Current Affairs Politics

David Norris, A Southern Unionist?

Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris

In 2011 Senator David Norris ran for the presidency of Ireland in a campaign beset by controversy about his somewhat controversial personal views and former relationships. For many his defeat was a disaster. For (many, many) others it was a blessing in disguise. From the Irish Times newspaper:

“A call has been made for the Church of Ireland to disassociate itself from the Orange Order in the wake of loyalist rioting in North Belfast.

Independent David Norris expressed his disgust at the rioting after Orange Order marchers were refused permission to return on their July 12th parade via a 300 metres section of the route that passed by a Nationalist area.

Mr Norris described the behaviour of loyalist rioters as “stupid”.

He added: “When they were prisoners they were like Neanderthals. They were reading comics and doing press-ups whereas the ‘Shinners’ for whom I wouldn’t give a toss, at least had the intelligence to do university degrees.”

He told the Seanad that as a southern unionist “I am bitterly ashamed of the behaviour of people who call themselves Unionists and Protestants. They are a disgrace to any decent representation of those values.

“I would like to call on the Church of Ireland to which I belong to disassociate themselves completely from the Orange Order. It has shrivelled down to a third of its original support.”

He also said: “I would like to suggest that no decent Christian minister, pastor or parishioner should be associated with the Orange Order.””

Leaving aside the casual use of the favourite Neo-Unionist and British term of “Shinner” for an Irish Republican (revealing in so many ways of the mindset behind it) what does David Norris mean by claiming to be a “Southern Unionist”? Does he mean that he believes that part or the whole of the nation of Ireland should once again be under British colonial rule? Does he believe that we are simply misguided British subjects in need of a firm hand to rein us in from our rebellious native ways?

Maybe one should be generous and assume that Senator Norris was using the term in some sort of ethno-national manner, a self-declaration on his behalf of a British-Irish (Anglo-Irish?) ethnic identity distinct from that of the majority of the Irish people. If so he has a point. Such a community did and does still exist, and in all parts of the country (the north-east being the most obvious example as we have seen in graphic and violent detail over the last few days). And Norris certainly does come from that background as the son of a former British Army officer raised in the then still-affluent Ancien Régime world of the old Anglo-Irish Ascendancy where the independence of Ireland was more of a disagreeable inconvenience than an acknowledged fact.

Of course the type of British Unionist community that exists in the north-east of Ireland is very different from the aristocratic variety that existed elsewhere in the country in days of yore, Dublin city’s former artisan working class Unionist population aside. Which is why northern Unionists found it so easy to abandon Unionists elsewhere on the island of Ireland when it came to implementing their violent campaign of separatist terror in the early 1900s. The creation of a “Northern Pale” was more important than saving the old “Dublin Pale”. All of which makes David Norris’ cri de coeur all the more pointless. Whether he likes it not to the average Belfast Unionist the average post-colonial Dublin Unionist is just another “Free State foreigner”.

No matter how much some Irish politicians, and most of the Dublin news media, would wish it otherwise.

11 comments on “David Norris, A Southern Unionist?

  1. At best he’s a anglophile culturalist i.e. loves james joyce politically centrist loves the commonwealth, gay rights. You can’t put him in a box


    • True enough. A worthy record in most cases, somewhat more dubious in others. But certainly not a “team player”. He would have been a dreadful president though. Why tarnish a largely good senatorial history? He had a lucky escape.


  2. I have to say David Norris is a true “subversive”. He has consistently fought against the establishment position. If he wants to be unionist he has earned and is entitled to that right. I doubt he is a unionist in the sense that north eastern british unionists would understand the term but he is a rebel. I like him.


    • Hmm, perhaps you should say he WAS a subversive? Has not Norris, along with the likes of Colm Tobín, Neil Jordan, Eoghan Harris, et al become the new establishment? Theirs is the dominant narrative and the only voices that can be now heard or respected are those who echo that narrative. Thus Norris can refer to “Shinners” in a manner that indicates that this is his usual wording. No matter that it originated as a derogatory term by the British Occupation Forces for Republicans during the Irish Revolution. Thus Neil Jordan can offer views in an interview with Salon magazine that dismisses out of hand that which challenges the orthodoxy of the new Ascendancy:

      “The ’60s and early ’70s were a time of restlessness and early rebellion in Ireland as in the rest of the West, but with a difference: The young were rebelling against two generations of older rebels – their parents and their grandparents. As Jordan puts it, “We grew up with so much talk of ‘The Troubles’ that we finally came to realize The Troubles were unfinished business and that they would stay unfinished until people began changing their attitudes. The ideal of much of my parents’ generation was that Ireland was a kind of pristine Gaelic culture that would be untouched by the outside world… The ’60s brought cracks; writers who had no direct emotional stake in the old political and religious quarrels became restless and sought new means of expression.

