Politics Made Simple (The Northern Ireland Assembly Election) Part 7: What is the Difference Between Loyalism, Unionism, Republicanism and Nationalism

It has surprised me how well this blog has been taken since I started this series, explaining each of the Northern Ireland political parties in a way that is simple to understand for the election next week, and I do look forward to seeing what all I can continue bringing to it in the weeks and months that come.

There’s been a couple of terms I’ve used to describe each party as well, however, and in this blog, I’m going to go through each of the belief sets that have been included in the title of the blog, with included charts on which parties belong to which set.

PS; some descriptions that have been given to these beliefs could belong to both of the groups, but the areas on which they disagree with each other could also be disagreed on by the people who identify themselves as each term.

What is Loyalism?

Loyalism is a branch of Unionism which — as the name suggests — is loyal to the idea of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK.

While every Unionist party does have the belief in their name, it is questionable in the modern day which ones can be described as Loyalists, and which can be seen as Unionists, because there are major differences between the two.

While they do agree on the end goal of keeping Northern Ireland in the UK, Loyalists tend to believe that they are happy to go to any extent to make sure this happens, even to the extent of turning to paramilitaries.

On the other issues that exist and which have been covered in my previous posts, there are some Loyalists who would back some of those political issues, and others who would disagree, so the extent to which they are willing to fight for the every day issues can differ.

The Parties running in this election that belong to the Loyalist stance are the TUV, PUP and the DUP, but they don’t support the paramilitaries, though some of their supporters do.

What is Unionism?

Unionism is the name given to the overall belief that Northern Ireland should remain in the UK, but what differentiates a large percentage of this group from Loyalists is that they are committed to their main belief remaining in a way that is peaceful, and who see The Good Friday Agreement as the best way forward for achieving this.

As of May 2022, the only Unionist Party who you could say are solely aligning themselves to this perspective are the Ulster Unionist Party, who have also called for tempers to be calmed down, though the DUP would also count themselves as Unionists (hence, another area where the Party seem to be facing problems).

What is Republicanism?

Republicanism is the name given to the belief that Northern Ireland should be reunited with the Republic of Ireland, but who’s followers have historically been happy to force people into it — and who therefore are happy to go to any extent to achieve it.

However, they can still have fairly liberal views towards

As of May 2022, the only Party which can be described as Republican is Sinn Féin.

What is Nationalism?

Similar to Republicanism, Nationalists agree that they want to see all of Ireland reunified under one political system, preferably outside of the UK.

However, unlike Republicans, they want to see this happen through peaceful negotiations in a way that works for everyone, and have said they’d be interested in adopting what some describe as ‘British Policies’ into a ‘New Ireland’, whether that means having a version of the NHS in a United Ireland, whether that would mean part of the New Ireland becoming part of The Commonwealth, whether we continue having a free education system, the existence of Stormont, etc.

While the two political parties who belong to this belief set do disagree with each other in ways, the two who you would describe as Nationalist are the SDLP and People Before Profit.

What Do People Mean By Neither?

But even at this point, there are people who don’t believe in any of the four belief sets, and that’s where the parties who are supported by those who describe themselves as neither come in.

The Parties who brand themselves as being Neither are Alliance, the Green Party of Northern Ireland, and the NI Independents — though the last has candidates that campaign as not belonging to any party.

The problems that these Parties generally have is that when Northern Ireland is eventually asked the question of whether or not it want to to stay in the UK, they run the risk of upsetting one community overall, even if they only publicise how they voted after a result is announced.

Only one of these parties wouldn’t run this risk.

I hope all of these terms have been described in a way that is easy to understand, and I will see you for one last blog on the Eve of Election Day.


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