Tag Archives: loyalists

Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.

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Decommissioning LAD – NI’s Satirical Warlords On Temporary Ceasefire?

21 Apr
Anonymous victim in Alan Clarke's 'Elephant'

Anonymous victim in Alan Clarke’s ‘Elephant’

On Friday afternoon known dissident republican Tommy Crossan was shot dead in West Belfast near an industrial estate in broad daylight. The murder of Crossan prompted condemnation from both first and deputy ministers.

I’ve already written this weekend about the numb response paramilitary killings have received in the past in Northern Ireland in relation to Alan Clarke’s 1989 film for BBC tv – Elephant. I argued that the Clarke’s elephant is very much still in the room, and that we need reminded every once in a while to engage. Decades of violence here have turned much of the population into cold beings. While we continue to get used to universal condemnation of violence, the political statements do little to bring an end to it on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Satirical commentary? 

On Friday, satirical group LAD (Loyalists Against Democracy, aka. LADFleg) responded to news of the killing with the Tweet: “BREAKING NEWS: Criminal shot dead by other criminals. Moral of story: Live by the gun, die by the gun”

A lengthy engagement with the message followed on Twitter, and on Facebook (before the Facebook page was itself decommissioned – more on that shortly). Criticism seems to be largely two fold – i) that LAD are glorifying violence and being disrespectful to the family of the deceased, ii) that LAD were labelling (all) republicans as criminals.

LAD's Easter 2014 logo

LAD’s Easter 2014 logo

On Saturday LAD subsequently posted an apology of sorts [LAD say it is a statement] on their Tumblr. The original tweet was made by a LADmin frustrated by the regular occurrences of the shootings. The group accepted that their choice of wording was not to everyone’s taste, and that not everyone liked everything the group posts.

At the same time the Facebook account was deactivated, and their Twitter announced:

To all intents and purposes it appeared that LAD had finally fallen foul of public opinion. But was this an appropriate response?

With regards to the criticisms several points can be observed. I don’t for a moment take the “offending” message as being one that condones violence. Rather it picks up on a well-known piece of cautionary advice “those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. If one lives in a world of guns and violence, there is a probability that the guns and violence may be delivered on you.

I shouldn’t need to, and have no desire to be an apologist for LAD, but some of the responses given are blinkered and betray the inevitable bias of the posters.

The inference that the post referred to all republicans is a weak one. The tweet happens to refer to two republicans in THIS instance. The gunman who murdered Crossan is undoubtedly a criminal. Murder is against the law in both the UK and Ireland, and most of the rest of the world (I’m assuming there is some distant place where it might just be considered okay). Crossan himself was already labelled a criminal through his involvement with the Continuity IRA: he had been given a ten year sentence previously for his involvement in an attempt to murder an RUC officer.

While some republicans might view the RUC as a ‘legitimate target’ for an assassination attempt, the taking of another’s life is still murder, and still a crime. Plotting to facilitate this provides a mens rea which would be used to aid a conviction. In this specific circumstance, both Crossan and his murderer are criminals. The LAD statement is accurate, and appropriate.

There are no doubt family members of Crossan who will be horrified by what has happened.

The henchman's family mourn in "Austin Powers" (1997)

The henchman’s family mourn in “Austin Powers” (1997)

There’s that wonderful scene in the Austin Powers movies where the killed henchman’s family are told of their dad’s death at the office after being crushed by a steamroller, and the ramifications for those who aren’t directly involved. A comedy moment which deftly approaches an impact of criminal behaviour we seldom think about. I had a chance encounter with the sibling of a murdered terrorist a few months ago, and they expressed to me their horror at the world their loved one had been wrapped up in, but their love and pain over the death of their kin. Regardless of how much they disapproved of the terrorist actions, they had still lost a family member in the process. Everyone has a family. How sensitive one should be is a matter of debate.

With anything controversial, or close-to-the-bone, one needs to be aware that somebody will be offended every single time a comment is made. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s evangelist, another’s oppressor etc etc. As a satirical group it can be taken as read that some will disagree.

Queen of Bleeding Hearts

My own twitter profile was hit up again by the problematic David Todd again on Sunday (David you may recall created a fictitious account in order to pursue LAD last year before being exposed).

David complained “They also used the music from the song sung by Elton John @ Princess Diana’s funeral on Fri”, with the link supplied taking us to Elton singing his revised version of Candle in the Wind at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.

LAD used the tune for a video in honour of Jamie Bryson’s political ceasefire “Nando’s In The Bin” and it goes like this:

So what?

