Jamie Bryson The Nolan Show 13 December 2019

Follow me

BBC Radio Ulster
The Nolan Show

Stephen Nolan speaks to Unionist activist and author, Jamie Bryson, via telephone from Belfast, about Unionist and Loyalist reaction to the election results. Belfast freelance correspondent and commentator, Amanda Ferguson, and News Letter Deputy Editor, Ben Lowry, are in studio with Stephen. (begins time stamp ~2:11:55)

Where’s the Audio? This episode is not available for download.  To listen as you read along click here.  (begins time stamp ~2:11:55)

Stephen:  Jamie Bryson, the Loyalist, is joining us now. Mr. Bryson, Jamie, Good Morning! to you.

Jamie:   Morning, Stephen.

Stephen:  Good Morning to you. I know you were sending out texts and tweets to a range of journalists last night taking about ‘resistance’- there will be resistance – what did you mean by that?

Jamie:  


Jamie Bryson
Photo: The Belfast Telegraph

Well I simply mean that the position in terms of Unionism and Loyalism has changed as of today. You know, nobody is waking up today and deciding: Well, that’s good. We’re heading off into a economic united Ireland and that’s going to be tolerated. We said all along, you know I spoke in the Ulster Hall last week and said very clearly no matter what happens on the 13th of December we will not be tolerating an economic united Ireland and it’s for Unionism and Loyalism now to sit down, strategically assess where we are and see where we go from here.

Stephen:  Where do you think we’re at?

Jamie:   Well, it’s clearly been a very difficult night for Unionism. I think there was, in some parts of Belfast, a significant surge in the Loyalist vote but unfortunately that was offset by what appears to be many moderate Unionists defecting to Alliance. I think that’s probably for other people within Unionism to analyse – I’m probably not the man to offer analysis on that because I don’t particularly understand that section of Unionism but look, it’s been a very disappointing night for Unionism especially in North and South Belfast but we need to sit down and see where we are but actually, I think there was, if there’s one small silver lining and that’s there’s quite a lot of hard Brexiteers within the Conservative Party who voted with a heavy heart for Boris Johnson’s Betrayal Act the last time because they felt it was their only option…

Stephen: …Boris Johnson is in power now, Jamie.

Jamie:   Well if you’d let me finish: To get us through the main Parliament – I think there will be many people now, that it’s now a Brexit Parliament, and I would hope that there would be many people who may look at the Betrayal Act and may now see that they have more opportunity to change that and make the necessary changes and look, there’s not a massive amount of changes required in order to make it acceptable to the Unionist community.

Amanda:  I think it’s a difficult night of the DUP’s (Democratic Unionist Party) making, though.


Amanda Ferguson
Photo: Sky News

I think that is something that has to be acknowledged and I think that the toxicity around those banners that appeared in Belfast North and Belfast South have contributed to that and also the online post that Máiría Cahill put out, it was used by someone, we don’t know who, to make it into a leaflet and post it through letter boxes and that was actually something that a life-long Alliance supporter said to me tipped them over the edge. They said that online poster’s been taken (inaudible) daily, put through the letter box and it’s not fair and that swayed their vote. So I think whoever was behind those – if they felt they were doing the DUP a favour – made a massive mistake.

Stephen:   Do you think the banner campaign backfired, Jamie Bryson?

Jamie:   No, I don’t. I think many Unionist areas, many Loyalist areas were galvanised. I don’t think at all, we’ve had a massive swing, massive…

Stephen: …They weren’t galvanised in North Belfast or South Belfast, were they?

Jamie:  Well, actually some boxes in Loyalist areas traditionally very low were up seventy percent so actually they were galvanised in South Belfast but the difficulty that Unionism and Loyalism faces is is there’s a vast, moderate section of Unionist which has been conditioned by twenty years of the peace process which has normalised and legitimised the IRA and criminalised and dehumanised Loyalism (crosstalk)…

Amanda: …Jamie, you can’t just keep screaming ‘IRA!’ at absolutely everything. You know, it’s acceptable to be a Republican as it’s acceptable to be a Unionist and …

Jamie: …Are you a Republican now?

Amanda: …the quicker you get on board with that the better.

Jamie: …Are you a Republican?Get on board with what, Amanda?

Amanda: … get on board with the idea that British and Irish identity in Northern Ireland is equal. That’s it. (crosstalk) Sin é – as we say.

Jamie:  Oh, you’re speaking in Irish now? Hardly a shock to you. No, let…

Amanda: …what, did you get a smell of mass off me, Jamie, that you don’t like?

Jamie:  Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom…

Amanda: …Yes, it is. That’s right – the Good Friday Agreement says so – yep!

