Perhaps it is time for Unionists to do some public thinking about their own history…?

As the week draws to a close some interesting material has been drawn to the top of our collective consciousness. I suspect that slowly it will dawn on some of our own politicians (not just unionist ones) that saying no will barely suffice for the winding road ahead.

Here’s Alex Kane with some important home truths for those on the Unionist side

… unionists do tend to focus on the ‘physical force’ tradition within republicanism while glossing over their own attitudes and responses at the time. They also tend to remain mute on the subject of the reach and swagger of the British Empire at that point in history: possibly because the collapse of that Empire from 1945 onwards had worried and spooked them. And there is precious little evidence of any significant voices within unionism raising concerns about the alleged British State sanctioned brutality in a number of colonies and possessions which were seeking independence in the 1950s and 1960s.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the unionist-dominated Northern Ireland was, from the 1920s to the late 1960s, run very differently to the rest of the UK. It was a one-party state that regarded non-unionists as the enemy and even viewed liberals within its own ranks as potential troublemakers. Again, that’s a conversation unionists tend not to have with each other, let alone with anyone else.

In five years time unionists will be ‘celebrating,’ ‘commemorating’ and ‘cheering’ the birth of Northern Ireland. Perhaps it’s time we looked at our own history. How have we run Northern Ireland? What does the rest of the world think when they think of Northern Ireland and of unionism? What is the nature of the relationship between unionism and our fellow unionists across the rest of the UK? Why do so many unionists still have difficulty when it comes to ‘trusting’ Westminster? Why, even though Northern Ireland is still (and reasonably safely so) in the UK, is unionism still so prone to bickering and division?…

Those are very important questions which will not wait until the last three months towards what I would argue was the far more momentous occasion for Northern Ireland than the Easter Rising…

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    do states need to celebrate their birth? We don’t.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    To be honest I think a lot of the reappraisal has quietly already been done. I’m always bigging it up but if you read Kirk Simpson’s excellent “Unionist Voices” work, it shows the depth to which the outlook of ordinary unionists (and even to be fair a lot of the politicians) has changed since say the Rose work of the late 60s. You’ll get a few stick-in-the-muds of no great intelligence as you will with any group of people of any size, but within the thinking side of the unionist community these days, seriously, who has any problem admitting the UUP leadership of the 30s, 40s and 50s was pretty rubbish? I just don’t think intelligent unionism has the problem intelligent nationalism has with its past. We’ve happily ditched the years of Unionist Party rule. It bothers us not a jot, in my experience. There aren’t too many people I have ever come across who are emotionally attached in some way to Lord Brookeborough or Chi-Chi.

    You might get a few half-arsed attempts to put the record straight on this and that – as nationalist commentary on the past frequently strays into inaccurate over-claim – but it’s not a big deal either way. Unionists don’t set much store by it in any case. Nationalists may be surprised by how unattached to a lot of the political unionist past everyday unionists are.

    Where unionists won’t be quite so relaxed is when it comes to the history of the Troubles. Whole different ball game there. But that’s not so much about a defence of unionist politics as a defence of the people who put their lives on the line for democracy during those years, in particular in the police and the services. Unionist sensibilities over the Troubles are at core about seeking a sense of human decency in the face of the barbarism brought by the reigns of paramilitary terror (Loyalist and Republican). Most unionists are not very attached to unionist politics as such. And therefore there is a huge amount they can be flexible about. But do read Unionist Voices, it’s people talking for themselves better than I can: http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9780230224148

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you forget you’re talking to some Protestants here who have family connections in the South. I’m sure I’m not alone in having personal examples of what went on. We wouldn’t have made a big deal of it in my family, it’s not the way, but for what it’s worth my elderly relatives in Donegal had their house attacked and daubed with IRA slogans; and going much further back, relatives in Co Cork had their shop boycotted on the word of the local priest and eventually left.

    I’m not saying it was all bad for Prods in the Republic but the massive drop in numbers speaks volumes. It was every bit as much a cold house for Protestants as NI was a cold house for Catholics in that era. Neither a good thing, I hasten to add.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but as a small ‘u’ unionist on here, you do notice it’s mainly nationalists commenting, broadly speaking.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’ve certainly felt that.

  • Croiteir

    Perhaps because thee is nothing to celebrate

  • Croiteir

    They certainly hadn’t gone away to war that’s for sure

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not being a believer in predestination, Greenflag, I’m hoping for atransformative epiphany. Perhaps Bill will see that what I’m telling him is simple common sense at some point. A bit like that scene in the first “Lord of the Rings” film where Gandalf stops Bilbo’s fear driven triade with “I’m just trying to help you.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you MU for such an excellent corrective to the neanderthal Unionist theory. The actual issue of Union does need to be seperated from both the history inherited from 1920/60s, and how those who are looking for simple, easy solutions hanker after that history.

    A number of people in the 1950s clearly realised that support for the Union did not simply mean support for this exclusivist inheritance. There are a number of Unionists such as Brian Maginess whose attempts at that time to encourage a more comprehensive vision of Unionism deserves to be remembered. It is even almost forgotten (conveniently) that there was a Unionist presence in NICRA.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Submariner, I’d not encountered this mural until you’d pointed it out to me. Northumberland Street, I see. I know of Patterson’s career. He was aChristian Zionist, or a protestant supporter of Zionism. He commanded the 38th Batallion of the Royal Fusileers in the Great War, and this was on of five batallions that would get the unofficial name “the Jewish Legion”. But it was the formation of paramilitary groups from some ex-Royal Fusileers veterans that would lead to those units that would be formalised into IDF in time, a similar tarjectory to that of many ex-service men from the 1914/18 war took up arms as IRA volunteers in the war of independence. To suggest that Patterson in some way was a “IDF veteran” is rather like suggesting that Major General Sir John Raynsford Longley and General Sir Bryan Thomas Mahon KCB, KCVO, PC, DSO, the commanders of the 10th Irish division in that war were veterans of the IRA. But that may just be my pedentry. These people really need an historical advisor.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Greenflag not raelly “his own countrymen.” He was a protestant Anglo-Irishman, simply a sympathiser with Zionism. With my own American Jewish great grandmother I’m rather more Jewish than Patterson was.

