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Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground

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I grew up among this lot, though kicking with the other foot, so I am completely confident of the accuracy of the picture presented - not much has changed at a fundamental level. I found the book enlightening and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the north of Ireland, particularly if you fall under the umbrella of Northern Protestant. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. I think it has been very thoughtfully and sensitively put together, to show the northern Protestants as they are, in all their various manifestations, situations, hopes and fears. McKay's authorial voice is sparse for most of the book, allowing her interviewees to reveal themselves for better or worse through their own words.

And working-class Loyalists, claiming to have received no benefit from the long decades of relative peace, are now making ominous noises about ‘fighting to defend the union’. Amongst the people interviewed, there seems to be a deep desire to be seen as the underdog, a lot of whataboutery and a tendency for people to define themselves negatively in terms of what they are not (Catholics/nationalists) rather than positively in terms what they are. What emerges most forcefully from her myriad encounters is a quiet, matter-of-fact pragmatism about religion, identity and social issues that runs counter to that stridency of the DUP narrative.Similarly, we hear the views of the LGBT community within Northern Protestantism and learn how these people reconcile their sexuality with a political ideology that has more often than not been fiercely intolerant of them. Based on almost 100 brand-new interviews, and told with McKay's trademark passion and conviction, this is essential reading. Most of the people who are interviewed aren't the same red angry faces we see on our tv's on a daily basis, talking like they are the spokesman (for they are mostly men) for the whole unionist/protestant/loyalist community. Against the backdrop of social justice movements, Brexit, the centenary of the foundation of the Northern Ireland state, and the prospect of a poll on Irish Unity, McKay interviews a wide range of people from all over Northern Ireland. It also offers a wide range of views, from ordinary unionists from a variety of backgrounds on how they feel let down by the political representation they received over the years from the various unionist parties.

But what elevates Susan McKay’s masterful book is that it challenges our preconceptions about a community that is regularly reviled by their political opponents, and shines a light on the heretofore overlooked diversity within that community. Ulster Unionists are facing a demographic tipping point, with the likely loss of their long-standing majority status within Northern Ireland. The book is largely oral history with a few tidbits of historic background to help the general reader understand some references mentioned by interviewees.In May this year, when Edwin Poots made his inaugural speech as leader of the Democratic Unionist party, having ousted Arlene Foster, he adhered to that familiar combative rhetoric.

So one person admits that their standard of living and the ability to own a house and run a car ‘matter more to me than the flag that’s flying above our country’ (122) and another, a community activist, concisely describes the reigning neoliberal orthodoxy of the DUP’s economic policies based around deregulated land development before concluding that she would ‘rather politicians focused on policies that eradicate poverty than deliver food parcels’ (90). Some of it is familiar and depressing - the threats of violence if the protocol, this months loyalist bogeyman, is not removed. They announced themselves during the thunderous parades that would pass close by our house a couple of times a year, when we'd be ushered indoors. She makes every effort the capture the voices of Women from a Northern Protestant background – voices which have for decades all too often been marginalised within Ulster Unionism. Well written and just enough author commentary to provide context to the interviewees’ comments but oh what a tale of despair.When unionism’s back is against the wall,” he reminded his supporters, “history has proven that we will come out fighting. Based on almost 100 brand-new interviews, and told with McKay’s trademark passion and conviction, this is essential reading. There’s an effortless flow to the writing in the book, and I especially liked the way Susan McKay represents and moves between the individual voices. I was particularly taken with the politics of Dawn Purvis, ex of the PUP, and how she was much more interested in tackling inequality in education, health and gender.

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