      He has also shown a flair for the epic with “Michael Collins” (1996)… “an interesting but quite uncomfortable experience. I thought I was prepared for everything that would come in the movie’s aftermath, and I was really surprised at all the things I was accused of. Things like  there being ‘strange coded messages’ about the political aspects of the film,  But I really didn’t want to make a film about the politics, I wanted to make a comment about the violence and how it spiralled out of  control. It was really such a shabby little war.”

      Aren’t all wars shabby affairs by their very nature or does Jordan view some wars as somehow less shabby? And what are the criteria for that? When the enemy is not British?

      Then there is this typical piece of Stalinist group-think from Toibín:

      “During the Queen’s historic visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, Tóibín was given the job of introducing her to 10 writers and editors. “The level of her politeness was great. Before her visit I was consulted by the British Embassy about what [the visit] would mean and what it should look like. It was interesting to sit with them and say, ‘Look, there is no downside in this. This is as good as the British are going to get. Her visit is not a problem, it is a solution.’”

      Was he comfortable with her decision to bow her head at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance, given that it is dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”, in other words the IRA?

      “We are embarrassed about that place here. It is ugly because it is used to commemorate people of violence. We came to like the garden less than the people in England did because it had more potential to destabilise our society than yours. You don’t have a problem with having members of Sinn Féin in your parliament. We do.”

      These guys claim to speak for ALL the Irish people perhaps because they view those who hold any other view than their own as some species of atavistic Irish throwback: tribal, indigenous, nativist, etc.

      The true irony is that the would-be rebels have actually become their own ruling establishment.

      And we are the true subversives 😉


  3. He raises an interesting point about protestant denominations refusing to condemn sectarianism. I suppose they are afraid of losing their congregations! one Presbyterian moderator said the other day on the radio that they did not even realise some forms of behaviour were unacceptably offensive. That’s their excuse and they”re sticking to it!


    • True. In the case of the Orange Order there seems to be a deep reluctance by Protestant denominations in Ireland to confront the group. In the south because of the feeling by Anglicans/Presbyterians/etc that it would be a case of turning on one of their own when they are in a such a “precarious” state (their view). In the north because the Presbyterian Church fears Paisley’s rival Free Presbyterians (as well as a general lessening of power and influence). The RC Church had its footsoldiers and power in the RC orders but the Protestant churches had theirs in the Loyal Orders. The power of the RC orders is largely broken. The power of the Protestant orders are largely undiminished.


  4. I had the great misfortune to sit through a lecture of his on human rights. He lost my vote somewhere around the time he said that gays suffered more during the Shoah.


    • That is a crass claim to make to say the least. Countless people suffered from many communities and ethnicities, the Jews of Europe above all. I’m surprised he said that. Then again he does tend to throw “shock jock” lines out there.


      • All I can say is that (for me) he came across badly. South side Jackeen who was slumming it with Northern queens!


  5. It amazes me to see so many english folk on the numerous holiday/tourist tv programmes, showing jimmy nesbitt for example, around large estates,castles etc i Ireland.
    Its almost like the english never left ireland at all, they just gave the over the keys to dublin castle but kept everything else of worth. And the irish let them keep it. The irish could have stole an idea or two from mugabe and chased the landowners out as well.
    My point is that the pro english people remained in ireland even when their armies left. and that pro english people, permeate every aspect of irish life in the free state to this very day eg david norris.


    • A lot of the big estates were broken up in the 1930s but it was a programme more aimed at “big farmers” than the old aristocratic order who were safely ensconced inside the Cumann na nGaedheal / Fine Gael fold.

      Was it RTÉ or TV3 that had that eulogistic “Big House” documentary recently? A few (if not all) of the attitudes on display were quite unapologetically racist and the programme as a whole utterly biased. I was stunned that it could be made in this day and age with such revisionism. What next, the Plantation House full of happy “house niggers”?


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