Bilingual Irish-English poster for NI21, a liberal if minor Unionist party in the north-east of Ireland
Bilingual Irish-English poster for NI21, a liberal if minor Unionist party in the north-east of Ireland. A sign of things to come?

By all accounts Ireland’s newish British Unionist party, NI1921, is in grave difficulties following a series of internal squabbles over policy direction and the dominance of the organisation by its only recognisable faces, former UUP politicians Basil McCrea and John McCallister. A liberal, centre-right party attempting to make room for itself in the same electoral space shared by the ideologically-similar Alliance Party many media observers predict death-by-ballot-box as Unionist politics in the north-east of the country increasingly falls under the influence of militant extremes like the Protestant Coalition. However the Twenty-oners at least have shown how one can outperform the frequently janus-faced Alliance Party when it comes to recognising that the British Unionist community lives on the island nation of Ireland, not Britain. From the Belfast Telegraph:

“Five of NI21’s total of 30 billboards for the European elections have been written in Irish as part of a campaign which will be the fledgling party’s first test at the polls.

Party leader Basil McCrea denied the decision to put their slogan ‘This is Fresh Politics’ in Irish could backfire.

“As far as I know we are probably the first pro-UK party to use the Irish language in our election campaign,” the Lagan Valley MLA said.

Ahead of the party’s expected launch later this week of more than 50 candidates for the 11 new councils, he said: “We are taking a stand as conviction politicians.

“We are an inclusive party. We believe Northern Ireland should be a place where everybody can celebrate their own culture.

“Although we believe that NI is better off remaining part of the United Kingdom we do not see why we should not be pluralist and diverse.”

The former Ulster Unionist, who resigned from the party along with South Down MLA John McCallister, said his party was not against the Irish Language Act which Sinn Fein is demanding at Stormont.”

Given that a senior Alliance Party candidate, Anna Lo, recently voiced her honest opinions on the anachronistic remnants of the British colony in Ireland can we be viewing the emergence of a Fíorpholaitíocht or Realpolitik movement amongst the Unionist minority? A reaction to the dominance of the “No to Democracy” fringe who have controlled the news headlines for the last year and more? Whatever the case one at least must be generous in recognising that the NI21 grouping is taking a step in the right direction (albeit a step surrounded by provisos).

What were those demographic predictions again?

10 comments on “NI21 Gets Its Irish On

  1. Críostóir Ó Faoláin

    I think comentators need to be careful not to portray any step twords the Irish language as a step away from Unionism. The Irish Language and a rejection of a United Ireland are not incompatible.


    • The last part is certainly true. And there is a balancing act to be done. However one can’t help but read the political tea-leaves. All political parties are inherently selfish institutions. If they do something it is for a purpose. In this case it is winning over possible (and perhaps illusionary) small “n” Nationalist voters to a Unionist party. Or at least securing crucial transfers from Nationalist voters to a Unionist party less offensive in terms of their politics than many others come European or Assembly elections. As an Irish Nationalist who would you rather have as an MLA if SF or SDLP won’t take the seat? A member of NI21 or the TUV? Politics is politics.

      That said one could turn your point the other way. If some Unionists are embracing the Irish language to secure soft Nationalist votes or Pro-Union Catholic votes who is “politicising” the language but Unionist politicians? 😉


      • Críostóir Ó Faoláin

        I would not agree with your last point at all. There is a reason that no one would ever claim that the Irish Language has been politicised in the South, its not because it is never used by any party, its because there is no sense that it is the sole preserve of one party or community.
        The Irish Language has been politicised in the North, and made to be the sole properity of the nationalist community and that process was one that was backed to the hilt by Unionist leaders in the past. Undoing this needs Irish to be used and accepted by Unionists, even if its only for their own self promotion and nothing else. When that happens at least the Unionists will be in line with every other party on the island.


        • I was somewhat tongue-in-cheek on my last point though it does illustrate the malleable nature of the “politicisation” argument when it comes to Irish.

          On the rest I’d broadly agree. Though I would argue that the “de-politicisation” of the language on a national level has been a mistake and the reason why it is treated with such casual disdain (or active discrimination). Without politics there is nothing. It is the essence of our system of democracy. Irish language activism needs to get political.

          That is the lesson of Wales, Québec, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Flanders, etc.


  2. Ms McKenzie wrote about her journey from being a member of a Republican family towards being a Unionist candidate for the EU elections


  3. re. “Whatever the case one at least must be generous in recognising that the NI21 grouping is taking a step in the right direction ”

    I would go along fully with that.


  4. In my opinion the anna Lo outburst and NI21 are all deliberate attempts by unionism to tap into the ‘northern ireland’ people from the census results. Republicans are not the only ones that can play the long game; unionists are good at it too. The war for hearts and minds is being played behind the scenes in front of our eyes ie via the media and in the schools. The media[even the irish news!] is forever promoting ‘northern ireland’. Whether its ranting about the’ assimilated’ like rory mciroy,seamus heaney etc or bombarding us with cringeworthy west brit comedians on bbc shows such as ‘monumental’, it all must effect the young people its surely aimed at? Add in the mix that pass as catholic schools, who have been so successfully browbeaten that they are afraid to teach irish history other than the british version in case one is offended. This potent mixture has the potential to produce more and more united ireland rejectionists in the near future. While republicans allow themselves to be distracted by such pyrrhic victories as the union jack furore, the real war for hearts and minds has unionism in the driving seat. Republicans must not fall into the trap and underestimate unioinism; never underestimate your enemy.


    • A lot to agree with in that, WT. The creation of an artificial, pro-Union “Northern Irish” identity is deeply (and knowingly) divisive and a threat to future peace on our island nation.


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