Leadership That’s Working?

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48, 48, and 48 – those are the nightmare numbers for Unionism. Not necessarily for the Union, but for Unionism the political ideology as we have understood it for the past century or so. In the 2011 Assembly election, only 48% of the population voted for Unionist candidates, interpreting that term as generously as possible. In the 2011 Census, only 48% of the population were classifiable as ‘Protestant’ by community background, even given the statisticians’ remit of allocating the non-religious to their community of origin by any means possible. And in the same census, just 48% of the population identified itself as British in any way, even when given the opportunity to mix their Britishness with either or both of Irish and Northern Irish identities.

All three of those figures are set to decrease in the years to come. To put it as bluntly as possible, the Protestant population tends to be older and the Catholic and non-classifiable populations tend to be younger. Short of convincing the Unionist population to ‘breed for victory’, committing ethnic cleansing on a Rwandan scale or convincing Catholics and liberal Protestants to vote Unionist for the first time, there isn’t much Unionism can do about this. Option 1 is unlikely to prove popular, Option 2 is (I hope) off the cards and as for Option 3 – how credible, if they are being honest with themselves, do Unionists think Peter Robinson’s ‘hug a Catholic’ Party Conference speech looks in the cold light of six weeks of flag riots?

Unionism is going to have to come to terms with the fact that it now has minority status in Northern Ireland, the largest minority in a region of political and religious minorities. Yet the most senior DUP politicians are still attempting to hoodwink the party’s base into thinking that a return to majority Unionism is possible. Both Nigel Dodds on BBC NI’s The View and Peter Robinson in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph’s Liam Clarke claimed this week that better voter registration and higher turnout was the only way to get the Union Flag on the City Hall every day of the year.

I would like to think that Robinson and Dodds are both smart enough to know this is delusional. In the 2011 Belfast City Council elections the Unionist vote was only 36%. Thanks to the boundary changes to the City, which take the particular and peculiar form they do because Peter Robinson was determined to preserve his legacy in Castlereagh, a further percentage point, at least, will be shaved off that figure next time. Dunmurry Cross voted 82% Nationalist in 2011, for example, and the most strongly Unionist bits are staying in Lisburn.

Gilnahirk/Tullycarnet, Belvoir and the bits of Castlereagh within the ring road won’t balance that out, especially when they contain two Alliance fortress heartlands, Wynchurch and Gilnahirk, and pockets of decent SDLP support.

Demographic changes will probably knock a further 1-2% off that figure. So Unionism starts the campaign for the slightly enlarged new Belfast City Council from a base of 33-34%. Even if we indulge for a moment the fantasy that there will be heroic voter registration efforts, epic Unionist turnout and a collapse of the Alliance vote, there is simply no way that Unionists will gain a majority of seats in Belfast at the next election.

And in any case, as any smart West Belfast Sinn Féin backroom boy could tell Unionists, those who are difficult to register are also difficult to get out come polling day. Registered non-voters are mainly utterly disaffected with the shambles that is Northern Ireland party politics – ask the SDLP and Sinn Féin activists who spent years obsessing about long term non-voters in West Belfast before the 1997 General Election. And the Alliance vote isn’t going to collapse – 12.6% in 2011 was a high water mark for the yellow peril in Belfast recently, but other than the 2001 and 2005 elections where Alliance was squeezed almost to oblivion across NI, the absolute floor of Alliance support in the City is over 9%. Much of that 12.6% is anything but ‘soft unionist’ – of course some of it is, but some of it while definitely pro-Union is equally anti-Unionist identity politics, and some of it is decidedly pale green, especially in North and South Belfast.

Indeed, the only serious question about political control of Belfast City Council is whether or not Nationalists can take outright control of the City or whether Alliance retains the balance of power. Nationalists have a great chance of gaining an outright majority in Belfast, ironically aided by Peter Robinson’s obsession with keeping Castlereagh intact. Had Dundonald and the Four Winds/Glencregagh/Cairnshill area come into the city, as logic would have dictated, Nationalist control of Belfast would have been delayed for decades. Instead, those areas were lumped in with Lisburn. Ironically, Unionism’s only hope of retaining some measure of influence in the City is dependent on it failing to “Smash the Alliance Party” as promised.

Welcome to the Northern Ireland that won’t vote itself out of the Union but won’t give Unionism majority support. It is not difficult to envisage a scenario in 10-15 years time where, as is already the case in Belfast, not only does Alliance hold the balance of power in the Assembly, but Nationalists outnumber Unionists. I was surprised Unionism held on to an overall Assembly majority in 2011, but at least two UUP seats, one in Upper Bann and one in South Down, remain extremely vulnerbale to Nationalists and demographics are shifting. Any reduction to 5 seats per constituency will simply end Unionism’s majority status in the Assembly overnight – UUP MLAs were ‘last man in’ in a lot of places and Mike Nesbitt’s party will be slaughtered if there is a reduction in the number of Assembly seats.

Responsible leadership would involve talking to people honestly about the implications of all this. Trimble may have secured the Union for the foreseeable future in 1998, but he did not, nor could he, secure the nature of what Northern Ireland would look like within that Union. The DUP did not alter that reality one jot at St. Andrews. Nor could they.

The Union is now dependent on ‘pro-Union Catholics’ and detribalised liberals from Protestant backgrounds. Neither of those groups tends to be impressed by ‘Loyalist culture’. Peter Robinson’s fantasy of ‘pro-Union Catholics’ seems to imply they are terribly Vatikantreu religious conservatives, itching to support DUP policies on abortion and homosexuality, and falling over themselves to sing ‘God Save The Queen’ at Remembrance Day events. In reality, they tend to be young, secular, probably support Celtic and the Republic of Ireland football team, are hostile to and feel threatened by expressions of Loyalism, and don’t feel British – however happy they are for the Brits to keep paying the bills for this economic basket case, especially if they get the NHS and the BBC thrown in as a ‘swappable’. Rory McIlroy may wave an Ulster Flag when he wins a golf tournament, and young Nationalists may in growing numbers belt out ‘Stand Up For The Ulstermen’ at Ravenhill, but none of them will be cheering on processions on the Twelfth. If they haven’t managed to escape to Burtonport or Gümbet, they’ll be sitting at home fuming on Facebook about why they live in an 18th Century political sewer. So will a large and growing section of the PUL community. And so will pretty much all migrants from Great Britain – no matter how flag-waving and nationalistic they may be by the standards of Esher or Doncaster.

This is the problem for Unionism – its central political aim is only deliverable with the support of people who mainly revile its central cultural aims. Unionism, for long copperfastened by an impregnable electoral majority, simply doesn’t understand how to do politics as a minority. For a century, success in Unionist politics has been about not being labelled as a Lundy. Now it needs to build coalitions, electorally or otherwise, with people who would wear the Lundy badge with pride. It has not made a good start to this. Its handling of the flag issue has been particularly inept.

The flying of the Union Flag on designated days – including, this week, Kate Middleton’s birthday – should have been a stinging defeat for Republicanism in Belfast. This is a city where Nationalists could well be on the verge of outright control. Nationalism’s representatives, however, including a load of ex-Ra men, agreed to fly the Butcher’s Apron according to Betty Windsor’s rules, because the reality is that NI remains part of the UK for the foreseeable. Smart Unionism would have characterised this as Belfast Republicanism running up the white flag of surrender.

But Unionism doesn’t have smart leadership. So they spun what could have been sold, more honestly, as a triumph of the outnumbered Men of Gideon into a stinging defeat. This mainly because the DUP wanted East Belfast back, the UVF wanted the Historical Enquiries Team off its back, and the UUP isn’t going to stick its neck out in that context, is it?

At one time, such a neo-Redmondite view of NI would have caused outrage and vitriolic denunciations from Nationalists. Ironically, the flags debate has made Nationalism, as obsessed with the culture wars as Unionism, relaxed about the defeat, for at least a generation and a half, of its central political aim. I mean, United Ireland? Off the cards for a generation or two, isn’t it? I’ll see your Census figures (20% stating only Northern Irish, disproportionately from Catholic backgrounds) and raise you Rory McIlroy and his Ulster Flag and all those very Catholic but not especially Nationalist Alliance voters and non-voters in places like Bangor and Carrick.

