This post was originally published here and used with kind permission

December 3rd 2013 signals the first anniversary of the restrictions placed on the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall, a decision so incredibly benign that the overblown reaction to it could only spring from a place as barking mad as Northern Ireland.

Anti-Alliance leaflets distributed by UUP/DUP - the spark that lit the flame?

It was all the fault of the Alliance Party - apparently
In the time since that day, it is hard to imagine ‘Ulster’ loyalism damaging itself any more than it already has. Over the course of 12 months, a community already bereft of leadership and direction has been reduced to the role of noisy toddler; red-faced, incomprehensibly angry and completely unrepentant. A tantrum of epic proportions, played out all year, has served to leave loyalists, once again, on the outside looking in. Winter in that caravan will be cold. Very cold.

Unable to articulate an argument about why the ‘fleg’ restrictions were so heinous, loyalists simply ignored all the obvious points in their column. That Sinn Féin had been defeated in its mission to remove this symbol of British influence on the island was irrelevant apparently. So too was the fact that Belfast was now on a par with cities as solidly British as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. Even Buckingham Palace manages to survive without the flag rippling from its roof every day, a fact conveniently ignored by those throwing their toys from the pram.

No, instead rank and file loyalists went off half-cocked, as they often do. Fuelled by misinformation and manipulated by nefarious elements within their own communities, they placed faith not in reason, nor mastery of the facts, but in gut instinct and predictable levels of fevered paranoia. 

In the eyes of many, these new flag provisions represented a further step forward, not to Irish unification - something most loyalists never tire of dismissing - but towards the shared future most of us truly desire.

It is a future which those hurling rocks at the police certainly do not wish to be part of.

Castlereagh Road, Belfast
It didn’t matter that Sinn Féin’s true goal had been thwarted. They still scored political points from the subsequent loyalist meltdown, brought on by the horrifying suspicion that the taigs had got one over on them. To see any restriction on this totem of dominance in the country’s largest city was simply too much to bear.

By July, loyalism’s perpetual cycle of protesting and not surrendering was slowing, as it always does. In refusing the Orange Order (along with its paramilitary bands and swaggering followers) permission to return to Ligoniel via the Crumlin Road and the lower Ardoyne, the Parades Commission gave Loyalism 2013 a new self-pitying drum to beat.

The resulting mob violence (‘peaceful protesting’ if one wishes to be euphemistic) and predictably petulant reaction to a situation which was, at its very core, a compromise, couldn’t have have dealt more of a blow to the loyalist cause. Loyalism frequently gives off about the republican advantage in the image war and while Sinn Féin does possess skill in this regard, it is aided in no small part by its opponents being so monumentally bad at the game.

July 12th, Belfast "peaceful" protest
The farce of the Twaddell ‘civil rights’ camp is too silly to fully address but needless to say it has failed to strike a chord with anyone beyond the usual narrow collection of sympathisers. As to the cornucopia of wider, mostly imagined, loyalist political grievances the silence from the broader unionist community has been deafening. Support from those across the Irish sea - government, monarch, the man in the street - has been just as conspicuous by its absence.

Twaddell "Civil Rights" Camp
On a more human level, yet another generation of disaffected working-class Protestant youths now exists. Unemployable thanks to criminal records earned in the heat of yet another nothing-else-to-do ‘peaceful protest’, they believe more than ever that the whole system is rigged against them and in favour of the other side. It is these people who will swell the ranks of the paramilitaries orchestrating the disorder.

A cynic might suggest that this was the point all along…

Unionism does possess reasonable voices but as a whole they have been outflanked and suffocated by the ravenous extremism of those who have gained prominence since December 2012. In this vacuum, a veritable circus now holds court, if not sway. Willie Frazer has always been a pathetic figure more than anything else, a cartoon character never fully in step with the joke. He has, nevertheless, gained a second wind during the period in question, though the none of us, Willie included, have any idea of his endgame.

Wee Willie Frazer - he's not well you know
Fellow traveller Jamie Bryson - Ulster’s very own Walter Mitty - possesses far more sinister motivations, summed up best by Brian Spencer. Given Bryson’s almost comical regard for the UVF (a designated terrorist group in the UK) one shudders to think of his ideal alternative to the institutions he wishes, naively, to do away with. Those in the relative mainstream of local politics continue to cede ground to Northern Ireland’s idiot fringe and Spencer’s assertion that feeding the fanatics is far from conducive to progress is a sound one.

Jamie Bryson - The 'saviour' of Ulster?
For all the noise emanating from the Bryson end of the loyalist maw, it remains to be seen just how influential, or wide-reaching, this kind of rhetoric really is. While the established sectarianism of our electoral process is maddening on the one hand, it also equates to a shrunken voting base for each side of the toxic divide. The unionist electorate has rejected the various iterations of far-right loyalism before, tacking closer to the middle than anything else. To most in the unionist-Protestant community self-promoting whingers like Frazer, Bryson et al are an embarrassment, plain and simple, and people to whom they will be ever unresponsive.

