Slugger O'Toole

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“A Northern Irish identity is the beating heart of a shared future.”

Tue 22 January 2013, 3:51pm

Away from the maelstrom of street politics, there’s been a couple of interesting outputs on the Unionist side of the camps. First, John McCallister speaking at the weekend, gave the kind of speech that might have come better from his own party leader. But it is a direct challenge to the sheep and goats discourse happening elsewhere:

It is striking that when those aged 18-24 in Northern Ireland are asked about their identity .. The greatest number define themselves as ‘Northern Irish’.

Here, then, is an opportunity to promote a shared identity. An identity shared between those who also have a British identity or an Irish identity.

To be Northern Irish threatens neither of these . But it does give a sense of a shared community to both unionist and nationalist and to the increasing numbers who define themselves as neither.

Above all, it nails the lie of tribalism. That unionist and nationalist can live apart, with no sense of the common good or a truly shared future.

A Northern Irish identity is the beating heart of a shared future. It reminds us that beyond the policy prescriptions and the politics, a shared future needs emotional and cultural expression.

When dissident republicans murder a prison officer.  Or when dissident loyalists threaten a Catholic Church. A Northern Ireland identity tell us that such events are not happening to ‘them’, ‘the others’.

They are happening to us, a shared community with a shared identity.

In a piece for the Belfast Telegraph Basil McCrea explained his reasons for not supporting his party in Stormont. The point he’s making is more confined and precise, but does explain an important problem with the current set of politics, ie, the narrative:

I will however be opposing a DUP amendment which seeks to remove the reference to the Belfast agreement.  I suspect that I will be the only Unionist to do so.

The UUP indicated during the debate that they were happy to accept the DUP amendment. I am not.  The Belfast agreement was the crowning achievement of the Ulster Unionist party in the modern era.

That the DUP should introduce their amendment was entirely predictable. Their rise to political prominence was based on a strategy of undermining the Belfast Agreement, of destabilising the UUP and of vicious personal attacks on the UUP leadership. Tactics they maintain to this day.

In their quest for political power they sought to convince the electorate that the Belfast Agreement had sold them down the river. They squandered the opportunity presented by the Belfast Agreement and today, and over the last six weeks we have all paid the price for this strategy.

You cannot continually tell the people that they have been sold down the river and not expect a reaction.  You cannot refuse to challenge destructive narratives and expect things to improve and you cannot tell people only what they want to hear and expect them to accept the outcome of the democratic process without complaint.

In his opening remarks Mike Nesbitt declared that he was “puzzled” about the opposition to the DUP amendment and later that “he/we would not die in a ditch” for the part of his motion that called on all parties to support the spirit of the Belfast Agreement.

I cannot support this position. I will not accept that the Belfast Agreement can be so easily discarded and I refuse to accept that the DUP amendment is anything other than an attack on the Belfast Agreement.

It’s a useful invocation of memory in a political arena where deliberate and self serving mis-remembrance of the past is a commonplace. Meanwhile the counting of sheep and goats meme will put in another week without too much further probing of what OFMdFM has done, or hasn’t done

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Comments (27)

  1. Ruarai (profile) says:

    The SDLP and UUP have been talking for years, not simply the last 6 months, about how little Stormont has achieved under DUP-SF leadership.

    The problem is their lack of balls in the face of what to do about it.

    Put an oposition up. Or remain shut up.

    The sharing part of the future is guranteed as the days of exclusion are over.

    Whether there is to be a future worth celebrating may well come down to whether there’s a governing system worth the name….i.e. is there an opposition.

    Over to you Basil…Carpe diem

    We need a First Minister who is First Minister. The job is too big for those who mistake it for a partisan position, terrified of ‘losing’ those they never had and certainly never led.

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  2. Obelisk (profile) says:

    I’m more interested in the fate of the Ulster Unionist Party at this point, as whatever aspirations Basil and John have are for the long term but the fate of the UUP is much more immediate.

    I guess it all really crystallised last week when their latest leader, whose immense qualification for the job was reading the news on UTV and interviewing the odd politician, didn’t object to the DUP amendment to his motion removing mention of the Good Friday Agreeement. He said he saw no reason ‘to die in a ditch’ for it.

