Catholic Unionists – who needs them?

Graham Walker, unionist and author of A History of the Ulster Unionist Party, has a piece in the Irish Times (subs needed) to mark the centenary of the formation of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) where he briefly goes through the Ulster Unionist Party’s history and, more relevant to today, mentions its continuing disinterest in winning over Catholics to the unionist cause.

Walker begins by saying those behind the UUC initiative were “younger, middle-class politicians impatient with the patrician leadership of Col Edward Saunderson. They wanted a political “machine” that would mobilise constituency associations and involve them purposefully in the organisation. Thus half of the membership was drawn from the constituencies….

“In addition, the Orange Order was formally represented, something which continues to this day and is the cause of much internal unionist debate. The incorporation of the order proved a historic and fateful decision; it was a signal that Ulster unionism was willing to identify with Protestant exclusivism. Tensions between this ethnic tendency and civic and inclusive forms of unionist argument were to characterise the party throughout its history.”

Walker also argues that when in government for 50 years, the Unionist Party “gave priority to its own internal unity and the maintenance of its tribal base of support among the majority Protestant population.
Although Craig and his successors, Andrews and Brooke, adopted a minimalist approach to devolution, the impression was given to supporters that the government was more in control of Northern Ireland’s destiny than eventually turned out to be the case. The expectations of the grass roots, so long allowed to grow, were difficult to bring down to reality when London finally insisted on reforms….

….Since relinquishing the title of the leading unionist party to the DUP in 2003, the Unionist Party has not effectively pursued internal reform. The Orange connection remains and no credible attempt has been made to win Catholic votes…

… the party has still not transcended the communal confines of its origins and currently seems torn between the challenges of recouping “traditional” votes from the DUP and staking out the ground of civic unionism.”
© The Irish Times

  • IJP

    I find myself 100% in agreement with Maca, as per usual.

    Unionists

    Stop that crap about ‘Themmuns did it to us so they did therefore what our’ns did was legitimate’, you sound like bloody Sinn Féin!

    Government by a specific group for a specific group (while ignoring everyone else) is wrong – period.

    Young Fogey

    I would agree with you Rebecca, but only on the basis that any number greater than one can be defined as ‘some’.

    Didn’t realize this thread had anything to do with decommissioning… :)))

  • Biffo

    slug9987

    “That said Britishness is not such an exclusive concept in principle – it just is to Irish nationalists. In the other parts of the UK, Scotland, Wales, England, they are British in addition, often second, and there is no reason that NI people can’t be like that – many are. The strength of Britishness is its flexibility, as Simon Schama pointed out in his TV series it is more than the sum of its parts and that makes it appeal to ethnic and religious minorities like himself, a secular jew. I don’t know that unionists should sacrifice that romance to attract non-Brit pro-union culturally nationalist types. Why dilute your strength to attract people that have real and genuine cultural differences?”

    I can’t think of any genuine cultural differences at all as we all share the same Anglo American culture. But you are welcome to enlighten me.

    As far as I’m conerned Britishness as a nationality has always been inflexible and exclusive. Hence the,soon to happen, extinction of Irish and Scottish Gaelic and the probable extinction of Welsh.

    As regards Unionism and Britishness Jim Molyneaux summed it up succinctly (and repeated it ad nauseum) “Ulster is as British as Yorkshire or Somerset”.

    He could have said Ulster is as British as Aberystwyth or Uibhist but that would would have left a lot of Unionists either scratching their heads or feeling that he was undermining their Britishness.

    And that’s the problem with Unionism and Britishness it’s never really going to appeal to anyone not born into it.

    Now that I’ve shown you how British nationality has been the enemy of diversity in these here British Isles. I’ll concede that your comparison of the idea of “British” to an Ulster unionist in Northern Ireland and “British” to a black person living in England is thought provoking.

  • Biffo

    Davros

    “Actually if economics had outweighed culture/religion then Ireland would have stayed in the UK as from the late 19th century and especially early 20th century people in 32 county Ireland were doing quite well… e.g. the Old age Pension and the huge change in status from tenant to owner/occupier for farmers”

    Ireland actually was part of the UK in the late 19th century and it wasn’t doing quite well at all as evidenced by the massive numbers of people felt the need to emigrate from it.

