Happy Ulster Day!

Happy Ulster Day!

Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant, commonly known as the Ulster Covenant, was signed by just under half a million Irishmen and women on and before 28 September 1912, in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill introduced by the British Government in the same year.


Sir Edward Carson was the first person to sign the Covenant at Belfast City Hall with a silver pen, followed by Lord Londonderry (the former viceroy of Ireland), representatives of the Protestant churches, and then by Sir James Craig.

We, their descendants, just as they were, are duty bound to defend our country and its people from any perceived threat to our way of life.


On 12th May 2016 the Loyalist Communities Council launched a Flags Protocol.


Its aim, to prevent our national emblems being left on display in a dilapidated state and asking that steps were taken to prevent this occurring.

Dalaradia, as part of the LCC, ask that, as agreed, all remaining flags be taken down on or as as soon as possible after Ulster Day – 28th September 2017.

Flags and emblems are highly potent symbols of community allegiances and are important demonstrators of our Loyalist and Unionist heritage and culture.

Please treat them as such – many thanks.


Straight to work

5 days in and after some sight seeing and experiencing local culture the guys are now settled and its straight to work in Africa for the LCC Tanzania Project.

The purpose of this project is to promote team building, international work experience and youth development with the volunteers and to expose these youth to different cultures, religions and challenges and at the same time benefit the needy children of the orphanage. The aim is to make a difference both at home and in Africa.





The Loyalist grouping known as the Red Hand Commando (RHC) has officially requested to be removed from the list of proscribed organisations. The request was made in London and will be looked at by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. At the time of writing it is not known how long it will take for a decision to be made. Reaction to the request has been somewhat mixed.

The application has been made under Section 4 of the Terrorism Act (2000) which allows for members of a banned group to contact the government to request deproscription without themselves facing the threat of being charged with membership. The theory being that deproscription could help an organisation move forward towards integration and obviously away from previous association with violence.

The initiative is being supported by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), the umbrella organisation set up by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell to steer paramilitaries away from criminality, and the LCC’s chairman, David Campbell, said that Mr Powell supported the application to the Home Secretary. Mr Campbell argued that in retaining the paramilitary name, rather than disbanding, it would be harder for dissidents to seek to revive it at a future point. There has always been a fear that ‘dissident’ Loyalists could use the name of the three main Loyalist paramilitary organisations as a cover for criminal activity.

Senior Loyalist Jim Wilson (a former RHC prisoner) stated that;

“This organisation is not about glorifying murder, bombings, shootings – it happened in a conflict that we got engaged in as young lads and it’s not something that people want to run about and gloat about and to have it pushed into people’s faces. That’s not what deprosciption is about – it’s about allowing us to move to the next phase which is out of conflict, away from what happened in this society and all those people that were hurt by our organisation, Gusty Spence couldn’t have said it any better – it is true and abject remorse. But we were brought up in a society where there was violence and young lads from our Protestant community engaged in it and that’s it – the organisation couldn’t be any clearer; it’s sorry for the people that had to be hurt in this conflict.”

The words obviously hit a nerve with Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein as he described the move as ‘abhorrent’. When it was pointed out to him that his actions and the actions of his former IRA colleagues went beyond abhorrent into mass sectarian genocide and that it was hypocritical of him to even comment on this move he decided to skulk off elsewhere. But there was widespread concern amongst victims groups that, in not dealing with the needs of victims and their families first, this type of move could be seen as too soon and too upsetting. Others welcomed the move and saw it as progressive and potentially ground-breaking.

Then there is the “politics” of it all and the repercussions should such a decision be given a positive outcome. Some seasoned political commentators queried what sane government would give the go ahead to legalise a former paramilitary group? What are the benefits to a Tory government when the media exposes Loyalist criminality (or what purports to be Loyalist criminality)? This idea could prove toxic to a government with a slim majority. In turn would those groupings intent on criminality latch on to “legal” groupings to ensure a type of “cover” or veneer of respectability? And the government will worry about the negative headlines around this. Then again the U.K. Government might just offer the suggestion that all this is pointless and groupings should leave the stage voluntarily. Which in turn creates a vacuum to be filled by criminal elements masquerading as loyalists. It is a complex issue indeed.

