I argued in my previous article that, looking through the strategic mistakes made by Loyalists at the time of the flag protests and since (in terms, at least, of delivering real outcomes and political influence), it is remarkable how many of the same strategic mistakes are made by Progressives - the very people against whom much of that Loyalist ire was turned! This article looks particularly at the old maxim that divided parties (and movements) don't win elections and thus can't secure influence; concluding by introducing the notion that all politics is based around "bogey men" as the best means of securing unity.
Like Loyalists, Progressives spend too long talking to each other. The problem is not that this results in bad policies (in fact, it tends to result in good ones). The problem is that it results in skewed priorities - and thus the discussion becomes an ever decreasing circle of total irrelevance (from the wider voting population's perspective). This is why, despite good policies in many areas, both Loyalists and Progressives (with the odd notable exception) are left without serious political representation or influence. How often have we seen it? The election campaign was great fun - but the result was bewildering; the policies were well presented - but they were irrelevant to those determining the election outcome, namely the voters!
A particularly peculiar thing about Progressives in the context of Northern Ireland is their own inability to compromise, even with each other! While they preach about how Unionists and Nationalists should be able to sort things out instead of putting obstacles in the way (and they are right about that of course), they themselves put obstacles in the way of working with each other!
There is the aforementioned tendency to set up new parties and groups. More notably, however, there is the tendency of many Progressives to put a particular, narrow policy objective in the way of cooperation with other Progressives. We have surely all seen it: "Yes, I'd support a non-sectarian party as long as it backs the living wage"; "Oh, I'd support a cross-community movement, but only if it's libertarian"; "Yeah, they're okay, but I didn't like it when they walked out of those talks 12 years ago"; "Ah well, I basically like them but I can't join them because some of them are Socialist/Liberal/Conservative/vegetarian/meat-eating/pro-fracking/anti-fracking/brunette/blonde..."
Progressives are a relatively small minority as it is, even smaller when you only count the politically minded ones - so where on earth does this appetite for the luxury of every increasing numbers of small groups with ever decreasing numbers of people (and thus usually zero influence, individually and collectively) come from?!
Perhaps there are two prime reasons for this. Firstly, Progressives do not actually see themselves as a group - they are conditioned not to by an ongoing narrative, backed up by the political institutions, which only really allows for "Unionists", "Nationalists" and "Others" (a deliberately ill-defined and frankly slightly irritating jumble with no common positions of their own). Thus, they do not realise what power they could have if they acted as a coherent, cohesive unit as opposed to sideshow smattering of small conflicting groups. Secondly, perhaps due to who they are, Progressives believe political arguments can be won solely by way of reason - a comforting but actually nonsensical argument given that it has never happened that way in this (or arguably any) part of the world! Thus, they forget (as ever with the odd notable exception) that influence actually derives from hard work on constituency issues.
The fundamental problem which comes from all of this, it seems to me, is that Progressives are so busy arguing over (comparative) irrelevance with each other, they have no idea how to connect with the electorate. Put crudely, when you arrive on a voter's doorstep, they could not care less about your vision for Northern Ireland's political institutions, your magical plan education for the next generation, or your wonderful proposed decades-long reform of the health system. What they care about is immediate. Can you get their bin replaced; can you sort a place in the local nursery for their niece; can you ensure a bed in the local A&E for their grandfather - and can you do it now?! Suddenly, that crazed 50-tweet argument you had about the living wage with someone with whom you otherwise agree on everything counts for absolutely zilch...
I have written before that there is only one thing which really matters to politically minded Progressives keen to make a difference: the anti-Progressive forces of hard-line Unionism and hard-line Nationalism, the DUP and Sinn Fein, between them hold 67 out of 108 Assembly seats; 13 out of 18 Parliamentary seats; and a majority of Council seats. There are three obvious reasons this matters, which are worth re-stating.
Firstly, it matters because of the simple numbers when it comes to passing legislation or voting through policy. If the DUP and Sinn Fein agree, it happens; and if they don't, it doesn't. Until they are deprived of their majority, it will ever be thus. Bring as many Bills to the Assembly as you like advocating "Opposition", or same-sex marriage, or selection without examination at 14, or whatever - you can't win any of them.
Secondly, it matters because of how there were structured to achieve it. Think of the calamities which have befallen the leadership of each party even just this decade - from Irisgate to the horrendous abuse cases around Liam Adams. The DUP and Sinn Fein closed ranks, kept their concerns and divisions internal, and came through as a single cohesive unit capable of winning elections. Compare that to the aforementioned Progressives, going out of their way to find the most minor policy or strategic issue to justify further division into ever smaller warring camps!
Thirdly, it matters because of what they did to achieve it - and, particularly, what they didn't do! The DUP and Sinn Fein got there by being able to answer those immediate questions on the doorstep - in other words through a hard won reputation for constituency work. If you doubt that, look at the exceptions to the rule (say, Lady Hermon or Naomi Long) and ask yourself how they did it. If it looks like hard work, that's because it is! What they didn't do was spent ages and ages sitting about with each other obsessing over detailed policy platforms...
This brings us neatly to the notion of the "bogey man". Perhaps the main way in which the DUP and Sinn Fein remain cohesive lies not in what they are far, but in what they are against. Frankly, this is the same everywhere - the motivation for winning elections is best summed up in the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby: "You know what happens when the right people don't have power? The wrong people get it!"
Therefore, they create a "bogey man" - noting as ever that this "bogey man" need not be entirely or even remotely rational. It merely has to be something perceived (whether accurately or not) to unite against.

