Eastwood: The inevitability of reconciled political unity is no more.

Colum Eastwood spoke at the SDLP Youth Conference last Saturday with some interesting comments about Nationalism and Irish unity. I have bolded some of the more noteworthy references.

Beginning by referencing the poor Nationalist result last month he said;

The recent election also threw up questions beyond, what can at times, be the bubble of life at Stormont.

The decline of the Nationalist turnout by 5% must be a source of considerable concern to those of us who profess to believe in bringing an end to the partition of our country.

The fall in those motivated to vote within nationalism has been an ongoing trend and it would be both foolish and irresponsible to ignore it.

He then went on to speak about the view amongst some in Nationalism that a united Ireland is inevitable;

There is a harsh but honest reality to be faced.

The inevitability of the Nationalist project, of a reconciled political unity on this island, is no more. 

In fact, continuing to promote that inevitability is now a hindrance to the cause.

The momentum formed and felt within nationalism from the early days of the peace process has stalled.

It is telling that we now look on at the dynamic within Scottish nationalism with envy.

We should not hide from these realities.

Some have suggested though that our stance and priority for unity should therefore change, that we should park or abandon the cause of unity and the political reconciliation of this island.

Let me be clear. Under my leadership that will never happen.

The SDLP, and I hope all other political parties who profess the desire for unity, do not do so because it supplies benefit to an individual electoral cycle. It is not a tactic.

It is a belief anchored by much more than a fleeting party political mandate.

It is important to say that I believe the same values apply to those who advocate staying loyal to the Union. And by the way, there is nothing sectarian in either of these beliefs.

But what is clear from the present reality is that we cannot continue on as normal.

Nationalism has evolved before and must do so again.

History is packed with such examples.

One of the biggest evolutions in Irish nationalist thought is often overlooked.

A name which has fallen by the wayside is that of Thomas Davis.

Davis’ poetry is probably most remembered, in particular ‘The West’s Awake’ and ‘A Nation Once Again’.

However, Davis’ contribution extended far beyond just songs and sayings.

Davis and the spirit of the Young Ireland movement of the 19th century projected a vision of the Irish nation which was tolerant and inclusive.

It was a vision which evolved beyond the fight for just Catholic emancipation and mapped out an identity which could give belonging to all.

It was a vision which provided an invitation of Irish nationalism to anyone who wished to take part. It offered the next step, the next project, after the victories won by Daniel O’Connell.

The end of inevitability and the stalling of momentum must now be met with a similar evolution in Irish Nationalism.

We in the SDLP must be the Young Irelanders of today.

We are the party which understands that the emancipation brought by our peace must now be followed by a further evolution of the Nationalist cause.

We are the party which understands that nationalism must again evolve to meet the century before us.

A possible way forward;

That will require the understanding that a credible vision for unity will not be made in the image of any one political party.

It will also require the understanding that Irish nationalism must no longer be an idea to which we are merely born into.

It must be about belief, not birth. It must be based on the practical, not the pre-determined.

It must be about making Northern Ireland whilst also building towards unity.

That is the Progressive Nationalism of the SDLP. It is the nationalism we continue to offer and build.

It is that nationalism, and that nationalism alone, which is capable of building the broad consensus needed to shape the New Ireland before us.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • Muskerry

    What is a united Ireland, what would it look like? Everyone knows what it’s like to live in Northern Ireland and the UK. But what would the alternative, a united Ireland, be like to live in?

    This is not just relevant to people in Northern Ireland but also to people in the republic. Speaking as a southerner, a united Ireland would potentially be seen by many here as a threat – importing instability into a country where stability has been a defining feature since independence.

    So Colum Eastwood and other nationalist leaders north and south need to paint a picture, with three constituencies in mind: northern nationalists, northern unionists and southerners.

  • eamoncorbett

    While i agree with your last paragraph , the stability which the Republic enjoyed since independence was nearly wrecked with the financial crash and with some of the politicians involved in that era knocking on the doors of power again the same mistakes could happen again.