    It’s doing quite well now that’s it’s not part of the UK as evidenced by the numbers of people immigrating to it.

    I don’t know where you got this idea anyway. I suggest you stick to the obvious economic indicators.

  • Biffo

    Sorry, that should have read

    “Ireland actually was part of the UK in the late 19th century and early 20th century …

  • Stephen Copeland

    I’m old enough to remember Apartheid, and one of the arguments made on its behalf was that Black people were actually better off under Apartheid than elsewhere in Africa. While that was undoubtedly true economically, the argument showed a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of human needs and aspirations, including the need for respect for whatever group they themselves feel that they belong to.

    If economics governed everything then we’d all be German Lander or Swiss Cantons. But it doesn’t, and that is why, despite some improvement in the economic situation in Ireland in the early 20th C, there was still enough momentum in nationalism to mount 1916, 1918 and the war of independence.

    Margaret Thatcher pushed the idea that there was no such thing as ‘society’, just economics. She was wrong, and much of recent Irish history proves that. People are prepared to make economic sacrifices in order to achieve societal goals that they, as a self-defined group, aspire to. The irish nationalist project is one such goal, and Irish people have rarely shown a preference for the King’s shilling over self-determination. I do not believe that unonists are motivated by economics either, that was just a fig-leaf to cover other, less polite, reasons for their unwillingness to participate fully in the future of Ireland. The success of the south, and the corresponding total silence within unionism regarding a revision of their ‘economic interests’ tends toward supporting my belief.

  • Davros

    Sorry Biffo – if you read what I wrote again you’ll hopefully see that I wasn’t claiming that Ireland wasn’t part of the UK in the late 19th century 🙂

    I’ll give you a few examples :

    Ireland had a centrally controlled health provision for the poor some 30 odd years before England.

    Ireland developed a wealthy middle Class during the 19th century – after all Dublin Council was run by nationalists.

    The Easter rebellion was the child of middle class people like Pearse.

    So let’s not play the every prod lived in a Castle and every RC lived in a hovel game .

  • Nathan

    Stephen,

    “But Nathan, surely you’re not suggesting that the RM tells lies, are you?”

    Like you say, the RM have proved themselves to be crafty liars.

    The RM lost the little bit of credibility they had the moment they started raking history as a means of justifying their present feelings of victimisation. The RM seem to think this is a productive way of behaving. And then they wonder why so many irish protestants are repelled by their ethos? These relics have no shame.

  • Biffo

    Davros,

    Fair enough, you are simply saying that Ireland (the republic of) would have been better off economically remaining in the UK.

    I’m saying that during the final 70 or 80 years that all of Ireland was part of the UK, the population, unlike any other part of Europe, was in dramatic decline due to poor economic conditions.

    The poor economic conditions continued after partion, massive numbers continued to emigrate. So nothing changed between Ireland being part of the UK and Ireland, it was and remained an economic basket case.

    You give me a bit more convincing evidence that Ireland would have been better off remaining part of the UK and I’ll accept it.

    Otherwise be gracious and accept that the demographics tell the story

  • Biffo

    Sorry again, that should have read “..nothing changed between Ireland being part of the UK and Ireland not being part og the UK..”

  • Davros

    Fair enough, you are simply saying that Ireland (the republic of) would have been better off economically remaining in the UK.

    That’s NOT what I’m saying in any shape or form Biffo. There was a discussion as to which was the more important – the cultural consideration or the economic. I was pointing out that at the end of 19th century and early 20th century Many Irish RCs were doing very nicely indeed …and considering that it was from the Irish bourgeoisie that Pearse and Co came , IF economics HAD been the dominant consideration then Easter 1916 wouldn’t have happened.

  • vespasian

    This ia drifting back to a historic cultural/ patriotic thread. Since the arguement on that cannot really be quantified in 2005 – how does any resolve ‘my culture is more important to me than yours is to you’

    I was asking did anyone have a study of the relative economic standards of living in the UK and Ireland past present and future so that at least we could get the economic part of the argument put to the test.

  • maca

    I’d still be very interested if any unionist/pro-union folk could answer two questions:

    • Do you want my vote?
    • What are you going to do to get it?

    (yes I am genuinely interested)

  • IJP

    Biffo and Davros

    A most interesting debate, but I think it’s more complex than that. It is commonly thought that culture and economy are separate, and that you consider either one or the other. Not so, they are clearly interlinked.