And yet, Nationalists don’t care because they get to assume the political posture that always gives them most pleasure – looking down their noses at just how bloody stupid the Prods are! And, boy, are Nationalists laughing at the Prods just at the moment! Especially away from Greater Belfast, where in a lot of rural Catholic areas, Unionist politicians and Loyalist culture barely register as existing and roads are not being blocked, Nationalists are sitting back and having fun. In the moment when Northern Nationalism’s ultimate defeat should be being revealed – they’re too busy laughing at Unionists to care.

All those people in places like Carrickmore and Pomeroy – and I bet when the full internals come out, we’ll see they tend to be young and well-educated – ticking the Northern Irish box. Even I, shameless neo-Redmondite that I am, didn’t see that coming and I should have. The Northern Ireland of 2013 is a very different entity than either traditional Nationalism or traditional Unionism wanted to believe. And there is no reason to think it will vote itself out of the UK for 50 years at least.

And, yet, I wonder if Unionism, in squandering political capital on unwinnable cultural battles, is capable of marching itself into a United Ireland? I never believed it could possibly come in my lifetime. Now, even as the smallest n of nationalists, I don’t think its impossible that if I outlive my reasonable life expectancy as a fat pipe-smoker who likes a drink, I might see a United Ireland before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I don’t think it’s likely to happen, but it isn’t impossible. Unionism really is that ineptly led, and who knows what changes a rapidly changing global scene, as well as the consequences of the most rapid burst of immigration since the Vikings, might have on both the UK and the Republic.

Loyalists are rioting because a bunch of Shinners voted for the Union Jack to fly over the City Hall according to the British Crown’s recommendations! Any political or cultural group so incapable of telling the difference between victory and defeat is capable of losing everything, even when there’s no reason for it to.

Unionism has a shrinking 48% of the vote locked up for the Union. There are more than enough votes for the Union among the other 52% of the population that it is secure – for the time being. That 52% is growing, however. Is Unionism alienating votes for a future border poll among that ever rising majority?

It certainly has alienated me, over almost a year of unbridled tribalism and sectarianism. We had the disgraceful decision at Girdwood that condemns my neighbours in the New Lodge to a further generation of overcrowding and marginality. We had a disgraceful display of sectarianism outside my local Roman Catholic Church, which would not be tolerated outside St. Bernard’s in Lingfield, where my partner lives. We had the local MP act as an apologist for that sectarianism; in the unlikely event that Sam Gyimah pulled a stunt like that, he would lose one of the safest Tory seats in the Home Counties in a trice. We then had a McCarthyite campaign against a pro-Union political party, because it isn’t culturally pure enough for Unionism.

When this campaign stirred the mob into violent attacks against property and people, a senior cabinet Minister said the Alliance Party was itself to blame. His career would be over, in Westminster, Leinster House, Holyrood or Cardiff Bay, but in Stormont, this isn’t a serious issue. The British Prime Minister and Cabinet have failed to respond as a major British regional metropolis has been paralysed, where minority communities (like the Short Strand) and minority political representatives (like the Bowers in Bangor) have been physically attacked, where politically motivated murder has been attempted on police officers and where public property has been destroyed.

People in favour of the Union continually try to point its rights and advantages to me. I can obviously see the money angle, but right now that isn’t paying me enough to live in a peripheral political sewer where the national government clearly doesn’t care if the mob takes over the streets of my city. I respect your Britishness, and any state I would wish to live in will cherish and support it as a legitimate part of the Irish nation, but I can’t buy into it. As far as I can see, the main ‘advantages’ of living in a larger United Kingdom are involvement in pointless foreign wars and an economy skewed towards the City of London. Meanwhile, I don’t get the ‘rights’ of being British like being able to have my marriage recognised by the state or not having my local Roman Parish Church (from which I converted quite happily 16 years ago) treated as an enemy football mascot instead of a place dedicated to the worship of Jesus Christ. If that it is what it means to live in the United Kingdom, you can stick it where the sun don’t shine.

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? If Unionism loses any prospect of me voting for the Union, as someone who loves not only the BBC and the NHS, but the Church of England and long shadows on Cricket greens, indomitable suburbs and inner-city multicultural Britain, Vaughan-Williams and Asian Dub Foundation, then people who believe in the Union really need to ask themselves about the quality of leadership they’re getting.

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  • Gopher

    You havent really studied the census have you? (and please please please stop using assembly results, safe unionist seats like North Down take the piss during them unlike the sheep dog trials up west)

  • http://sammymorse.livejournal.com Gerry Lynch

    Wha?

  • GoldenFleece

    Good post Gerry, well said!

  • savageire

    Totally agree with everything you just wrote. I an Irishman/Ulsterman/Northern Irishman from Belfast who is currently living in Surrey see an open, approachable and pluralist Unionism. I enjoy living in Britain and my political views are often mulled over by interested Englishmen as I embrace all the multicultural delights any Irishman can enjoy in England, from Premier League Football matches to tours of the the reverent Imperial War Museum or a day off on the Royals. I often start to think maybe the Union can work for me, an Irishman.? Here my culture is recognised and appreciated. However, as I returned to my part of the UK, NI, over the Christmas period I am immediately reminded of the Union I was brought up in. A part of Ulster which placates protesters who complain that their Britishness is being eroded as they block streets waving the championed Union Flag in one hand and a burning Tricolour in the other! I must have naively forgotten what my homeland was like since I moved. I should have known better than to hope for what I have come to expect of the UK while living in England. The specifically Ulster brand of Unionism hasn’t worked in NI and is still not working. I’ll be voting for a ‘open, approachable and pluralist’ United Ireland. Its worth a try.

  • Alias

    “Unionism is going to have to come to terms with the fact that it now has minority status in Northern Ireland, the largest minority in a region of political and religious minorities.”

    You’re conflating Protestants with unionists. Protestants are the minority, but it doesn’t follow that unionists are not the majority.

    The 2010 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey found that just 16% of NI’s population were in favour of unification. More than half of the Catholics preferred to remain within the UK. A more recent poll commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph and carried out by LucidTalk found that less than half of the Catholics (48%) said they would vote for re-unification if a poll was held now or in the next 20 years. Only 7% of the total population said they’d like to see the border removed this year, and only 33% of the total population said they like to see it removed in 20 years’ time.

    A unionist is a person who supports the union with the UK. The Catholics may not self-define as unionists or vote for unionists parties, but, as they support the union, they are unionists.

    Not only has Irish nationalism collapsed in NI, the census shows that the Irish nation itself has collapsed in NI. Only 25% of the total population now self-define as Irish only, with 21% self-defining as Northern Irish only.

    The Northern Irish-only self-designation, rather obviously, excludes an Irish identity. Therefore, this group cannot be added into the Irish nation group.

    With just 25% of Northern Ireland’s total population now self-designating as Irish-only, this percentage may be regarded as the ‘nationalist’ remnant of that defeated and decimated nation.

    However, most of them signed up as de jure constitutional unionists when they agreed in 1998 that Northern Ireland rightfully belongs to the United Kingdom, so even that ‘nationalist’ remnant is majority unionist anyway.

    Having renouced its former national rights, it seeks merely cultural parity of esteem with other British citizens within the consolidated and legitimised British state.

  • Chris Donnelly

    An excellent post, Gerry.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    @Alias,

    Unless someone is very firmly within one tradition and identity how can he or she say how they will vote in 20 years time? Future voting intentions are subject to many things such as the flag protests, the state of the economy in the Republic, and the policies of the Belfast government. Alliance voters are at best soft unionists, most don’t care which state they belong to as long as certain democratic rights are recognized and maintained by it. Until know most have seen the advantage of staying within the Union.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    Gerry,

    Excellent post! But you should realize that any set of politicians who have based their careers on talking about how the union is in danger, the politics of the green peril, cannot be expected to surrender that peril easily and recognize victory. After getting Sinn Fein to give up its armed struggle, its army, and their arms, Alliance has taken this victory one step further. But remember the UVF couldn’t tell the difference between a Catholic barman and an IRA gunman in 1966 when Gerry Spence started his career as a loyalist. And how many Protestants have been killed by the loyalists over the years because they were hanging out with Catholics or thought for some other reason to be Catholic? The loyalist rank and file sometimes behaves like a rabid dog that strikes out at any one who gets near it.

