With hindsight should unionism have been represented in Dublin yesterday?

It’s a fair question. Representatives of unionism would have been warmly welcomed  to the reviewing stand in O’Connell St on their own terms which would have underlined the end of the old ambivalence towards the use of violence in the North.

But perhaps this was not the moment. By common consent, reconciliation has not been impeded.  It was nationalism’s day, no matter  how you line up the variable geometry.   Our German allies do not attend Armistice Day (although Mrs Merkel was present at  the D Day anniversary commemorations in 2014.).

Is here any moment of history exclusive to the two states of Ireland that they could commemorate together? (That rules out the Somme).  Nobody as far as I recall ever suggested that the Dublin state should have been represented at the anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 2012, an event that  led to  the UVF  gun running and its emulation by the Irish Volunteers, but no immediate deaths.

The anniversary of the Government of Ireland Act 1920? Hardly, Superseded in the south by the Treaty and the provisional government, implemented only in the North which didn’t want it at first and removed from the UK statute book on the insistence of today’s Sinn Fein.  For nationalists, the formation of the Northern State replicated the old oppression within defensible territory. It seems too much  to ask them to accept an act of self determination equivalent to their own, in view the record of the first 50 years.

Until recently the verdict of history was much harsher against the Protestant state  than the Catholic one. Time and reconciliation has changed  that somewhat and allowed for the exposure of  equally glaring  flaws in Irish society. On the role of the Church you can hear mutterings that Paisley had a point. And so he had.  Unionism preferred good wholesome Protestant oppression to the Catholic variety. These twin forces of social conservatism, now much reduced,  are in holy alliance against the rising tide of change north and south.

Perhaps around 2022, the time will have arrived to take stock of the  two states  concept which was   so furiously rejected when Conor Cruise O’Brien devised in it in the early 1970s and Garret FitzGerald was among the first to try to envision  a new Ireland.. How far have we come since then? The question is still worth asking with open minds.

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  • mickfealty

    Spot on Brian.

  • WindsorRocker

    I’m not sure how much “on their own” terms unionists would have been there. The language of the commemoration was not belligerent, granted, with more emphasis on reconciliation though the specific nature of the reconciliation was vague.
    No matter how much the Irish state would have tried yesterday, it was still an event for nationalists on the island. Either the public celebration of what has become or, for some, the private wish of what might come.
    No amount of generous words of reconciliation such as from the DF Chaplain Fr Madigan can take away from the reality that the Proclamation still expects the allegiance of every Irishman to an Irish Republic.
    A unionist there representing “The North” would have been warmly welcomed personally but would have felt uneasy at key points of the proclamation reading and where the ceremony clearly phrased things in an all island context.
    Unfortunately, whilst the Irish State has, I believe, reconciled itself to the two state solution and the principle of consent, there still remains a core of its citizens for whom yesterday, whilst a celebration of what has been achieved, is also unfinished business.
    The reconciliation between the British state and the Irish state is easier. They work together in the EU as equals and they have found a way to shelve the Northern Ireland problem and with that recognition of settlement, the reconciliation we have seen with the state visits etc, is on sound foundations.
    For those within NI there is still the whiff of unfinished business and that will always be the biggest barrier to seeing these events in a common way for those who live north of the border.

  • Peter Doran

    Occasions such as the commemoration of 1916 are important performative instances that deploy historical narrative as legitimizing foundational mythologies by the State. There’s a universal dimension to such occasions insofar as they seek to associate the particulars of the founding moment with selflessness, heroism, even public love; where the State performs a kind of ‘false arrest’ on history in pursuit (or disavowal) of its present trajectory. Moments marked by a consecration of history are not necessarily the best moments to expect those who do not share a common understanding to participate. There are other – more numerous – opportunities when those who are invested in other consecrated narratives, such as their ‘sacrifice’ on the altar of ‘their betters’ ‘ imperial adventure such as WWl or their miniscule role in the formative fractures of Europe’s (not to mention modernity and secularism’s) travails in the 17th C, where joint participation in attempts to trouble those narratives (and the reasons for their strategic deployment in the service of the present) are appropriate. Fundamentally, of course, one group is celebrating the recovery of their agency (even if not fully articulated in the counter-revolutionary state that emerged after 1922); while the latter continues to revel in a loss of agency and its continued subjection to a deformed British nationalism (English hegemony in retreat), on the run from its Post Imperial Stress Disorder (Pis’d). (Witness the deep contradictions in local positions in the run up to the Brexit referendum)