    That was the moment. It had come really really close with the Unionist Forum and such, but this was the moment any remaining point to the UUP finally evaporated. If they couldn’t even stand in defense of the accord they fought so hard for and which has improved lives here to such a degree, then what do they stand for that is unique from the DUP?

    They stand for their members that is who. An organisation finally drained of it’s vitality and purpose that seems to exist for the sole purpose of getting it’s members elected so they can get salaries and employ other party members in their constituency offices.

    They don’t have to come up with specific policy either, sure their ‘partners’ in Sinn Fein and the DUP will come up with government policy which they can then force down the UUP’s throats whilst the UUP loudly complain about it and if it’s in terms of engaging with the wider Unionist electorate then they’ll just throw their lot in with Peter.

    Each and every time the leadership of the UUP has come up since the fall of Trimble they have turned aside from drastic action for the course of safe, soft decline. They’ve turned aside the few members of any talent they have and they have bled support and they have bled talent on both wings of their party.

    Basil says he’s confident he’ll be exonerated. I doubt it. He’ll be out, then John McAllister will be out, and then we see the exodus of the party’s liberal wing and what do we have left.

    A nugget of dried out rudderless reactionaries. There is no coming back. This is way beyond what the Tories endured during their spell in the wilderness.

    This is a political party that has been lead to near ruin and whose passing will not be mourned. But for goodness sake they’ve been dying on their feet for years. Could they do us all favour and announce the merger with the DUP sooner rather than later?

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  3. Nevin (profile) says:

    “We need a First Minister who is First Minister.”

    It’s a joint role, Ruarai, and the absence of much action in the OFMDFM may indicate that what can be shared out has been shared out; mutual sharing isn’t really on the agenda.

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  4. Ruarai (profile) says:

    Obelisk – all true.

    But you’re too generous. Mike Nesbitt is guilty of political malpractice of the worst kind. His chief opponent, Peter Robinson, proves too small for his big moment and that smallness, that lack of leadership (including support for rigorous law enforcement), see’s the instability engenered by the street violence only expand.

    Faced with the rapidly shrinking authority of his main opponent, what does Mike and the UUP do? Expose it? Challenge it? Draw a stark contrast with it; a beacon for law and order unionists and others to be impressed by?

    No, he dials his opponent up asking what time Forum is starting. Maybe he even requested a speaking role.

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  5. Ruarai (profile) says:

    Nevin, you know well that McGuinness wanted a joint appearence to condemn the escalating lawlessness.

    Sometimes it helps to just speak plainly. This wasn’t a joint failure – though there have been many.

    Robinson needed to (and still does frankly) be the First Minsiter, to have his Masserene moment, if you like.

    He failed.

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  6. Nevin (profile) says:

    “A Northern Irish identity is the beating heart of a shared future.”

    A fine phrase. However, the choice of the Northern Irish label IMO tells you nothing about a person’s constitutional aspiration.

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  7. Ruarai (profile) says:

    Indeed it does not Nevin and sure isn’t that healthier?

    Whether northern Irish is, like for me, a subset of Irish (as its Southern, Irish-American, etc) or something distinct and meriting a capital N, its a recognition of people making new decisions about age-old and apparently impenetratable mindsets. Such fluidity in a historically rigid and therefore fragile society can only be a healthly development

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  8. Nevin (profile) says:

    Ruarai, the only politician coming out of the current shambles with any degree of credibility IMO is Naomi Long. The collective actions re. the flag issue, mainly of the DUP and SF, put the lives and properties of her and her colleagues at great risk as well as of those where violence has broken out.

    The ‘Masserene moment’ was a moment of derision from extreme nationalists and its repetition would have got the same reaction from extreme unionists.

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  9. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Indeed it does not Nevin and sure isn’t that healthier?”

    Not if the age group mainly using it is more tribal or less subject to social influence/control than their predecessors, Ruarai ;)

    If you want something healthier then you need a role model more akin to the late Ray Davey than to Ian Paisley or John Hume – or the even tougher Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. I don’t see John McCallister or Basil McCrea advocating shared sovereignty. Do you?

