Current Affairs Politics

Nowhere Man Sitting In His Nowhere Land

Willie Frazer - militant Unionist leader in Ireland sporting his Orange Order sash and UDR British Army militia beret
Willie Frazer – militant Unionist leader in Ireland sporting his Orange Order sash and UDR British Army militia beret. One of the “hardliners” consulted in the Haass talks

The newspaper columnist Alex Kane, a former leading light of the Ulster Unionist Party until his surprise resignation, is widely regarded as the liberal voice of the British Unionist minority in Ireland, a much quoted source for those examining contemporary political events in the north-east of the country. So it may come as a surprise to many of his supporters and admirers that not even this doyen of Unionist intellectualism can identify what exactly “a Unionist” is – beyond not being of the island nation of Ireland. From the Belfast Telegraph:

“Personally, I never use ‘Ulster’ to describe myself, even though I belonged to the Ulster Unionist Party for 30 years. I have no sense of being Irish, even though I come from Northern Ireland. I have no problem with people choosing to learn either Irish or Ulster-Scots, but I do oppose the idea of either Irish or Ulster-Scots language acts. I describe myself as a ‘pan-UK unionist’ because my sense of unionism has always been much broader than local, parish-pump unionism. Yet I also have difficulty describing myself as British, because I feel no particular sense of kin with the English, Scots or Welsh.”

Which leaves one to conclude that for some people the only genuine definition of being a Unionist is not being “Irish” and that all else is secondary to that base rejection of geographical and territorial reality. It would seem that most political leaders of the Unionist community, even the most thoughtful, are simply living in a fevered dream of self-deception unable to face the real world around them. It is French Algeria in the 1950s transplanted to north-western Europe, apartheid-era South Africa under grey clouds.

However there are others who while agreeing with the “anything but Irish” definition also have a more fundamentalist “Protestant” ideology to sustain them. Again from the BT:

“Unionist leaders were afraid of cutting a deal during the Haass talks unless they had the approval of hardline loyalists, it has been claimed.

Flag protester Jamie Bryson claimed the conclusion of the talks in failure represented a victory for loyalism.

He even claimed to have been shown negotiation documents in order to get his opinion during the talks as the DUP and UUP sought to ensure loyalist approval.

“The derailing, for the time being, of the Haass process is a victory for those of us within the Protestant community…”

Unionist negotiators did not deny that Mr Bryson had been shown documents.

DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson said he was not aware of it, but confirmed that Mr Frazer and others were kept informed.

Ulster Unionist negotiator Tom Elliott said he had no knowledge of Mr Bryson being shown the documents. “I am not saying it wasn’t happening, but not that I am aware of,” he said.”

And of course keeping the “hardliners” in the negotiations’ loop means that the main Unionist political parties were also keeping the main British terrorist factions informed of what was happening at the Haass talks too. How’s that for an axis of terror?

9 comments on “Nowhere Man Sitting In His Nowhere Land

  1. Munsterman

    Unionists re-confirming that they are simply not interested in voluntarily making any deal with Nationalist Ireland which would be based on parity of esteem in the North of the country.
    The good news is that The White House has gotten that message loud and clear.
    It’s incredible to witness Unionists celebrating such a massive own-goal, though I suspect the more perceptive amongst them understand that being publicly blamed by Richard Haass is not good for business – nor indeed for Unionism’s future – which will see Unionists as the minority in the North alreasdy by 2020.

    It’s all good.

    • In the short to medium term that optimism would seem well-founded. But SF needs to keep its eye on the all-Ireland dimension, or more accurately the all-Irish one. The creeping threat of pro-union “Northern Ireland” nationalism as espoused by NI21, the Alliance Party, latterly the northern wing of the Greens and to an extent editorially on Slugger O’Toole should not be discounted.

      • Munsterman

        Fair enough – though I see NI21’s biggest impact as further fragmenting an already deeply-divided unionism. However, if NI21 wants to have any significant impact, they better get a move on – by 2030, the unionist community will be below the 40% mark if the current demographic trajectory continues, excluding the unknown “PfP” ** factor.

        ** “PfP” => “Packing for Perth” = the exodus of white South Africans, particularly the Afrikaaners, upon the collapse of Apartheid as many of them could not stomach being in a minority in a democratic South Africa.
        I hope all unionists stay to build a better Ireland – but I fear quite a number will not just as happened in 1921
        when many left the then Irish Free State.

  2. in 1921 I think many unionists who left were true “anglos” in the sense that they felt they were really at home in England and within the English culture.
    Today, many young protestants may not really feel at home anywhere – see Alex kane above and there is, and has been for some years, a certain exodus.. They leave to study at universities in Scotland or England (Wales not popular) and never return to NI as they look for jobs where they are, Their parents, upon retirement may well follow them so as to live near children and grandchildren.

    • I think Senator David Norris has described his life growing up in the remnants of the Irish Raj in very similar terms. There was TV documentary on RTÉ a while ago focusing on the last survivors of the “Big House” where Anglo-Irish and Unionist families talked about growing up as English children in Ireland with barely any sense of Irishness and a distinct antipathy for those around them (the servants and labourers). Some of the attitudes or recollections on display were barely disguised racism but the programme maker seemed oblivious to this (in fact I think she shared the same background). It was a very odd documentary and if it had been about anywhere else I’m pretty sure there would have been considerable criticism over some of the content or tone.

      I think the Unionist/British/Anglo-Scots-Irish community in the north-east is very different. More like the old Dublin Unionist working class which was simply subsumed into the broader working- and middle-class populations. Though that won’t happen in the north for many, many decades. The population is too large, too strong in its “ethnicity” and identity, too self-aware, and too invested in continuing its separate communal existence.

      That said I’m sure post reunification there will be a significant movement of Unionist or Pro-Union people, the complete irreconcilables, the fearful, the militant, the bigoted, or the simply anxious. Following by now well known paths of migration to Britain. Similar in some ways to 19th and 20th century Irish emigration patterns as a whole, though on a smaller scale.

      In a way it is quite sad. Religious diversity is something that Ireland needs, even if only in a vague cultural sense. Cultural Catholics and cultural Protestants balancing out society (not to mention atheists like myself!). Not to mention all the other positive contributions the Scots-Irish community can and does bring to the island nation of Ireland.

      Hell, in a reunited Ireland we could even have July 12th as a national holiday! 😉

      • Munsterman

        ” Hell, in a reunited Ireland we could even have July 12th as a national holiday! ” – Séamas

        Many unionists will be surprised – and the unionist fanatics disappointed – to learn that they will get pretty much what they want in an independent Re-United Ireland. Nationalists are not interested in lording it over Unionists/Ulster Cultural Prods in a Re-United Ireland – that’s an Orangey/Unionist thingy based on a supremacist mid-set and fear.

        Feck it – we can have 3 National holidays as public holidays – 17th March Patrick’s Day, 12th July Orange Day – and Independence Day.

        -:)-:)

        • Agreed. The Orange Order a hundred years from now as a non-contentious Irish cultural organisation that even Catholics or atheists could join? Anything is possible, Unionists could pretty much write their own ticket. But not if the civil war some Unionist leaders have been threatening since the 1800s comes first. Generosity and bitterness do not go together.

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