  • chrisjones2

    What will be really interesting is how the Irish state commemorates the 1918 – 23 period. That is the true founding of the Republic and all that uncomfortably followed. Will we have children in plays shooting each other in civil war enactments? Assassinating Collins? Blowing old comrades up with landmine? Backstabbing them politically? Much harder to explain that than the ‘them and us’ and ‘plucky Irish fight oppressive Brits’ of 1916

  • Gopher

    I think the tone of the centenary changed post election, before, it was noticeable that the established parties were looking over their shoulder. Afterwards with a collective sigh of relief the tone moderated back to parliamentary democracy. Gerry I notice claimed “the first established southern state is not the Republic proclaimed in 1916” and their efforts “To pretend it is is an insult to the men and women of 1916”.(what have the Romans ever done for us) I’m happy the “living” won out in Dublin yesterday as reflected by the crowds. I think the “establishment”in the South needed that demonstrated as much as unionists..

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “On the run from its Post Imperial Stress Disorder” Of Course and the lady in the picture from Rowland Street, Sandy Row will still vote for Union, and she is on the run ! Any chance of letting me know where she is running too ?

  • Peter Doran

    I’d have chosen this image to make my point too!

  • Glenn

    At no point yesterday did I hear any comments from the south’s head of state, or any participant that violence for political aims and gains was wrong. Yesterday and today was the Irish state giving it large with their very own brand of triumphalism.

    As my former boss used to say ” we are where we are”. So we have partition that the rebellion probably ensured, and with Sinn Fein/IRA a signatory to the GFA and other agreements and in a partitionist parliament at Stormont the dye is cast.

    It’s more of the same and no call from Adams for the “healing of divisions” before he tweet’s “let’s have a new rebellion”. MEMO to Gerry, this is not exactly setting the tone for the “healing of divisions”. Nor was the other Gerry’s comments on the “countdown” in Carrickmore . But it’s all good manna for the republican electorate so the shinners/provos can retake their seats in a partitionist parliament.

    Oh the irony, one Gerry is calling for a “new rebellion” and the “healing of divisions” on the same day, and the other Gerry saying we are on the countdown to a united Ireland. So you can take your pick of their mixed messages and votail early and votail often for the shinners/provos.

    “The current Sinn Fein leadership has gone the way of Collins, De Valera and, latterly, those who went on to become the Workers Party. They have become engrained in the system; they are now part of the thing they once painted as a monster. Collins was said to have been bowled over by the wonders of Westminster. He led the Free State into being and his successors were almost passionately opposed to former comrades and pursued them with breathtaking enthusiasm. De Valera was no different. After abandoning Republicanism, he was singularly ruthless in dealing with old friends. The Officials were hardly behind the door when it came to settling scores and venting their wrath.

    There is an interesting video clip available on YouTube featuring interviews with aged members of the Old IRA. They recount thoughts and experiences which I found interesting. Then, to my shock, up pops Danny Morrison! And there’s the boul Danny castigating his predecessors for their failure to deliver the Republic! The same Danny Morrison who was part of the leadership that failed to win the Republic. The same Danny Morrison who famously coined the phrase “armalite and ballot box” only he traded the AK rifle for an HB pencil. He would be a confidante of Gerry Adams whose shame at his past is so great, he can’t even bring himself to say he was in the IRA! Also in this clique is Martin McGuiness who, as the soon-to-be founders of Republican Sinn Fein left the Ard Fheis, shouted that they should stay and they (the Adams leadership) would lead them to the Republic.

    Easter 2016 will come and go and there is no Republic. Sinn Fein is working every day to keep a partitionist settlement in place. They are thus preventing Irish unity, depending instead on a change of heart on the part of Unionists who, in reality, have no intention of changing their minds on that issue.

    No firing squads or suffering for the Sinn Fein of 2016. Just respectability, money and the trappings of power with the Republic reduced to being part of a cheap electioneering campaign to keep them in the place they want to be.

    Ah well, there’s always 2116″ ………


  • chrisjones2
  • chrisjones2

  • Chingford Man

    Poor, down-trodden… and a Protestant. Well I never. I thought Lord Brookeborough would personally have arranged a nice council house for her ahead of all the Fenians on the waiting list. Apparently not.

  • Chingford Man

    I don’t know how one can praise the IRA men of 1919-22 as heroes and then denigrate the modern murderers as villains.

  • Sherdy

    I wonder did the British ambassador feel as uneasy as you imagine unionist politicians would have felt had they attended that occasion.