Illustration by Brian John Spencer
 For Unionists, the overall "bogey man" is the "United Ireland" or any perceived staging post to it - be it a Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, a Sinn Fein European Election win, or (now, as the others have both happened) a Sinn Fein First Minister. This works best when it is presented specifically - thus, the flags issue was presented as the Alliance Party (a direct electoral rival) forming a coalition with Sinn Fein (not a direct electoral rival but representative of the "bogey man" of the operation) to "tear down the flag". That designated days actually made Belfast a more typically British Council (as most British Councils have designated days) was neither here nor there - "bogey men" are not rational beings!
For Nationalists (including self-identifying "Republicans"), the "bogey man" is a return to Unionist domination (the opposite of which is always referred to as "equality", even if it actually means Nationalist domination). The flags issue was presented (literally - it was even filmed) as Sinn Fein delivery of the end of Unionist domination in Belfast. That it was the first time Irish Republicans had voted for the Union Flag to fly over a civic office in Ireland and was thus reflective of Nationalism's total defeat on the constitutional question was neither here nor there - see above!
Nationalists, of course, see change inevitably as moving away from their "bogey man"; Unionists see it as moving towards theirs. This is broadly reflected in their attitude to any change - even, say, same-sex marriage. (On one occasion, Unionists even opposed a change in Assembly procedures to allow MLAs to take their jackets off in the Chamber on a particularly hot day - and sat their sweltering as Nationalist and Alliance members proceeded with the change!)
And so we return to the two groups we started with - Loyalists and Progressives. Loyalists are in fact trapped by this anti-change Unionist versus pro-change Nationalist narrative, because in fact they do want change in terms of their social circumstances even if not in terms of the constitution. They bought into the Unionist "bogey man" narrative during the flag dispute, but must come to realise their real bogey man is the overarching narrative which doesn't allow Northern Ireland people to seek social change without also seeking constitutional change.
Progressives are also trapped by this narrative. In fact, they found themselves presented as the "bogey man" during the flag dispute, yet they lack one of their own. Not having something to unite against, they divide up all over the place and fail to present a coherent case to the voters. In fact, their bogey man is also the narrative which doesn't allow people to seek social change without seeking constitutional change.
If there is a problem looming, Unionists and Nationalists can simply create another illusion of a problem based on their bogey man, around which they can unite. Loyalists and Progressives haven't mastered that, and thus remain divided.
What is remarkable, at the end of all of this, is how much Loyalists and Progressives actually have in common - despite having been on the opposite ends of a dispute created by others as a "bogey man" issue. Loyalists and Progressives are divided among themselves; they tend to talk to each other too much without engaging enough with wider society; they tend to believe contrary to the evidence that non-voters are all on their side; they haven't recognised that political influence derives from hard constituency work; they haven't taken account of the old maxim that divided parties (and movements) don't win elections - and thus don't attain influence.
Most remarkable of all, Loyalists and Progressives both in fact have the same common objective. They will get nowhere until the DUP and Sinn Fein are deprived of an Assembly majority; and to do that they have to challenge the narrative that those who want social change must also want constitutional change.
That is why, as a Progressive, I want to see Loyalists for democracy. With a bit of hard work, we can make democracy deliver for both of us.

The decision by Newtownabbey Borough Council to ban the Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged) at theTheatre At The Mill was last night reversed after a campaign spearheaded by L.A.D.

We launched the hashtag #ThouShalt Not Laugh



Started an email campaign to Newtownabbey Councillors:


Supported the Billy Ballsup petition which gained 2741 signatures in 24 hours



Published a blog on the subject by Brian John Spencer




If you're lucky enough to have got tickets to the show which is now SOLD OUT it's now time to celebrate the victory so it is.

We have a produced a poster which we would like you to bring along to the production on Wednesday or Thursday night.

1. Simply go to this link where you will find a high resolution version of this poster:

2. Print out the poster (preferably in colour) and if you can mount it on cardboard (a la Father Ted 'down with this sort of thing' placards)

3. Bring along to the Theatre on the night

4. Get together with friends and have your photograph taken and send it to us.

We will be awarding spot prizes for the best effort (LAD will be in attendance)




This is a guest post originally published here by A.J. Fence

The author (who wishes to remain anonymous for personal reasons) contacted us via our Facebook page and suggested we share it on this blog.

Whilst we don't necessarily agree with all of the content of this article, we are always happy to feature alternative and thought provoking points of view.

2014 marks one unconventional centenary for Northern Ireland, not 100 years from one event, but an average of 100 years from two. You see, it being 2014 means that the 1912 Ulster Covenant and the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic have been dominating the zeitgeist and politics of the six north eastern counties of Ireland for 100 years each. On average.

The founding texts of our present malaise are revered by many on both sides of our divide and are seen as the ideal ends by the more extreme sections. Our use of elections as sectarian headcounts cause our politicians to gravitate towards these extremes, and so these documents and their diametrically opposed assertions underpin all public discourse, even today.

This is despite the fact that Ireland, the UK, Europe and the world have changed beyond recognition since their drafting. Too often opponents of each are happy to assume that their authors’ motives were exclusively bigoted, and all too reluctant to pause and reflect why exactly they want to remain in the UK or join the Republic of Ireland. 100 years (on average) later seems like a good time to examine the reasoning behind these documents and consider if they are still relevant.

First up, the Ulster Covenant, signed (often in blood) on Ulster Day in 1912 and celebrated with great pomp in September 2012. This gives four main reasons why a home rule parliament in Dublin would be bad news for Ulster, claiming that it would be:
  1. Disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster;
  2. Subversive of our civil and religious freedom;
  3. Destructive of our citizenship; and
  4. Perilous to the unity of the Empire.

The first point is a valid concern. As we all know, in 1912 Ulster, and especially Belfast, was an economic powerhouse, supplying the latest and greatest in linen, ropes, tobacco and ships to the world. It was its place in the British Empire that allowed Ulster to export huge quantities of these goods across the globe. Cutting ties with it would have imposed expensive tariffs on Ulster’s exports, rendering it unable to compete with the industrial cities of northern England and Scotland. There was a perfectly reasonable fear that aside from the bankrupting of the industrial class, hundreds of thousands would be left unemployed, creating deep seated economic and social deprivation. It may sound flippant, but one only needs to travel round some areas of Belfast today to see exactly what they were worried about.