In all honesty, it is not the wider unionist community with which loyalism need be concerned. A fissure has always existed between the two sections of the broadly Protestant populace and there is little common ground to excite either. As is clear to anyone willing to see it, moderate, middle-class unionism continues to prosper as much as it can in the current economic climate. If anything, it is the corrosive, flailing influence of madcap extremism that unionism must be wary of going forward. That said, when has this ever not been the case?

Bad puns aside, it is up to the loyalist community to arrest their slide into irrelevance if they are not at that point already. There may well come a time when they no longer count and when nobody else cares.

While usurping her law and order, and the democratic processes she has always promoted, grassroots loyalists remain blindly devoted to the Queen - or at least some sepia-tinged version of her. It is perhaps apt then to describe the past year as an ‘annus horribilis' for loyalism. Discounting the chaos that engulfed Northern Ireland for 30 years, it is difficult to see how things could have been worse.

(Originally published here and used with kind permission)
In the 12 months since the democratic decision to limit the flying of the Union Flag to designated days, much has happened on the streets and it has been well publicised. However, underneath the ocean of 'civil rights' and 'respect our culture' bullshit, runs an entirely more sinister current. One which is being whipped up by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

On the 3rd May 2007 the UVF made a statement saying that they had become a 'non-military, civilianised' organisation. Although they had officially been on a ceasefire since 1994, this date can be interpreted as the date when all criminal activity should have concluded. Following two years of discussions about the decommissioning of weapons the UVF put a substantial amount of its guns and explosives beyond use in June 2009. All good?

The 'peace' never materialised 
Well, no. Not even a year had passed when Bobby Moffett, a member of the Red Hand Commando, was shot dead on the Shankill Road (30th May 2010) in broad daylight for everyone in the area to see. It is believed the UVF carried out the killing. Which would beg the question, what ceasefire? Fast forward to the 20th June 2011 and a riot involving 500 people took place in the Short Strand. The PSNI laid the blame firmly at the door of the UVF who orchestrated a night of violence which saw homes attacked and where UVF guns had been used to try to kill police officers. So, it appears the UVF have form when it comes to organising full scale riots and attempting to kill police officers.

On the 7th January 2013, Chief Constable of the PSNI, Matt Baggott said that
Senior members of the UVF in east Belfast as individuals have been increasingly orchestrating some of this violence”. The violence he speaks of is the violence that erupted after the democratic decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag was to fly over Belfast City Hall.

Peaceful Protesters 
To this date (18th November 2013) Matt Baggott insists the the UVF ceasefire remains intact but in the last week we have seen two gun attacks one of a 21 year old man in Portrush and one of a 15 year old boy in Coleraine, the two were shot in both legs. These two attacks have been blamed on loyalists paramilitaries, widely believed to be the UVF. Today, however the Police Federation of Northern Ireland (the organisation which represents PSNI officers) released a statement saying that the UVF is no longer on ceasefire after these recent attacks. Did Matt Baggott not get the memo?

Meanwhile at Twaddell Avenue on the 16th November 2013, during a peaceful protest by the Orange Order, local DUP MP Nigel Dodds could be seen sharing the stage with an alleged commander within the UVF. You may be forgiven for thinking this was an honest mistake given the high possibility for a cretin of this nature to be at such an event. However, it is not the first time this has happened and Nigel Dodds MP has not been the only senior politician to share the stage with this alleged UVF commander for Nelson McCausland MLA has also done the same thing.

Alleged UVF Commander

One must question what the PSNI's definition of a "ceasefire" is. Perhaps those who determine such things are content that as long as the UVF are no longer doing "spray jobs" on Catholic pubs, then all is well. But all is not well. The UVF appear to be violently tightening their grip on organised crime, while the attacks on Short Strand show that old habits die hard.  When a police force continues to stretch the definition of ceasefire, and when senior MLAs and, even more shockingly, MPs can share a stage with an alleged UVF commander, it suggests deep problems in our country's leadership. Not only do such instances happen but they also pass by as if it is the norm.

Yes it happened... More than once

Why are the PSNI not willing to say the UVF are no longer on a ceasefire? Is it the easy option? Would it be too much hard work to revoke the Good Friday Agreement licenses of UVF members? Are they worried about another violent reaction from the "PUL" community? 

Why do our politicians seem intent on putting themselves in situations where it divides and alienates people? Is it simply about votes? Are the DUP so desperate now for votes that they're willing to court the extreme right wing, just to cling on to power for a few more years?