    Indeed an overlooked but quite possibly crucial stumbling block of the 1920 negotiations was where fiscal autonomy would lie. Industrialized Northeasterners (typically but not universally Protestant) wanted it in London to tie in with their market in GB and the rest of the Empire. Agrarian Southerners (typically but not universally Catholic) wanted it in Dublin to meet the needs of an economy more weighted towards agriculture. Let’s just say when you tie Industrialized v Agrarian in with Unionist v Nationalist, British v Irish, and Royalist v Republican and you get some obvious correlations!

  • Biffo

    Davros

    Fine, you are saying “.. that at the end of 19th century and early 20th century Many Irish RCs were doing very nicely indeed …and considering that it was from the Irish bourgeoisie that Pearse and Co came , IF economics HAD been the dominant consideration then Easter 1916 wouldn’t have happened”

    I’m saying that’s not true. In the period you are talking about many Irish RCs, British subjects, were dirt poor, the scale of emigration, unprecedented in Europe bears this out.

    Being part of the UK brought no material benefit to most of the population of Ireland. Irish people, on the whole, simply didn’t prosper in the UK.

    To Pearse & Co economic considerations were vital. To James Connolly & Co economics they were fundamental. “Get rid of the British, develop and protect Irish industry, prosper”, simple as that.

    That Ireland didn’t prosper as an independant state is no proof that it would have done by remaining part of the UK, and the fact that there is a middle class doing very well thank you is neither here nor there.

    The fact that Northern Ireland continued to have a prosperous middle class after 1969 doesn’t mean that there’s something to be said for political and sectarian violence.

    The fact that a country has a section of people doing well while the majority around them are poor doesn’t make that country a economic success. You didn’t address that issue in your reply.

    By the way, consider Scotland, a peripheral UK region with a declining population (both sad and ironic, considering it was a major destination for the large numbers emigrating from Ulster in the years you are talking about).

    There is a significant proportion of Scottish people who want “Independance in Europe” on the Irish model.

    If 1916 hadn’t happened, Ireland would still be a peripheral part of the UK like Scotland, still looking to get out. Unionists would still be saying you are better off in the UK, and it still wouldn’t be true.

    Davros, as far as I’m concerned demographic history proves my point. It’s a powerful economic indicator.

  • JD

    Interesting discussion.

    I’ve noticed that a few contributors seem to passively support the union, even though they do not go for the Britishness or orangeism of it.

    My question is, why?

    This is a genuine attempt to understand: personally, I don’t see how the union can be dissociated from either. Are the reasons for such passive support purely economic? Is it purely an economic proposition along the lines of “the union gives me the standard of living I desire”? If so, how do you seperate the cultural aspect from the economic aspect on a personal and day to day basis?

    A union without Britishness is an interesting concept. I simply don’t see it as ever catching on. 60 million Brits are never going to give that up for a few million Paddies.

    In some ways it could be seen to be the corollary of those who say that if they were to join a united Ireland it must be purged of certain trappings (anthem, flag, etc.) before they would consider it. However, I do see this course of action as more workable.

    Maybe I’m neo-republican?

    Whoa.

  • Davros

    An agricultural economy that was booming in 1916 because of the War Ian.

    I remember reading a while back that a women’s organisation fell to bits in Ireland because the question was asked – who was more oppressed – a middle class woman or a working class man ?
    I’ll ask the same sort of questions- who was more oppressed in the early 20th century? The RC Land Owning small farmers and RC Middle classes or the protestant working classes in Industrial Belfast ?

  • Biffo

    Davros,

    Why didn’t you mention the ones who had the the most urgent need to get out, the RC peasants, and labourers.

  • Davros

    How important were they in terms of 1916 Biffo ?
    There’s your answer.

  • Davros

    I’m saying that’s not true.

    And you are wrong. How many of the rural poor participated in 1916 ? Look at the Leaders of nationalism and republicanism. Connolly sold his soul and joined Pearse and the other middle class and upper middle class intellectuals.

  • Biffo

    Davros

    Vitally important , De Valera claimed 1916 wouldn’t have been possible without the Irish in Glasgow and he wouldn’t have escaped execution without the Irish in America.