  • John Collins

    Well considering English men once stuck a red hot, as in about 300 degrees Centigrade, plumbing appliance up their anointed Kings arse and executed two other Sovereigns, one a woman, by beheading I think we should take no lectures from them about brutality.

  • John Collins

    There was always going to be partition. The Unionists. who were doing OK out of the Union, and felt a deep attachment to it, were going to stay in the Union. We, in what is now the South, were not doing anywhere as well in the said Union and had no emotional attachment to it. We were always going to leave the UK and I would say most of us are glad we did. I celebrated it over the weekend and I have no apologies for it. The last time I celebrated in this way was as a sixteen year old back in 1966 and for obvious reasons I will not be involved in the next celebration in 2066. I do not feel the need to parade every summer to remind me of who or what I am.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I heard this explained at the weekend. The men of 1919-21 are deemed (at least by some) to have been acting legitimately (although not necessarily lawfully) on the basis that they were fighting British forces who were denying the will of the majority of Irish people as expressed democratically through the ballot box at the 1918 election. Similarly the men of 1922 -23 in the Irish government forces who klilled members of the anti-treaty fòrces during the civil are deemed to be acting legitimately (although not necessarily lawfully) on the basis that they were upholding the will of the majority of the Irish people (in the 26 counties) as expressed democratically through the ballot box at the 1922 election. Those IRA members who committed killings during the ‘troubles’ or in the post 1998 period are deemed to have no legitimacy whatsoever as they were not acting to uphold the will of the majority of Irish people but were in fact operating in a manner which the majority of Irish people were opposed to.

    The more interesting question is, perhaps, what right had the Britsih military forces to wage war in the south of Ireland between 1919 and 1921 to prevent the will of the majority of Irish people as expressed democratically in the ballot box in the elections of 1918 being implemented in Ireland?

  • NotNowJohnny

    To be honest I didn’t expect the Irish head of state to make any comments regarding the use of violence for political aims being wrong. Given that it was the Easter rising that was being commemorated it would seem very odd to have made such a statement while, to the best of my knowledge, the Irish state had not engaged in violence for political aims during the president’s lifetime. This contrasts with many other states including Britain, the US, Russia and China. Of course whether the use of violence for political gain is wrong is often a matter of opinion.

  • npbinni

    For all intents and purposes the rebellion (ironically) ensured the creation of Northern Ireland. In a very real sense it is more of a commiseration for Republicans than a celebration. They failed in their ultimate goal.

  • John Collins

    Today in the South we are happy to be a Republic and are very happy to have seen the back of the UK. I feel most of us would not touch NI with a forty foot pole. When I look at Derry/Londonderry and compare it with my home city of Limerick, then I am very glad indeed we left the UK

  • Giorria

    Why pick on derrylderry in particular? N Ireland touches the Republic amongst Donegal Leitrim Cavan Monaghan and Louth. Is that too touchy feely for you.????

  • Jollyraj

    Uhmm…if that pokering had happened recently, you might have a point. I daresay contemporary Ireland saw equivalent brutality from Irish people.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I thought Home Rule was about what we would now call devolution?

    So, even with Home Rule being passed Dublin would still have been in the union?

    That’s why i have little sympathy with the Ulster Unionist movement of that time as they introduced the gun and fear mongering for the sake of very little loss e.g. although protestants would have been a minority they would have been a very powerful minority WITHIN the UK.

    Maybe i’ve interpreted it wrong though.

  • WindsorRocker

    I’d tried to address that point already with my last two paragraphs in my initial post.
    Chilcott could sit there on Sunday knowing that the Irish Republic didn’t aspire to his whole country, just a little problematic outcrop of it that he, as a Foreign Office mandarin, would see as an irritating problem to be solved anyway possible. However, if a northern unionist had been sitting there, they would have heard words and ceremony that distinctly drew no difference between NI and the rest of the island and in some parts claimed all of NI for “Ireland”.

  • WindsorRocker

    Context is huge though Am. Relative to what they had at the time, Home Rule was huge. Devolution was anathema to the UK at the time.
    Also, the events of 1921 – 1949 didn’t just prove De Valera wrong when he rejected the Treaty but in a sense it proved unionists right. The majority in the 26 counties took the dominion settlement of 1921 and gradually changed it. First with the 1937 Constitution and then with the declaration of a republic outside the Commonwealth in 1949.