So would a united independent Ireland be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster in 2014? Some might ask “What material well-being?”, but let’s ignore those cynics for now. As members of the EU the UK and RoI enjoy exactly the same export markets, so in terms of trade, there is no difference. There is of course a debate to be had over wider economic policy; some may argue that the RoI’s lower corporation tax rates would spur industry. Others can point to the dire circumstances it has found itself in over the last 7 years, as a decade long property bubble burst and both monetary and fiscal policies were dictated by international bodies. Once the RoI is back on its feet, a united Ireland would alter Ulster’s material well-being. Although the direction in which it would push it is unclear, we can be almost certain that it would not be disastrous. On this point the Ulster Covenant is wide of the mark, and should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The claim that a home rule parliament in Dublin would be subversive to the Protestant civil and religious freedom is less clear cut. Irish nationalism around the time (including the Easter Proclamation) did hold religious equality as a goal, but Eamon De Valera’s subsequent de facto establishment of the Catholic church as the state religion of the new republic confirms that Protestant fears were justified. In recent years we have learned of the harrowing child abuse that occurred under the unfettered power of the Church, this may not be exactly what the signatories to the Ulster Covenant were worried about, but again in hindsight it provides justification for their fears.

And so what about 2014, would a united Ireland be subversive to Protestant civil and religious rights? In short, no. Never mind that Catholic and Protestant congregations have declined consistently over the past century, the ultimate guarantor of civil and religious rights in both the UK and RoI is the same piece of legislation: The European Convention on Human Rights. Under this both countries are answerable to the European Court of Human Rights. On top of this, influence of the Catholic church in the RoI has waned significantly in recent decades as the true scale of clerical abuse and cover-ups has become apparent. In 2011 Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued a scathing indictment of the Church in the Dail as he closed the (now re-opened) embassy to the Vatican (the UK has one too). The idea that Protestants would be oppressed in a future united Ireland is a demonstrable nonsense, if anything enormous efforts would be made to make them feel welcome. Again the Ulster Covenant is a good way off the pace and it’s devotees should reconsider their position.

The third concern of the covenant, that a Home Rule Parliament would be destructive of northerners’ citizenship is fairly straight forward. Even if the parliament existed within the UK or British Empire, the revoking of British citizenship under complete independence must have seemed quite likely at some point in the future.

In 2014, a United Ireland would obviously still be destructive of British citizenship; that is the raison d’etre of republicanism. This is the only remaining point of relevance in the Covenant, but people must consider why this ethereal concept of citizenship is important and why a British one is still so much better than an Irish one, given the circumstances of the present day.

The final worry that Home Rule would be perilous to the unity of the Empire has merit in the context of 1912. Even if a self-governing Ireland enjoyed dominion status within the Empire, the fact that it did so so close to the mainland UK could have given Johnny Foreigner all sorts of uppity ideas about his right to national self determination. Any shrinking of the Empire would also have been a shrinking of Ulster’s export markets, with all the economic risks discussed above.

This is where the covenant is most irrelevant in 2014, as it will not have escaped your notice that the British Empire has long-since ceased to be. It is an ex-empire. It has morphed into a well meaning but ineffectual talking shop whose only visible contribution to the world seems to be the staging of a mini-olympics every four years, which give athletes of the former colonies the chance to win medals without having to compete against their US or Chinese counterparts. A United Ireland would mean that Northern Ireland would be no longer represented in the talking shop, and most likely, that its athletes would not be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games. This would be no great loss to those athletes as their chances of making the proper Olympics representing a much smaller Irish population would be much greater than doing so for the UK.

So only one of four assertions of the Ulster Covenant is still remotely relevant in 2014, and as Meat Loaf didn’t say, one out of four is pretty bad. Both sides of our divide need to accept that while this document outlined legitimate and justified reasons for Unionism in 1912, it is no basis for our debate today. And once they have done that they must move on to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic…

Issued by a small and unpopular band of revolutionaries on Easter Monday 1916, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic declared a provisional government of all Ireland from which many in Northern Ireland still claim to derive a quasi-legal authority to maim and kill in its name. This is despite the fact that the majority of people on the island have been participating in a separate government of the twenty-six counties for decades, and in doing so acknowledging that the provisional government declared in 1916 no longer exists. Reflection on it will no doubt form a key part of the celebration of the centenary of the Easter rising in a couple of years.

The text of the document is both more poetic and more rambling than the more matter-of-fact of Ulster covenant, but it possible to discern three main themes; that the government:
  1. Enshrines the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible;
  2. Guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens; and
  3. Will be elected by the suffrages of all Ireland’s men and women.
In considering the first point we should recognise that the southern part of Ireland did not enjoy the benefits of Empire in the way that Ulster did. The abuses and atrocities of the British Empire are well documented both in Ireland and around the world. It is no wonder that many wanted to leave it.

However in 2014, 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it is hard to see what British oppression remains. Despite the claims of many republicans, it is difficult to see how the British Government forces Irish people to do things they don’t want to or prevents them from doing things that they do. Northern Ireland issues are indisputably governed by Irish people at Stormont and through its representatives in Westminster it can influence wider economic and foreign policy.

Contrast this with RoI which has in recent years had its fiscal policy dictated by the European Commission in Brussels, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and the International Monetary Fund in New York. It’s monetary policy is also dictated in Frankfurt, largely to benefit Germany. This is not independence. It resembles the usurpation of sovereignty by foreign peoples and governments so decried by the Proclamation. It is also difficult to envisage the people of the twenty-six counties opting to leave the EU, having ratified the EU constitution in a referendum as recently as 2009. In short, those who are currently in favour of united Ireland are in favour of a small surrender of Irish sovereignty to foreign powers, very much against the spirit of the Proclamation.