    But yes, knowledge of his Catholic mother might just tip the scales.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bill no one wants you to be banned, but it would help serious debate if you were to not simply blind eye what people write in response and reject it without actually thinking about it.

    Slugger is very far from “a cold house” for those Unionist posters who engage properly and actually try and argue down Nationalism intellegently. I have nothing but respect for Mainland Ulsterman, Gopher, Starviking, and many others who I can disagree with (and agree with also), but who will alawys give me very sound reasons for how they think on issues.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My uncle was with the Royal Irish Fusileers in Palestine in those years, and had two near scrapes himself, so he might have had an interestingly black humoured approach to the wall had he still been alive. Yes, Mea Culpa, I read the posting far too fast and misinterpreted your important comment. I am preparing a late breakfast of crow for myself as I write.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I remember Bob Cooper particularly in the context of the founding of the Alliance Party. A lot of people gave up on the UUP when Brian Maginess and others failed to drag it away from the anti-Catholic stance. So many lost opportunities!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A car my uncle and two other unarmed officers were travelling in broke down just as it entered a small new settlement village.They were saved by the arrival of a lorry just as some members of the crowd that had assembled started openly showing that they had pistols. No, not an easy posting. Interestingly, he was on the side of my family that had the Jewish connection. Nowadays he might even be offered an Isreali passport.

  • Anglo-Irish
  • MainlandUlsterman

    a certain Lord Bew for one, though maybe not ‘unionist’ as such at the time. Did you come across him then, in his callow youth?

    And we also tend to forget that Alliance – for many, the only real attempt at a genuine cross-community political party during the Troubles and a beacon of hope – started (in part at least) as a breakaway from the Unionist Party. Marc Mulholland and others have long ago punctured the old idea of the “unionist monolith”, but it does still seem to be trotted out pretty regularly on these pages (and one in which it seems all unionists are supposed to have supported a Bill Craig position).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I can accept as a worldview that perhaps there is nothing to celebrate about any country. But if you’re only applying it to one country that’s a bit odd and unpleasant. The UK, uniquely, has nothing to celebrate?

  • Granni Trixie

    I am often touched by everyday kindness – Id like to celebrate that for despite emphasis on sectarian divides (yes, NI is part of the uk) people often demonstrate generosity towards people they hardly know, from whatever backgrounds.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The PD was formed around the old NI Labour Party Young Socialist group, which I used to hang about with. I don’t remember Paul Bew as such, but then quite a few of those retrospectively “involved” were simply those from Queens who showed up for PD demonstrations, rather than those in the core body of people who formed the rather anarchic (“leaderless”) core.

    Alliance was inspired from several source, but certainly Bob Cooper’s New Ulster Movement was a strong contributer. Cooper left Unionism just after the last serious attempt by grass roots reformers to move decisively away the more problematic issues that Unionism had inherited, an attempt that had failed when Brian Maginess and some others tried to open the party to Catholic membership and brought down a storm of protest, including an early appearance by the future Baron Bannside.

    Marc Mulholland is a little too willing in his work to quote rather questionable statements about Catholicism or the Free State/Republic as if a Unionist claiming the Free State was not democratic somehow proved this, but broadly I can see why you mention him. Mulholland models show much the same problems as Roy Foster’s, to my mind. Both evince a desire simply to refute the old nationalist case rather than to forge a history that strikes a balance on issues would favour neither, but look beyond such “making cases”. I really don’t think that a dispassionate appraisal of Unionism requires such special pleading, as there have always been enough Unionist with liberal instincts to qualify attempt to “paint it black.”

  • NotNowJohnny

    I have to confess that I don’t notice it and it probably isn’t something that I would notice. I do find however that unionists sometimes categorise me as a ‘nationalist’ – I expect this is because they don’t accept my views as being the views of one who claims to support the union. This miscategorisation might explain why some unionists here think that it is mainly nationalists posting here. Of course this miscategorisation is nothing new. I recall the Alliance party being miscategorised by unionists as ‘nationalist’ when they voted for flying the union flag on designated days at BCH.

  • Croiteir

    That is the subject so it would be odder not to talk about it. The UK has nothing to celebrate visit a visit it’s births. All mired in blood and corruption

  • MainlandUlsterman

    your anti-British sentiment is noted. Don’t mind us, you just vent … better out than in, eh?

  • Croiteir

    Just keep burying your head in the sand there. It allows the rest of use to kick the other end with impunity

  • MainlandUlsterman

    haha! Nice violently abusive image there Croteir

  • Croiteir

    Thought it may appeal to a unionist

  • Joe Blogs

    I don’t know who reads this stuff, but I want to have a go anyway. I’m a Northern Irish Catholic and some members of my family are quite devout. But I know from my family history that two generations ago we “turned”. I now think that I have been infected with Protestant genes. I mean, it is manifesting itself in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I am lured into reading the Daily Mail, and on other days I find myself sympathizing with some random English person on the news. How can I cure this?