  • Angry Planner

    As a Unionist I can totally understand why you think that way Gerry. The last few weeks have shown the complete inability to see the bigger picture in Unionism, Robbo may be a great elections manager but he’s useless at strategy and “The Vision Thing.” The irony is that its Paisley and the DUP who have prevented the development of political Unionism over the last 50 years.

    Smart Unionism would have joined the Alliance in advocating the designated days policy and then contrasted that with Newry and Mourne’s refusal to rename Raymond McCreesh Park. It would also have done a deal on the issue of an Irish Language Act, honestly outside the usual OO head bangers most Unionists probably don’t care but its of huge symbolic value to Nationalists. The Unionist message for a Border Poll should be ” By staying in the UK you can be as culturally and socially Irish as you want but you will still have the NHS rather than the HSE and all the other benefits.” But of course Robbo and Nesbitt are too fixated on the idea of Unionist Unity to even contemplate that so Unionism continues fighting the wrong battles while steadily losing the War.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “A unionist is a person who supports the union with the UK. The Catholics may not self-define as unionists or vote for unionists parties, but, as they support the union, they are unionists.”

    I disagree with this completely. Indeed it is this unsophisticated kind of thinking which has prevented many people understanding what is really happening over the last few weeks. While this understanding may have been true 100 years ago, it is certainly not true now. The world has moved on considerably even if some Unionists haven’t. Unionists may well almost all (there was, and may well still be, an independent Ulster rump) be supporters of the union but all supporters of the union are certainly not Unionist. I for one am a strong supporter of the union but a Unionist I am certainly not. I know this is difficult for some Unionists to comprehend but it is becoming more and more the reality. I would go as far as to claim that some of those on the streets today if given the choice of an independent unionist controlled Northern Ireland and a power sharing Northern Ireland within the Union, would certainly chose the former. How this makes them supporters of the Union I know not. Support for the union has traditionally been a means to an end for Unionism and support for it has been conditional on it protecting the Unionist position. While there are those who like to claim that Unionism is a broad church, it may well be, but it is certainly no longer such a broad church as the church which is defined by support for the union.

    What is happening on the streets in about Unionism. It is not about the Union. It is about flag flying and marching and God knows what else. I heard people on Radio Ulster this week (who had been invited to explain what their issues were) mention the disbandment of the B specials and the fact that Sinn Fein were in government. The change in policy on the BCC flag is no threat to the Union and no threat to me as a supporter of the union. The only threat which the flag represents is a threat to Unionist dominance which many chipped shouldered people choose to interpret as ‘a threat to Unionism’. That fool of a woman shouting ‘No Surrender’ in anger through the City Hall gates just about sums it up.

    I think part of the Problem is that the likes of Peter Robinson do not understand the difference between Unionism and support for the Union. Robinson believes that the DUP/UUP view of the union is the only one just as Sinn Fein thinks that their view of a United Ireland is the only one. Robinson wants to claim all support for the union for himself. That’s what his battle with Alliance is all about. Robinson really believes that because Catholics support the Union it follows that they will vote DUP. He is out of his mind on that one. As a supporter of the union from a protestant community background I wouldn’t ever vote for the DUP so why would my Catholic neighbour? It is interesting to note that the Unionist Forum is lacking in participants from the non-Unionist supporters of the union.
    Gerry’s post makes some excellent points and should be printed out in Font Size 16 and circulated to all those at the Unionist Forum. Perhaps it will help them understand that it is becoming clear that less and less people want a Unionist union but rather a non-unionist union. That’s what the rioting is really all about. Perhaps someday soon an election will be fought on the basis of Unionism versus the Union. Naomi Long versus Peter Robinson. Which side are you on?

  • sonofstrongbow

    The “excellent post” is a cut and paste job from the past weeks’ posts. It takes a long time, an awful awful long time, to say that unionism is losing; but the union is safe.

    Well knock me down with a feather! Too many nationalists, and indeed others, inflate the cultural aspects of unionism to be all that it is. It is perhaps understandable when arguments over symbolism are to the fore, as they naturally are when under attack. However the core of unionism is the support for the union and the everyday benefits it brings.

    There is a vocal element within Toryism that is anti-European. However it would be a mistake to suggest that insular Britishness is all that the Tories are about politically. It is equally foolish to make the same fundamental connection between concerns about British symbolism and macro unionism.

    Uncomfortable as it may be for some to accept but if you support the union you are part of unionism.

    Btw I’m happy to know that nationalists in the (culturally cleansed) Liberated Zones are taking pleasure at the tiny minority of loyalists involved in street disorder. They only excite disgust in the majority of unionists.

    Perhaps nationalist mirth is just fond remembrance of their own violent history. Or perhaps it’s just mocking derision? When it comes to real hardcore contemporary violence they know that nationalists still show the way.

  • FranklynDenaloMonkey

    Gerry makes some excellent points.

    Some are complaining that many points have been rehashed from previous (Gerry) posts. Old truths remain true.

    I agree with the notion (NOT NOW JOHN) that such a missive should be circulated as widely as possible within Unionism.

    However since the levels of self-deception have reached a drowning level within the wider PUL communities over recent months I doubt that any such statement of the realities of where we are would be heeded at all.

    The PUL community need to wake up in the 21st century as soon as possible or get on the blower to HG Wells for the blueprints of his time machine…

    Frank

  • SK

    A very thoughtful piece, Gerry. Well done.

    The increasingly sophisticated NI electorate will not settle for a donkey wrapped in a Union flag anymore, which means that unionist politicians can no longer rely on brute demographic force as a means of exerting their political will.

    Unionist parties will continue to lurch malevolently from one crisis to another like a drunk with a broken bottle, and a large chunk of their potential electorate will continue to stay at home on polling day.

    We live in interesting times.

  • Gopher

    In 2001 the percentage of indigenous Catholic was 43.73 it is now lower than 43% In 2001 the percentage of Prods and Atheists was 55.7% it is now 53.89. Im sure since 2001 the 12 atheists on the Falls the 27 in Andersontown and Falls Park etc have dramatically increased and moved to North Down and Ards and multiplied to 4600 and 4000 respectively

    In the 2010 General Election unionists polled over 50% whilst nationalists poll just 42.4 despite the complete and utter collapse of the unionist population apparently You got to hand it to unionism on deaths door and in a minority they still poll the majority of votes. All this in the most disconnecting election for voters in history what with Robinson and the UUP in bed with conservatives.

    The Death rate is falling which is interesting and there is a disproportionate number of unionists pension age, why.? Unfortunately more unionists are reaching old age than nationalists and the Unionist birth rate is covering their mortality rate. If I was a nationalist I would be more concerned about this than the border because rest assured it wont get any better in a United Ireland. At partition the population breakdown was 768,000 Prods 430,000 RC and 52,000 others.You will now begin to see the Catholic population spike beginning in the thirties filter through to old age (if they make it that far)

    Despite the most inept politicians in history unionists still a maintain over 50% of the vote and the biggest single demographic in Northern Ireland is the those for the union that dont vote. The alternative is just not that attractive and reading the OP I cant think why.

    In Upper Bann the Unionist background population increased faster than the Nationalist background population, yeah that surprised me too, Same in Strangford same in East Antrim, same in North Antrim, same in Craigavon, same in alot of other surprising places. Dont take my word for it actually study the census. You will however be pleased to know Castlereagh was a big gain for indigenous Catholics.

    The big factor in the survey overlooked was population outflow. The base closures skewed alot of unionist figures which surprisingly rebounded well. The other factor here was people leaving because this place is a political sewer. Unionists cant take all the credit nationalist put their shoulder to the wheel here by refusing to make this place work and basing every political decision on their inability to read a census and believing a united Ireland will happen tomorrow. They are either knaves or fools either way we are stuck with them just like the DUP, great is it not.

    Simply put the Union is here to stay unless you can convince unionists to abandon their position and no offence posts like that makes the union ever more comfortable. The DUP soound positively sane after that.

  • MrPMartin

    An article that articulated the absolute truth. 100% Gerry. My sentiments entirely

  • DC

    And in the same census, just 48% of the population identified itself as British in any way

    Any bloody wonder, sure all things British are being taken down and replaced with market-type service-orientated public services eg the PSNI and all the other re-branded government offices etc, it will be hard to identify with a Union whenever flags keep on coming down and all the rest of that. Talk about hollowing out.

    Of course, not helped by the Alliance Party doing a cultural handover of Hong Kong thing last month at Belfast Council, on behalf of republicans and nationalists.