The guarantee of religious and civil liberty and equality for all citizens was and is a laudable aim. However as discussed above, this is also guaranteed by the UK under the same European legislation. A United Ireland would change nothing in this regard. The same is true of universal suffrage, which was granted in the UK in 1928.

Although not explicitly referred to in the text, in proclaiming a republic it also proclaims this as a superior form of government to the UK’s constitutional monarchy. The idea that a person should be head of state by virtue of his or her parents may be archaic, but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the UK’s unwritten constitution will appreciate that the monarch defers all matters of government to his or her elected ministers, and reigns only with the consent of Parliament and public opinion. In being a widely respected figurehead and global ambassador above the fray of governing politics, the role of the British monarch is very similar, in function if not form, to that of the elected Irish President. It is perfectly reasonable that people have a preference for one form of government or the other, but in reality the impact of a change on the lives of ordinary people would be negligible.

Also not specifically mentioned in the text, but clear from the signature of James Connolly, is the leftish bent of the Proclamation, one that is still maintained by republican parties today. Those parties should consider the the absence of a universal healthcare system free at the point of delivery, and lower corporation tax and National Insurance rates in RoI. They should think about which state best resembles the ideals of the Proclamation.

Since 1916 socialism has been tried in many countries and has never been a ringing success. This is also true of market capitalism, but those who advocate both socialism and liberty should note that in Russia, eastern Europe and still in China, North Korea and Cuba, communism marched in lock step with totalitarianism. The compatibility of socialism and liberty is dubious. Having viewed the trials and tribulations of socialism over the 20th century, the popular enthusiasm for it in 2014 is certainly somewhat muted compared to 1916. Given what has occurred in recent years it is difficult to see the people of RoI demanding more involvement of politicians in the running of the economy, especially if those politicians owe their position to their previous rank in the IRA, or are currently running amateurish guerilla campaigns out of Lurgan.

Again we have a document with ideas that were laudable a century ago but broadly irrelevant today. So why do our politicians continue to celebrate them and strive to see them realised? Two reasons spring to mind, but there are likely to be many more.

One is stubbornness. Too many people have invested their lives in pursuit of these ends, and do not want lose face or render their lives’ works as useless by admitting that it’s not really that big a deal. Another is that many people have simply suffered too much in our troubles to let the other side “win”. While this is understandable, it is wrong. Our debate must be focussed not on what was wrong for our parents, but on what is right for our children.

The aim of this blog is not to argue for or against a united Ireland, or even present a coherent argument. It is to demonstrate both that the usual arguments involved are not based on the facts of the day, and that if there were to be a united Ireland the actual changes involved would not be as great as politicians claim.

So what are we to do? Two suggestions to start with are the integration of all education so our children can grow up free of the mutual suspicion that has dogged previous generations. And although I do not agree with Jim Allister or Jamie Bryson on much, an opposition at Stormont would allow us to hold to account the politicians who continue to peddle these ancient fantasies and all the hate that goes with them.

There is a debate to be had on the future of Northern Ireland, but it is barely worth raising our voices, never mind fighting over.

Peace to all.

A J Fence.

This is outrageous. A scandal. They claim to be offended by a play that is said to mock the bible, and by their offence they claim the right to shut-down that play. In a pluralist, democratic society there exists no right to not be offended. Free speech provides a license to offend.

The hardline Calvinist and Caleb religious tradition speaks for a minority in Northern Ireland (although a disproportionately large segment of political unionism) and makes very grand claims for itself. That the bible is the infallible word of God and that it is not to be made fun of. That the bible is the first, last and only book and that all reason, scepticism and inquiry must capitulate to one man's niche interpretation of a religious text. 

Claims that are to many absurd, outrageous and preposterous. Claims that are outright offensive to many people. 

Upon this conflict of ideas between the religious and irreligious, and by their grand claims, the religious open themselves up to scrutiny, criticism and mockery. A basic right and function in a healthy liberal democracy. 

However, not only do these religious fundamentalists claim to know the absolute and last word of god, but they hold their grand claims to be immune from scrutiny, criticism or mockery. They claim a special right, a special privilege and special protection. 

Again. This is outrageous. For too long people in Northern Ireland have bent the knee to this kind of madness and religious fundamentalism. It's high time people said no more. Up with this we will not put. 

One, on the matter of free speech. Since John Milton in the 17th Century the freedom to entertain and express opinions, no matter how offensive to others, has been cherished as a necessary pre-condition for a political society. 

And here's the first irony. John Milton wrote his famous defence of free speech in Areopogitica during the English Civil War, and directed it against Calvinist Presbyterians who were trying to turn the country into some sort of Presbyterian theocracy. 

Since then free speech has been defended and built upon in the face of religious moralists by great men and women like John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, Rosa Luxemburg and many others. It has been upon their work and upon the known rules of ancient liberty that have given us our distinctive western culture and freedoms. 

And here's the second irony. The Protestant tradition is supposed to be an authentic expression of the hard won civil and religious liberties gained through England's Glorious Revolution. Yet why do they deny others their basic civil liberty? Why oh why have the age old lessons of the Enlightenment and classical liberalism continually escaped evangelical Protestant theo-unionism in Northern Ireland? 

