The man behind the wire: Jamie Bryson, the loyalist blogger who live-tweeted DUP meeting

Activist thrives on making mischief for politicians

As he is unelected and doesn’t have a specific job title the shorthand description for Jamie Bryson often is, “the loyalist blogger and activist”. Now he has a new title – the man behind the wire, a moniker offered on Tuesday by political professor Jon Tonge.

There was high drama at the Larchfield Estate wedding venue near Lisburn on Monday night as Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson successfully battled against the big beasts of his party, the likes of Nigel Dodds, Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley, but it was Jamie Bryson who brought farce to the political theatre.

Bryson has described himself as a journalist and he certainly scooped other members of the craft with his live tweeting on X of proceedings at the DUP executive meeting which gave Donaldson permission to return to powersharing at Stormont.*

As Bryson posted his minute-by-minute tweets as fast as his fingers could fly around his computer or smart phone keyboard, DUP members inside the venue were aghast, confused and very angry indeed at this almost live streaming of a supposedly private and rather highly strung gathering.


The stakes were high yet Bryson – or the Bryson Broadcasting Corporation, as an impressed Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister described him – decided to create comedy out of a meeting that was determining the political future direction of Northern Ireland.

The talk on Tuesday was that somebody at the meeting was “wired” for sound and that the recording was going straight to Bryson, although Bryson himself said that “senior people” – “plural,” he stressed – were doing the feeding. He wasn’t saying who were the leakers but there are no shortage of suspects, such is the antipathy among a now minority of the party to the Windsor Framework.

It was a sweet coup for Bryson but perhaps it was a Pyrrhic victory because there is a reasonable argument that some of the waverers were so appalled by his behaviour that they decided to stick by Donaldson.

Bryson said on Tuesday he would eat his hat if Donaldson got a good deal, adding that the battle against the framework – or a possible modified version of it, as the DUP leader suggests he has won – isn’t over yet. The next few days will determine how all that plays out.

There should be no surprise at Bryson’s antics. As he said in a recent Irish Times interview he is “venomously” opposed to nationalism and will do all in his power to thwart its advance and to stymie any unionist seeking political compromise with nationalists.

He has been involved in loyalist activism since he was 19, his first engagement campaigning against the withdrawal of funding for an Eleventh Night bonfire in Bangor. He made his big public breakthrough in late 2012 as spokesman for those infuriated by a decision to limit the number of days the union flag should fly over Belfast City Hall. He was 22 but looked about 16.

Right from those days unionist politicians have been wary of the curious power he wields. At Christmas 2013 US diplomat Richard Haass held critical talks with the main parties aimed at striking a deal over flags, parades and dealing with the past.

Bryson wasn’t directly involved but he was roaming around the sidelines of the negotiations confidently predicting to anyone who would listen that the DUP and Ulster Unionists would reject the deal on offer. And he was correct, his forecast we later discovered based on leaks to him straight from some of the DUP and UUP negotiators.

So, he has form in being able to gain confederates within senior political unionism who are happy to use him as a medium to reflect their own no-surrenderism. He also was remarkably well informed on the controversy over the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio to US investment giant Cerberus for £1.2 billion, again with well-placed people willing to leak to him.

Some have tended to dismiss or patronise him, probably because of his working class loyalist roots, but he is articulate and clever, has good legal knowledge, can marshal his thoughts and make strong arguments, and hopes to make it as a barrister.

Bryson thrives on this unelected power. He stood in local elections in Bangor in 2011 but only got 167 votes. He would get more now. He has been asked to stand a few times since then but hitherto he said he achieved more on the margins. “I would struggle in a party system because I am a bit of a lone wolf,” he said.

But now he appears to be changing his mind, indicating this week that he might run in the Westminster general election, expected to be called in the autumn, possibly as an independent or a member of Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice party.

As a social media combatant he can be funny but also unnecessarily provocative at times, getting plenty of the same back in that frequently twisted world.

But sometimes civilities are observed. In early January he posted a nice picture of himself and his soccer-mad young son with a birthday cake in the shape of a football.

One tweeter put up a poisonous post in response targeting his son which for once even had some nationalists and republicans protesting that such comments were beyond the Pale.

Bryson was grateful for that support and said so on X. But that was only a brief Christmas truce. Normal battle stations quickly resumed with Bryson still making mischief for those who would like some form of normal politics to have a chance in Northern Ireland.

* This article was amended on Wednesday, January 31st, 2024 to remove an incorrect reference to Jamie Bryson being a member of the National Union of Journalists.

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