  • John Collins

    Because Derry and Limerick were the same size at the time of partition. Since then the biggest Hydro Electric Station built within seven years of the formation of the new state. It was the biggest Hydro Electric Station in the World, when it was completed. The Brits were talking of it for forty years and though they were then the richest they never built it.
    Shannon Airport was constructed to deal with trans atlantic flights in the forties and is still a major airport. Derry, which was much the same distance from Gander and the most westerly city in the UK, has a mickey mouse airport with about 20 flights a week, all run by Ryanair. In other words no Protestant or English aircraft company would spent a bob in it.
    There are 27,500 third level students attending colleges in Limerick, from what I hear of late, there are now 3,500 in MaGee and that completes the count from Derry.
    There are motorways to Dublin and Galway out of Limerick and the one to Cork is under construction. No such facility has been built to service Derry yet.

  • John Collins

    Well we Irish would never to be civilised like the British now would we?. So in a way we were kind of free to ‘poker’ away to our heart’s’ content. Although then again we might have got our kicks out of other forms of brutality, like drowning our opponents in a lake, like Malachy did to ‘the proud invader’.

  • John Collins

    No you have not.
    But I would be fairly sure that we would have looked for full independence afterwards.

  • John Collins

    You are spot on

  • Jollyraj

    Trying to have your cake and eat it, John?

  • NotNowJohnny

    The Irish government signed up to the principle of consent and got rid of its territorial claim a long time ago, something that was approved by an overwhelming majority of the Irish people. This position has been set out in the form of a treaty between the two governments and signed up to by unionists. Whatever words a northern unionist politician may or may not have heard, this issue is no longer an issue in reality.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    An uncomfortable reminder that what needs to be seen as ‘finished’ by a Unionist is still open to future settlement. Of course, SF’s attempts to turn their version of ‘unfinished business’ from a whiff to a stink might only have been targetted at raising Unionist suspicion. The unfinished business hasn’t gone away you know and never let the Unionist forget it!
    It’s a pity that Ulster Unionists didn’t attend: their presence could have proved that they are mature and confident enough to recognise that everything everywhere is in a continuous state of flux. Abortion should only be allowed for terrible beauties lest they threaten the long life of dreary steeples etc.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Maybe they weren’t being praised for their actions so much as being praised for coining the great message that is the Proclamation. The ‘modern murderers’ at best just cribbed from it. Making distinctions or not seems to be very facultative in some individuals but hey, such is the power of personal taste.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Running to or running too? When one is following one doesn’t always recognise the slow ebb imposed by external events, particularly if the direction is only visible in the rear view mirror. You raise very interesting points about lack of economic improvement, false consciousness and did everyone in Rowland St always vote unionist?

  • Nevin

    ” the end of the old ambivalence towards the use of violence in the North.”

    Brian, police officers are still shot now for much the same reason as they were in 1916. What is condemned in recent times is being re-enacted in the commemoration.

  • Croiteir

    There again – there was always those who were so feckless to be poor and white in apartheid South Africa

  • Giorria

    The A5 link to Dublin is to be upgraded from the North West. The railway network to Derry to Dublin and Enniskillen to Sligo were lost due to the out workings of partition. Very serious social problems in both cities were not solved but rather made worse in by Belfast and Dublin governments after partition. Derry did not get a university due to the decision by a unionist administration to build it in Coleraine rather than Magee Derry-the city of two Nobel prize winning educators. City of Derry airport was constricted from physical expansion by lough foyle and habitations around it. Nor was there any political will to help it- an outworking of partition. The lost railway to Ennislkillen was not replaced by motorway -it stops half way. There is only now a serious attempt at properly linking Belfast and Dublin. Part of this was due to the north and south not talking to each other or denying the others existence. Many nationalists and unionists felt standed on either side of the border. Only now that liberal attitudes started to prevail in Ireland north and South that it might be worth living in -censorious theocratic and basket case economics are hopefully ended but the cost of thousands lost to emigration especially in the fifties should not be forgotten. I did not celebrate this violent episode in our history I only wish its toxic impact on our country can be overcome.

  • John Collins

    Thanks for your reply. And I respect your well supported argument without agreeing with your final conclusion.
    I would like you to read a speech made in the HOC (available on-line) by Dr Robert Ambrose, a Nationalist MP, on Jan 24th 1902, before blaming 1916 for bringing the gun into Irish Politics. It also shows the utter contempt with which prominent GB politicians of the Nineteenth Century treated the wishes of Irish People.