Jamie:   You may not like that, obviously, as a Nationalist, and somebody who’s obviously quite clearly in favour of the North Belfast candidate, John Finucane. However, there’s many people within Northern Ireland and I would still say a majority of people in Northern Ireland who are British citizens and… (crosstalk)

Stephen: …Let me let Amanda respond to that.

Jamie:   You need to get on board with that.

Amanda:  I just. I – You know, the Good Friday Agreement’s there – it’s in black and white. Northern Ireland’s part of the United Kingdom until the people will decide any differently and the way that that will change, and in my view it will change, will be through a border poll. And the quicker that people within all of our communities realise that it’s possible to accommodate British and Irish identity on an equal basis the better it will be for everybody. Instead of putting fear into people that, you know, expressions of Irish identity are a detriment or are destroying Unionist culture – it’s just not true.

Stephen:  What’s next do you think now, Jamie? Boris Johnson – he’s meeting the Queen, he’s seeking permission to form his government, he’ll have a majority – what is it? – of seventy-eight. He can essentially do what he wants. He can push through his Brexit deal. There can be that border, so-called border, down the Irish Sea. What can Loyalists do about it even if they wanted to?

Jamie:  Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens and I think there’ll be a sliding scale of viewpoints in relation to that. I don’t have a definitive answer for you. I don’t know – there’ll be many people within Unionism and Loyalism who will have many different views and, as I said, there’ll be a sliding scale of viewpoints but I think we need to sit down, take the weekend, assess where we are and see what the next steps are but look – nobody is waking up today and all of a sudden deciding that we’re now happy with the deal and we’re now going to meekly go into an economic united Ireland.

Stephen:   You said though, last night, you said some people may conclude that the political process has been exhausted and that would and you said…

Jamie: …(inaudible)…

Stephen: …And you said that would inevitably mean that the opposition to the Betrayal Act would move into a different phase. Given your connections…

Jamie: …it very well may, it very well may (inaudible)…

Stephen: …given your connections to the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) are you hinting at violence?

Jamie:  No, I’m not. What I’m saying is there will be many different viewpoints and there’ll be a sliding scale of viewpoints and as I say, I don’t have a definitive answer for you of what the next stage of resistance to the Betrayal Act looks like and as I said there’ll be many people that’ll take that view (inaudible)…

Stephen: …Well, what form could resistance take…

Jamie: …Well, I think…

Stephen: …given the fact that there’s been a democratic process now and that’s it?

Jamie: Well there was a democratic, there was a democratic vote in 2016 to leave the European Union (EU) and people done all in their power throughout the year to try and block that and I would speculate they will still try and block that so it’s all well and good that people preaching about democracy this morning are the same people who tried to overturn democracy for three years. Look as I said, there’ll be no knee-jerk reaction – Unionism and Loyalism will sit down and assess where they are and see where we go next and, as I said, there’ll be many different viewpoints – I certainly would not be advocating violence. I don’t think any sensible person wants to see violence but there’s going to have to be opposition to this deal – I hope that wouldn’t be violent opposition – but there will be opposition to it and Loyalism is not going to accept an economic united Ireland and it would actually be in breach of the Belfast Agreement…

Stephen: …They would have to accept…

Jamie: …(inaudible)…

Stephen: … They would have to accept…

Jamie: …(inaudible)…

Stephen: …They would have to accept what the Prime Minister wants to do if he has the support of Parliament – that’s how democracy works! So when you talk about an ‘opposition’ to an economic united Ireland if you’re saying out loud that you’re not trying to incite anybody into violence then what type of opposition could there possibly be bar a general election where people look at Boris Johnson’s deal and the majority of the people in the United Kingdom, which you hold so precious, back him?

Jamie:   Well look, as we said, Loyalism will sit down. There’ll be many different minds. Many different views. So there isn’t a – you know, as I stand here this morning I can’t come on and tell you: This is the consensus, this is the viewpoint, because I don’t particularly know that and as I said people will look at where we are, what form of opposition there should be to the deal, what options are on the table and I think all constitutional, legal options, you know, have to be exhausted. That’ll mean legal challenges, absolutely, to the Betrayal Act because it does breach Strand One (5, d) of the Belfast Agreement in my view, that may, naturally, also involve lobbying Conservative MPs to try and get changes to the deal and doing all that can be possible. There’s a long way to go in this and I don’t think anybody should be talking up knee-jerk reactions but I think the bottom line is this: Unionism and Loyalism is united in opposition to this deal and will not be tolerating it and if this deal goes through the Belfast Agreement is dead because a key tenet of the Belfast Agreement, the Strand One (5,d), that key decision have to be made on a cross-community basis – this deal does away with that so therefore I can’t see how Unionism could go back and implement the structures of the Belfast Agreement (inaudible) (crosstalk)

Stephen:  Okay. Amanda?