Am I meant to take from David’s message that he thinks that LAD shouldn’t be using that particular song for a parody because Elton used it to pay homage to Diana following her death? Does that make it sacred? Absolutely not. Candle In The Wind has been parodied before (there’s a number on YouTube) and was itself a reworking of a 1973 song produced for Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road LP about Marilyn Monroe. Arguably by reworking the song already, Elton was parodying himself.

With the metaphor of a candle being snuffed out before its time fresh in the mind, it seems a rather apt choice for a aspirant politician who ended his career before it even began. Quality of lyrics and production aside, it works. You don’t have to like it, but it works. No tune is beyond re-appropriation and parody.

The apology posted on Saturday by LAD is a rare moment of self-awareness for the group. So often presenting a façade of immunity to criticism, it betrays a human element to the LAD collective’s make-up. But in seeking to explain and apologise LAD also seems weaker, less confident. There is a change brewing within LAD, a refining of approach and ideals, resulting in the apparent hiatus in operations .

Barris_Marilyn_Monroe

Marilyn Monroe – beyond parody

In the week that Jamie Bryson claims to have given up the fags politics, and with an election just weeks away, one would expect LAD should be at its peak, fighting back against the deceptions within government, and the skulduggery on the streets. A rise in dissident republican activity over the last year has left an uneasy feeling in the country, exacerbated by the continued presence of the more extreme brand of loyalism of which Bryson was merely a part. Top that off with a rise in racist abuse and attacks in light of increased immigration, and Northern Ireland is fast becoming a melting pot ready to boil over. Silly season is just around the corner.

Amidst this background, I fired some questions over to LAD via email which they have responded to below. This is not an interview as such. I have not (as far as I am aware) met any of the LADmins. I have been given names by others of purported members of the group, but do not have proof which would allow me to ‘out’ them, assuming I was the sort into ‘outing’ anyway.  This is not exhaustive. It does however shed some light into current LAD thinking, and some of the reasoning behind their temporary satirical ceasefire.

(I am not a member of LAD, nor am I to my knowledge, friends with LAD members. I am sympathetic to Northern Irish political satire. I believe LAD treads a fine line which it has on occasion crossed. Such are my prejudices before I begin).

Q&A

RJES: Why take down the Facebook page at all. I thought you never gave in?

LAD: We needed a couple of days to regroup. A LADmin resigned, our comments section was been overrun making moderation difficult, we needed to discuss internally where we go from here. We are approaching a busy period in are wee country and we need to be ready for that. The organisation, while striving to be professional, has up to this point has been a bit ad hoc at times. We need to fix that. We need this period to finish our book and plan the future of LAD.

Isn’t the deletion of comments and pages not as bad as the likes of David Todd and his unreliability as a source?  [I meant this with regards the sudden deletion of the entire Facebook page, but could have applied to other comments etc]

We have always moderated the comments section on are pages, we have deleted comments and blocked people previously with no fuss. We have a ban list that runs to pages. We’ve always had a strict set of unpublished rules. There are certain words for example that from day one have resulted in an immediate ban. We also have filters on the page that mean if certain words are used they don’t appear on the page. It’s responsible administration, something that Michael Copeland and other MLAs could learn from given some of the vile sectarian filth that they allow to go uncensored.

The blog post you published suggests the tweet about criminals killing criminals was ill-judged and in anger. Do you regret posting either the tweet or apology?

No. Having posted both we don’t regret either. A couple of LADmin do have some reservations but we are working through where we go from here.

Is there a limit to what is acceptable?

If I was to answer honestly I would have to say no there are no limits to what is acceptable for us to say. I would however ask people to exercise their own caution at times, just because you agree with one thing we say doesn’t mean you will agree with another. Sometimes personal opinions, or opinions shared by a minority of LADmin end up in the mix, but LAD is a collective and these things may happen from time to time. We have been accused by certain individuals of being ‘republican’ which is as far from accurate as it’s possible to be and have made this clear on numerous occasions. As a collective we have a mix of various political viewpoints and a general disdain for our local political representatives. The one thing we have in common is support for the Good Friday Agreement and a revulsion of anything that brings terror to our streets. Fundamentally though we like to make people laugh and hopefully in the process stimulate debate.

Why back down over the criminal killing tweet?

I don’t think we have backed down on the tweet, just try to clarify that it was said in frustration and that LAD have no wish to see this type of violent activity on our streets. If anyone had bothered to read our Twitter timeline we echoed the sentiments of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir who tweeted “Shame on those who bring death to Belfast streets at Eastertide. They represent no-one but themselves and have no place in our great city.” Some people who claim to be long time supporters of our page took it upon themselves to state that we were “glorifying” and “justifying” murder which is absolute bollocks. Over the course of the evening we issued a series of tweets to that effect. At one point someone asked us if we were “against the killing” and we replied “Of course we are “against the killing” FFS. Violence breeds violence – ergo, STOP ALL VIOLENCE.” Our position on this is irrefutable.

