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LAD: What Next for Northern Ireland's New Politics of the People?

Perhaps LAD can replace the 'Loyalists Against' with 'Laughing At' and make all those who make our society unbearable the subject of derision. They have certainly made us chuckle for the past thirteen months and there's no reason to think that all-inclusive mockery would be any less amusing.

Today, a lone-man protest has provided further ridicule of the campaign to return the Union Flag above Belfast's City Hall. On the same day, Northern Ireland has also learnt of the DUP's decision to force the cancellation of an unseen play which mocks the Bible. Because blasphemy is non-democratic. It's just another boring day in the life of the modern, peaceful Northern Ireland.

One group, who have sought to see sense and amusement in all of this is internet phenomena, LAD - Loyalists Against Democracy. With just over 14,000 fans on Facebook and more than 8,000 followers on Twitter, Northern Ireland political satirists, LAD, represent a new, blunt and comical take on the often crazy world of Northern Ireland's political landscape.

Of course it all began when loyalists took to the streets and to social media with vigour following the decision of Belfast City councillors to reduce the days on which the Union flag would fly above Belfast's City Hall. When zeal on the streets spilled over to bigotry on social media, LAD was the principal mocker.

Participation across most democracies shows skewed participation in favour of older age-groups so to see LAD engage with young people is surely a positive; though I suspect it appeals to young and old alike. Nonetheless, it speaks to us in a language of the people, through modern media of the masses and allows us to steer clear from the abrasive ego-nourishing of Stephen Nolan and co.

LAD's anonymity, although critiqued in some loyalist quarters, if anything, has added genuineness. There is no £5,000 fee per show, no career advancement, no personal gain from this; apart from the joy of having a laugh at others' expense, along with providing the service of exposing those who oppose democracy.

As well as opposing those loyalists who exert opposition to LAD's idea of democracy, they have also invested their time in other areas; including the protection LGBT rights in the face of adversity, most recently from 'curers' in Ballynahinch. Welcome to modern Northern Ireland, eh...

The group have also been instrumental in pushing the 'Give Poots the Boot' campaign on social media, which amassed over 12,000 signatures in response to the Lagan Valley MLA's perceived incompetence as Health Minister. His failure to allow gay males to donate blood is only one of the many criticisms of the DUP man.

Last week LAD also had a giggle at the expense of Ian Poots (son of Edwin) for a display of literacy that would not look out of place on the mobile phone of a teenager, rather than on the Facebook page of an almost elected councillor. Perhaps the newly-appointed councillor received additional flack for his father's past, for his party's behaviour or maybe for his hard-unionist background, which leads on to an interesting dilemma for those at Ladmin.

Political parties often fit the bill of being a 'single-issue' party or at least at one point in their existence - The Green Party, UKIP and Northern Ireland's defunct Women's Coalition are all notable examples from the past. LAD too, once hit a similar mould with the flag its mecca and the loyalist protesters its pilgrims, feeding its playful jibes. This has of course remained at the heart of issues, including their somewhat hampered Christmas single; but the reality is, that through Poots, LGBT issues, freedom of speech protection and through exposing hatred across Northern Ireland in various guises, they have become a multi-dimensional group.

They have also attacked dissident republicans on numerous occasions, the outcasts of modern republicanism. You do wonder though, in a place where people are usually defined by birth-right, as something they choose not to be, will LAD up its ante towards mainstream republicanism and nationalism? It has already evolved from its humble beginnings, but surely the next step must be to be universal in its criticisms.

Mary McAleese once observed: "There is a sediment of sectarianism in all of us if we come from Northern Ireland". Indeed, there may be an element of truth to this regardless of our best efforts to run away from such notions. It is however with such sentiment that LAD will be judged.

LAD has made excellent inroads in sharing the failures of those elected and invested in local politics, and turned a new leaf in Northern Irish lampoonery. It has provided wonderful satire, highlighting much that is wrong with unionism and loyalism, but, will it be happy to allow the perception of one-sidedness from the loyalists it opposes or can it turn the corner and show the bravery to expose all purveyors of nonsense and non-democracy in Northern Ireland?

As it stands, some will allow (and want) themselves to view LAD as one-sided bullies; an argument which holds some understandable, if not entirely accurate grounding. But if they can be universal in their derision, they can escape such discernments and they might just help others to tone down the tinted glasses which continue to divide Northern Irish society. I know it is not LAD's obligation to be a bastion of impartiality, but surely the ability to attack one ideological group of people can only be justified by a willingness to critique those of all political viewpoints.

Perhaps LAD can replace the 'Loyalists Against' with 'Laughing At' and make all those who make our society unbearable the subject of derision. They have certainly made us chuckle for the past thirteen months and there's no reason to think that all-inclusive mockery would be any less amusing.

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