  • Davros

    De Valera said lots of things 🙂

  • Biffo

    “And you are wrong”

    If I’m wrong show me how nationalist leaders believed independance would bring economic decline.

  • Biffo

    He may have said a lot of things but Irish influence in America still saved his neck.

  • Davros

    “And you are wrong”

    If I’m wrong show me how nationalist leaders believed independance would bring economic decline.

    and where oh where have I made this claim ?

  • Davros

    He may have said a lot of things but Irish influence in America still saved his neck.

    What’s that got to do with the price of fish ?

  • Biffo

    It’s got to do with…Oh, change the subject why don’t you?

    Anyway, “..nationalist leaders believed independance would bring economic decline..” – that can be infered from your previous statements. I didn’t want to quote in full because it means scrolling up the page, and I’m on a role at the moment, I think you’ll agree.

  • Biffo

    Here’s the bit

    “Fine, you are saying “.. that at the end of 19th century and early 20th century Many Irish RCs were doing very nicely indeed …and considering that it was from the Irish bourgeoisie that Pearse and Co came , IF economics HAD been the dominant consideration then Easter 1916 wouldn’t have happened”

    I’m saying that’s not true.

  • Biffo

    I think we can deduce from that that you are saying if Pearse & Co had pushed economic considerations to the fore, they wouldn’t have gone ahead 1916. Which would suggest that you beleive they they saw economic difficulties (decline) attached to Irish independance. Try and keep up with me.

  • Davros

    And you are still wrong 🙂
    The point I’m making is that the Imperative of nationalism was cultural, not economic 🙂

  • Biffo

    Well then you misunderstand it.

  • Davros

    straw men Biffo.

  • Biffo

    Nationalism is the whole deal, it’s economics, it culture, it’s religion, it’s whatever you think makes you special, it’s Shangri La. That what they were about in 1916.

  • Biffo

    What do you mean “straw men”?

  • Davros

    What do you mean “straw men”?

    I mean that you are trying to disprove arguments I’m not making 🙂

  • IJP

    JD

    I suspect the reason is that no one has come up with a remotely stable alternative model.

    Davros

    I’m talking about 1920, not 1916. 1916 was a few individuals (who *subsequently* gained much public sympathy), 1920 was people with a mass of popular support.

    Secondly, it’s irrelevant whether the agricultural economy was booming or not. The point was that most people wanted fiscal decisions in Dublin because it would be more sympathetic to the needs of an agriculture-led economy, whereas most Northeasterners (and indeed Scots for that matter) wanted it in London because it would be more sympathetic to the needs of an industry-led economy.

    So economy and culture/identity/nationality were clearly intertwined. I suggest they always have been.

  • Davros

    I Know you are talking 1920 Ian. I agree these things are all intertwined.

  • maca

    JD
    “My question is, why?”

    Perhaps the same reason many of us want to be part of the EU but not “European”?

    Perhaps the same reason why many might see the benefit of something like a “Federation of the Isles” involving the UK and Ireland where we can reap the benefits of such a union but at the same time remain simply “Irish” and not “British Irish” or “British”.
    I would probably support such a union but not if a new nationality was forced on me, i’d have to remain what I was born and identify with.

    “If so, how do you seperate the cultural aspect from the economic aspect on a personal and day to day basis?”

    By allowing people to be what they are, and not forcing an identity on to them even if they want to share the same union.

    “A union without Britishness is an interesting concept.”

    Maybe you’ve misunderstood. It’s not about removing Britishness from the Union, it’s about allowing people within the union to NOT be British if they so desire. At least that’s what I think it means.

    “I simply don’t see it as ever catching on. 60 million Brits are never going to give that up for a few million Paddies.”

    Relates to my point above. No-one is asking anyone to give up being British, just to allow paddies (i detest that term) to remain paddies.

    “In some ways it could be seen to be the corollary of those who say that if they were to join a united Ireland it must be purged of certain trappings (anthem, flag, etc.) before they would consider it.”

    In the ((un)likely) event of a UI i’d hope Irishness is not forced on anyone and that people joining can be simply “British” if they so desire.

    I don’t see why such a union can’t be big enough to accomodate multiple nationalities.

  • JD

    Maybe you’ve misunderstood. It’s not about removing Britishness from the Union, it’s about allowing people within the union to NOT be British if they so desire. At least that’s what I think it means.