  • Declan Doyle

    There are always risks of course and more so if lessons of the past are not learnt. Many nationalists might be wary of unity in the short term due to the current surge in the Republics fortunes. Tourism booming, exports at their highest levels in history, unemployment falling rapidly and tax revenues leading to tiny borrowing with tiny interest rates attached.

    Unity could destabilise that progress considering the low income levels and low living standards in the North, not to mention having to deal with many angry, aggressive loyalists.

    The South spent decades dealing with unbending religious fundamentalism, having finally broke free from the grip of the Catholic Church it is unlikely many would get excited at the prospect of entertaining the rantings of extreme protestantism within its borders.

    Most importantly the border is irrelevant these days. The Irish and Northern Irish are happy in their skin, confident with their identity and see Ireland as just Ireland. Apart from majority Unionist councils refusing to make room for Irish culture and tradition being Irish in the north no longer means dealing with the worst of discrimination and sectarianism. The Irish of Ulster are growing in numbers and enjoying their field, paid for by the British taxpayer, it’s a win win in many ways.

    As time passes and the traditional unionist majority continues to give way to both nationalism and ‘other’, being Irish or Northern Irish can be whatever people want it to be, British Ulster is dead and gone. A new phase is upon us.

  • Zig70

    Nationalists scoff at so called unionist lenders deficit but there is no leader willing to paint their path to the future. For my money, the north is re-joining the South, no federal rubbish in such a small state, 26 becomes 32, Stormont becomes a big hotel and we all pay to see the doctor.

  • Pasty

    What it’s like to Live in Northern Ireland is changing rapidly. Only yesterday the Irish News reported on the lack of Paramedics, notably due to many resigning or going part time in order to take up either full time or part time posts working for Capita as assessors for the new Personal Independence Payment which is replacing DLA. These Paramedics will be assessing patients and their abilities which will in many cases have them challenge the hospital specialists reports so they can disallow benefit to claimants. The end result of this new benefit PIP as its known is to turn down claims which in turn will see less carers allowance being awarded and will not only increase the waiting times for ambulances but also for nurses and doctors. At some point the use of the medical staff to administer benefit payments will be seen as wrong but to get to that point many people will likely have to die waiting on an ambulance, to see a doctor or waiting on a trolly at A&E.

  • runepig

    Cutting ties with the fervently unionist UK Labour Party would be a good start.

  • Gopher

    Quite amazing verbosity from Eastwood could someone explain what he said there for all practical purposes?

  • Roger

    “The Irish and Northern Irish are happy in their skin, confident with their identity and see Ireland as just Ireland.” I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps you ought to be saying “The Irish and “Northern Ireland people” are happy in their skin, confident with their “identities” and see Ireland as just Ireland and Northern Ireland, UK as just Northern Ireland, UK.”

    You go on to say: “The Irish of Ulster are growing in numbers and enjoying their field, paid for by the British taxpayer, it’s a win win in many ways.” That reads a bit funny to me too. 37.74 per cent of Ulster is in Ireland. 62.26 per cent of Ulster is in the UK. British taxpayers don’t have much of a role in a fair chunk of the ancient province. Perhaps you ought to have referenced “Northern Ireland” here instead. If so, your logic seems confused. If they are growing in number, how come their share as a percentage of the UKNI voting population keeps shrinking over many years now?

    You mention “The South”, which is a fairly well understood term for Ireland, though a bit unfortunate given that Northern Ireland is to the south of Ireland.

  • Ciaran74

    I thin DD’s points are clear if you have an open mind to consent Roger. DD is making the point that getting difficult, ignoring or even rejecting the other ‘sides’ points of view or orientation is reducing and allowing us all to be more progressive without giving up on aspirations. Your clearly not. What is your point on nationalist voting share? Less nationalists or less nationalists voting? id be more concerned as a unionist at less in interest in politics from nationalists than ridiculing vote share.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You hit on a very relevant point there, namely: our neighbours’ view on this matter is not a consideration on this side of the border. It’s such an obvious oversight that it screams how blindly insular we are in the wee six. Whether it be Ulster Unionism or 6 county Nationalism we need to face up to the painful reality of how much are we wanted (or not) by either GB or Ireland and why. Until we do our unionism or nationalism remains only hypothetical.

