Excellent opinion piece over on the Irish news-blog Slugger O’Toole from Gerry Lynch, a former Executive Director of the Alliance Party, a liberal Unionist group that receives limited electoral support from both communities in the North of Ireland. Lynch, who writes and blogs under the nom de plume “sammymorse”, could have been best described as a small “i” Irish Unionist. That is, he was someone who broadly favoured British rule over the north-east of Ireland for a number of political, economic or social reasons while expressing a mixed Irish and British identity of his own. The very type of person some Unionists claim first declared themselves “Northern Irish” in the 2011 census of “Northern Ireland” (though, as I and others have cogently pointed out – and as some British Unionists fear – the emphasis is clearly on the “Irish” in that declaration).
Now he seems to have abandoned Unionism – and Britishness. While initially stating his belief that the so-called “Union” (i.e. British rule in the north-east of Ireland) is or was safe, he goes on to state the following:
“Sorry to be so blunt, but I want out of the United Kingdom as quickly as possible. I know it’s lovely when you have a decent income in London or Surrey. I have spent and continue to spend an enormous part of my adult life there. But if Unionism means anything it means that Belfast is as British as Finchley. And frankly, on that score, Britishness #epicfails.
Many people I respect will disagree with me, and I mean no disrespect to them or their country – I realise that real existierender Britishness falls well short of what many Britishers would like it to be. I rejoice as much as anyone at what it is and means for Mo Farah to carry the Union Flag as he celebrates Olympic Gold, when English Cricketers stuff the arrogant Aussies and, by God, I fall to my knees in honour of what it meant for my partner to fight frightened skirmishes with the Japanese in Burma as a young man and sleep standing up exhausted against a tree, night after night. I have no wish to disrespect the flag he fought for as he himself fought death from malaria and dysentery on a Bangladeshi beach in 1943. There is a best of British – from Rolls-Royce jet engines to The Italian Job. As an Irishman of nationalist and anti-monarchist instincts, neither I nor my views have been treated with anything less than respect and willingness to understand in the deepest Home Counties Shires. Sadly, that is not what I get in Belfast. There is a worst of British and it is right on my doorstep.
So, when the inevitable border poll inevitably comes, I will be voting for a United Ireland. Of course, it won’t be an actually united Ireland, and it will have new stupidities foisted on it by Gombeen men, but could it really be any worse than this?”
That is just a snippet of a far more detailed and nuanced article that deserves a full reading. But when even a dyed-in-the-wool Alliance supporter and culturally British voter in the North of Ireland can see that the writing is on the wall is it not time to face up to the fact that we are now truly in the end game?
As I said before, “Northern Ireland” is 48% Protestant, 47% British, and that is the real motivation behind the anti-democracy protests by the separatist British Unionist minority in the north-east of the island of Ireland. Not the flying of national flags.
Yes, excellent piece and not just because I agree with it politically but also because it was well written, heartfelt, personal, non-offensive, detailed and nuanced and possibly the best post I have read on Slugger. (Previous best post was probably written by Turgon who I disagree with politically.)
ps Unfortunately I couldn’t post that on Slugger as I’m banned.
I agree. Definitely from the heart but with a thinking mind behind it. I respect someone who can change position politically or ideologically and do so in such a coherent and thought-out manner. I might quibble with some points. I don’t agree with the argument that Unionism won the broader “struggle” but most failed to recognise it but I still appreciate the argument he makes.
I liked Turgon too. Always very interesting posts and made from a genuine position. I don’t think he liked me though! 😉
re. “I might quibble with some points. I don’t agree with the argument that Unionism won the broader “struggle” but most failed to recognise it but I still appreciate the argument he makes.”
In a sense the “struggle” is only likely to be finally settled when there is a UI but for the forseeable Unionists have ‘won’ because there is little chance of a UI.
That’s the point I quibble with! 😉
I’ve been quibbling for a long time on that point with Sammy !
I’m not sure it’s fair to treat Sammy as a convert. Alliance are often accused of being border agnostics. I think it’s more accurate to consider Alliance people as border pragmatists.
You have a different perspective when you grow up and live in a area like East Belfast or North Down. Even if you’re a convinced nationalist winning over a body of unionists before reunification seems like a bigger priority than just getting rid of the border and then dealing with any fall out. BangorDub’s different but he’s new here.
No-one involved in politics here has no opinion on the border. Alliance just give an extra priority to integration – often for cheerfully selfish reasons like a mixed family.
But now that Unionists are back to calling anyone in favour of compromise a Lundy, the equation’s changed. Even for pragmatic types who prioritise integration over constitutional fixes. If you can’t change the days a flag flies without a pack of lies and a riot then it’s clear that cohesion in the current circumstances is going nowhere.
And for that matter loyalist violence is no longer a threat to be considered in any theoretical border decision. It’s now a present fact either way so it might as well be discounted from the decision.
UTV and the BBC went looking amongst the business community in East Belfast for reactions to current violence. They found no-one prepared to comment “on the record”. When people are afraid to even describe their situation because they’ll be cleaning up the glass the next day then you shouldn’t expect much loyalty to the status quo.