    Perhaps I do misunderstand, since what you suggest would appear to be pretty much the case at the moment. People in NI can hold an Irish passport.

    I’m also a little puzzled by the fact that you see the union as inextricably British and yet seem to suggest that those who do not identify as British should be able to support it. I’m trying to argue that the only way that that could happen is if the union is no longer exclusively–or perhaps even what is usually understood by–“British.”

    In other words a union that is no longer about becoming “British” or part of the UK. It would no longer be a “British” union. And that would of necessity work both ways, which is why I said that “Britishness,” or what is normally understood by it, would have to be relinquished. It would have to be radically redefined.

    That is also why I think it is an impossibility.

    Of course, I’m just treating this as an intellectual exercise, so I’m talking hypothetically, in order to try to move beyond nationality tags.

    By allowing people to be what they are, and not forcing an identity on to them even if they want to share the same union.

    Fair enough. But I was hoping for a fuller answer from someone in the North.

  • maca

    JD
    “what you suggest would appear to be pretty much the case at the moment. People in NI can hold an Irish passport.”

    …yet if they support the union they seem to have to be British, at least that’s my understanding of previous postings.

    Anyway this is potentially a huge discussion, for another day perhaps.

    “I was hoping for a fuller answer from someone in the North.”

    The thread seems to have gone dead, you might be waiting a while 😉

  • JD

    The thread seems to have gone dead, you might be waiting a while 😉

    Just read my comment to you maca, and thought it might seem a bit snotty. Not intended to be…

  • maca

    Nah, I didn’t get that at all.

  • Davros

    JD – maca has a very thick skin – Before we became friendly I spent hours trying to insult him 😉
    (Only kidding !)

  • maca

    So you were trying to insult me? I thought you were only joking, ya fecker! lol ;))

  • Davros

    According to the papers today “Biffo” is a slightly insulting term . Live and learn.

  • maca

    Slightly insulting? Big Ignorant Fat F***er from Offaly 😉

    Did you not hear that before? (or did the papers give something different?)

  • IJP

    Maca, JD and co,

    You raise some interesting points about (national) identity, I’ll try my own meandering thoughts on it but I’m not even sure that I’m clear if you know what I mean!

    I recently read an article by Jennifer Smith from 1988, which suggested that political affiliation was linked to what the voter deemed his/her ‘imagined community’ (essentially this is what group of people they mean when they say ‘we’). Basically, this was:

    DUP (‘Ulster Loyalist’) – ‘the Ulster People’ (meaning NI Protestants)

    UU (‘Ulster British’) – ‘British’ (which may extend beyond the UK, I’ll come back to that)

    Alliance (‘Reconciliationist’) – ‘Northern Ireland’ (i.e. all the people of NI)

    SDLP (‘Nationalist’) – ‘northern (regional) Irish’ (meaning NI Catholics)

    SF (‘Republican’) – ‘the Irish Nation’ (meaning Irish Catholics, practising or otherwise)

    Now, I’ll put in the immediate disclaimer that this is far from perfect and Smith herself was careful to say there was significant crossover/mutuality.

    But what we’re interested in here is the ‘British’ one. Now, instinctively when I say I’m ‘British’ I do NOT mean a nationality or even a national identity. To an extent ‘British’ means everyone ‘protected’ by ‘British’ institutions and ‘way of life’ (concrete examples of which may be taken to be parliamentary democracy or common law). If I’m asked for my nationality, however, I say ‘UK’.

    So my instinct is that ‘being British’ IS something different from ‘being a UK national’, although of course in the vast majority of cases one equates to the other.

    It would therefore be quite possible for the UK to have as responsible citizens a significant ‘non-British’ minority (or even, theoretically, majority).

    And then, is ‘British’ linked to a land mass? Many English people will talk fondly of a return to see ‘the White Cliffs’ or whatever, but is that really ‘British’, or is specifically ‘English’, or is it even ‘UK’? I’m really not sure. I can’t say I personally feel any particular emotion to ‘a proud island race’ when I see them (although objectively they’re a fantastic sight), but I suspect many Unionists do. Or do they?

