The one thing that is guaranteed to infuriate most politicians and journalists from the British unionist minority in Ireland is to make reference to the “colonial” history of this island nation. A majority of unionist representatives, be they conservative or liberal, are intellectually incapable of admitting that Britain’s rule in Ireland was that of coloniser over colonised. For many of that community or background, to admit such a truth is to knock away one of the major props of their constitutional identity, a delusional negation of history that justifies the existence of an unacknowledged legacy of colonialism – “Northern Ireland”. So like the racists who accuse others of racism, they deny, they obfuscate, and they attack those who raise these “uncomfortable” truths. That is why poor Anna Lo, of the moderate unionists in the Alliance Party, was ripped to shreds in 2014 for saying “that which must not be said“:
“Ms Lo was upbraided by the DUP, the Ulster Unionists, the Traditional Unionist Voice party and the Northern Ireland Conservatives after she said she supported a united Ireland created by consent and further implied that Northern Ireland was a colony.
Ahead of Saturday’s annual Alliance conference and also ahead of local and European elections in two months time she told today’s Irish News that a united Ireland would be “better placed economically, socially and politically”.
She said it was “very artificial” for Ireland to be divided up and for “the corner of Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom”. She added that she was “anti colonial” while insisting unity could only be achieved through the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”
The AP’s offices were picketed and attacked, and Lo was quickly put back in her box by party elders. Of course some ordinary unionist voters, or non-voters, are far more candid than their canny leaders in these matters and will express opinions little different to those of the former demagogue, Ian Paisley, when replying to the Fianna Fáil leader, Charles Haughey, way back in the 1980s:
“Our ancestors cut a civilisation out of the bogs and meadows of this country while Mr Haughey’s ancestors were wearing pig skins and living in caves …”
For that, in essence is the view of many an extreme unionist, including some who ply a living within the political and media spheres, though they would be loathe to admit it, and even more horrified to be accused of it. In truth, the original core belief of constitutional unionism in this country can be summed up quite easily: we unionists are the British civilizers, you nationalists are the Irish savages, and we are now the rightful masters of all you once owned.
It may be ridiculous in terms of history and the mixed ancestry we share on this small rock of earth and grass in the middle of the ocean but it is still the motivating force of political unionism, of partition, and the underlying reason why the 17th century “Northern Pale” still exists in the 21st century. The latest proof of this cultural legacy of eight centuries of racism, for that is what it is, can be found in this opinion piece on education and gaelscoileanna, Irish-speaking schools, from the news and current affairs website, Slugger O’Toole:
“…the disproportionate funding of Gaelscoileanna on the basis of a somewhat vague European directive on minority language education shows no sign of abating. The DUP call this statutory advantage. Worse, this year has seen these Irish-only schools very visible in uncritical displays of support for the republican rebellion anniversary. Irish language proponents do not accept the criticism of those who would categorise such schools as something akin to nationalist madrassas, often citing their apparent apolitical outlook.
But that betrays events which Nelson McCausland has viewed as “endorsing and affirming an Irish republican perspective on the 1916 rebels”, before concluding wryly “it’s easy to understand why Sinn Fein is so enthusiastic about Irish-medium schools.” Perplexed unionists may well be asking how such school programmes fit into the shared system we were meant to be gradually working towards.”
This is undiluted settler politics at its rawest, the lifting of the unionist rock and the exposure of the grubby atavistic attitudes that crawl beneath. Oh yes, the metropolitans of the APNI, NILP, UUP and Greens, of the BelTel and Detail, may decry such views, and plead, “Not in our name”, but some simply use finer words to express similar sentiments.