‘The Loyalist Engagement Survey: Protocol, Policing, & Politics’ was published yesterday by Let’s Talk Loyalism (LTL), a loyalist advocacy group launched in April with east Belfast loyalist Moore Holmes.
Over 1,000 respondents completed the 19-question survey, which was exclusively circulated among loyalist cultural and social organisations, charities and sports clubs.
In general, the findings strongly reflect banners carried in loyalist street protests over the past year.
But the report also claimed that if there was an Assembly election tomorrow, the results showed the TUV would be “the most popular unionist party” – receiving 50% of loyalist first preference votes.
However, the report also notes that voter apathy – a major issue among loyalists – is on the rise, and neither is not clear if it accounts for voting intentions of other unionists.
The survey claimed the DUP would be the second most popular party with 12.7% loyalist first preference votes, the UUP third with 11.9% and the PUP fourth with 7.2%.
It also found that a substantial majority of loyalists, 86.5%, would vote against the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, if given the opportunity.
Mr Holmes praised those who created, circulated, and contributed to the survey and report.
“Is it perfect?” he asked. “No. Is it authentic and valuable? Absolutely. What excites me most, is it’s the start of something that has huge potential.”
Stacey Graham, who helped organise the survey, said that the dynamics of grassroots loyalism is not being heard.
“Loyalists are a people who are proud of our community, our identity, and our culture,” she tweeted to mark the launch of the report. “What will it take for those in power to understand the realities of what is happening on the ground?”
The survey also found that:
:: 98.3% view the NI Protocol as a threat to NI’s place in the UK and 91.5% think it risks a return to violence;
:: 94.8% believe republicans are given “preferential treatment” by police with 92.3% saying Bobby Storey’s funeral decreased their confidence in the PSNI.
The survey drew extensive criticism on social media from anonymous republican accounts. Commentator Alex Kane noted that almost 90% of respondents were male, but LTL responded that the online survey reached its capacity so quickly they had been unable to address this.
Unsurprisingly, TUV leader Jim Allister gave a warm welcome to the report.
“The engagement survey by Let’s Talk Loyalism is a very worthwhile exploration of PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) opinion, showing, again, that many are ahead of their current elected politicians in terms of appreciating the real danger and purpose of the iniquitous protocol,” he tweeted yesterday. “Hence, the appetite for change.”
His party’s North Belfast Assembly candidate Ron McDowell said the survey was “an interesting insight” into the views of loyalism at this time.
“It will come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to the views of the grassroots that in spite of the attempts of some to move the narrative on and present the protocol as a fait accompli loyalist opposition is not waning,” he added.
“In truth, loyalism is ahead of their political representatives and recognises the grave constitutional danger of the protocol.
“The pitiful response of those who have been entrusted with the leadership of unionism at the moment is also recognised by loyalists which is why the TUV is cutting through and experiencing a massive upsurge in support.
“The DUP’s continuing implementation of the protocol through the Department of Agriculture is understandably causing them to lose support.”
He also noted that 80% affirmed that unionists should pull out of the North/South Ministerial Council.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that the findings “reinforces” his own strategy to get rid of the Irish Sea border.
“The protocol has been politically and economically disastrous for Northern Ireland,” he said.
He added that it has “erected a barrier between us and our biggest market by value and volume and harmed the Act of Union itself”.
“As I have been saying, the protocol is undermining unionist confidence in the political institutions and is dragging Northern Ireland backwards.
“Since becoming leader, I’ve been touring Northern Ireland and there is certainly a crisis in confidence within unionism about the fairness of many policing decisions. People perceive one set of rules for republicans and another set of rules for the rest of us.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie tweeted that it was “a detailed survey that is both revealing, at times counterintuitive as well as challenging. It is important to listen and engage honestly where UUP views differ in order to explain why they differ”.
But loyalists warmly welcomed the findings.
The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which includes representatives from the proscribed paramilitary groups, the UVF, UDA and RHC, said: “The results, particularly in relation to unionist views of the NI Protocol, confirm the actions taken to date by the LCC in opposing the protocol; particularly in our withdrawal of support for the Belfast Agreement.
“We reiterate our view that unless the agreement is respected by all, and works for all, it cannot work at all. This further demonstrates that the political institutions cannot be sustained unless the protocol is abandoned.”
It urged unionist parties to unify the unionist electorate and prevent Sinn Fein from becoming the dominant party in NI.
Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson said the findings are “no longer ‘fringe’, but now dominant within loyalism”.
All Executive parties were asked to comment but only the DUP responded.
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