Tony Novosel’s new book, Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism (Pluto, 2013) has been featured in the latest edition of the Big Issue.
Mark Metcalf interviews Tony Novosel, asking him a number of questions about the book. We’ve reproduced it below, but we strongly encourage all our readers to seek out a Big Issue vendor and buy the magazine from them as well. (Only £2.50) Hard copy is easier on the eyes, and it’s nice to be nice… :)
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Did some important figures in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC) develop a political analysis in the 1970s that could have paved the way for a viable peace agreement in Northern Ireland much earlier? Novosel asks whether the commonly held view of working class Loyalism as apolitical and merely sectarian is a myth. The University of Pittsburgh professor challenges accepted wisdom in this fascinating book.
Mark Metcalf: Why did you write this book?
Tony Novosel: I have friends on both sides of the divide and as an American I was sympathetic to Republicanism and Nationalism. I had always assumed that unionism/loyalism was a monolith and neo-fascist at best and I could not understand why anyone in Ireland wanted to stay part of Britain. When I discovered that Unionism had different strands and heard about the Progressive Union Party’s (PUP) vision in the 1990s, and of people such as Gusty Spence, then I wanted to find out more about Loyalism.
MM: Did Loyalists recognise earlier than Republicans that the military conflict would have to end with a compromise political settlement?
TN: The UVF/RHC and the PUP were saying this in the 1970s whilst the Provisional IRA did not publicly state they were prepared to compromise until 1992. The Official IRA were different and influenced the UVF’s political development as they realised they were not going to get a united Ireland from the armed struggle until the working class of both traditions united “within the context of Northern Ireland”.
MM: Why attach importance to David Ervine’s statement: “Did stinking polluted politics come before paramilitarism? I think the answer to that is: ‘Yes.’”
TN: Because it makes clear how Unionism let down its own working class and those who sought reform in Northern Ireland. In essence, Unionism created a state based on disenfranchising the Nationalist population and at the same time keeping its own working class in a subservient position and only slightly better off than its Catholic neighbours. In a land where the conflict was over scarce resources it was, as Bernadette Devlin once said, a conflict between “those with two and a half pence versus those with two pence”. Divide and conquer. As Ervine points out, if Unionism had not reacted the way it did when the Civil Rights movement began in the late 1960s, and instead had reformed the state, there would have been no need for the IRA and no need for the UDA and UVF. If you are going to explain the violence that breaks out in 1969, you cannot simply blame those on the streets or with the guns committing the violence. You have to look at those who created the conditions that led to the violence.
MM: What was the basis for peace put forward by more progressive UVF and RHC volunteers in the 1970s?
TN: They recognised that Northern Ireland’s history was, indeed the history of “50 years of Unionist misrule”. People lived, for the most part, totally separate lives. Therefore, integration had to occur at all levels of schooling and had to be taken out of public life. There should also be an end to discrimination in jobs and housing.
The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism
Unique in-depth investigation into working-class Loyalism in Northern Ireland as represented by the UVF and RHC and their political allies.
“A significant contribution. Novosel exposes the limitation of commonly held views that loyalism was apolitical and merely sectarian.” – Professor Peter Shirlow, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast
“Novosel’s study of the UVF and its attempts to develop a politicised loyalism challenges the standard one-dimensional representation of loyalism that so dominates the media and popular imagination.” – Graham Spencer, author of The State of Loyalism in Northern Ireland