    There are less and less ways which Britishness is expressed and managed officially in NI so you tend to have the crazy gang out there instead doing it all unofficially and putting more people off in the process.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “A unionist is a person who supports the union with the UK. The Catholics may not self-define as unionists or vote for unionists parties, but, as they support the union, they are unionists.”

    That’s your definition and an unsophisticated one at that. As unsophisticated as Protestant equals Unionist and Cathlolic equals Nationalist. If I am a unionist I am certainly not a unionist that harps back to 1690 or a pre-1972 Stormont, or that supports the Orange Order or the marching of Orangemen through nationalist areas, or that supports flying the union flag 365 days a week at BCH, or that rejected Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, or that votes UUP or DUP, or that thought the B Specials were good thing, or that opposed the change in name of the RUC and the disbanding of the UDR, or that gets excited about David Ford’s proposals for changing symbols in the Prison Service, or that opposes the holding of inquiries into state collusion or the murder of civilians by the state, or that thinks the Unionist Forum can deliver anything, or that gets upset about Alliance Party policy, or that is opposed to the democratic process in BCC, or that thinks Sinn Fein should be excluded from government, or that rejected the Eames Bradley proposals outright. If that makes me a unionist then so be it, but you will then really need to explain clearly why unionists are burning buses and causing untold mayhem over a change in flag flying policy at BCH which has no impact whatsoever on the union between GB and NI.

  • Celts

    I find it really disappointing that we frame a 21st. century census in 1970′s rhetoric.

    The younger generation will be well rid of the stupid bigotry which reduces us to discussing the perceived shifts in religious preference as an indicator of what might happen.

    The bottom line is we all get the leadership we deserve.

  • Robert Peel

    Gerry, a superb piece of work. Insightful, and probably just too challenging for some of the people who would really need to hear what you’re saying!

  • DC

    The Union is now dependent on ‘pro-Union Catholics’ and detribalised liberals from Protestant backgrounds.

    It’s hard to stomach Alliance at times because while I wouldn’t really be a flag fundamentalist, it does seem to me that it is aiding the outcomes of tribalism except on behalf of the other tribe, therefore Alliance is allowing removal of British things like flags on behalf of the other tribe.

    That’s aiding and abetting tribalism.

    I’d rather vote Unionist and let both sides knock themselves out and deadlock together if no compromise can be found and made by either – knowing that no tribe will get its way! Than vote Alliance and liberalise and watch it roll over in the face of the other tribe’s demands.

    It’s tribalism one way or the other, and all this is is the Green side of Alliance spinning it as something positive.

    Piss off!

  • GEF

    “Unionism is going to have to come to terms with the fact that it now has minority status in Northern Ireland, the largest minority in a region of political and religious minorities.”

    This info is pub talk from the knee breakers. Unionism has still majority status. Unionists councillors are still numerically in the majority from 2011 election results. Unionists 282 seats 48%, Nationalists 225 seats 40% with alliance at 40 seats 5% and remaining ind/others 7%

    “BBC news Northern Ireland election 2011 582 seats”

    http://www.google.co.uk/url?q=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-13338840&sa=U&ei=xzrxUP7UN-Si0QX4s4CYAQ&ved=0CCUQFjAE&usg=AFQjCNEr0AFN0wlZtUlHfFSjFUUnHMq8Tg

  • DC

    For instance, if the flag had come down and a new civic/regional one went up instead, I would say fair dues to the Alliance, it got the flag restricted and a new one up and stamped a bit of authority and gave people physical proof of its new shared future. Fair dues.

    But last month shocked me as it seemed to operate on exclusion/inclusion lines i.e. to remove is to improve. This isn’t changing attitudes it is avoiding having to face up to things.

    If Unionists can take anything it is to do the opposite, it is about improving relations and attitudes to both Britishness and Irishness: to improve, not remove.

    The tricolour and Irishness must be faced head on that’s for sure. Northern Irishness will grow out between the two like it is doing already, but the peace process was about the two traditions coming to an accommodation which still needs to happen in my view.

    I don’t think the elimination of Britishness should be encouraged either in order to bring this new Northern Irishness into effect!

    I would be happy to support a party that was properly pluralist than seemed to have a hidden agenda of pulling down and ignoring both Irishness and Britishness.

  • http://www.banuanlae.org/ Ulick

    @Gopher
    “In Upper Bann the Unionist background population increased faster than the Nationalist background population, yeah that surprised me too, Same in Strangford same in East Antrim, same in North Antrim, same in Craigavon, same in alot of other surprising places. Dont take my word for it actually study the census. ”

    Gopher I wasn’t ware the census gave a breakdown by Westminster constituency and if you could generously point me towards these figures to back up your claims, I’ll happily study it for myself.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Neil

    GEF:

    2011 Local elections:

    DUP & UUP: 42.4%
    SF & SDLP: 39.8%

    You have a 2.6% majority now (2.1% in the Assmbly election of the same year). The numbers you quote are further down in your article and refer to the 2005 election. Start factoring things like the significant majority of young people are CNR while a dwindling minority are PUL (see 51% school kids are Catholic http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/51-of-northern-ireland-school-pupils-are-catholic-16065851.html) and I wouldn’t get too smug regarding that slim majority.

    http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/

  • DC

    Basically, Gerry Lynch is offended by the level of and manner of Britishness in NI, tone it down or his good self, very reasonable you know (as are millions others like him in NI you know) will vote for a united Ireland unless you all change your ways and become Alliance.

    Thanks Gerry :)

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “Any bloody wonder, sure all things [pertaining to the old pre-1972 Unionist dominated state] are being taken down and replaced with market-type service-orientated public services eg the PSNI and all the other re-branded government offices etc, it will be hard to identify with [the old pre-1972 Unionist dominated state] whenever flags keep on coming down and all the rest of that. Talk about hollowing out. of course, not helped by the Alliance Party doing a cultural handover of Hong Kong thing last month at Belfast Council, on behalf of [those who rejected the old pre-1972 Unionist dominated state]. There are less and less ways which [the old pre-1972 Unionist dominated state] is expressed and managed officially in NI so you tend to have the crazy gang out there instead doing it all unofficially and putting more people off in the process.”

    DC, I struggled to understand what you had written until I replaced some of the ambiguous terms used with my own terms for sake of clarity. Terms such as ‘Britishness’ often cause confusion, particularly for those who live in Great Britain. The same with Irishness. For example I am protestant, Irish and a supporter of the union, a bit like Edward Carson. I don’t see why my Irishness needs to be faced head on by people like your good self.

    Not only does your post now make a lot more sense now but it may help readers understand why the protests and riots are taking place by a small section of the community in response to a change in flag policy at BCC which has no impact whatsoever on the union …

  • http://sammymorse.livejournal.com Gerry Lynch

    There are various Unionists continuing their public self-delusion exercise on this threat. If it weren’t so serious, it would be amusing. GEF’s comments are probably the funniest though.

    Unionism has still majority status. Unionists councillors are still numerically in the majority from 2011 election results. Unionists 282 seats 48%

    The last time I checked, 48% (a figure I cite three times in the first sentence) was not a majority. Gopher also gets an honourable mention for deliberately comparing apples with oranges.

    As for the other comments:

    * I said in the post that the Union was almost certainly secure for a generation or so. I just wondered out loud whether Unionism, having definitely lost my vote for the Union forever, might be capable of losing some more and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Looking at you guys’ reponses, I’d say the answer to that question is “yes”.

    * If Unionism is about the Union and not wider cultural issues, why have youse being rioting about a fleg for the past 6 weeks?

    * I’m conflating Protestants with Unionists? In the first paragraph, I specifically distinguish Protestants from Unionists from people who identify as British. In any case, the same magic number of 48% keeps cropping up. As an aside, the 2011 Census counted me as “Protestant community background” even though I’m not, because I’m, you know, actually a churchgoing Protestant and all that.

    DC also gets an Balmoral Show certificate of merit for the priceless “I wouldn’t really be a flag fundamentalist” – yes, you are. You think the number of days the Union Flag flies in a city you don’t even live in is more important than Loyalist paramilitaries wrecking the town you actually live in and violently intimidating their political opponents. Seriously, where is your sense of priorities.