  • John Mccann

    Why is anyone still going on about a united ireland. It’s never going to happen, nobody wants it, what is the point. Talk about something that matters instead of trying to bullshit young people that nationalism is important

  • Declan Doyle

    The irish in ireland, north south east and west, along with every other nationality can self identify in whatever manner they so wish regardless of which political jurisdiction they happen to live in.

  • Katyusha

    “The inevitability of the Nationalist project, of a reconciled political unity on this island, is no more. ”

    It never was perceived as inevitable. If it was inevitable, people would not have seen any purpose in fighting for it. Similar to how Marx predicted that a proletarian revolution was inevitable; Lenin adjusted this theory to accept that in reality revolution was not going to happen spontaneously and therefore an orgainsed political movement was required to overthrow the state.

    The more relevant question is whether nationalists actually want to overthrow the state, or whether they wish to improve their standing within the state (more akin to social democracy or trade unionism, to continue the left-wing analogy).

    For me, the most important things are to ensure that all of our citizens can enjoy safe, stable, fair and prosperous lives, and to reclaim and repair the Irish identity of Northern Ireland that has been severely damaged by partition, misrule and conflict. Questions of sovereignty and political strucures are very much secondary to rebuilding a shared, coherent image of ourselves, as strong and confident as the image of Scotland or the Republic. We are divided and damaged, and realistically we can’t achieve anything at a national level until we repair this damage.

    This should be the focus of nationalist parties that choose to govern in Stormont; unfortunately their “partners in government” are about as cooperative as a brick wall at every turn. If our government is only interested in confrontation and deadlock, then we will only get deadlock. In that light, it’s no wonder that people lose interest.

  • Roger

    I could not understand your first two sentences.

    My point about voting trends is as follows: DD said “[t]he Irish of Ulster [I read this, in the context, as Northern Ireland, UK] are growing in numbers…” I’ve queried that. On what evidence is it based? Fewer and fewer people in UKNI are voting for parties that define themselves as Irish. I think you suggested in your last sentence that I was ridiculing something. I’ve no idea how you made drew that conclusion either.

  • Croiteir

    What? and give the local Labour supporters a free run?

  • Croiteir

    In the event of the north saying it wants to leave the south has no say bar over how it absorbs the north

  • Croiteir

    What a load of junk history that is – and it leads to the junk policies that the SDLP pursue, nationalists have turned of the nationalist parties due to their ineffectiveness and appeasement of unionism. The party of Eastwood response to this is to proscribe more of the same.

    However there is something to say about what he said, bear in mind that the Young Ireland movement evolved into the Fenian Brotherhood, then the IRB and then the PIRA. If he s saying that the SDLP are to be the Young Ireland of today will they also become the Fenian’s of tomorrow? Is he agreeing that we are now out of the conciliation phase and have entered the pre conflict stage?

  • Roger

    I entirely agree. The Irish in Ireland can indeed do so. So can the Irish in Northern Ireland and in other jurisdictions. I don’t think that’s in question.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Still no explanation of why there should be a new 32 county state of Ireland.

    But I welcome that he recognises nationalists need to be unequivocal about making N Ireland work, while they wait for Godot.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As a former Labour member and hopefully a future one, I think it would be fantastic if we cut formal ties with the SDLP, though of course we can and should have friendly relations. The SDLP is not a progressive social democratic party in my book and this nonsense about the importance of the Irish unity project only adds to that impression.

  • Simian Droog

    *puts toys back in pram*

  • John Mccann

    Still don’t see any sign unionists are going to change their mind on NI being part of the UK.

  • Simian Droog

    Good for you. Others do and many can see beyond their tribal base instincts to do what is best for them and their children. If it offends you to think a Union between north and south might be more beneficial to all then I suggest you have a problem.

  • Simian Droog