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  10. sherdy (profile) says:

    John McCallister should not be so keen to spin an otherwise good speech. My point of disagreement is: ‘when dissident loyalists threaten a Catholic Church’.
    Whether he is thinking about Harryville some years ago, St Patrick’s Church during the last (official) marching season, or the past weeks’ unofficial marching resulting in attacks on St Matthew’s Church in Short Strand, there has been nothing ‘dissident’ about them – they have been led, encouraged, excused and supported by mainstream unionist/loyalist politicians.
    Possibly this fact just stuck in John’s throat.

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  11. keano10 (profile) says:

    I’m not having anybody from either the UUP or SDLP having a pop at the current incumbents of OFM/DFM when one recalls the shambles that presided under David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. Neither of those so called leaders of moderate political opinion could manage to strike up any sort of working relationship during their tenure. Stormont still holds many tales of blazing rows, doors being slammed and the kind of disunity that was the antithesis of the Agreement that they claimed the credit for creating.

    At least Martin and Peter can strike a pose and generally work together positively and constructively.

    All of the critics on this site cant escape one salient point. And that is the massive amount of elecoral support that both parties continue to enjoy.

    But thats good old Democracy eh..?

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  12. DC (profile) says:

    “A Northern Irish identity is the beating heart of a shared future.”

    If so it lives off the blood of Britishness and Irishness pumping through its veins.

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  13. Nevin (profile) says:

    “But thats good old Democracy eh..?”

    keano10, there’s usually more toleration of dissent within democracy than you’re likely to get in the DUP or SF. You’re ‘having a pop’ comment suggests that such dissent here makes you feel uncomfortable. Get used to it – as the great Laurence MacKenzie once said :)

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  14. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Obelisk and Ruarai at 4.49 and 4.59

    Spot on, I agree wholeheartedly.

    I am glad Basil is putting ‘clear blur water’ between him and the spineless cowardice and/or political ineptitude of most of the rest of the UUP, and DUP.

    Basil and John have to shout louder than ever now, for they are now the only alternative and reasoned voices within unionism prepared to stick their head above the parapet. Especially Basil.

    I’m disappointed other liberals have not spoke out.

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  15. keano10 (profile) says:

    Nevin,

    I’ve never been more comfortable in my life. Sinn Fein are sitting on 28% in recent polls and it would’nt surprise me if that figure increased in the next election. The SDLP have an irate political dinosaur at their helm who is widely disliked within his own party, which hardly augurs well for their future electoral prospects.

    The UUP are a joke with media moghul Mike Nesbitt so far out of this depth that it borders on the ridiculous…

    Unfortunately for you Nevin, Sluggerworld is’nt the real world…

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  16. otto (profile) says:

    That’s a great speech.

    Where it was given?

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  17. Ruarai (profile) says:

    Keano10,

    you say: “Neither of those so called leaders of moderate political opinion could manage to strike up any sort of working relationship during their tenure.”

    It’s an excellent and underappreciated point. And one I’ve made many times.

    Say what you will about the “extremes” but I’ve watched the Peter and Martin show up close in DC every year its been running and it’s very impressive. Moreover, you’re dead right: The failure of others from the UUP-SDLP to come close to such a relationship is a terrible blight on them.

    What’s staggering to me, given that we’ve all now seen the benefit and potential of (SF-UDP) working together, is the total lack of initiative from the SDLP or UUP to develop an alternative.

    Never mind joint opposition, have they even had a joint op-ed?

    But Robinson’s failure to put leading NI ahead of all else lately signals the point of diminishing returns for their relationship. At the least it’s a moment where alternatives aren’t just possible; people have are duty-bound to offer something better.

    Or, where you say, “At least Martin and Peter can strike a pose and generally work together positively and constructively“, well, they haven’t done that this time.

    All the more reason for alternatives to step forward.

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  18. Nevin (profile) says:

    “I’ve never been more comfortable in my life.”

    So what what was the ‘having a pop’ squirming about further up, keano10?

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  19. otto (profile) says:

    “An audience in Louth”.

    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/headlines/nesbitt-silent-on-mccallister-speech-1-4704411

    Anyone know who the audience was?

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  20. Progressive Unionist (profile) says:

    Excellent speech by John McCallister!

    It was up there with the best, what I like about truly great political speeches is they just cut through the bullshit:

    “To be Northern Irish threatens neither of these . But it does give a sense of a shared community to both unionist and nationalist and to the increasing numbers who define themselves as neither.