    Lots of common sense up there too, especially NOTNOWJOHN.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Best Slugger piece in a very long time, great read Gerry

  • DC

    I might not live there Gerry but it’s a city that I work in and lunch in and in the nice days, summer days, it was nice to sit about down there on the grass and to have a civic building which flew the flag respectfully, hey maybe i am a civic unionist or something like that. Now it is down and all the union flags are plastered everywhere on-street and its not even the twelfth period.

    A 96% removal comes close to neutrality – that is a republican/nationalist agenda, a tribal agenda.

    You have been trojan horsed supposedly in the name of good relations.

  • http://sammymorse.livejournal.com Gerry Lynch

    You have been trojan horsed supposedly in the name of good relations.

    Says the man who has nothing to say about Loyalist paramitaries burning his hometown.

  • Gopher

    Details will be out on the 30th let me know if im wrong wont you. You can tell from the LGD figures and since unionism held the seats it was widely predicted to lose being at deaths door and that the facts were born out by experience. And since in alot of these constituencies the rises was form people moving during the boom if they are registered correctly the margins will increase by the next election

  • DC

    “Any bloody wonder, sure all things [pertaining to the old pre-1972 Unionist dominated state] are being taken down and replaced with market-type service-orientated public services eg the PSNI and all the other re-branded government offices etc, it will be hard to identify with [the old pre-1972 Unionist dominated state]

    That’s not what I am saying John, please don’t situate my argument to that period, I am saying that government branding has changed post-98 and that it is hardly surprising Britishness is reducing.

    For what it’s worth, if there were an Irish majority here and the tricolour happened to be flying based on an old tradition and fading majority would i wish to be removed 96%, no I wouldn’t.

    So much for protecting minorities and i actually think this is what has turned me against the Alliance, lack of sensitivity towards this and failing to get the parties to agree a way forward, if they can’t agree Alliance shouldn’t be agreeing on their behalf and circumventing minority positions.

  • Framer

    Hopefully the DUP readership on Slugger, which I presume decreases daily as the noise of (former) moderates under pressure (not heard since Trimble pulled out of the executive over the IRA failure to decommission) becomes unbearable, does read the key point in the post:
    “Nationalists have a great chance of gaining an outright majority in Belfast, ironically aided by Peter Robinson’s obsession with keeping Castlereagh intact. Had Dundonald and the Four Winds/Glencregagh/Cairnshill area come into the city, as logic would have dictated, Nationalist control of Belfast would have been delayed for decades. Instead, those areas were lumped in with Lisburn.”
    If the Unionist Forum does nothing else it should get the new local government councils plan torn-up. Robinson is no longer hegemonic.

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    Well well. An excellent and considered piece and some startling responses. I am ‘British’, my passport tells me, I am pragmatically more aligned to the UK than to some future expanded Republic of Ireland, probably because of all those NHS, BBC things as much as a fear of how politics in the Republic is run by people at least as incompetent as those in NI. If I am a unionist, I guess that means that unionism is now embracing anti-monarchist socialist republicans! Well, that’s a result I suppose!

    DC, there are a lot of disingenuously veiled threats in your posts. The point of Gerry’s analysis of Britishness seemed to be that the Britishness adhered to here in NI bears very little relation to that lived in GB. Where I’m from (London) we fly flags on our town halls on certain days to signify a particular occasion. How can you be so convinced that nationalism has robbed you of your cultural identity merely because the shinners have been forces to accept a compromise that brings BCH into line with municipal buildings across the rest of the UK?? Do your REALLY believe that??

    Yes, unionism really is shooting itself in both feet.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Gopher,
    The actual results show that in only three (of 26) Local Govt. areas did protestant population growth exceed that of catholics. Ballymoney, Banbridge and Strabane.
    http://bangordub.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/the-numbers-game/

  • Gopher

    @Gerry

    Gerry as I explained because the unionist voters arnt sheep they tend to vote for all sorts of whacky parties in safe unionist seats during assembly elections. So taking the assembly figure as some accurate assesment is nonsense 50% plus at Westminster is a majority like it or lump it.

    The union is safe the sooner people both nationalist and unionist realise this the better Northern Ireland we have and maybe sometime down the line when we all get on in this place there will be a united Ireland. If we dont get on and there is a united Ireland we will enter it as paupers the way we are going.

    Look here is the deal with the flag rioters put them all in prison that is 90% of unionist opinion. Here is my take on the flag is it easier to stop all the things we dont like about unionism with the flag up or down? Im a designated days man but seriously we have to be smarter if we want a better place. Its not unionist v nationalists its Unionist and nationalist v muppets we have to be smarter than muppets and right now in our point scoring system we are not

    I voted Green at the last election where do I show up? There are ways to run a country smart ways, so we dont have to put up the crap but our politicians Unionist Nationalist and Alliance are to stupid to realise. The first way to get this place better is everyone chilling about union. Unless of course shouting scum at a couple of hundred rioters gets your day in.

  • http://sammymorse.livejournal.com Gerry Lynch

    Unless of course shouting scum at a couple of hundred rioters gets your day in.

    So, the problem isn’t rioters, it’s people who complain about rioters after having their lawful business impeded for weeks on end?

    I see.

  • iluvni

    Mostly tortuous oul nonsense, but this bit was interesting…

    “…two Alliance fortress heartlands, Wynchurch and Gilnahirk”

    I’d say Alliance would be kidding themselves to consider anywhere a heartland now.

  • Gopher

    @Bangordub

    We are talking indigenous Catholics here?

  • DC

    If the Unionist Forum does nothing else it should get the new local government councils plan torn-up. Robinson is no longer hegemonic.

    I agree, even right back to the day of the decision, I said Alliance should run with it so long as it had PUP support to ensure loyalism was onside and to scrap super-councils as a matter of urgency.

    @daniel Jewesbury

    I have lived in my town in NI all my life for 30 years you get to see how things change and more importantly how changes come about, it is about perception based on the politics of place, so your London argument is chalk and cheese to me. Perhaps it could be matched some day if the flag in your council is demanded to come down for good perhaps by another ethno/religious group, maybe Islamist or something. Then you might get a flavour of how things can divide and become divisive. NI is not like England, good ole England, uninterrupted since 1066, NI uninterrupted since when, oh to have had that head start in life, all those years to settle down, to embed? Also, NI isn’t like England and the UK, does it need legislation for its government buildings as to flag flying, no it is guidance only.

    Or maybe think of it like this, it would be like someone demanding the Union flag to come down at Westminster for designated days and the EU flag up there 365 days a year! That would go down well, eh?

    Re the compromise, you do realise that the compromise is only temporary and that in all likelihood the flag will be voted down and out for good once there is a nationalist majority, unless republicans change party policy.

  • Barry the Blender

    I’m a unionist. Since this whole episode has taken place I think I can safely say that I hate all sides involved and all of them are wrong:

    DUP(+UUP), Alliance, Nationalist, Protesting Street Types.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Gopher,
    What is an “indigenous” Catholic?

  • galloglaigh

    Even the BBC are taking the hand out of the protesters. Tim McGarry reckons the UVF are only involved in a support, or supply role. They’re selling the rioters cocaine to keep them up all night!

    Worth a listen, it’s very very funny!

  • Gopher

    @Gerry

    I did mention I would put all the rioters in prison, I would also put all the children of rioters into care and stop their parents benefits. But that wont take away the problem now will it? Because next week there will be a problem a month later something else will crop up and the result will be all to predictable. Me I would rather stop it before it starts for that we have to be smarter and that why politics is meant to happen. Like I said its not Unionist v Nationalist its Unionist and Nationalist v Muppets.

  • Gopher

    @Bangordub

    I dont think they are from the Phillipines

  • SK

    “Perhaps it could be matched some day if the flag in your council is demanded to come down for good perhaps by another ethno/religious group, maybe Islamist or something.”

    _____

    The last person to make that comparison was the one-eyed MEP from Barnett…

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    @ DC

    Just so we’re clear, and since you’ve brought it up, I’ve lived here over 20 years (longer than I lived in London) – since you were 10, in fact – so I know a little about it too. I don’t think this has anything to do with perception of place or some sort of phenomenological understanding of how it really feels to be a unionist or something. As for your spurious nonsense about Islamists or (even worse) Europeans flying their hateful flags above our beautiful Portland stone edifices, once I had finished shuddering at the genuinely awful prospect, I had no idea what you were talking about.

