Steve Bruce, The Edge of the Union (1994)

Steve Bruce, The Edge of the Union: The Ulster Loyalist Political Vision (OUP 1994), 176pp. with notes and index.

[Previously author of The Red Hand, and then God Save Ulster]

interview[ing] … evangelicals and paramilitaries [v] much thinking about N Ireland is neither here nor there because it fails to appreciate the strength of ethnic identification, the power of ethnic divisions, and the importance of expressive action. [vi] Two languages spoken … private … public … If the people of N. Ireland were as moderate, tolerant, and forgiving as they often appear in print, there would not be more than 3,000 dead bodies. [viii; cf. 118]


Todd’s distinction between Ulster loyalist and Ulster British strands of Unionism. [2; bibl. T Todd, ‘Two Traditions of Ulster Unionism’, in Irish Political Studies, 2 (1987), 1-26pp.

The gunmen and the Christians hold positions which will be taken up by a much wider unionist constituency when circumstances press them. [2]

UDA grew out of a large number of defence groups formed to protect Protestant conclaves of Belfast in the worst of the communal violence of 1970. … For six months the IRA planted large bombs … [5]

In 1912 and 1920 all classes of Ulster Protestants supported vigilante action because they believed that something valued by all Protestants was at risk. In 1970 only the working classes were so stirred. [5]

UDA formed out of various local associations … grew rapidly.

1970 IRA 18 Loyalist 2

1971 IRA 93 Loyalist 21

Each side hold such negative views of the other that, even if ‘the bastards’ are not trying to kill you this week or this year, it is ony because they are regrouping … [9]

the main purpose of republican violence is to effect a particular political change, and whether the IRA continues to murder of ceases will depend far more on republican thinking about the likelihood of forcing constitutional change than on the actions of the loyalists. [10]

Election was called by … Edward Heath to dramatise his claim that the country was being held to ransom by militant trade unionists. He gave the people an opportunity to decide who ran the country, by which he meant GB. In so doing he laid the foundations that allowed the Protestant working class in NI to show the govt. who ran its country. [123]

NOTE, Author disbelieves story: Yorkshire TV suggests that the UVF bombs in Dublin which killed 27 were the work of the SAS. Quite why a section of the British establishment should want to destabilise NI is not explained … [14]

people not resolutely oppposed to loyalist terror follow a more sympathetic line of reasoning which involves easily forgetting the taxi-drivers and remember the one or two high-profile targets [17]

Traces career of Ian Paisley: Although there is no evidence that Paisley planned or encouraged violence (he was quick in his public condemnation of the UVF men who killed Peter Ward in Malvern St. in 1966), a number of UPV men [19] were also in Spence’s UVF and they chose to give substance to their claims of a resurgent IRA by playing the IRAs part and blowing up a variety of public service installations. [20]

considerable extent to which religion permeates politics … those interpret republican and nationalist causes as part of a continuing campaign to undermine those countries and erode those populations which most strongly support the Reformed Protestant faith. Paisley is one such person [22]


Catholic Church became main repository of Irish identity [27] Once the South was established as a Catholic country, Protestants were bound to find the idea of a united Ireland abhorrent [27]

I want to suggest that evangelicalism, by virtue of its place in the history of the Protestant people and the logic of the Irish conflict, has become the core of ethnic identity, the guarantor of the ethic group, and that, from that position, it impinges strongly, albeit subtly, on the responses of large numbers of apparently secular Protestants. [30]

… THE NI CONFLICT IS AN ETHNIC CONFLICT and [that] religion plays an important part in the identity of the Protestant people. It is for that reason that Ian Paisley has risen to political prominence … [30]

Paisley’s period attempts to set up his own paramilitary forces [32] his Third force [‘turd force’ to UDA men]

authenticity of McClean’s reported statement, ‘I am terrribly sorry … &c.’, here denied. [34]