    For me, ‘Britishness’ isn’t really about people at all, if anything it’s about institutions, for good or bad. ‘UK-ness’ is also something instinctive I guess, but I suspect it’s about convenience – from direct access to the UK market with all its services to mobile phones functioning at national rates.

    I can’t say all of this is clear, but I certainly think many people will understand the distinction between ‘UK national’ and ‘British’ – it is quite possible to be one without the other, and even be proud of being one and not being the other.

    Politically, of course, I fall into the ‘Northern Ireland’ category, as for good and bad this is a unique place with unique problems requiring unique solutions (not that these can’t be adapted from elsewhere of course). Just as you can distinguish nationality from identity, you can distinguish identity from politics – it’s just a shame so few people in NI seem to!

    I’ll stop meandering now…

  • Davros

    Slightly insulting? Big Ignorant Fat F***er from Offaly 😉

    Did you not hear that before? (or did the papers give something different?)

    Hadn’t heard that one before 🙂 Gives a whole new meaning to Biffo the Bear ( A ‘Gers fan from the ROI ? ) and Biffo Bacon in Viz LOL

  • Davros

    Ian – Have you a copy of the article or a reference ?

    Thanks 🙂

  • IJP

    Davros

    No, but I know a man who has.

    Email me privately (parsleyij@hotmail.com) and I’ll put you in contact with him.

  • Davros

    Thanks Ian.

  • Biffo

    Davros, maca

    Allow me to introduce myself…it’s Baron Irving Farquhar From Outherard, you are obviously getting me mixed up with someone from Kings County.

  • Biffo

    IJP,

    Interesting meander. What about how unionists/protestants in general describe themselves, (“UK Nationalist” maybe?)

    You might have seen results from a government household survey a few months ago (which wasn’t conducted in NI).

    People were asked how they would describe themselves from a list. The only results I can find were:

    “In England, 57% said they were English and 48% British. In Wales 62% said they were Welsh and 35% mentioned British. In Scotland 80% said they were Scottish and 27% said British.”

    That isn’t any kind of proof that 73% of Scots are rejecting the description British. But it’s obvious why a lot of Scottish and Welsh people would describe themselves to contrast with the English.

    What about unionists here, I’m pretty sure many would describe themselves solely as British.

    Is that because “British” is the only available name that differentiates them from the Irish (but fails to differentiate with them from English, Scottish or Welsh)?

    Does that ever seem problematic to Unionists that you can be English and British, Scottish and British, Welsh and British and..what?..simply British?

    I’m back to the point of the thread, and interesting it was too, particularly the “Simply British” exchange between Rebecca Black and George.

  • Biffo

    Davros,

    “Sloppy writing causes problems Biffo. I hold my hand up to being a pedant”

    “Gives a whole new meaning to … Biffo Bacon in Viz LOL”

    It’s Biffa Bacon….sloppy;)

  • Davros

    I am off to throw myself in the Bann. I cannot live with this shame 😉

  • slug9987

    “Does that ever seem problematic to Unionists that you can be English and British, Scottish and British, Welsh and British and..what?..simply British?”

    Well fairly obviously they’re from NI so Northern Irish. Not that being British as the sole identity is a problem – that’s allowed. Outside of NI but within the UK there are plenty people who don’t like “English” e.g. I know people who have moved around a bit and grew up in several places, don’t really feel English, but sure know they are British, same as you already noted for some ethnic minorities.

  • Mike

    Biffo –

    “Does that ever seem problematic to Unionists that you can be English and British, Scottish and British, Welsh and British and..what?..simply British?”

    Not a problem at all. Simply add Northern Irish and British to your list.

  • beano

    I was about to say the same but you beat me to it by minutes! lol

    I’m Northern Irish first and British second – except on official forms, since none of N Irish, Scottish, English or Welsh can be offical nationalities.

    What would people think to the suggestion that the UK passport office should establish Northern Irish as an official nationality? Could have identical passports, except Northern Irish Citizen in place of where it says British Citizen. After all we live in “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” – geographically speaking, NI is part of the UK, but not Britain.

    Could anyone tell me what happened pre-partition? Did passports exist?! If so did people in Ireland get Irish ones or “British” ones?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Slug

    “Well fairly obviously they’re from NI so Northern Irish. Not that being British as the sole identity is a problem – that’s allowed.”