There is no doubt that within Loyalism there continues to be great desires to remodel and copper fasten the progress achieved during the last decade. Any new initiative to speed up reintegration must be viewed through a prism of positivity if we are to bring everyone forward. The removal of proscription carries with it many risks and it will be interesting to see how the mainland politicians deal with such a request.”



If not loyalists, who else will do this job?


I’ve rarely heard such a lack of political sensitivity as Jim Wilson telling Stephen Nolan that, in applying to the British government to be deproscribed, the Red Hand Commando wants their ‘place in the sun’.

What a disturbing way to put it.

But at the same time, Wilson’s interview on the Nolan Show tells us so much about where loyalism is at in 2017. Still grasping for a political voice, still resentful of their exclusion from big house unionism, still frustrated that they can’t seem to access the kind of social and political legitimacy that they perceive republicans to have accessed.

In the mid 2000s, when I was lecturing in Sociology at QUB, I did some work with the RHC and UVF around their efforts to transition from paramilitarism to peace. Billy Mitchell (no relation), a former UVF commander and PUP strategist, who died in 2006, had invited me to spend some time looking into their work as he’d read some stuff I’d written on Protestantism and liked it.

A few years of hanging around with ex-prisoners, going to loyalist meetings, interviewing in the community, observing their interactions with OFMDFM (for whom I co-wrote an internal report, some of the research methods/findings from which are here), I learned a few things…

Loyalism craves political legitimacy. Most loyalists working in conflict transformation groups that I met, did not seek to excuse their violence during the Troubles, at least not to me. In fact many privately expressed regret. Instead, their real motive was to be understood as combatants who are on a journey from war to peace, and to be given some credit for the ways they were trying to move forward. Because this was, and is, a context where many unionists talk to loyalists in private, yet wash their hands of them in public. Where so much of what they do and say is mocked as the rantings of knuckle dragging thugs and fleggers. And it is a context where they haven’t been able to find a place in the political mainstream, often because of their own limitations, of which more below…

Calling this desire for legitimacy a ‘place in the sun’ is horrendous, utterly offensive to victims. I’m out of the loop now, so I can’t claim to know what the RHC’s sentiments in saying this, or applying for deproscription, really are. But what I heard in Wilson’s interview was the familiar frustration that whilst many loyalists have been working for positive change in their areas for a long time now, they feel that few people either notice or care.

To be specific about what I mean by positive change… I spent time in restorative justice programmes which tried to replace punishment beatings with community-based alternatives. Loyalist conflict transformation groups liaised between paramilitaries, youth workers, the PSNI and Probation Board to facilitate this. I went to anti-racism seminars that they ran on loyalist estates. I watched paramilitary bosses give powerpoint presentations to the rank and file about how the war was over, and the ways in which they needed to transition into peaceful politics and community work. They helped get kids get out of paramilitary groups. I saw loyalists’ close relationships with republican ex-prisoners, who they were in regular contact with, and indeed which peace was partly built on. Their mobiles would ring constantly, often having to leave to break up a fight at the interface, or to talk sense into some kid or other.

Just to be clear, I am talking about loyalist conflict transformation groups here, rather than paramilitary groups per se. These are ex-prisoner and community organisations who have links to, and influence with, loyalist paramilitaries. It’s a fine line, and I don’t think the difference is always clear cut. But it is a distinction worth making, because loyalist conflict transformation groups are aiming for a very different modus operandi (professionalised reconciliation workers, liaising with statutory bodies, supportive of the peace and political process) than the paramilitaries (many of whom are actively involved in crime and intimidation, operating totally outside the system). In a peaceful society, we wouldn’t need these kind of intermediaries. But coming out of conflict, these are jobs that need doing, and it’s fair to say that loyalist conflict transformation groups have been effective precisely because of their paramilitary connections.