[on middle class elements that abstain from UVF politics} we can imagine circumstances in which they would again take up arms [36]

PURPOSE: to assess loyalist thinking and offer a corrective to much of our thinking about loyalists [37]

Enniskillen Remembrance Day, 8 Nov. 1987; Lurgan, Bangor, Coleraine. Bruce argues that the campaign was sectarianly motivated, as was the response: “Diet the Bobby Sands Way”. [45]

JUDGING PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS IS THE LOGIC OF THE LIBERAL DEMOCRACY; JUDGING PEOPLE BY THEIR ETHNICITY AND IMPUTING TO ALL THE CHARACTER OF SOME IS THE LOGIC OF TRIBAL OR ETHNIC OR NATIONAL [45] war. Beyond my own impressions based on reading loyalist and unionist publications, reading books, listening to sermons, or talking to people, there is no evidence that I can offer to support this conclusion, but I am convinced that the course of the Ulster conflict has been accompanied by a steady increase in the amount of ethnic judgement. [46]

Cathal Daly, QUB April 1993: ‘This campaign cannot but be seen by Protestants as a concerted campaign on this whole community, intended to drive them from their homes, particularly in exposed areas.’ [48]

Protestants all but abandoned west side of Foyle [49] Moy from 60% Prot. to 65% Cath. [50]


Disputes findings of Cameron Commission; evidence not published [55]

MacBride principles drawn up for American Companies employing in S. Africa disliked by British Govt.; include banning display of provocative emblems, ie., the flag [56]

Catholic entry into administrative middle class; typical Free Presbyterian knows how to run family business not how to bid to the International Fund for Ireland and is resentful of those who do. … the late capitalist economies no longer need the ‘Protestant ethic’. [61]

if we are losing the Catholics must be winning [61]

Prionsias de Rossa; ‘the Dublin govt. should stop seeing its role in structures of the Anglo-Irish agreement solely in terms of defending the interests of northern Catholics. This was a sectarian approach which only confirmed unionist suspicions of north-south links. (Irish News, 5 May 1993). [65]

Sir Peter Mayhew in Die Zeit: ‘release NI … with pleasure’. [66]

NOTE: WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE MOST BRITISH GOVTS. HAVE NOT BELIEVED IN THE UNION. The emotional commitment has not been there and everything else is just politics, and the general drift of those politics has been to appease republicans in the North and the Republic. [70]

Carrington called Paisley ‘the bigot of all bigots’ [73]

MCGIMPSEY BROS. asked the Supreme Court to rule that the Irish govt. could not endorse the Anglo-Irish Agreement because such an admission defied the Irish constitution. [76]

Bomb at Frizzell’s, Shankill Rd.: Had the IRA been better informed, it woud have known that Mad Dog was visit a friend in the Maze prison, 15 miles away. Even if mass murder of Protestants was not the intention, it is certainly the case that to plant such a large bomb at midday on a crowded shoppping street showed thorough disregard for civilians. [83]

Paisley: The change from helmets to berets [signals] a complete capitulation is in the offing in order to secure manipulated cease-fire to aid sell-out [85]

Is the IRA prepared to give up the armed struggle? [87]

Declaration: eighteen drafts: worst written document ever to have a claim on posterity’s attention [88] Nicholas Budgen MP asked the Govt. to affirm that it had no strategic interest in Wolverhampton [89]

‘Both govts. accept that Irish unity would only be achieved by those who favour this outcome persuading those who do not, peacefully and without coercion or violence.’ [89]

Declaration does not 1] assert value of achieving UI; commit British Govt. to ranks of persuaders; set timescale for UI; commit people of NI to join against democratic wish; establish joint authority arrangements; derogate UK sovereignty; contain reference to withdrawal of troops; give SF an immediate place at talks; sideline Ancram talks.