Typical LAD imagery

Typical LAD imagery

Why announce a hiatus on the run up to an election? Isn’t this the time you should be most active?

As we explained we need a break to develop our plan for the future and to work on a couple of intensive projects. People forget we took a month of last June in the run up to the marching season. We’ll still do stuff on Tumblr, YouTube etc, when the mood takes us but the Facebook page is incredibly time consuming. Our local politicians and would-be politicians should not feel any sense of relief.

How long is the holiday going to last?

Till are uncle Ivan discovers we are squatting in his caravan in Portrush

How is the “retirement” from “politics” of Jamie Bryson going to affect the LAD cause?

It won’t Jamie was a puppet of LAD we grew tired of him and withdrew our support for him after he was approached by special branch and asked to infiltrate us (allegedly). He is an irrelevance and it’s a shame that the likes of the UUP gave him and Frazer any credence during the Haass talks. The fact that a talking gorilla raised more in election funding than him is proof of his total lack of support.

What is the relationship between LAD and Koko the Gorilla?

The people behind Koko are fans of LAD they asked for our support and we obliged, but there is no direct relationship. We are assured that the money raised will go to a good cause.

Are you ever concerned that you are going to goad your opponents too much and incur their wrath?

Not at all. What’s the worse they could do?

What is your current position with regards the PUP?

The PUP had become irrelevant and have used the Fleg and associated protests to bolster their support in the hope of winning a few seats, which they won’t. They should have better vetting of candidates, they have a few badduns standing for them. Although we do like Dr John Kyle.

You’ve mentioned the resignation of a member of the admin. Is there then a sense of conflicting ideologies within the organisation?

We don’t see LAD as an ‘organisation’ but rather a collective and with any collective people will have different opinions. It’s these different opinions that fuel the process. It’s healthy. But the ideology of LAD is quite clear to those who create it. However people are free to walk away. It’s not like the UVF. There is no buy out fee.

You have come in for criticism before (by a number of people including myself) for your casual attitude towards some of the people you name in discussions, and with regards to media law. Will a restructuring attempt to address and solidify this? Will more care be taken in future?

People may be surprised with the amount of care that’s taken. Sometimes we get it wrong but people must be aware that if you post sectarian and racist material on the internet you leave yourself wide open for scrutiny. It amuses us when people gurn about being banned by Facebook and so on then you look at the type of stuff they post and it’s absolutely disgusting. Thankfully the authorities seem to be taking this kind of stuff a bit more seriously now.

LAD is also quite happy to ask questions and name individuals within the political sector, when they feel there is something untoward going on. And yet in the face of repeated questioning, they refuse to reveal their own identities. Why is LAD so reluctant to reveal its “editorial board” (for want of a better phrase) publicly? Does it not concern the group when those who are not LAD are named as being part of the group?

Anonymity allows us access to people and places that we would not get if we identified ourselves. The fact that idiots name individuals with no connection to LAD as being LAD demonstrates an unhealthy obsession with us. When some individuals have been misidentified in the past we have assisted them in providing information to the police.

Does LAD not think their cause would be aided by having a named public face(s)? Does satire not work if writers’ and editors’ identities are known?

We do have a named public face. Billy Smith. Satire works in many different guises.

[I was asked to elaborate on a question…here repeated and expounded] You have come in for criticism before (by a number of people including myself) for your casual attitude towards some of the people you name in discussions (sometimes naming individuals who are potentially vulnerable, unprotected etc.); and also for a casual attitude with regards to media law (eg. publishing names, or images contrary to media legislation

– I refer to an incident involving CCTV images some months back; the criticisms with regards your use of parody). In LADs restructuring, will there be a attempt to be more considerate with regards the data that the group publishes – particularly with regards private individuals not aligned to public politics? Will LAD be paying closer attention to the legal limits on their published material, but with regards to individuals, and the parody/use of copyright material?

We have sought legal advice and been advised we are operating within the law. We respect the law unlike some.

Were permissions and licenses ever sorted with the Last December debacle?

