Unionism must not retreat

Trevor Ringland argues that the Republican movement may well have unified the people of Ireland in ways it had not intended, and provided a bottom line for further movement forward, for Nationalism and Unionism.As one door closes another one opens. Someone said that often we then spend too much time looking back at the closed door. Do not get me wrong the Agreement is not dead but it is in cold storage. For how long will depend on Nationalism/Republicanism. For now, as a Society, we should recognise the massive achievements over the last few years and build upon them.

However, as another door has opened and we should move through it as quickly as possible. In 1998 the people of Ireland placed unity of the people above unity of the two countries. A greater prize and creating a battle for hearts and minds and so a basis through which Unionism and Nationalism could use the same methods albeit to achieve different goals: one seeking to create an inclusive Ireland; the other an inclusive Northern Ireland. The result, if we grab this opportunity, is we all work to make this place better for ourselves and our children.

The biggest mistake Unionism could make is to retreat back into itself. It is a “long peace” and it should actively promote an inclusive Northern Ireland and work with those Nationalists and Republicans who are committed to basic democratic principles. At all times the door should also be kept open to the others who will eventually come to realise that if they wish to play an active role in politics then they have to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

In a strange way Irish Nationalism now has the opportunity to “unite the people of Ireland”. The challenge to their leadership is to have the courage to support basic democratic principles, only excluding those, who by their actions exclude themselves.

As to our Assembly, the opportunity for it will come round again because we should realise that in this modern world it is absolutely vital that we take greater control over our own affairs.

In the interim we need local input into decisions to enable us to deal with the many issues that face our Society whether they be social, economic or otherwise. So whatever structure we devise let it be as meaningful as possible so that politics can continue to develop in Northern Ireland.

To the Republican movement, you may well have succeeded in uniting the people of Ireland but in a way you probably never expected.

Finally 9/11 meant that the world would never tolerate those who tried to further their political aims through the use of violence. What happened in the Tsunami disaster put our own problems into perspective and certainly brought home to me how privileged we are to live in Northern Ireland/North of Ireland.