PROSPECTS FOR PEACE: One sensible reading is that the IRA terror campaign has gone rather well: [Stormont state destroyed; nationalists SDLP has veto on developments; Anglo-Irish accord gives formal position of influence to Dublin: why stop? Not reasons for stopping so much as reasons for demand ‘high price for peace’] [96]

Is the Downing St. Declaration ‘way of isolating the IRA’?

Men joined the UVF because they wanted to defend the state, not because they wanted political lessons [99]

Glen Barr [UDA leader 1974 strike] left UDA in 1975; Bill Craig (Vanguard Party) promoted notion of voluntary coalition with SDLP; Sammy Symth extremely critical; Andie Tyrie opposed; Barr invited back and drawn into 2nd strike; with Harry Chicken, Bill Snoddy, and Tommy Lyttle, Barr formed NUPRG (New Ulster Pol. Research Group) to produce coherent direction for UDA; pressed case for negotiated peace:

We need to create a system of govt., an identity and a nationality to which both sections of the community can aspire. We must look for the common denominator. The only common denominator that the Ulster people have, be they Catholic or Protestant, is that they are Ulstermen. And this is the basis from which we should build the new life for the Ulster people, a new identity for them. Awaken then to their own identity. That they are differen. That they’re not second-class Englishmen but first-class Ulstermen. And that’s where my loyalty is.

Policy published as Beyond the Religious Divide (Nov. 1978) Criticism by John McMichael, of Lisburn Defence Assoc.; called ‘Protestant Sinn Fein’ [102]

Barr and Chicken withdraw; McMichael becomes chief political spokesman for UDA; UDA Published Common Sense (1987), borrowing from the 1978 document but keeping NI firmly in the UK. [104]; Andy Tyrie retires.

1992: UDA and UVF joint statement offers written constitution and bill of rights, but defines the unacceptable as Dublin power: ‘over the years the loyalist working clas has stood firm against any unwanted interference by the govt. of the Rep. of Ireland in the internal affairs of NI.’ [106]

UDA man: Fuck it, I don’t know where this thing is going. It has been going on so long now that I’ve stopped thinking about it ending. How can it end? We will not lose, we cannot lose. My grandfather joined the UVF to prevent a united Ireland and I joined the UDA for the same reason. Sometimes I think we are making it easier for the Taigs to win but then if we weren’t smacking them they would have won years ago. But it is like trying to sail through fog. I’ve got no notion of what’s on the cards. So what do we do. More of the same, I reckon, y’know?

IRA violence has to be brought under control so UDA men can argue that the security forces are doing a good job [110]

These loyalists are the mirror image of Irish nationalists. Like the IRA the commitment to democracy is secondary to the pursuit of ethnic interests. [110]

if the Protestant people were willing to fight the UDA would lead that fight [110]

Evangelicals want a return to Stormont of the 1950s but accept that that is not possible … if there was robust unionist leadership and sufficient support for opposition to change, then they would oppose it [114-15]


… when all the public figures have spent so long acting as partisan spokesmen promoting the interests of their ethnic group, it is difficult to imagine them in any other role. [116]

If people were as liberal and tolerant and as forgiving and as unpartisan and as will to accept the rules of liberal democracy as their public language implies, there would not have been twenty years of bloodshed [118; cf. viii supra.]

… acquiesence of large numbers … my prognosis is gloomier than most [118]

though they disapprove of he violence of the terrorists and the anti-popery of the evangelicals, MOST UNIONISTS BEYOND THE CORE OF LOYALISM ARE EQUALLY RESOLUTELY OPPOSED TO ANY DUBLIN INVOLVEMENT IN THE RUNNING OF NI. The mistake commentators make is to see a difference in tone between Molyneaux and Paisley (and their lieutenants) as rep. a real difference in attitudes to the major constitutional issues … [119]

yevery weakening of the unionist position to date has been taken as an encouragement to more violence by the IRA [120]

60% middle class Protestants put Ulster before UK; 80% mission-hall Protestants did same.