Two, on the matter of church and state, we should aspire to a secular Northern Ireland. To a naked public sphere. No lawmaker should attempt to create a legal code upon a religious code. No lawmaker should attempt policy or civic action upon a religious code. Because as Andrew Sullivan said: "All faiths, even the most popular, are by definition sectarian." In Northern Ireland we aspire to a secular democracy where we protect, defend and uphold religious freedom - as a private matter of faith, not as a public matter. As Thomas Jefferson said:

"History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. "

Three, we secularists have strong beliefs, strong principles and strong convictions too. We secularists too are offended by what the religious preach. But we don't go into churches and ban those preachers who preach anti-intellectualism, anti-science and virulent religious bigotry. 

Four, to be "British" is to lead in the world. Yet theo-Unionists seem utterly committed to opting out of modernity, to shutting the door on progressive legislation, and to keeping Northern Ireland as an "outcast from life's feast" as James Joyce put it.  

It's like the American Dad episode, Stan of Arabia. Stan the archetypal misogynist, super-religious Republican suddenly finds himself right at home in Saudi Arabia where there exists oppressive laws against women, gays and basic liberties. 

Four, by the decision to ban the play, people have make a rod for their own back. They have given a license to every Muslim and religious fanatic who wants to ban every last piece of art & writing that could be deemed offensive to their precious feeling and religion. By doing this, Christians have elevated religious freedom far and away beyond freedom of expression. 

They would have it that the dumbest things be pumped into people's heads, and that nothing be said of this. We owe it to ourselves to have a media and civic debate that is not staid, dull and conformist and terrified of offending people; but that is disputatious, uncivil, rude and even offensive. 

There is a difference between disapproving of something and banning it and in that difference lies a free society.

Now the DUP have decided what you can and can't see. They've done the thinking for you. Are you happy with that? Will you stand for that?

We need to be extremely vigilant against any encroachments on our hard-won freedoms to express and entertain opinions. Matters of public interest are routinely chilled by litigious ministers. The DUP have upheld an old speech law that was described as a "national embarrassment" and as "repugnant" to the US Constitution. 

The urge and impulse to censor will always be a strong one, that is why Christopher Hitchens is right to say free speech needs to be defended by every generation. 
Before the LAD bunker had even warmed up this morning, a call came through on the Twatphone (strange, as it's only the Chief of Police who has that number) from none other than top local hunger striker, failed rally driver and messenger of God, Jamie Bryson.

He was talking that way five year olds do when they're trying to tell you everything they did on holiday, in no more than 5 minutes, you know, all excited and can't quite coordinate their breathing with getting the words out, which made it quite difficult to understand what he was trying to say.  Eventually, after the offer of a bag of jelly babies and a kids meal from MacBurgers, he slowed down and the story unravelled.

It would seem Jamie has been working in conjunction with a secretive republican cover group, known as  Faisean Nuacht (FN).  While FN has been sending members deep cover in front line and civilian roles within the PSNI, Bryson has led a social media campaign to shame Chief of Police, Mark Bartlett, into giving up on trying to convert the proud upstanding men and weemin of Loyalist Ulster, into kind and neighbourly liberals.

Although Barratt has managed to resist this double pronged attack, the revelation that finally broke him is Bryson's discovery of a secret plan involving the PSNI, An Garda Síochána, dissident publicans and the Irish government.  In a recent blog, Bryson has exposed the PSNI as being a publican organisation, infiltrated to the highest level by the FN and EMI.  This is the first stage in a publican cue, with the backing of the Irish government, to overthrow the Loyal and Pradistan people of Ulster and impose a publican Roaming Cathlic state on us.
Pradistan Unionist Loyalist People
Bryson can prove that the war has already started, pointing to the obvious evidence that the Sinn Féin/IRA/PSNI murder squads have already eradicated the UVF in Ulster.  This means us good  Pradistan Unionist Loyalist People (PULP) have been left defenceless, at the mercy of themmuns marching all about the place on Saint Patrick's Day, culminating in the genocide of the PULP just before the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016.

Yes, good Loyalists, heed what Bryson says.  He has all the proof right there inside his head and he can prove it.  Given the overwhelming evidence, is it any wonder Baggott doesn't want to work in this land of crazies anymore?

LAD would ask that everyone thank Jamie for ridding us of the oppressor of the PULP.  Now we can rely on the PSNI only removing publicans and GARCs from the road and letting us march as we used to.

This is a guest post by Ann Travers. We communicated with Ann on Twitter last week when she (again) suffered an enormous amount of online abuse. As a result we offered Ann the opportunity to write a blog for us. These are her words and her story.

The 2nd April 2011 was a beautiful Spring day, much like the 8th April 1984 when my beautiful sister Mary and gorgeous parents were walking home from Mass at St Brigid's Church. They were approximately a couple of hundred yards away from our home when two IRA gunmen approached, one shooting Mary fatally once in the back and then walking over to my mum, who was on the ground cradling her dying daughter and held the gun to her head, the bullets jammed twice, a miracle, the other shot my Dad at point blank range 6 times, seriously injuring him but miraculously he survived. Life was never the same again. I was 14 at the time.

On the 2nd of April 2011, Mum and I were driving home from visiting Mary's grave, it would be her anniversary in a few days and I was up for the weekend, which also happened to be Mothering Sunday weekend. The radio was switched on and the sun was shinning, when the news came on , telling of the murder of a young PSNI officer, Ronan Kerr. We felt so shocked and saddened, I couldn't help but think what a waste and draw similarities with Mary; she was 23 and in her first teaching job and he was only 25 and not long in the police. We got back to Mum's house and switched on the news, where Martin McGuinness was on rightly condemning the murder of a young man just going to work. I wondered why he couldn't say the same for my family and 1000's of others, but I was glad he had changed. At the time of Mary's murder it was described in the Belfast Telegraph by Sinn Fein spin "Miss Travers death was regrettable but understandable as her father was a member of the British Judiciary." Dad was a Resident Magistrate, he didn't carry a gun as he couldn't take a life and he refused police protection as he said he couldn't live with himself if a policeman was killed because of him. My Dad was a good, honest man, who treated everyone as a unique individual. Nobody had the right to murder him. 

