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Loyalists. No Surrender.

Mariusz Smiejek | Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Paramilitary mural in support of the British Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in the bedroom of a 16-year-old arrested for possession of firearms and ammunition. The charges was later dropped. Belfast

Who are the Northern Ireland Loyalists?

How do they talk about themselves and others see them?

For the global mass media and in social media (particulary after the recent parliamentary elections in the UK and an agreement with Theresa May) they are perceived to be the armed wing of the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party.

For some Irish Republicans in south and north of Ireland, they simply represent British terrorists particly when they are attached or promote paramilitary organizations.

For Irish dissidents in Northern Ireland, this Loyalists the enemy and the primary reason for continuation of a long-standing (seemingly ended) conflict.

Some of the middle class in Northern Ireland – give loyalism a wide berth and leaves the country whenever the 12th of July, the most important Loyalist holiday, comes around – and see them as troublemakers and working class rabble-rousers with whom to completely avoid association.

Wikipedia describes them as ethnic nationalists strongly affiliated with paramilitary organizations.

If they travel to the British mainland, then the English – because of their accent – call them Paddies (Irish).

“Ulster Loyalism is not a new thing, there is documentation of people referring to themselves as Loyalists away back in 18th century. However it may go back further. The term became more commonly used after the formation of the United Kingdom in 1801. Many groups of people see themselves as Ulster Loyalists including marching bands and the loyal orders. Many othersiders wrongly perceive loyalism as describing people who are violent or being loyal to the Queen. Loyalism can be perceived in different ways, but for me it’s about being Loyal to Northern Ireland and the UK. You don’t even have to be a Protestant to be a Loyalist. I know a range of Roman Catholics who are Loyalists. A real Loyalist is someone who works to better their community and better the lives of people living in the United Kingdom”.
Andy (name changed) is an ardent Loyalist, a member of an Orange Lodge.

“I was a British warrior, I was shot 12 times during street fights in Belfast, and I have spent more than 22 years in prison. Here is my home, my country for which I struggle to this day.”

“Across the peace wall are Irish dissidents, armed with automatic weapons. The police are afraid of them because the dissidents use bullets and pipe bombs against the constables. We feel safer knowing that in our district paramilitary forces are prepared to defend our families in cases of danger from our active paramilitary neighbors.”
Billy (name changed) and his partner with their teenage son were arrested for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. The main indictment was directed at 16-year-old John (name changed) for belonging to an illegal paramilitary organization the evidence for such charges, in addition to the weapons, were also the paramilitary murals and slogans on the walls of the teenager’s bedroom.
In Northern Ireland, it is normal to find murals on house walls in the British Loyalist districts; highlighting the history of these organizations.


“I don’t trust the DUP. As Loyalists we vote for them just to keep the Irish Republicans from coming to power. In fact, that is the main argument our politicians use to convince us to vote. Of course, remembering what the IRA did to us during “The Troubles” – that argument is quite enough for us. If you ask me, I think terrorists are sitting in our parliament who have forgotten their past.”
“I haven’t seen any politicians who would care to contact their voters; it’s even difficult to see them on the streets during an election campaign. I personally do not remember any one of them caring about our fate, and the British government has long stopped supporting us.”
“They talk about ‘sharing space,’ but I don’t know what that means – I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’m not against Irish Catholics; we like each other, often talk with each other. I’m frightened by the Irish dissidents in the neighborhood. That’s who I’m afraid of. And that’s a big difference and the most common mistake in the world understanding who is the real danger for us Loyalists.”
Debbie (name changed) spent three years in the Twaddell Avenue activists camp, built immediately after a Parades Commission decision to keep a parade away from an area close to where Irish Republicans live. This led the police to block the Ardoyne Loyalist marching band members from returning home during the 12th of July commemorations.
The protests lasted for 3 years; the cost of operations and police work to keep the peace in the district was estimated at around £20 million. After long negotiations, an agreement was finally made, the camp was closed and they are not allowed to finish the route of the return parade.

“England doesn’t give a damn. They don’t care about us until people die and until brutal murders happen in the streets or bombs explode. Most of the English don’t even realize that we belong to the United Kingdom; they don’t understand that we are British, too. They call us Paddies!”
“Everybody around Northern Ireland demands we integrate with each other, and, at the same time, they don’t like how we celebrate our own culture and our belonging to the United Kingdom in our own home.”
“As long as Irish dissidents exist and are active, we need defence organizations to protect us from attacks and the IRA dreams of a united Ireland. The British weren’t able to finish things with the IRA, so we have to do it ourselves.”
Lucy (name changed) comes from outside Belfast and is the daughter of an Ulster Defence Regiment officer (Northern Ireland branch of British Army) who the IRA tried to assassinate on more than a dozen occasions. Moreover, three attempts have been made to shoot her partner, a member of a paramilitary organization in the past. As a little girl, she witnessed a shooting on her street during which her classmate’s father was killed. Today she sees no reason to devote any funds to cross-community projects: “It’s just a waste of time. Instead of that we could build schools, hospitals, and a new social housing,” she adds.

Despite the same culture, tradition, ideology, and only slightly different objectives, the Loyalists themselves do not disguise their antipathies amongst themselves as well, the best example being the factions in the UVF and UDA paramilitaries. These internal hostilities have existed since “The Troubles” when both the British and Irish groups, occasionally had conflict within their own communities, also fought amongst each other and murdered on the same side of the barricade in an already very bloody conflict.
Radical loyalists are a rather small group, and paramilitary activity is estimated only a few continually active organizations throughout the whole territory of Northern Ireland. These encompass primarily the people of Belfast and the larger cities of Ulster.

Many Loyalists are members of bands, and of various types of other British organizations which do not, in any way, officially endorse paramilitary activities or identify themselves with sectarian paramilitary attacks against Irish Roman Catholics.
They are just proud Britons, plain and simple, and open to contact with different cultures, religions, or worldviews.

Some unionists in NI are middle class however loyalism is extremely working class with high levels of multiple deprivation poverty and educational under achievement.

Middle class celebrate all Ulster and British holidays, like everyone else but some of them don’t take part in parades or belong to the Loyalist bands. Mostly this entails a group of middle and upper-class people who integrate well, live mainly in mixed neighborhoods, and increasingly form ties with Irish Catholic Republicans.

Northern Ireland, during the recent referendum, 56% opted to stay in the EU. In the subsequent parliamentary elections, almost 300 thousand individuals, supported the DUP which is for leaving the EU and has just supported the British conservatives who are Brexit supporters.

Freelance photojournalist and a proud father. His work is dedicated to expose issues of post-conflict territories and societies. Mariusz lives in Belfast since 2010 and has been documenting a long term project about the transition and everyday life in Northern Ireland during the peace process. He was professionally trained as a photojournalist with the National Geographic in Poland.

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