    It’s a flag. It seems to be the flag that you want to claim some allegiance to. It seems that you sublimate a lot of your cultural identity in cleaving to symbols, and dismissing or confronting other people’s symbols (the Irish, Islamists, Europeans…)

    Do you really think that a comparison between one region of the UK and the capital city of the UK is a comparison between chalk and cheese? Do you really mean to say that your Britishness is whatever you say it is, that it need make no reference to Britain, and how Britishness is expressed there? Is Northern Irish Britishness then a sort of wellspring in your soul and in the soul of Unionists like you who know unquestionably what it is but can only define it in terms which have nothing to do with Britain? What are you on about??

    Personally I think the Shinners’ insistence on pushing this issue was incredibly irresponsible, especially since they don’t give a damn whether the Union flag flies above BCH or not. But I am even more appalled by the response of Unionists who, as Gerry has made clear, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Get out of the kraal you’ve built yourself.

  • Kensei

    Good article, but

    1. You can’t predict anything for a generation or two ahead. In 1998 you would have said Scottish Nationalism is dead. In 2000 The US had giant surpluses as far as the yee can see. In 2008 boom and bust was dead. We are awful at predicting things, especially about the future.
    No UI is more likely than one, right now. That’s about the best we can say. There are too many imponderables – the future position of the relative economies and welfare states, the relationship with the EU, a changing of the guard in leadership that you could see a sharp turn.

    2. This is understandably a bit Belfast focused, and a bit general. British identity is not running at 48%. It is running far below that in the West, and far above that in the East. Irish and “Irish and Northern Irish” has a far higher percentage in the Western councils and it’s not too far a stretch to say the “Northern Irish” percentage is going to lean Irish.
    That’s not to say there are majorities for a UI there, but it is a possibility. Can we be sure attitudes of Catholics there the same as those in Belfast? It’s not clear to me that is definitely the case.
    Which is why there won’t be a border poll. Repartition has never been a popular option, because both side want to win. But if it was made clear both side lose, will that remain. Wha mischief could be caused by paramilitaries if they could claim that they only operated in an area that has demonstrated a desire for change from the status quo? There is a big ball of potential destabilisation out there, and I’m not sure why.

    3. Those protestors are still going to be a problem within a UI. Maybe more so. Could it be worse? Yes, probably. Could be better too, depending on how it was handled and if a it burned out. But I’m not sure it is the best reason to support a UI.

  • http://www.banuanlae.org/ Ulick

    @Gopher

    Ah you made it all up so? Gotcha.

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    Is this comment no. 48….?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Gerry, you’re hot on statistics but this piece is over-heated anti-unionist bile – with a little bit of gombeen nationalism added to the mix. Come the revolution, you might well be the first to be ‘lynched’ :)

    Unionists and nationalists here really excel themselves when it comes to Good Relations but why has there been so much anti-unionist yapping from APNI males? Is it an expression of small man syndrome? The bit about SF voting for the Union flag to be raised on a Royal birthday has to be one of the silliest observations made during this sad sorry saga; it’s most unlikely ever to happen in Ballycastle, the admin centre for Moyle DC.

    When APNI pulled out of the shared future committee talks why didn’t it resign its Executive seats? Is prestige more important than principle?

    Naomi Long, who has been on the receiving end of unionist attacks, is one of the few politicians to have adopted a balanced recognition of the threat from both extreme unionists and nationalists; police and prison officer lives are at risk from both quarters – as is the economy.

  • GEF

    “and I wouldn’t get too smug regarding that slim majority.”

    Thank you Neil, I have no need to be smug you have also proven my case Unionism still has majority status.
    DUP & UUP: 42.4% SF & SDLP: 39.8%
    Its Gerry who still needs convinced Unionism has not lost majority status it has held since Partition began with the:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_of_Ireland_Act_1920

  • Gopher

    @Ulick

    If I did the 2010 and 2011 elections are in a conspiracy with me

  • DC

    It’s a flag. It seems to be the flag that you want to claim some allegiance to. It seems that you sublimate a lot of your cultural identity in cleaving to symbols, and dismissing or confronting other people’s symbols (the Irish, Islamists, Europeans…)

    It’s not, it is the decision-making behind that, the process, the motives, the psychology, these are things which either make or break good relations.

    Full removal was not a good relations approach, after that the issue had become toxic.

    Do you really think that a comparison between one region of the UK and the capital city of the UK is a comparison between chalk and cheese?

    Yes regions develop differently and have different histories and have different human relations, ideas and divisions, so yes.

    Crudely speaking NI is to England as Prussia was to Germany.

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    Crudely speaking NI is to England as Prussia was to Germany.

    Really? How? Are you the Junkers class then? The people from whom power had to be wrested after 1945 because of the horrific mess they’d made…? I see.

    Yes, regions do develop differently, and have different histories etc etc etc. But in Unionist Lisburn, unless I’m wrong, the flag is flown on designated days. This is not an issue. It has nothing to do with anything. The Shinners don’t believe it does, the DUP don’t believe it does.

    As for the psychology and the motives, if you want to examine these, wouldn’t you be better off looking at the psychology and motives of those whipping up a ridiculous campaign of disgusted outrage at these issues of cultural symbology? Because it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.

  • DC

    Yes, regions do develop differently, and have different histories etc etc etc. But in Unionist Lisburn, unless I’m wrong, the flag is flown on designated days. This is not an issue.

    Yes Lisburn could be generous because the flag there is not likely to face a vote for its complete removal any time soon. Good relations you see.

    If only Strabane Council would be as generous in terms of the minority there.

  • http://www.openunionism.com oneill

    “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?”

    All the things you presently hate most about NI and a large % of its population would still exist in the 32 county nirvana- so what would be the point in still suffering but also being considerably poorer?

    Unless it’s the Union flag itself which is your biggest problem? And even that will still fly in large swathes of NE Ulster whatever the Dail or gardai might dictate.

  • DC

    The Alliance Party, thriving on a unionist majority, then turning in on it when it becomes the minority.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    DC,
    So the Alliance party have “turned” on Unionism?
    What planet are you on ;-)

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “perhaps it could be matched some day if the flag in your council is demanded to come down for good perhaps by another ethno/religious group, maybe Islamist or something”

    DC, perhaps you might like to consider why no one in GB is demanding that the Union Flag be taken down. If I have misrepresented what you mean by Britishness, then perhaps you also need to clarify what you mean by Britishness in terms of a relationship to Britain which those in GB can understand. If it doesn’t relate to Britain then why refer to it as Britishness? Daniel J certainly doesn’t seem to understand what you are saying.

  • Comrade Stalin

    DC’s planet is the one where you cave into the threat of violence, and where you specifically ignore the problems caused by unionism openly overturning its support for designated days in order to achieve an electoral objective.

    Gerry’s perspective is roughly in line with mine, except I’m a rather more pale shade of green. I even have a British passport – mainly because they were far cheaper than Irish passports in 1998 and it’s less hassle to renew it than it is to

    I lived in Dublin for a year and I still go down there quite regularly, I quite like a lot of things about the place. Ireland has some unique strengths and I think it is likely to recover very nicely from the current economic problems. On the other hand, one can’t escape from the fact that those problems were created by the biggest issue Ireland really has, which is its corrupt, self serving political class. I enjoy watching debates in the House of Commons rather more than I enjoy watching them in the Dáil.

    The union should not be a hard sell. For those of us who count ourselves as progressive or liberal, the UK is a leading exponent of these values on the world stage. The NHS and the BBC are looked upon with envy across the globe and I have to confess to feeling a small tinge of pride when American or Irish friends remind me of this.

    What we are being sold by “unionism” is a brand of the UK that is not recognized generally across GB. As Gerry pointed out, unionism does not embrace the benefits enjoyed within the UK – instead it openly trumpets its efforts to squash rights and privileges enjoyed across the UK. Abortion and gay marriage are examples which are at the top of the list, but further down there are other things that effect people. For example people who work in the service industry – the people who have to work when everyone else is socialising – in Liverpool or Manchester can go out a drink after work. In Northern Ireland they can’t because of our antiquated licensing laws. We also heard the news this week that gambling is to remain illegal – another example of a source of semi-skilled jobs and tourist income that we are blocking off because of the DUP’s outdated Victorian moral values. These problems are actively frustrating our region’s tourist potential.