In the mid-2000s there was little funding for this work, and loyalist conflict transformation groups would string out bits and scraps of grants, often not taking home a wage. The funding situation has changed now, notably with the UDA and Charter NI. But whilst loyalist groups want their work to be sustainable, I didn’t perceive the people I spent time with to be motivated by financial rewards. It was some mainstream recognition they were after. For people to believe that they could actually effect change. Like they saw Sinn Féin doing. They looked at demobilisation and reconciliation processes in other post-conflict societies, and tried to carve out a similar role for themselves in Northern Ireland.

Did they always succeed? Clearly not. Loyalist paramilitarism continues, and, according to a 2015 PSNI report, is still recruiting. Drug-dealing continues. Punishment beatings have declined but not stopped. Intimidation is still rife. Racism not only continues, but has mutated within loyalism in complex ways, almost in a Trump-like anti-migrant isolationism. Riots still happen at interfaces. But, in my experience, loyalists didn’t ever stop showing up for the work.

So why hasn’t their work paid off more? Why are they still on the fringes of political relevance, puzzling over how to be taken seriously?

Partly it’s their own fault. The way loyalists express their objectives is often jarring. This is not to deny the articulate, analytical ways that many loyalists like David Ervine and Billy Mitchell expressed their politics. But as a whole, there is a tendency to use blunt, stark language, an indisposition or inability to sugar coat and spin. This is not always a bad thing. But it has meant that loyalists have struggled to play the wider political game, with it’s nuanced massaging of words and phrases, to bring people along with the broader journey. And because they have never been able to sell their politics to a wider audience or indeed to voters, they often speak in the voice of angry, beleaguered outsiders. A vicious circle which alienates people outside loyalism even further.

And so they have remained pariahs. They have a sense of victimhood and exclusion that outsiders find incredulous. But which makes sense to a bunch of people whose selfunderstanding is that they took to violence in their teens to protect their communities from the IRA. That they were used as muscle and then sold down the river by the unionist establishment. That their communities have lacked, and still lack, the educational resources to find better solutions to their problems. And all of this in the context of a deeply polarised society in Northern Ireland, where everyone is looking over their shoulder to check how much themmuns are getting. Never mind the wider context of late capitalism where sink estates are generally left to go ahead and sink, while the rest of society holds its nose. Loyalists feel they’re trying to move beyond all this, and that they need help to do so.

But there are further challenges to loyalist conflict transformation groups’ legitimacy. Principally, because they have not yet managed to get violent loyalist paramilitarism under control. While the RHC is small, has an older membership, and may not have been active recently, the same is not true of the UVF and UDA. People are still scared of them, and with good reason. People are afraid to complain about flags and bonfires, and feel in many cases that they have to accept loyalist rule in their area, or else…

In the mid 2000s, I was constantly frustrated with how slowly and painfully the progressive message from the PUP and UVF leadership filtered down the ranks, if at all. In typical Protestant fashion, there were splits and splinters and people who would not come along with the wider project. They lacked the focus and discipline of the republican movement. And this wheel is still spinning. A loyalist leadership with one version of their civic role, versus paramilitary battalions and individuals who couldn’t care less and do what they want.

As I’ve followed the progress of loyalist peace-building over the 2010s – from afar this time – I’ve also been consistently dismayed by the pull towards conservatism and the constant own goals. As a result, articulate, progressive spokespeople like Dawn Purvis and Sophie Long have been unable to keep championing the wider project. Not least because whilst loyalist groups were initially champions of left-wing and even feminist ideas, regressive and misogynist tendencies often bubble to the surface.

Whether this means we should then dismiss the whole concept of loyalist conflict transformation groups, I don’t know. What are they for now, if not to bring people beyond conflict? How long does ‘post conflict transition’ last – is 19 years enough? Will we still be here in 49 years? But at the same time, if they’re open to scrutiny, take a clear stance against criminality, support the political process and some people simply won’t come along, are they just to be written out? Should they become ‘normal’ and assimilate into youth and community services? Maybe. But could they then reach who they need to reach? Could wider unionism or the DUP help with this work instead? I don’t think they are equipped to deal with grittiness, nor have they shown much of an interest to date. More than this, unionist parties have often whipped up sectarian tensions for electoral gain, rather than seeking to calm them.

