THERE have been a lot of ludicrous things in the long history of this island but I’m fairly sure this one comes close to being top of the pile.
Loyalist rioters in Northern Ireland released a statement saying they would stop the protests that had developed into rioting out of respect for the death of the UK’s Prince Philip.
I’m not going to go into the sudden portrayal of the somewhat controversial Philip as the ‘grandfather of the nation’ as I lived in the UK when Princess Diana died and I have no intention of trying to understand the British mind when it comes to the Royal Family.
Surely, though, even the most ardent royalist or loyalist must see the ludicrousness of loyalist rioters curtailing their activities out of respect for the highest branch of the UK establishment.
It is worthwhile thinking on this for a moment.
Street rioters from a deprived area, with strong disadvantages in housing, employment, education and social life, halted throwing petrol bombs at police and bus drivers out of respect for a man from the highest echelons of European royalty.
How would anyone explain that?
Is that simply the incoherence of loyalism writ large?
It is quite a difficult notion to grasp.
Those most loyal to the very structures of British governance suspended their attacks upon the structures of British governance in order to show respect for the highest structures of British governance.
It couldn’t be, could it, that the problem with loyalism is loyalism itself?
One of the old, cliched sayings about those imprisoned during the Troubles was that republican prisoners went to jail and got degrees and loyalist prisoners went to jail and got muscles.
Whatever about that, loyalism, as a self-defined reaction against republican violence, has never established an intellectual or even political ideology.
That its leaders, from Paisley to Arlene Foster, have been keen to march its foot soldiers to the top of the hill and then abandon them when they go over the top is beyond dispute.
Arlene Foster ignited these recent loyalist protests by calling for resignations from the top offices of the police and then decried the protests against the police that followed.
I wonder how much anger there was in working class loyalist streets against the Bobby Storey funeral before the DUP decided, for political gain, that there was.
If the reported comment by one loyalist rioter, that Bobby Storey should be arrested is anything to go by, not too much well informed anger anyway.
Predictably, and depressingly, the loyalist rioting was then mirrored by Republican rioting.
Divided by a wall, but fundamentally living in the same streets with the same disadvantages and the same lack of opportunities but different coloured flags, young people threw stones and petrol bombs at each other.
There’s an obvious question there, isn’t there?
And it is one that once more goes to the heart of loyalism’s inherent contradictions.
That question is who benefits from the poorer sections of a society turning repeatedly on each other?
Who is left alone when those who share the same social and economic problems turn on each other rather than those who benefit from those economic and social problems?
Which political leaders are not blamed for failing to increase social opportunities or not sharing out social advantages when flags and painted kerbstones remain the only permissible aspiration?
If by any chance all of those Rangers and Celtic fans from those side by side streets realised they had far more in common than not, that their shared interests would far outweigh their differences, what would the North be like then?
Don’t, after all, the disadvantaged have more in common with their fellow disadvantaged even though they support different teams, fly different flags, and have a different religion?
Unionism relays on loyalism. And unionism relays on loyalism staying where it is.
It relays on loyalism staying on the same streets, receiving the same education, or lack of one, having the same jobs or signing on at the same dole office.
As long as loyalists can be kept in their tribal cages unionism has no need of change.
As long as loyalists can be kept in a constant state of paranoia about betrayal, unionism can support Brexit and then suggest the reality of Brexit borders is a machination of the union’s enemies.
Arlene Foster really needs those loyalists to keep on getting muscles because she keeps the degrees for her own kind.