    I still haven’t made my mind up about what way I’d vote on referendum day. Just about the only thing I’m sure about is that if unionism promises violence or civil war if the vote goes the wrong way, I’ll be voting for reunification. If unionism reinvents itself and begins talking about the practical and pragmatic benefits of the UK, without any violence or threats, I think I’ll be happy to stay on board.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Gerry Lynch Ironic isn’t it? Of the voting population here it’s not the catholic/nationalists who are the Brit haters but the alleged loyal folk of Ulster[or ulster-3]. Even where the flag fixaters protested here in Derry, they only had the courage to confine themselves to the Waterside and the PSNI over there assisted them to the maximum degree and told the local s driving about to just lump it as they had no intention of doing their jobs and enforvcing the law of the land. This is what we’ve come to, and if the army has to return to stabilise this place because the Police can’t or won’t apply the law on thei own people [as they apparently see the loyal folk] then that will be the second time in the troubles that this has had to happen. Charles Haughey’s dismissal of the failed entity proven beyond doubt as correct.

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    Very much agree with a lot of what Comrade Stalin says. The idea that Unionism cannot leave behind the threats and the dogwhistle doublespeak, regardless of the cynicism of the Shinners, is the most significant threat to the union. The Shinners know this themselves – they don’t have to dismantle the union, the Unionists can do it for them.

    @DC

    As for your confused, emotional idea of ‘Britishness’, as NOT NOW JOHN says, when you take away the wishy washy vague psychological uniqueness, what actually IS your Britishness? Is it a commitment to the multicultural tolerance and support for cultural, political and religious freedom, Enlightenment values, rationality and progressiveness? Or are you, as a Northern Irishman, eligible for some sort of special pleading? Do you want to opt out of any of those things…?

  • Henry94

    Given the reaction to the flag decision how the hell will Unionism handle a Sinn Fein First Minister when that day comes. Will we see street protests calling for the election to be reversed?

    Where is the Unionist John Hume who is willing to spell out the facts of life to his own side? What good is the union if it doesn’t even make unionists happy?

  • Comrade Stalin

    There has been some talk of putting the army on the streets. Part of me thinks it would be an interesting irony. But the overriding problem is that it would simply provide the dissidents with a target and would make things impossible for Sinn Féin.

    The PSNI has the capacity to sort this problem out. It’s a question of tactics.

  • DC

    @Daniel

    There is no confusion about it, political nationalism wanted the flag down because of the bitterness it has towards the British, imo the flag should not be removed to accommodate this and actually neither should any flag for that matter. That is the psychology.

    All the things you presently hate most about NI and a large % of its population would still exist in the 32 county nirvana- so what would be the point in still suffering but also being considerably poorer?

    And to top that all off you will be living in a more conservative country that arguably is just as sectarian and has actually killed more IRA men than unionist paramilitaries have!

  • SK

    “And to top that all off you will be living in a more conservative country…”

    DC

    More conservative than creationist, climate-change denying, homophobic, Northern Ireland?

    You mustn’t get down here much.

  • David Crookes

    Henry94, it is possible that what remains of the union will be destroyed by those who falsely profess to believe in it.

    If I was a British politician in pursuit of popularity, I should suggest that a UK-wide referendum be held in 2014 with one question on the ballot-paper.

    Do you want NI to remain part of the UK?

    Comrade Stalin, I can see an army on the streets, but not the regular army.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “political nationalism wanted the flag down because of the bitterness it has towards the British, imo the flag should not be removed to accommodate this and actually neither should any flag for that matter. That is the psychology”

    DC, I wonder do you think that restrictions on accommodating political nationalism should be restricted to flags only or should it extend beyond that to issues such as power sharing, the disbandment of the B specials and the investigation of the role of the state into collusion and the murder of British citizens (three grievances which I heard protesters express on Radio Ulster this week)?

  • galloglaigh

    David

    Indeed they are no regular army. But as one loyal Sluggerite (who has strangely disappeared) put it, they weren’t terrorists: They were ‘counter’ terrorists.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if the army was called in, and them bould UVF and UDA men organising the riots were put back in their can, by the very people who opened the can in the first place?

    Somehow I feel the army is not the answer though. As history shows us, when they come in, it’s usually the Catholic population they attack and murder, with the help of those organising the current riots.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, galloglaigh. Stupid of me to speak obliquely. I meant UN troops. Using the regular army to deal with ‘loyalist’ rebellion would take us back to the past. HMG needs to declare that it can no longer treat the NI problem as an internal UK matter.

    I don’t want to stir anyone’s pot by saying that. I want to be able to move around my own country without hindrance.

  • Brian Walker

    Gerry,
    Brilliant! Best piece I’ve read in Slugger I’ve read in a long time. Submit a shorter version to the Guardian’s Comment is Free?

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Comrade Stalin

    The NHS and the BBC are looked upon with envy across the globe”

    To be honest most of the rest of the world do not know they exist. More importantly the NHS is not the envy, I would rather be sick in say Germany or France than the UK.

  • DC

    Yea send it through to the Guardian, so people can read how Gerry is pissed off that people have fallen out with Alliance and now he is voting for a united Ireland, the readers there will be enlightened and will love to read views which reinforce their own opinions about NI, than attempt to move them on any.

  • Gopher

    @CS

    I assume you mean gambling on a Sunday will remain Illegal except on track and there will be no Casino’s rather than Gambling is Illegal here. Bookies and slot arcades everywhere you look.

    Credit were credit is due whilst Nelson McCauseland is responsible for the shambles that is the new gambling legislation (Never on a Sunday Nelson) Alex Attwood is responsible for Pubs and Clubs so you cant really lay all the blame directly on the DUP for his crusade against fun and his alliance with Victorian values.

    The Attourney General dove straight in on Abortion so again there seems a common hymn sheet. As for the Gay marriage thing Catholics have more incommon with the DUP than anyone else.

    So to surmise there is a Catholic wing every bit as retarded as the DUP. Who do they vote for?

    No Sheep dog trials here!

  • DC

    Or better still the Belfast Telegraph, the Dublin Guardian.

  • galloglaigh

    The British media don’t want to know the real story. I put a comment on Alex Thompson’s blog. I highlight the upcoming UVF case; the racketeering, prostitution, and drug dealing by those who are organising riots (UVF/UDA); and the fact that Willie Frazer is only worried about a possible investigation into the Glenanne gang, and the fact that he misappropriated money that was to go to victims.

    The comment never made it through moderation.

  • tacapall

    Are you really surprised gallogaigh, the fact is those organising the violence and the protests are and have always been controlled by some faction of British intelligence. They represent British interests in Ireland and that fact is reflected in the reluctance to enforce the law by the PSNI and indeed the British government who are ultimately responsible for law and order in this part of Ireland. It is plain as day that the cosy relationship between the forces of law and order and loyalist paramilitaries that Sampson, Stevens, O’Loan, De Silva and the Barron report all discovered is still in place today.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Gopher, the SDLP (specifically Attwood) are backward on this issue too but I can assure you that he is on the same page as the DUP. The crucial point is that the DUP are conspiring to extend many of the benefits of being part of the UK to those of us in Northern Ireland.

    I’m trying to picture referendum day in my head. For it to be a real debate you need to have clear blue water between the union and reunification. If we enjoyed the same status as most of the rest of the UK, I think the gap would be much wider than it is.

  • tacapall

    Comrade the only buffer between the majority of nationalists voting to keep the link with Britain or a united or unified Ireland is financial considerations at this point in time. Why would any nationalist or Catholic want to remain is a state where one section of the community demands and will resort to violence for nationalists and Catholics to accept only their vision of the future and in the process be courted and facilitated by politicians and the forces of law and order in doing it.

  • Reader

    tacapall: Why would any nationalist or Catholic want to remain is a state where one section of the community demands and will resort to violence for nationalists and Catholics to accept only their vision of the future and in the process be courted and facilitated by politicians and the forces of law and order in doing it.
    And you expect a miraculous transformation in the event of a United Ireland? It’s not as though the specific fraction of the population you are dealing with are either socially or geographically mobile, after all.
    In any case. Comrade Stalin has already answered your seemingly rhetorical question in his 1:34 post. The key point in the answer is that there are lots of factors to be taken into consideration, not just a reflex based on the latest grievance.

  • Gopher

    @CS

    I assume you mean knowing your posts that the DUP are conspiring not to extend the benefits of being in the UK.