Do I think the RHC should be legalised? Hell no! It’s 2017 and it’s a Commando! But then again, do I think that the DUP and Sinn Féin are also picking over the bones of the conflict rather than imagining new and transformative ways forward? Absolutely. The RHC cannot be singled out for using the language and structures of the past to grasp at meaning in the present. I am no fan of bonfires and flags. But airbrushing them out, in the context of continuing deep division, is impossible. Saying thanks very much, now please go away, would leave a gaping hole in struggling loyalist areas. And I don’t want to imagine what might fill this hole instead…

Which keeps me coming back to the same question… If not loyalists, who else is going to do this job? Who else cares about loyalist estates, the hoods and the fleggers? Who else will be able to tell the ceasefire soldiers why paramilitarism is not all it’s cracked up to be? Who else is going to be able to call out racism in a way that loyalist communities have ears to hear? Who else can offer a narrative of loyalist post-conflict transition? I have more questions than answers. All I know is that when I was a regular in loyalist areas in the mid 2000s, I didn’t see anybody else signing up for the job.


Claire Mitchell is a freelance writer. Formerly senior lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a member of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but all views are her own. More at www.clairemitchell.net

On their way

An early rise for the lads as they begin their journey to Tanzania yesterday morning.

Through the Hubb – Dalaradia provided a minibus to transport the LCC delegation to Dublin airport in what will be their first day of a months travel.


The volunteers will spend 4 weeks working with the Kidzcare (www.kidzcaretanzania.org ) orphanage and schools in Tanzania during September into October 2017.

The purpose of this project is to promote team building, international work experience and youth development with the volunteers and to expose these youth to different cultures, religions and challenges and at the same time benefit the needy children of the orphanage. The aim is to make a difference both at home and in Africa.

Godspeed guys.

Why we should welcome the winds of change that blow through loyalism


Red Hand Commando bid to be legalised presents as much of a challenge to unionism as it does to loyalism, writes Graham Spencer and Chris Hudson

Move by the Red Hand Commando to be legalised ‘should be welcomed

The announcement yesterday by the Red Hand Commando (RHC) that an application had been made to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on September 5 for de-proscription under section four of the Terrorism Act 2000 is a significant transformative step that sets a marker for a process of much-needed change within loyalism.

In its statement the RHC reiterated Gusty Spence’s famous words of the combined loyalist ceasefire of 1994 about “true and abject remorse to all the innocent victims” of the conflict, before stressing that loyalists should play a full part “in moving Northern Ireland towards a more peaceful and stable society”.

The statement went on to cast a critical light on the “mindless few” who engage in criminal activities and who persist in servicing their own individual greed at the expense of communities that urgently need confidence and energy to face the challenges ahead.

Importantly, the RHC view the request for de-proscription as a response to a community requiring legitimacy and credibility that has been denied it, largely because of the accusations of criminality that dominate the image of loyalism; an image, it must be said, largely imposed by others, who prefer to insist that loyalist communities are places where thugs and intimidation are accepted as a way of life.

No doubt many, in their initial response to the RHC statement, will reach for this easy, inaccurate and damaging stereotype as an auto-response.

However, be aware that there are serious conversations taking place in loyalist organisations about what a future free from the structures of violence might look like. This has been a long time in coming, but should surely be welcomed.

Admittedly, little obvious progress has been achieved since the Good Friday Agreement and the conversations themselves have been convoluted, difficult, complex and intense. Admittedly, too, the various organisations operate at different levels of conviction over what change means and have been more or less planning for that.

Yet, given these differences, there now exists a serious opportunity for building impetus into a transformative process for loyalism.

The RHC statement is an indication of discussions which have been going on behind the scenes for some time and the UVF and UDA will, no doubt, watch reaction to the de-proscription application with interest as they conduct their own internal discussions about transformation.

The launch of the Independent Reporting Commission at the end of this month also offers another important context by which to monitor and support change, and could prove especially useful in bringing further leverage to serious transformation efforts.

There is unlikely to be much sympathy for any internal difficulties that paramilitary leaders might face – even if their presence is necessary to support positive transformation (who else is going to do it?).