On the way back to my home in Wicklow on Monday 4th April, I tuned into Joe Duffy's Live Line programme; they were discussing Ronan Kerr's murder. I don't know what made me do it but I phoned in and told my story and how hurt we felt that the attack on our family is still justified. I said it was to be welcomed that SF were condemning Ronan's murder. I had never spoken publicly before about our story and after I hung up I thought I never would again. Then on Wednesday 18th of May 2011 after doing the school run and just about to have 1st coffee of the day the phone rang, it was a BBC Researcher for Radio Ulster Talk Back programme. She asked me if I'd seen the front of the Irish News, I hadn't so she told me that Mary McArdle had been appointed Special Adviser to the SF Culture Minister. Hearing Mary McArdle's name after all these years was like being punched in the stomach, she was the only person convicted for Mary's murder, she carried the guns and wigs, I could barely breath, I asked the researcher to phone me back, I dropped the phone and panicked, I was back running out of our home in Windsor Avenue and seeing my sister lying awkwardly in the dirt, very still yet gurgling, my dad lying conscious, trying to take off his watch and my mum kneeling beside him "somebody help my poor husband, please somebody help my poor husband ". The box containing my grief and loss that had been kept for 27 years in the back of my head had been forced open . I can't describe adequately here just how I felt, I thought I'd "moved on" but all the healing I thought I had experienced was undone in one fell swoop.

The following days were manic, I spoke to the media, opening my heart in the hope that the new Sinn Fein would listen, the same Sinn Fein that had condemned Ronan Kerr's murder, hoping that Mary McArdle would listen, that they would realise and understand the renewed trauma they had caused and how devastating it was. I didn't think and don't think they went out on purpose to hurt us. It wasn't to be. There was no statement, no, " Mary is standing down as Special Adviser, not because we think she shouldn't have the job but because we didn't realise the very real hurt that would be felt by the Travers family" that would have been it if there had, instead it dragged out, Mary's murder was described as "regrettable " The DFM described the incident as obviously having a "neuralgic effect" on me. Meanwhile the flashbacks continued and the stress levels raised.

I didn't know what to do.

I spoke with SDLP MLAs including Alban Maginness who was very kind and we had many long conversations. But ultimately there was nothing they could do to help except offer support and understanding. I decided to phone Peter Robinson's constituency office to get his email so I could write to him, I thought because he was First Minister he might be able to do something, I was surprised when his secretary offered an appointment to meet him, I was happy to accept, although a little worried as I'd criticised him on Joe Duffy's programme in the April for all the 3rd Force stuff and wearing his "wee beret" but I didn't think he would be listening to RTE1. That first meeting was nerve racking, it was in his constituency office and as I waited I looked at the walls which had lots of Unionist memorabilia, it was very alien to me, a Catholic. His Special Adviser came out to bring me in, I asked him if he had "ever murdered anyone", it was out of my mouth before I thought, he laughed and said no. Peter Robinson was very kind and helpful, he spoke about what they could do to help prevent this from happening to another family but whatever they did, it wouldn't be retrospective. I left feeling pleased another family wouldn't have to go through this but my heart was sinking, this was so wrong, so disrespectful to the memory of my gorgeous sister who didn't ever have the chance to marry, have children, or have her career... I returned home disappointed but determined not to give up.

I saw on the news an MLA who was supportive of our family, Jim Allister. As I had lived in Wicklow for 15 years and England 5 years previously, I didn't know much about Jim or the TUV, but I wrote to thank him for his support just as I wrote to everyone who had been supportive. He replied, told me as a young barrister he had appeared in front of Dad and not to worry he thought there may be a way to have legislation applied retrospectively. He gave me hope! We had quite a lot of email contact then we met for the first time in Stormont on the day it was announced that the SPAD Bill was launched. People were surprised to see me with Jim Allister, they talked about him being a " bigot", sectarian, hating Catholics. This wasn't the man that I had met. He told me he condemned all terrorists both loyalist and republican , there was no doubt how much he disliked SF but then again considering what had happened to my family and now this, I was hardly in love with them. Many of those who were surprised told me I was right to do all that I had to do.

I didn't and don't agree with all the TUV's policies but I am grateful to them for the support they have given me. I know many wont like to hear it but its true, there is no point in me saying things just to curry favour. I can only remain true to myself and the memory of my sister. Jim Allister was and is very kind to me but just because you are friends or associates with someone does not mean that you are responsible for them or agree with everything they do and say. I am positive there are things which I say or do that Jim Allister doesn't agree with.

I carried on with the Spad Bill, even though I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2012, because of the love for my sister. All the name calling to me by those who are unhappy that I spoke up and the Spad Bill succeeding in being passed will never stop my loyalty or love for my family or many of my new friends which include republican and loyalist terrorist victims.

All murder was wrong and that includes any murder of innocents carried out by the state or those who used their job to discredit their colleagues and pass information or guns onto Loyalist Terrorists.

Looking back now I realise what an immense journey I have come on in the past 3 years. I have spoken to people who I would never in a million years thought I would ever have spoken to. I have listened to them and they have listened to me. We have agreed to disagree on some issues but agreed on others. We have shown compassion towards each other and started the building blocks of understanding. 

All of this however will be worthless if the justification of past murders continues; if the lack of tolerance, understanding and compassion continues. I don't understand why some victims attack other victims, mostly on social media, we are all the same! We all grieved, our religion shouldn't matter, neither should it matter which terrorist organisation made us victims. Some of us want truth and justice, others just truth - this is fine, neither opinion is wrong. Why can we not support each other instead of abuse each other. I am not perfect, I've made mistakes, but hey I'm human.