DEEPLY SECTARIAN NATURE OF CONFLICT [122] first series of attacks were communal [123] targets ordinary Protestants [123] ‘legitimate’ Catholic targets because desire to kill Protestants satisfied without going beyond that very long list of candidates [125] FUNDAMENTALLY SECTARIAN NATURE OF THE CONFLICT [125] individuals who supply information [127]

one planned attack for every 100 people; beyond the 4,000-5,000 who have been directly involved in paramilitary organisations, there are an awful lot who have had some part to play [127]


Bruce disputes ‘classic nationalist view’ of colonial relationship, and considers this argument from the past unable to portray a ‘portrait of the present’, while characterising the unionism and loyalism as shallow and temporary products of British colonial presence. [129]

Ulster loyalists have a cohesion and a sense of identity which are not so fragile as [130] to dissolve the moment the institutional support of British citzenship is removed and republican armed struggle has done nothing but strengthen it. [131]

Desmond Bell’s Marxist view: ‘Protestant workers have sought to defend their marginal priveliges through their participation in a Protestant all-class alliance ideologically and politically underwritten by British imperialism.’

NOTE: the core of their complaint is that they are in the wrong country, and that will presumably remain no matter how well they are treated in that country [132] … Irish nationalism predates partition [132]

liberal supposes that concerns that apparently drive communal conflict should not motivate civilised people b) conflict based on misunderstanding, c) redefinition of concerns would transform ugly caterpillar of sectarianism into beautiful and inoffensive butterfly of tradition. [133]

NOTE CRITIQUE of “Mix and Fix”, and Cultural Traditions

the liberal is so firmly wedded to the individualism of modern industrial democracies that communal identities, religious, ethnic, or national, are regarded as prehistoric throwbacks. [134]

blacks and whites competing within expanding economy [135] the wonder of cultural-traditions school is that it fails to appreciate that the relativism which can be permitted in thinkgin about the religious divisions or dress styles cannot work in the obdurate world of constitutional politics. [139]

Ministers reassert their shared determination to provide a comprehensive political settlement which would address all the main relationships. They underline their belief that such a settlement is attainable without requiring either of the two main traditions to sacrifice their interests or prejudice their aspirations. (‘Anglo-Irish Agreement). BUT NOTE CAVEAT: THE ASPIRATIONS OF NATIONALIST AND UNIONIST CANNOT SIMULTANEOUSLY BE MET. [139]

THE RELATIVISM TRICK of the ecumenical movement [140] tradition avoids nationalist connotation of ‘people’ [140] encouraging ‘imaginative alternatives such has summer festivals instead of marches’ (Opsahl) [140]

what matters about the historical memories of an ethnic group is not their correctness but their existence [142]

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (Lon 1983) collectivities require ideological work: members need to create and maintain myths. [143]

ethnicity is always just one of a number of identities we call can upon … violence in NI has not yet reached the level where all the fences on might want to sit on have been replaced by 15-ft high peace-line walls. [145]

in 1992 2/3 Protestants called themselves British, and 1/2 Catholics; 3/5 Catholics called themselves Irish and 1/50 Protestant. [146]

‘Problem’ suggests ‘solution’; ‘conflict’ more accurate [147]

If as seems very likely, the IRA does not accept the invitation of the Downing St. declaration and renounce violence, the British Govt. could call a halt to any speculation about the constitutional position of NI [149] increased power for councils would increase power and influence of a party [SDLP] committed to further weakening of the Union [150]

Loyalist: ‘Thatcher sent my son and thousands of other squaddies to defend fifty sheep shaggers on the far side of the globe and then signs us away in the Anglo-Irish accord. If that is not acting as a persuader for the Free State then what the fuck is it?’

CONCLUSION: many Catholics are unionists with a small u … It follows that, in so far as one can separate out the views about constitutional position from a complex of other concerns about the ethnic division, doing the will of the majority leads one to the unionist rather than the nationalist position [153 END]

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