But, important though the actions of leaders are, there is nevertheless a very real need to see the problem of transformation as being hindered rather than helped by middle-class unionism that continues to denigrate loyalism and any genuine attempts by its leaders to reinforce peace in communities, while offering nothing constructive in return.

Apart from a handful of individuals working to support loyalists, most push on with the myth that loyalism is simply bad and unionism is good.

In our view, the issue of where loyalism goes is not just a residue matter of conflict, but has now also become a question of class. The view that unionism is respectable and loyalism is not has reinforced the sense of loss and isolation felt by many in loyalist areas. To help build loyalist transformation we argue that an inclusive unionism is now urgently needed, where the divisions of class are addressed and where loyalism is encouraged to play a central role in the creation of a confident outlook, rather than used to reinforce wider social fears and anxieties about the future.

Indeed, we believe that the term “loyalism” has become so loaded with negative connotations it should be replaced by “working-class unionism” to end the ridiculous superiority and inferiority distinction between unionism and loyalism that exists.

Though the progress of republicanism remains a concern for many loyalists, the real difficulty comes from loyalism not envisioning a path of change that confronts the predicament it faces. And defining this predicament is sure to prove evasive all the time the Union remains the single priority.

The reason for this is fairly simple: you cannot make a convincing case for change when the situation you are most concerned about is already to your advantage. Progress has to be built on agreement about what is missing, or lacking, and working to try and overcome that absence.

For a community to be preoccupied with preserving what they have at all costs risks becoming a form of social hypochondria, with fear stifling energy and reducing challenges to a simple “us-and-them” formula.

What is clear more generally is that the unionist psychology is not well equipped to think in terms of change, or difference, because historically its main concern has been preservation.

The excitement of possibility that existed at the time of the Good Friday Agreement has dissipated into black and white politics where crude win-lose situations become the main reference point for political understanding. But this is not conducive to a stable, diverse and confident society.

To build transformation, loyalism and unionism together must address the areas of deficit which inhibit aspiration and confidence. Central to this is the issue of educational under-achievement, which in loyalist communities is acute. Without achieving basic national standards of education, the possibilities for development and aspiration become limited.

But education is not just a problem confined to schools. It comes from the inability to see the value in a culture of education that includes everyone and where creativity, diversity and imagination start to take precedent over reactive attitudes to issues of the day.

As confidence grows, so does the willingness to engage in political and social debates, and the more vibrant and interesting society becomes as a result.

Contrary to the popular view, there are a number of individuals who belong to, or remain connected with, loyalist paramilitary organisations that are intelligent, articulate, humorous and imaginative.

They understand the potential of the influence they might have to advance transformation, but they need external assistance to help shape the conditions for that change to take hold as well.

There is much good work going on at community level, but it lacks convergence and it is not attached to a broader strategic plan about where things might – or should – be in 10 or 20 years’ time.

The Sinn Fein project has a dynamic to it and that dynamic brings emotive appeal.

The dynamic is about working to bring about a united Ireland. Looking at unionism, it is hard to identify a dynamic at all and that means it is not much of an attractive proposition.

What should middle and working-class unionism do to encourage external interest and support for its development?

It is important to remember that Sinn Fein saw the need for this early on, when its leaders sought to use those such as Brendan Duddy, Fr Alec Reid, John Hume, Irish-America and the Irish and British Governments to help facilitate the conditions where the advantages of change could be more convincingly presented.

Both unionism and loyalism have been weak on this front, preferring to look inwards and viewing external influence with suspicion.

A considerable number of loyalist leaders now see the value of working with external players to help make the case for change.

They realise that the media stereotype of criminality (and, indeed, criminality itself) must be confronted, although the latter is surely more a policing matter, and they acknowledge that honest and direct discussion has to be ongoing in relation to an emerging strategic vision.

Of course, there should be no underestimating how those opposed to transformation will try to disrupt it where they can, striving to protect personal fiefdoms and control.

But over time they will become ostracised as communities increasingly come to see that their actions are destroying the badly needed confidence, aspiration and diversity that will allow working-class unionism to thrive and play a full and positive role in the development and progress of Northern Ireland as a whole.