Some good points there. The Alliance Party is something of a mixed bag in terms of members and even more so in terms of voters. However I would still place them in the Unionist camp, albeit with the “liberal” caveat. Certainly some Nationalists vote AP out of selfish socio-economic reasons (though should we see them as Nationalists? Some things defy categorisation). And I’m not using the “selfish” in a pejorative sense, merely descriptive. They see continued British rule as simply more advantageous to them, their family or community (or for other related reasons). But that still gives a “pro-Union” vote.
I suspect as the demographics continue to change more and more soft Nationalists or Unionist-voting Nationalists will begin to question their voting intentions. Everyone wants to be on the winning team or side. If the Unionist/Pro-Union camp is no longer seen to be in the ascendant I believe quite a few will start looking around to see where their advantage lies. It could be the SDLP – and possibly SF – who gain from the current trouble if “Garden-centre Catholics” start looking elsewhere.
If I was in the SDLP leadership I would have footsoldiers beating down the doors of those constituencies with significant Catholic populations but with insignificant Nationalist votes right now.
And with some former UUP folk drifting into the AP it is only a matter of time before the party starts looking slightly more Unionist than before. Already there are rumours of internal party disagreements over the flag motion, etc.
Just some thoughts.
I think the present disturbances are in great danger of being over-analysed : all sorts of interpretations are being built on very shaky foundations. What’s going on? Basically a tiny number of people, a percentage of one per cent of the Unionist population are taking part in demos in very limited geographical areas, with some of them rioting. From what I can see a large percentage of these “crowds” are made up of early-mid teenage hoodies who are simply there for a bit of crack, to enjoy a spot of recreational rioting and to mug for the cameras of the assembled world media.These people’s view of their position within the U.K. and their rather narrow view of “Britishness” is clearly not shared by many.
All this seems to have been interpretated as proof of widespread discontent within the Unionist population and, particularly, within the Unionist working class. Are a few hundred people milling around really representative of even the urban Unionist working class? Er, I don’t think so. I live in a rural area about 30 miles North of Belfast, the population would be about 70% Unionist : the chief topics of conversation in the last few weeks are more likely to have been the weather, the price of livestock, the collapse of a local building firm, than this nonsense. Most people watch it on T.V., shrug their shoulders, feel a bit exasperated and bemused, then get on with their lives. But then, these are not the sort of people who ring phone-ins or read blogs, let alone respond to them.
These events are simply interpreted by those with a political axe to grind to suit their particular analysis or obsessions : why let facts get in the way, pretend it means more than it actually does.
A similar approach seems to have been adopted to the recent census results, with people from differing political hues putting different interpretations on the results. Why do they presume to know how individuals think about certain issues, particularly the status of Northern Ireland?
The author of this blog seems to think that because only 48% of the population described themselves as British, this makes an overwhelming case for instant Irish unity. But how does he know how those who described themselves as Northern Irish or Irish think? I ticked the Northern Irish only box on the census form, but I want Northern Ireland to stay in the U.K and would vote accordingly in any border poll and I suspect that many of those who ticked the Northern Irish or Irish boxes would do the same. Northerners are hard-headed, pragmatic people, not easily swayed by romantic fantasies or wishful thinking. There is a large Catholic middle class in the North, many in good professional posts, others comfortably ensconsed in public sector jobs/sinecures : in the wake of the extinction of the Celtic tiger and subsequent economic meltdown of the Southern state, with a return of mass emigration, does anyone really believe that these people want a United Ireland tomorrow? Do turkeys vote for Christmas?
Some very fair points, Willie. You are quite right to make them. It is still a minority, an extremist edge that are carrying out these anti-democracy protests. However that should not hide the fact that it was the leadership of Unionism, DUP and UUP, which called these people onto the streets. And it was the leadership of Unionism that continued to stoke the fires until recently when they saw things slipping out of their control and the increasing levels of violence.
But we still have individual DUP members turning up in a prominent position at anti-democracy demonstrations, most notably in Derry. And we have this new, Unionist/Protestant only forum from Robinson and Nesbitt where the message has gone out very obviously: no Taigs need apply.
48% Protestant, 47% British. The state of “Northern Ireland” was explicitly formed by the British and British Unionist minority on the island of Ireland as a sectarian headcount. That is a simple fact of history. That sectarian headcount is no longer valid. Therefore I question the very existence of the gerrymandered state.
The interpretations of the 2011 census are just that. Interpretations. Both sides are making their own. Your point about entering “Northern Ireland” only as your identity is a valid one. If a poll comes, frankly, I shall welcome it.
Thanks for taking the time to Comment.
re. “If a poll comes, frankly, I shall welcome it.”
Some thoughts on polls below – if you are passing that way.
Seen that and had a read. Ah, I think Salmond is more of a canny operator than that. If anyone can succeed it is him and even if he doesn’t I’m sure he’s banking on wresting more concessions from the London government if a failed Yes vote percentage is in the low 40s (as well as fatally wounding the UK in the long-run through destabilisation – chipping away at it bit by bit). A northern poll on Irish reunification in the next decade could be on the cards, whether people seek it or not. The demographics and Stormont percentages may necessitate it. Maybe! 😉