Amanda:  Well, that’s an unusual analysis of the Good Friday Agreement but whatever. Boris Johnson is supposed…

Jamie: …No Amanda, sorry – hold on…

Stephen:   Hold on, hold on, Jamie. Hold on.

Amanda:   Hold on, Jamie. Boris Johnson is supposed to be a Unionist and clearly the Unionist community doesn’t believe that he is serving their best interest so that has to be tackled democratically. What we don’t want to see is young Loyalists ending up with criminal records like we did over the flag protests, wasting their lives, going to jail – for what? And I think that what you will see happening is – Sammy Wilson even said it last night when he was asked: Do we take to the streets over this? And he said: No, this is a political fight. And that is the message that has to be driven home time and again…

Stephen: …That’s not what’s Bryson is saying. Bryson’s saying the political process, according to some, has been exhausted.

Amanda:  Well you know, that’s his opinion on it but democracy and the ballot box is the only way through this and people like Jamie have consistently gone on and on and on about the IRA campaign and screamed everything about the IRA but yet he skirts around the issue of violence whenever it comes to like veiled threats of like we don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s a nonsense….

Jamie: …Are you willing to condemn the IRA, Amanda?…

Amanda: …You’re a clown, Jamie.

Jamie:  Amanda, are you willing to condemn the IRA campaign?

Amanda:  Jamie, I’m not going to have a conversation with you where you get to dictate to me. People know that I’m a peace supporting person.

Jamie: …Amanda, Amanda, are you willing to condemn the IRA?

Stephen:   Do you want to respond to him?

Amanda:  Of course. Any violence from any quarter…

Stephen: …There’s your response. There’s your response…

Amanda: …whether it be Loyalist violence, Republican violence or state violence is a nonsense.

Stephen:  I think, Ben Lowry, this programme does not beat about the bush: Given Jamie Bryson’s clear links with the UVF when he is talking about a political process being exhausted – let’s just talk about that elephant in the room on this programme, you know. Is there any possibility of any paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland associated with the Loyalists’ side of it thinking to themselves that that would be their opposition? And who are they going take on?

Ben:  


Ben Lowry
Photo: The News Letter

Well, I’ve no doubt that there would be people who would think that way. What I wouldn’t be expert enough in is how influential they are within those organisations and what clout those organisations have. But let’s look at a spectrum of things here in response to this if you look at it dispassionately: First of all as we are all agreed, the political option is now closed for five years in any event – this is going to be railroaded through. The simple reality is that virtually nobody, and this is – you know, even I was a bit cynical about it but I’ve learned something as far as the process – virtually nobody in England and virtually nobody in the Conservative party – and I interviewed Conservatism and wondered if they had any feeling for the union and, of course, these members at the Tory conference in Manchester said they did – but when it came to the crunch virtually none do, virtually none of the MPs do. So that’s the political option clause.

Then you move onto something that isn’t violent and protest, civic disobedience. Well, that would work if the business were up for it. If all the businesses said: Right, we’re just not doing this. We’re not paying tariffs. We’re not doing paperwork – there was mass disobedience – the poll tax was brought down by that kind of thing, remember. When the poll tax was – people just wouldn’t pay it even in The Shires and respectable places – they wouldn’t pay it. So that would probably work but that’s not going to happen…

Stephen: …There were riots over the poll tax, Ben, if I remember.

Ben:  Yeah, yeah and yeah and Stage Two and this can morph into Stage Three which is violence. And then imagine that there was determined violence – I don’t think that there’s, I don’t even think are organisations that are like this but an IRA type of violence – what I then I think you would see the British state would crush that in a way that it was never prepared to do – it was always nervous about crushing Republican violence – I think that that’s what would happen in that scenario. So to be honest, the options for Unionists are not good with this economic border in the Irish Sea and I suspect what is going to have to happen is people hope that it, in some way, secures the union – let’s talk about the best of both worlds, that it’s relatively seamless – it’s just not a good outcome for Unionists – there’s no way round that. I mean, often still, months into this, I’m thinking – having known for years actually since 2017 a border of some form in the Irish Sea was likely – I’m still thinking moments of incredulity where I think this is actually about to happen. It’s a political disaster and I’m not seeing any ways of stopping it.

Stephen:   Okay. Alright. We need to let you both get to bed certainly you, Ben – you’re exhausted. Thank you very much, indeed. Ben, Amanda – thank you. (ends time stamp ~ 2:25:18)