In 2014 my wish would be more compassion, respect and tolerance could be shown. That there could be an acknowledgement that terrorism happened here and it was wrong, no justification, whether Loyalist or Republican. ALL WRONG.

Ah yes and one more thing, no more abuse on twitter after writing this, but maybe that's pushing it! 

Ann Travers


3 December 2012. This is a date etched on many politically minded people's memories - the date when the City Council voted to fly the Union Flag on designated days at Belfast City Hall; a date which was followed by the Council Chamber being stormed, by street blockages, and by mass disruption.
There were two prime sides involved in this dispute - the "Loyalists" (broadly inner-city Protestants) who wanted the flag retained 365 days a year and were broadly backed by Unionists, and the "Progressives" (broadly suburbanites) who were content to compromise on designated days and were in this case broadly backed by Nationalists. Here I will argue that the Progressives were right in terms of pure policy, but also that in fact both sides are guilty of similar types of strategic misjudgement. This will lead to a further, subsequent article about why "Loyalists" and "Progressives" need both to be aware of the "bogey man politics" used against them both (when it suits) by mainstream Unionists and Nationalists.
Loyalists were sure of their case. Despite being the majority community; despite being the very group for whom Northern Ireland was set up; despite being British people on British territory; their flag was "torn down" from their capital city's civic centre. A campaign ranging from general disruption to mass voter registration would soon see it put back up again, however. How could it not? After all, almost everyone Loyalists themselves spoke to agreed with the obvious merit of their case. We were told, with certainty, that the quiet minority who had not been voting up until this point were also instinctively on their side and would no doubt be invigorated by their campaign.
Illustration by Brian John Spencer
Yet somehow we have arrived into 2014 and the flag still isn't "back up". Disenchanted, Loyalists mustered only 300 at a City Hall protest registered for 10,000; voter registration is lowest in the very constituencies Loyalists were targeting; general frustration with politics in inner-city, majority-Protestant areas has, if anything, increased.
There are three main potential reasons for this - first, that the campaign didn't actually deliver; second, that it was on the wrong issue for most people anyway; and third, there was simply no evidence for the claims about "non-voters" they were making.
The campaign couldn't possibly work in reality. Speaking to each other, Loyalists may have perceived they had numbers, but in fact they were nowhere near a majority; and outside their own social circles, their case was by no means obvious.
In any case, it was on the wrong issue completely. Asked if they want the flag "back up", most in inner-city majority-Protestant areas will no doubt agree - but it's not remotely a priority. Welfare changes, leisure provision, local jobs, perhaps immigration would all feature higher in their list of interests. As politicians have shown no interest in those, we should be unsurprised that they show no interest in politicians!
Of course, the census shows there is also a Catholic plurality in Belfast. Crudely, this means that if everyone in Belfast turned out to vote, Nationalists would still have more seats than Unionists. The "non-voter" was no more or less likely to be "Loyalist" than the "voter"!
What has this to do with people in the "moderate centre ground", those I have come to refer to as "Progressive"? Did Progressives not support the Alliance position, backing designated days? They couldn't be more different from Loyalists, surely?
In some ways, they are exactly the same - capable of making the precise same basic strategic errors. Like Loyalists, Progressives are inclined, from discussions with each other, to assume their positions have greater support among the general public than they actually have. Like Loyalists, Progressives can often pick issues with which they find wide-ranging agreement, but which are not in fact priority issues. Like Loyalists, this disconnect - assuming wider-ranging support than is the case, and picking low-priority issues in any case - leads to greater disenfranchisement among people who would be natural supporters (while being ignored by the majority of non-voters who were never likely supporters in the first place).
Before we determine what Progressives want, we may usefully ask who they are, and why they are who they are. I wrote some months ago that they tend to be from professional backgrounds, typically well-educated and most often suburban. That, alongside the fact they tend to be younger, means they typically knee-jerk social-liberal. Generally, they did not experience the brunt of "the Troubles", although there would certainly be directly affected victims among their number (conceivably even disproportionately so). They are well represented in finance, in the arts sector, in the tech industries, in academia and in the third sector, but scarcely at all in politics (in the broadest sense). On economic issues their views vary, though they typically endorse both grammar schools (without necessarily advocating selection) and integrated education (including shared, to some extent). Sports-wise they tend towards rugby, and leisure-wise towards film/theatre. They have no time for parades, and little for local football (although they would almost unfailingly endorse the NI international team). As a result of all of this, they tend not to think much about identity, but insofar as they do, they are probably most comfortable with the designation "Northern Irish". Most are content living in the UK but also enjoy regular trips across the border. They do not regard a "United Ireland" as something to be feared, but simply do not believe it to be feasible (even if it is their instinctive preference in some cases). If challenged (and they prefer not to be), they endorse the constitutional status quo on broad economic and social grounds, rather than on communal or cultural grounds.
I should emphasise that very few people in Northern Ireland fit this precise description; but when I did put it forward, a number did say they clearly identified with most of it.
It is important to note also that Progressives are not merely "moderates" or "liberals" fitting in somewhere between Unionists/Loyalists and Nationalists/Republicans; they are in fact entirely distinct from them. They do not attempt to balance out the competing aspirations and policy goals of each side; on the contrary, they have their own to pursue!
From a narrow sectarian point of view, "Progressives" look a bit like "Unionists". "Nationalists" would often accuse them of this - but they are wrong to. Progressives are markedly different. Most obviously, Progressives are positive about the future and indeed cannot wait to move themselves (and Northern Ireland broadly) into it; this is the complete opposite of mainstream Unionists, who are negative about the future and would like, if possible, to move us back to the past.
Despite their different cultural interests and social backgrounds, we have established there are incredible similarities in the way Progressives and Loyalists go about their politics. Like Loyalists, Progressives are split between a growing number of small political parties, when this in fact deprives them of influence. Like Loyalists, Progressives believe some of their causes to be obvious (e.g. the case for an Assembly Opposition), when in fact no one else is interested. Like Loyalists, Progressives believe they have vast numbers (particularly among "non-voters"), when there is simply no evidence for this contention.
Like Loyalists, Progressives are a relatively small minority who have to work with larger minorities. So, like Loyalists, Progressives in fact need to pick their issues more carefully and then unite to argue for them. Perhaps it is time to discuss that...?