  • Greenflag 2

    I would’nt be sure JC – History is’nt a straight line . Neutrality would not have been an option during WW2 and the heroes of WWI would have been the huge numbers of the dead who were mown down in Flanders form both unionist and nationalist communities The economic world and global recession in the 1920’sand 30’s would have pressured the then rising Catholic middle classes in a Home Rule Ireland to opt for security under the union than outside it . Full participation in WW2 would have integrated Ireland further into the UK and membership of the UN would not have been delayed until 1955. The social welfare , educational and housing reforms initiated in post WW2 Britain would have further cemented the ‘Union ‘ .

    AG’s point stands I think if only on the basis of human inertia and fear of the unknown -both just as prevalent among Irish people as they are among humanity everywhere.

    Ireland might be where Scotland is today assuming that all other things remained equal .

  • John Collins

    Please refer to the ‘easter and celebrate thread’, in which I have a contribution which exactly reflects what you are saying.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Home Rule actually meant a devolved government which would perhaps have acquired a dominion status similar to Canada or Australia at that period as the full extent of any independence envisaged. In essence this is what the Unionist “Project Fear” of 1912 was trying to paint as an inevitable shift to “Rome Rule” with all the “horrors of 1641” or the Scullabogue massacre town in for luck. The recourse to arms of 1912 in the north utterly ruptured the constitutionalism that had become the norm and twisted Irish politics here into that mess we all know today, with the valorisation of violence ensured by the apparent success of Unionism’s employment of such methods. I am amazed at the lack of historical perspective even very perceptive commentators are showing in their ability to dismiss Unionism’s inceptive role in this mess, even talk about some kind of “mandate” for it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Greenflag, I’d entirely agree. With dominion status and with the Unionist presence in the Dublin Lords and Commons as a powerful conservative voice, the sheer “normality” of the continuing development of local prosperity as a component of the Empire would have needed something more than the moribund IRB of the early 1900s to enthuse a population into striving for independence. Modern Scotland, yes, most probably.

    In the event, the poverty of a divided ireland re-directed to seek violent and polarised solutions is where we have all ended up.

  • npbinni

    You clearly do not speak for the millions and millions of Irish who live all over the UK, and are quite content to do so. Your negative comments remind me of my favourite WB Yeats quote: being Irish he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through the temporary moments of joy. The native Irish just seem to love moaning about their lot. Do you think maybe the ones living in the UK are a little more balanced?

  • ted hagan

    The Ulster Unionists turn up while an election is pending? They’d have to off their heads.

  • Giorria

    John -can you send me that wee link I find that bit of history very interesting – especially the Parnell and anti parnellite split that Ambrose was part of. I think you care for all of Ireland as shown in your previous posts including mention of your local lad Brian Boru, buried (or was he?) in sacred Armagh (city). ????

  • John Collins

    I can only speak for myself and I am very positive about living under an Irish Government. Our last eight decades under GB Rule saw our population, in what is now the ROI, more than halved. No I would never want to see them back ruling,and ruining us, again and I have absolutely no apologies to you or anybody else for repeating that viewpoint.

  • John Collins

    Well actually, I do feel that while the people of what is now NI should be allowed to make their own mind whether they want to stay in NI or not, and that if a poll is ever conducted on that, it should be only when it has a reasonable chance of success.
    The reason I know a little about Ambrose is twofold
    (1) He was born in 1852 in my local town of Newcastle West, and he was a first cousin of my Great grandmother, so there is a tenuous family link.
    (2) I also did a Masters a few years back in Modern Irish History,as a mature student, in UCD and my thesis, called the Blacksod Bay Project, dealt with the attempts by various people to put in place a rail link to the bay and the proposed putting in place of a transatlantic liner passenger service to Halifax from there. Ambrose, who was the MP for the area, was one of the prime movers in this lengthy but unsuccessful venture.
    The link to the speech is
    The speech was made on January 24 1902 and is on a debate titled
    The Irish Land Question.
    You can also access it by goggling
    Dr Robert Ambrose MP
    and will you immediately get a link, through Hansards, to all the speeches he made in the HOC, year on year, over the 17 year period he was in the HOC.
    Hopefully you find it interesting and we even hav a stimulating clash of views about his views.

  • Giorria

    Thank you John I had trouble with my googling there. One final bit I would add is that I don’t expect a sudden reunification but I do expect to see better north South cooperation on a number of issues that were lost with partition. Funny enough Sinn Fein had the most detail on this in their manifesto for the recent election -perhaps the border will melt away over time as the ten billion pound annual subvention to run NI is gradually removed. Already there is a sort of repartition going on with the creation of 11 council areas with more local powers. Bye for now.