Jamie Bryson: ‘The DUP think they’re playing a clever game, but nationalism is taking the hand out of them’

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (left) and loyalist activist Jamie Bryson (right) during a anti Northern Ireland Protocol rally in 2022 (Liam McBurney/PA)
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (left) and loyalist activist Jamie Bryson (right) during a anti-Northern Ireland Protocol rally in 2022

Inside four weeks the DUP leadership have accepted the Irish Sea border, their minister Paul Givan has embraced the Irish language, the joint-first minister has been sending fawning tweets to Leo Varadkar and embracing the GAA.

I sometimes wonder who the individual calling himself Jeffrey and wearing a sash, standing at rallies with me and Jim Allister, really was.

Respect for different cultures and identities is, of course, an important part of living in a democratic society whereby all persons are treated with respect and afforded the freedom to express each of our own preferences.

But that is not what is going on. This is cynical politics, not genuine reconciliation.

Rather, nationalism sees this as an exercise in conditioning and house-training unionism, and for those unionists who embrace all that nationalism wish to be embraced, such unionists are elevated and lauded. Of course, to remain in favour and the beneficiary of the Twitter likes, you must always do more.

The DUP leadership, for their part, see this as some grand strategy to win back the middle ground from Alliance. It is a high wire act, because they can’t swing back to the large section of the unionist base they have alienated when it doesn’t work.

These DUP figures think they’re playing a clever game, but in reality nationalism is taking the hand out of them. I dread to think what act the DUP Executive ministers will be performing next: perhaps a day-trip to Larne to stand post at the Irish Sea border to demonstrate their commitment to it.

It saddens me to say this, as some of these people are my good friends, but they’ve been captured and lost all grip on reality. They would, of course, reject that.

DUP leader Sir Jeffery Donaldson with his party’s MLAs
DUP leader Sir Jeffery Donaldson with his party’s MLAs (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

They would do well to go and watch the film Maze.

At the very end, one of the prison officers is being interviewed as to how they lowered their guard and were ‘played’. The prison officer laments the flaw of the now infamous H Block ‘circle’.

The interviewer, referring to the staff being lured into concessions and dropping their guard, says: “But you were deceived… it was the prison staff who let them into the circle.”

The prison officer replies: “They seemed worn out.” The answer comes back: “But it was all a trick, you were all tricked.”

There is nothing new under the sun.

Jamie Bryson, NI Director of Policy, Centre for the Union
Former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland is the north's new special envoy to the United States
Former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland
Reconciliation is possible but it must have a proper basis

The late Maurice Hayes summed up the conflict in Northern Ireland when he said: “There was nothing achieved through the use of violence that could not otherwise have been achieved through peaceful means.”

For that reason, the suggestion that families of terrorists killed in the Troubles should be compensated, as well as relatives of their victims, embraces a narrative that suits extreme voices.

The Commission for Victims and Survivors sent its proposals to Stormont, with an estimated cost of £130m, which would have included relatives of terrorists. Such a scheme would reinforce the idea that there was no alternative to more than 3,500 direct deaths, arguably a similar number caused indirectly by consequences like suicide or addiction, thousands injured, billions of pounds of damage and approximately 20,000 imprisoned (12,000 republicans and 8,000 loyalists).

There are other reasons to reject the scheme too. What about the families of those who died by suicide due to the effects of the Troubles, like the Niedermayers? And can we really decide who should benefit from the payments, sometimes 50 years after a death?

Many republican paramilitaries I’ve talked to over the years sought the status of victims. One loyalist leader gave me a more honest and realistic assessment: “We are not victims. We made victims.” Unfortunately, I sense that some within loyalism are now going down the republican route. It moves away from unconditional apologies, which if given could potentially open up the possibility of a degree of reconciliation with the individual perpetrators. Something they should appreciate.

Genuine victims from all sections of our society have shown an amazing and under-appreciated grace that has allowed us to move away from the dark past. We should not waste that gesture by allowing perpetrators to masquerade as victims.

So, we can welcome the move by our violent extremes away from violence, but we should not in any way feel obliged to have to thank them or buy into their narrative that what they did was justified.

As to reconciliation, a significant section across our society refused to go to where the extremes wished to take them and countered the consequences of their actions by constantly challenging them. Building relationships while they were destroying them.

As we shape our future that challenge needs to be maintained, though also guided by a realistic pragmatism, encapsulated in the words of a unionist councillor about one of his Sinn Féin colleagues when he said to me: “Trevor, I will work with the guy but please don’t ask me to be his best friend. Several years ago he set me up to be murdered.”

I also recall a TV documentary covering a visit to Auschwitz by the grandson of the camp commandant. It was obviously traumatic as he came to terms with his grandfather’s actions. At the end, an old Jewish survivor walked over and put his arms around the young man and said: “It was not you. You were not there. It was not your fault.”

If the young man had defended and justified his grandfather’s crimes such a gesture would not have been possible. Reconciliation is possible but it must have a proper basis.

Trevor Ringland, Bangor, Co Down
Some motorists are waiting months for a test date
Some motorists are waiting months for a test date (Liam McBurney/PA)
Article on the state of MOT system in Northern Ireland makes depressing reading

Your recent article on the state of the MOT system in Northern Ireland made particularly depressing reading and demonstrated to the public not only a dysfunctional organisation that limps on from one year to the next, but highlights what little appetite there is among our politicians to implement the reforms required to improve standards and support the needs of citizens and businesses.

When the chief executive of the DVA, Jeremy Logan, stated that a 72-day delay for MOT testing is the ‘new normal’, it was a response I would have expected to hear in a Soviet state, certainly not a country that purports to have free trade at its core.

Stormont can and should be working smarter and start to use the car dealership network conveniently located across every town and city in NI who are far better placed to conduct MOTs on cars, just like they already do in the rest of the UK.

The DVA can then redeploy its limited resources to focus on regulation and assessment standards of the car dealers and continue to assess larger commercial vehicles where the real risk to the general public and workers lies.

The self-preservation of government departments well past their sell-by date has to end.

Patrick Murdock, Newry, Co Down