Read part two tomorrow...


This is a guest post from a new contributor Ian James Parsley

Whilst we don't necessarily agree with all of the content of this article, we are always happy to feature an alternative point of view.

I spend a fair whack of time thinking about business in Northern Ireland.

More specifically, I think about the kind of business that will make ME money.

Unfortunately, I'm rather short on ideas but on occasion I have the odd brainwave.

Most brainwaves revolve around the underdeveloped front of the Northern Irish tourism market.

In particular youth hostels and tours.

I only say this as I have staggered out of manys a hostel from Bangkok to Zagreb to Prague to Kampala to Sydney and sucked in all the tourist tat that they have to offer.

To think of tourism is to think geographically so for example Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia make way in one's mind for 'bits of the aul' Yugoslavia', Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are pretty much indistinguishable to your average Anglophone, and most people from the UK care as much for the differences between Germany and Austria as they do the difference between North and South Yorkshire.

German Barmaid
Austrian Barmaid
So, in that respect, Northern Ireland and the South should (and indeed usually are) be seen just as 'Ireland'.

Fair enough, says I.

Until I see what 'Ireland' is.

According to the badge of Paddywagon tours from Dublin, Ireland is defined by green, white and orange.

(And as a southern based company, that's fair enough, those are the colours of the flag of their country, but things are different 'up north')

To my mind, green, white and orange is a relatively recent advent but it is a dominant one.


                                                              "Old Irish?"

So, what exactly is 'Irish'?

No matter what way you look at it, Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer, Nigel Dodds, Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley are 'Irish'.

They're certainly not the kind of Irish people that Board Failte highlights, more like the mad relative in the attic kind of Irish, but they are Irish nonetheless.

Think of the Irish men that adorn the walls of Irish pubs around the world:

Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Bernard-Shaw, Swift, Lewis, Beckett, Day-Lewis, Guinness...

Yet very few of them were represented by the modern day version of 'Irish' (maybe Yeats but the jury's out on that one).


So what was Irishness before the advent of Paddywagon and their green, white and gold badge on the side of their mini-buses?

And how did Irishness survive in places like Bushmills and Carrickfergus in the ways that the modern form can not?

Or indeed why can't 'Irishness' be tolerated in parts of Ireland?

Is there something wrong with the Irishmen there or is something distorted about the Irishness that they are expected to adhere to?

"Old Irish?"

In County Antrim there are villages where they play unadulterated forms of 'traditional Irish folk music' that haven't changed for centuries.

The sticking point being that this form of Irish music is given its geography very Scottish in nature.

Bloody typical McDonalds, I mean McDonnells, I mean McNeills, sorry, 'O'Neills'...

So, if these Irishmen, who haven't changed much of their culture in a long time reject Irishness, then what is it they reject?

Is it perhaps wrong to expect some northerners to accept the tricolour as the Irish uber-flag?

And if not, why not?

Surely the tri-colour has as much right in Bushmills as the Union Flag has in Convoy Co Donegal?

Maybe we should all take a step back and ask what it actually means to be Irish.

And I don't mean in the American sense.

Throughout my travels the idea 'Irishman' conjures hard drinking, red haired, rural Catholic men yet when we talk about Irish legends and their accomplishments in Irish bars in places like downtown Brussels, Paris, Gdansk, Kampala, Chicago, Boston etc. we refer to anything but (well, apart from maybe Paul O'Connell. Just thought I'd mention him in case he catches wind of my statement and decides to break my legs).

So why the disparity?

And if the modern phantom of Irishness is so unappealing to many northern citizens then how can the dream of a united Ireland ever be truly realised by the majority population?

I've often wondered how regularly Paddywagon tours takes its patrons to some the fine pubs in Bushmills.

Maybe they do it regularly.

If they do, then hats off.

But I struggle with the idea of seeing that particular brand of green, white and gold Irish van happily parked in a red, white and blue Irish village (without being on fire).

Why is there no 'other' kind of Irish any more?

What happened to the Irishness of the men listed above?

Is there any way to bring it back?

I also recall a few years ago going into a tourist store in Belfast.
In the corner there were a few Ulster flags and Union flags unlovingly stashed there (I suspected a strong worded letter or two had made their way to the manager).

I thought the Union flags were a bit out of place from a tourist point of view e.g. who goes into a tourist store in Scotland or Wales to buy a Union flag?

Ditto Northern Ireland.

But then, I felt very little relation to a lot of the other green, white and orange tat that was there too, to me it is kinda 'foreign' (but not in a rabid Jim Allister way!!!).

(I think I settled for a De Burgh style Ulster flag key ring bottle opener....)

De Burgh Style Ulster Banner

Some one over on www.sluggerotoole.com said that in the same way that the northern Irish Prods are becoming more 'British than British' so too might the northern Irish Catholics become more 'irish than Irish'.

The problem for me is that once you cut away the flegs and nationalistic baggage they are both as Irish and as British as each other but they can't see it.

To say some one is 'more Irish' than me on account of how much they love the tricolour or nationalism is as ludicrous as saying Willie Frazer is more 'British' than Boris Johnston.

Once both sides accept their true (neither completely green nor completely orange) colours then Northern Ireland can start to cease its immolation.

Till then, it's Paddywagon, wee plastic Union flegs, non-offensive key-rings and the usual conflict of cherry-picked identities that once upon a time used to be one and the same.