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In any great organization
it is far, far safer
to be wrong with the majority
than to be right alone.
- John Kenneth Galbraith



Loyalist Commission: A Sign of Hope for the Future


Billy Mitchell


In reporting the meeting between Quentin Davies, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the Loyalist Commission certain newsreaders and journalists referred to the Commission as either the self-styled Loyalist Commission or the so-called Loyalist Commission. They also highlighted the fact that the Commission included representatives of the three main loyalist paramilitary organisations while ignoring the fact that it also includes politicians, church people and community leaders.

The terms self-styled and so-called are used frequently by the media as a means of demeaning loyalists and loyalist organisations. Indeed the media have been largely responsible for using the terms Unionist and Loyalist to distinguish between what they perceive to be 'respectable' law abiding unionists and 'disreputable' law breaking unionists. Thus the term loyalist itself has become a term of abuse signifying all that is alleged to be bad within unionism. The terms so-called and self-styled are used to press home this point. Not only are loyalists 'bad' unionists in the eyes of the media, they are not even true loyalists but so-called loyalists who have to style themselves as such in order to justify their existence.

I am not involved in the Loyalist Commission but I know a number of those who are involved, paramilitary members as well as members from various sectors of civic society, and I am convinced that their involvement arises out of a sincere commitment to work for the political, social and economic well-being of their respective communities. Many of these people are diametrically opposed to violence and are committed to developing non-violent responses to conflict. Their commitment is neither so-called nor self-styled, it is absolutely genuine and already there are small signs that the work of the Commission is having a positive effect within loyalist circles. One would have thought that any initiative set up to unite the disparate groupings within loyalism with a view to helping to break the vicious cycle of alienation, conflict and violence that has beset their communities for so long would be welcomed by the media. It is patently obvious that neither the political establishment nor the leaders of civic society, and most certainly not the media, have been able to address the issues that the Commission has taken on.

That a group of church people, politicians and respected community leaders should have the courage to enter into a coalition with representatives of the main loyalist paramilitaries is surely an initiative that ought to be viewed positively and openly encouraged. That the loyalist paramilitary groups responded in a positive manner is surely evidence in itself that they do care about the state of loyalism and that they are genuinely interested in addressing many of the crucial social and political issues that affect their communities.

Whether one likes paramilitaries or not, they are part and parcel of the communities in which I work and live. They are husbands and sons, brothers and fathers, and in some cases mothers, wives and sisters. They are not aliens dropped in from outer space, but are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Whatever the faults of the paramilitary organisations may be - and there are many - they ought not to be used as the scapegoats for society's ills or as a cover for the failure of civic society to address its own problems. In many ways they are the physical manifestation of society's failure to resolve its differences.

Social and political problems are our problems. It is time to stop passing the buck. I believe that the Loyalist Commission is saying "the buck stops with us, we intend to do something about what is happening to our communities". They are to be commended for that, and I for one regard the Commission and its work as a sign of hope for the future. It is about time that editors, journalists and newscasters began to give credit where credit is due.



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