However the Home Secretary responds to the RHC request for de-proscription, it is clear that the application is a gesture of seriousness and a determination to advance the case of loyalism beyond the box that much of unionism and others wants it to stay in.

The RHC request presents a challenge to unionism as much as it does loyalism and how the two respond together will show us whether a new inclusive unionism is possible, or whether the old tired responses of “us-and-them” show no sign of waning.

Dr Graham Spencer is Reader in Social and Political Conflict at the University of Portsmouth. Rev Chris Hudson of All-Souls Church in Belfast mediated between the UVF and the Dublin government during the early stages of the peace process

Belfast Telegraph

Progressive Unionist Party Response to Red Hand Commando request to be removed from list of Proscribed organisations


“The Progressive Unionist Party of Northern Ireland welcomes today’s statement from the Red Hand Commando.

We understand the hurt that has been felt as a result of the troubles and we understand how difficult a step this may be for some. However, having shown “True and abject remorse” for its actions, those associated with the RHC have led by example in demobilising and reintegrating with the wider community.

They have engaged in activities that promote and support peace, build capacity within their community and positively engaged in guiding the loyalist community away from violence and paramilitary activity.

These actions should be encouraged and supported by all as part of our reconciliation process and serve as an example for other paramilitary organisations to follow.”

Deproscription application: Loyalist Communities Council statement in full


‘The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) welcomes and supports the application to the Home Secretary by representatives of the RHC for their organisation to be removed from the list of UK proscribed organisations.

One of the key reasons behind the formation of the LCC was to assist the three main loyalist groupings in their transformation away from paramilitarism and to work constructively for the benefit of loyalist and unionist communities.

It is many years since the RHC was engaged in violent or criminal activity. Its leaders and members have supported the peace process and have led many initiatives to regenerate deprived loyalist areas, and promote loyalist and unionist heritage and culture.

The LCC hopes that HM Government will recognize that this application is made sincerely and in good faith, and will respond positively.

It is further hoped that this course being taken by the RHC can lay out a road map for the transformation of loyalist groups in general, and that this action might be followed in due course by the other two main loyalist organisations.


Deproscription application: Red Hand Commando statement in full



Red Hand Commando

‘On Wednesday 6th September 2017 an application was submitted under section 4 of the Terrorism Act (2000) for the deproscription of the Red Hand Commando with the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

On behalf of our organisation we echo the words of Gusty Spence in offering true and abject remorse to all innocent victims of the conflict here.

Some of those present for yesterdays statement: Robin Stewart, Community Development Officer at Reach UK, Jim Wilson, Chairman of Reach UK, and David Campbell of the Loyalist Communities Council

Some of those present for yesterdays statement: Robin Stewart, Community Development Officer at Reach UK, Jim Wilson, Chairman of Reach UK, and David Campbell of the Loyalist Communities Council

We as an organisation recognise the continued support of the men and women within our membership, without this support we could not have achieved helping to secure the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom or help maintain a peaceful and democratic society we all enjoy today.

When coming from such a small area of concentrated conflict the transformation process is not an easy one. How we deal with it lies within the balance of leadership throughout the years of troubles into more peaceful times.

Along the road we have travelled we must recognise the influential input of those persons within loyalism who have offered us leadership, direction and a wealth of knowledge enabling us to play our part in moving Northern Ireland to a more peaceful and stable society.

Particularly we mention William ‘Plum’ Smith and Winston Churchill Rea for their guidance to what we have become today. Also we must mention Gusty Spence, David Ervine, Ken Gibson, Billy Mitchell, Jim McDonald, John McMichael and Gary McMichael, many are no longer with us but thanks to their bravery and courage the loyalist community was able to deliver peace.

There are many more names we could add to the above (contrary to the media perspective) who have worked for peace within loyalist communities; however the list would be endless.

In closing we would encourage all those working within loyalist areas to continue their sterling efforts in helping to maintain peaceful resolutions to many of the serious issues which continue to blight our community against a backdrop of those mindless few who refuse to recognise the on-going positive framework within loyalism.

The Peace is harder to win than the War.

R.H.C – Lamh Derg Abu