale of disturbances than we have currently seen. And my view is that loyalist organisations are not in that space and rather are trying to hold back the tide of anger.”

Mr Bryson said the mood in the PUL community has never been worse: “I wasn’t alive during the Anglo Irish Agreement and many older generation loyalists say this is worse, but I can only measure it against my lifetime so I look to the flag protest. I think the mood is far worse than 2012/13.

“That was a mere tremor, and was largely ignited within working class loyalist communities. This is much different, the anger is boiling across all sections of unionism. I don’t think people really understand the depth of anger and the reality that our community has really had enough.”

Asked could confidence be restored in the PSNI, he said: “I think rather than focus on personalities within the PSNI, we need to focus on its structure and underpinning ethos. That is what has to change; the two tier system designed to legitimise nationalism and criminalise loyalism was embedded long before Simon Byrne came into post. “And the way to change that is to turn the system inwards on itself. The great untapped strategy for the PUL community is to force the statutory weapons that were designed for nationalism, to work for unionism.”

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Alistair Bushe