    They are the same page that is what I am saying, you cannot put the blame solely on the DUP for failure to make our society more liberal the Catholic Church are every bit as guilty as the DUP on every issue.

    The vote on any referendum is easy for me, unlike the opening poster and yourself.

  • tacapall

    Latest grievance ! Its nice you have a sense of humour Reader maybe if you read up on the last 1000 years of history in Ireland you might not, like nationalists and Catholics see it that way, but sure you can believe all you like that its just all about culture and flags, meanwhile that magic number of 51% is getting closer and closer.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Even if a significant proportion of Northern Ireland Catholics decide to maintain the state of NI under UK rule, it will become small comfort to many Protestants because the Catholics still won’t identify with British symbolism, militarism etc.. and will be comfortable with closer relations with Dublin and will also want All Ireland historical symbolism dramatically increased within the northern state.

    So whether partition remains for 20 years or 60, the Northern Ireland state built to maintain the age old Protestant ascendency in Ireland is coming to an inevitable end. And there are going to be a lot more Protestants in NI who will not want to remain in a claustrophobic NI which becomes dominated by Sinn Fein.

    How many east of the Bann Protestants want to move to Derry even though it’s under UK rule? Not many, is my guess. Middle class northern Protestants have more in common with their affluent counterparts in Leinster than anywhere else on the island. And eventually they will make common cause with them to govern the whole island.

  • antamadan

    Great post Gerry.

    Did any of you see the letter in today’s Irish Times, which- somewhat unfairly- said that the flag protestorscurrently blocking the roads will be demanding the right to ‘walk the Queen’s highway’ through nationalist areas come summer!

  • Gopher

    @ROC

    Its going to be hard stopping people wearing Liverpool tops.and getting model shops in Belfast to stop stocking Spitfires. But I agree Eoin Morgan captaining England was met with such a muted response I could feel the discomfort from here.

    What Irish historical symbolism would you like to see introduced?

  • Republic of Connaught

    Gopher,

    Why would anyone stop wearing Liverpool tops? Liverpool and Man Utd have as big a following in all of Ireland as any other country outside of England. And cricket is not a sport followed in much of Ireland so people wouldn’t even know who the players who play for Ireland are, let alone an Irish guy playing for England or anyone else.

    I wasn’t brought up in the northern state, so it isn’t for me to say what symbolism northern Catholics might want to see in the state. But like the Belfast council decision, you can be sure they will want changes.

  • Gopher

    I thought they would stop identifying with British symbolism. Liverpool after all is a British club like Utd and wearing their shirt is quite symbolic.

    I did not realise “Northern State” Catholics were so different. Surely you can suggest some “All Ireland historical symbolism” that would elevate “Northern state Catholics”

  • Red Lion

    Well as a pro-union person I agree with much of Gerry’s sentiments and analysis – I have been bleating pretty much similar sentiments for a long time on this website.

    I am proud of my modern Britishness but that is because i take my cue from mainland British values.I find it hard to relate to the Ulster loyalist version – a very poor definition of Britishness.

    Unionism in general is completely lacking in self critique and self analysis – to be self critical is a major strength, not a weakness. Where is the intellectualism in unionism? Anybody who remotely espouses new ideas (Basil McCrea) gets lundified. NI unionism is anti-intellectual, until this gets challenged in coherent fashion and a liberal alternative provided, mainstream unionism will never moderate or evolve How we miss the late David Ervine..

    Still waiting on someone from a unionist background to take up a liberal union message and articulate it to society and grow a liberal union movement. As ive said a hundred times before – such liberal pluralist union sentiments exist in very significant numbers here in NI, but still noone from the political classes has harnessed this silent grouping.

    Utterly fed-up and demoralised.

  • David Crookes

    Gopher, I often wonder whether some genetic weak-mindedness is involved in the near-religious veneration that people in NI accord to English and Scottish football teams. I dream of a New Ireland in which sport-for-all will keep every available school pitch in use until nightfall on Saturdays. It would be better for most of us if the whole spectative culture died off.

    A guest of honour is being introduced at a school prize-giving (another thing that needs to die off). The audience is told that he is a keen supporter of Manchester United. Nearly everyone grins robotically, as if this fact denoted something natural, desirable, and commendable. Imbecility.

  • Gopher

    I’ll throw that one open to the floor for any “Northern state Catholic” to suggest what historical symbolism he would like to see since a “Southern State Catholic” (this is getting confusing) feels unable to comment.

  • JoeBryce

    I agree with Connaught. This nonsense has been cringe making.

  • Republic of Connaught

    The issue is British state symbolism, Gopher. Not British cultural symbolism. Football fans around the world wear English football club jerseys. Do you imagine it therefore means they want their country to be politically attached to England? There are Sky TV dishes in every 3rd house in the south of Ireland. Do you think that has any constitutional relevance? If you do, then remind me how Unionist parties do in the South?

    The political symbolism I see changing in the north, for example, will be a lot of street names in Belfast. Davitt, Parnell, Collins; lots of new street names to choose to replace the plethora of streets named after people from Britain. Also Stormont will inevitably get a new statue beside Carson.

  • SK

    Gopher,

    How’s about the old 1798 flag of Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter.

    http://www.maggieblanck.com/Mayopages/Spring06M/041406b1.jpg

    What are the odds of the street-spides giving that one the okay?

  • Sarsfield

    There’s a lot in this article worth reflecting on – well worth the read. Thanks!

    On the 48% issue regarding 2011 census figures on national identity – this figure is likely to overstate ‘loyalty’ (a much abused word in recent weeks). The census identity question allowed multiple responses – hence it was possible to say “British” and “English” – or “British” and “Irish” etc.

    The 48% is the number who said “British” divided by the population times 100. Hence the additions on all % identities add to more than 100%.

    Think of it as one of NI’s cultural assets – it defies counting!

    Of the responses given in the 2011 census, 43.5% said “British” and add to this the GB nationalities of English, Welsh and Scottish then the figure becomes 45%. In the Scottish case, Scots nationalist may object to being added in.

    The Irish and Northern Irish split roughly 50/50.

  • Gopher

    @ROC

    You did not mention state symbolism, So the model kit of the Spitfire is not state symbolism either, its just a choice just like joining the army for real. or just like supporting a team especially if your a “Southern State Catholic”

    No problem there with either Davitt, Parnell there are a couple of land reform unionists need street names as well Russell and Wood spring to mind. Don’t really mind Collins either if that is what people want.

    I would be against renaming streets that is just Taleban stuff like blowing up Nelsons Column.

    Nothing against a statue when someone does as much as Carson (like him or lump him) But you cant put it beside it would take the whole look off the place . If the Assembly gets bedded in a few busts like John Hume and Seamus Mallon round the place would be fine

    Dont see any problem

  • http://sammymorse.livejournal.com Gerry Lynch

    The political symbolism I see changing in the north, for example, will be a lot of street names in Belfast. Davitt, Parnell, Collins; lots of new street names to choose to replace the plethora of streets named after people from Britain.

    Oh, God help us, no!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Red Lion,

    I’ve got no problem at all with what you have defined as “mainland Britishness”. None at all. There’s nothing even remotely harmful or offensive in any of it – quite the opposite.

    I don’t think there’ll ever be a political party that represents this perspective. It’s simply too nuanced to shout down a megaphone or to make people come out and agitate for. Where it counts will be on the ballot paper during the referendum.

  • BelfastEddie

    Surely we’d have exactly the same dynamics except reversed in a United Ireland, I can’t see anything other than a fudged halfway-house type of status quo keeping the pot from boiling over (which is kinda what we have now), with both extremes equally pissed off, which given what we’ve seen over the past few weeks will periodically flare up into trouble for whatever ragbag list of grievances are topical or convenient.

    In recent days I’m less and less positive about Northern Ireland having a trouble free long term future, and like a few colleagues the idea of emigration is not the unthinkable it once was.

  • Red Lion

    CS,

    I’m not after a party to represent mainland Britishness as their raison d’etre for existing. Merely that a wider view of pluralist liberal Britain would be one of the informing influences behind a NI liberal unionist party/movement, just one of the influences.

    I wouldn’t want A ‘mainland Britishness’ to be shouted down a megaphione, but I certainly want a liberal unionist message as a reasoned intellectual strategic vision to be shouted down the magephone. And for the electorate to compare it to the relative bankruptncy of the DUP/most of UUP ‘VISION’.