    Above all, it nails the lie of tribalism. That unionist and nationalist can live apart, with no sense of the common good or a truly shared future.”

    Exactly! Nail the lie! Well said John (and Basil, too) – you have a lot of support out there across the community for this kind of forward-thinking Unionist thinking.

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  21. ayeYerMa (profile) says:

    I always have to laugh with all this talk of Northern Irish/Ulster identity as if it is new, despite polling back 50 years ago showing around the same as present.

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  22. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Unfortunately for you Nevin, Sluggerworld is’nt the real world…”

    keano10, Sluggerworld is strong on view but weak on overview; it’s quite likely that it has the same share of hallions that you might find across NI :)

    Could the increase in choice for the NI brand be linked to the change from London cum Dublin rule to devolution reinforced by the decision by them to treat NI as a place apart?

    Councils freedom to roam on the majoritarian front has demonstrated that the little emperors in the OFMDFM have few clothes, that they are down to their Union flag and Irish tricolour underwear respectively; the more they spend on PR and the more they criticise investigative journalists and bloggers the more ridiculous they look. However, there’s little they can do as they are hoist on the ’98 settlement petard.

    Basil’s and John’s ‘shared community’ is a false construction as it is set in a UK context yet just less than half the voters are prepared to endorse unionist parties. APNI comes closest to the notion of a shared community yet it can only attract a fraction of the votes and the nationalist portrayal of a shared community is set in a UI context and is even less popular than the unionist one.

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  23. APNI comes closest to the notion of a shared community yet it can only attract a fraction of the votes

    I think that shows how undeveloped any of the current incumbents’ strategies are rather than any strength in AP policies. Two more searing AP weaknesses:

    - inability to deliver message of compromise as anything other than a shot at their electoral adversaries in unionist areas

    - the inability of AP to move a tiny voterbase beyond largely a single identity demographic.

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  24. FDM (profile) black spot says:

    “A Northern Irish identity is the beating heart of a shared future.”

    ————————–
    or the filtered version

    “A Northern Irish identity is the last chance we have of preventing a United Ireland.”

    First we were British. Then Peter Brooke went and gave the game away when he said that the people in GB had ‘no selfish economic or strategic interest’ in Northern Ireland and that they would accept unification by consent.

    Then we were form Ulster. But pesky Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal kept acting like lumps under the carpet and tripped us up time and again. Bloody Malin Head is more north than we are and Ulsterman Shay Given played in goal for Johnny Foreigner “dan saff”.

    Then for a while we were Ulster-Scots. When the laughter stopped, even people like Ian Paisley junior shook his head from side-to-side in disbelief at the haggis-throwing, plaid skirt wearing, “haste-ye-back” gibberish of Nelson McCausland [of the sound politics] and co.

    Now we are all to be “Northern Irish”. We still have that bloody nuisance that Malin Head is “out-northing” us, but we will have to bear it.

    Why must we have a compass bearing in our make-up?

    Well its like this you see. Demographic change and election results and the fact that we are in a hole on both counts. You see inside every Catholic there is a Northern Irish person trying to get out. If we hug these people a LOT, explain [slowly obviously] to them enough times that everything is “all change now” and that the Union is really about inclusion [see union, inclusive!] then they will become part of “the people”. Being one of “the people” entitles them to an ascendant and privileged position in society and they don’t have to be Irish or Catholic or nationalist or anything unpalatable like that ever again. All better, all safe now.

    If we can nuture, hug and love these people enough then we need never even go near the Republic of Ireland ever again, except on freak days to laugh at their obvious backwardness.

    Hence the Union is safe if we help the CNR community out of the darkness and into the bright-white-unicorn light of their Northern Irishness!

    I’m convinced.

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  25. Nevin (profile) says:

    “the haggis-throwing, plaid skirt wearing”

    Hilarious, FGT – nearly as funny as a shillelagh-swinging, plaid-skirt wearing bearded gent singing “All our rivers run green”. They could link-up for a spot of wellie-tossing :)

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  26. David Crookes (profile) says:

    An audience in LOUTH? Fair play to the boy. We need a lot more of that.

    Was there a big feed afterwards? If so, let me know when the next one is.

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