We were ill-advised. It’s still a murky area but frankly we couldn’t be arsed with pursuing it. It was a Christmas song and it would have taken weeks to sort it out so what was the point. We were offered a lot of help but politely declined. The whole thing left a sour taste in our mouths. There are some bitter nasty people out there. As it turned out we were able to donate a tidy sum to a local charity in the end. So alls well that ends well. http://loyalistsagainstdemocracy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/lad-charity-single-announcement.html

Q&A ENDS

An Uneasy Ceasefire

One question in particular was skimmed over in response. I suggested LAD might be concerned about incurring the wrath of their opponents, to which the response was “What’s the worst they can do?”. I believe that the problem here, and where the bulk of criticism of the collective should be aimed, is within the use of personal information and publication of data and claims about individuals via the (now closed) Facebook page in particular.

I talked in my previous blog on LAD about the criticisms that were levelled at LAD by some who alleged LAD to be using bullying tactics. In an incident over Christmas, one woman whose shop was promoted by LAD later alleged via the LAD pages that she received unwanted attention from anti-LAD individuals as a result. Tactics of physical intimidation could (when one is dealing with terrorists, terrorist supporters, and paramilitary types) lead to actual violence and criminal damage. Threats of police action in the face of this may not always work, and there is no reason why LADmins would not be targeted similarly if their identity was known. Goading the enemy is fine, but less wise if he has a gun, ammunition and your address. As much as we want to move away from a weapons based society, the threat is sadly all too present and real.

LAD said via email: “We didn’t take the [Facebook] page down because of that tweet we used the opportunity it presented to take a break”.

LAD has had its mettle tested. Constant accusations of being a republican organisation have taken their toll, resulting in a near compulsion to reiterate time and again that LAD is critical of all of those who attempt to undermine the Northern Ireland peace process. Their comments on Friday were specifically critical of republicans, which in turn incurred the criticism of republicans who while approving of any and all criticisms directed at loyalists and unionists, do not appear to appreciate criticism of their own broad community.

Journalist David McCann described them members in an interview in February as “smart” and “professional”. In spite of the use of some of the phrasing of Fleg Protesters, LAD have frequently been accused of being elitist or middle class. Mocking turns of phrase, poor spelling and the like have likened LADmins to a school teacher, or educated group. Perhaps there is truth in this. Their support of the Good Friday Agreement is a clear indication of their distance from the hardline elements in Northern Ireland’s social-political divide. If LAD are predominantly middle class, and with a  moderate outlook, it may explain both the need to reaffirm their stance, and compound the frustrations and being shouted at by loyalists and republicans.

LAD’s ceasefire is temporary. Their Twitter remains active and so does their Tumblr and blog. Moving away from the vitriolic space of Facebook seems to be a wise move for practical reasons. With a book promised for the near future, there is a hope of LAD becoming more professional – slicker, more informed, and whilst no less controversial, protected by due diligence and common sense.

Their influence continues to spread (over 17000 ‘likes’ on Facebook before the account was put on hold). A form of citizen journalism functions via LAD’s outlet – individuals who would normally stay silent, seem prepared to speak out and supply information because of the humorous trappings of LAD’s media empire. Raising awareness of illegal flag posting, illegal removal of election posters, picking apart what political figures say when they think nobody is paying attention. This is all valuable work. Were LAD better controlled there surely would be scope for a branded television or radio series. But then, maybe that would be too mainstream for them (although speculation persists that certain members are already successful named journalists).

Ultimately, one comes back to LAD’s own tweet as a sage warning for the group going forward. Live by scrutiny, die by scrutiny. If one continues to put politicians, activists and individuals under the microscope, demanding answers, and picking apart their faults, then one cannot complain when the readership or those under scrutiny choose to direct the microscope the other way. With the elections and marching season upon us, it could be an interesting few months.

* My previous piece on LAD from December 2013: Us And Them And L.A.D. – Northern Ireland’s Satirical Warlords

[Addendum 22.04.2014: The LAD member that resigned – “Winston Smith” (evidently not his real name) reached out via Twitter and PM on Facebook because he wasn’t happy with how LAD were spinning the situation over his choice in their responses to my questions. He asked to talk ‘off the record’. I offered him a right to reply (if he wished to exercise it) and told him I would publish his response (with his permission). Smith has given his side of the story on his own blog here.
There are a number of points of concern contained within. Again there is a suggestion that LAD is bullying even among its own members, and the threat of exposure of identities is not lost on me considering the anonymity issue is one I have raised repeatedly.
While I appreciate Smith’s account of his reasoning, as an outsider I retain my own reading of the comments as outlined above. If posting comments on a murder while the family is at the scene one wonders when is appropriate to post?
I asked Smith yesterday if he would answer some follow-up questions in response to his own blog. If he does engage further I will add a separate entry in a new post.]