    Certainly it’s allowed, that’s not in dispute. But nationality isn’t just a badge to be worn. Without identification, it’s essentially meaningless. That’s why people in Cardiff or Edinburgh or Manchester will generally tend to identify themselves firstly as Welsh, Scottish or English. These same people overwhelmingly support the political contruct that is the UK, and insofar as political identity goes, they are `British’.

    Before partition the same logic obtained in Ireland, where even the most committed unionists would have found the idea of denying their Irishness preposterous. That changed after 1921 when you had an `Irish’ state with de facto independence, and an enclave within Ireland that set itself in opposition to everything that `Irish’ state stood for.

    Since partition we have seen an prolonged instance of a community cutting off its own nose to spite its face. Unionism’s dilemma is pitiable in that I, as one who is proud to be Irish, am able to take tremendous national pride in the achievements of George Best and Van Morrison and Thomas Andrews – even though by unionist logic, they are not `Irish’ at all. Those of us of Ireland and for Ireland unapologetically take pride in the immense achievements of Irish Protestants, from Wilde and Yeats and Shaw to McNeice and Hewitt and James Galway and Jimmy Nesbitt.

    Conversely, can unionists feel that same untrammelled pride at seeing their countryman Seamus Heaney win the Nobel Prize? Or seeing their countrymen U2 bestriding the music world? Or seeing their compatriot Roy Keane terrifying the best footballers in the world? Can unionists even acknowledge the ownership they have, as countrymen, of these great world figures?

    The idea of being `Northern Irish’ has never really taken off because frankly, it sounds like the splinter-group of an actual nationality. Perhaps if the rest of the country played ball and called themselves `southern Irish’ it might work. But then you’d have 80,000 `southern Irish’ in the Bogside. (Still, it’s no more illogical than having Malin Head in the `south’.)

    `Northern Irish’ just sounds artificial – which is probably why so many unionists take recourse to the `Ulster’ formulation. Again `Ulster’ is problematic as it tellingly has no constructive plural (ie. the people of Ireland are Irish, the people of Italy are Italian, the people of Ulster are….)

    So unionists largely are left with `simply British’ – which as I said earlier is a pitiable situation to be in. Why? Because they have a nationality, yet for political reasons do not feel comfortable enough to acknowledge it. Irish. Unionists have made enormous contributions to what it means to be Irish, and the rest of the Irish people are happy to revel in that contribution. But in turning its back on its Irishness, unionism has cut itself off from its own history and the many things of which it can be proud.

    The plus side is that you can reject calls for reunification with the mendacious lie that your fellow Irish Irish people are `foreigners’, and that their state is a `foreign country’.

    The negative side is that you become a people with no history other than an oppositional one. You become rootless and reactionary. You disclaim ownership of cultural contributions made by your forbears – leaving your opponents to take ownership, further alienating you from your birthright. Eventually you are left open to the charge from your enemies that you have `no culture’. It becomes hard to refute the charge, not because it is true but because you have cut yourself off from it.

    IJP evoked a fabulous metaphor earlier on when he was describing his attachment to Britain. He said he could literally see Scotland from where he was sitting. I thought it was a terrific image. The mythical homeland across the sea distracting his eyes from the realities of the land under his feet.

    How about people in NI simply being Irish? If you want to add British to that identity, as the English, Scots and Welsh do, then fair enough. But let’s set aside these `simply British’ and `northern Irish’ pantomimes.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Note:

    “The plus side is that you can reject calls for reunification with the mendacious lie that your fellow Irish Irish people are `foreigners’, and that their state is a `foreign country’.”

    The `Irish Irish’ bit is just a typo. There’s no such thing as `Irish Irish’, don’t mean to imply that there are degrees of Irishness.

  • Mike

    Billy Pilgrim:

    “Conversely, can unionists feel that same untrammelled pride at seeing their countryman Seamus Heaney win the Nobel Prize?”

    Yes! As a Northern Irish person I am very proud of the achivements of people from Northern Ireland.

    “Or seeing their countrymen U2 bestriding the music world?”

    You’re missing the point specacularly! U2 are not unionists’ countrymen! My country is Northern Ireland and unless it has annexed Dublin recently, U2 aren’t my countrymen.

    “Or seeing their compatriot Roy Keane terrifying the best footballers in the world?”

    Again, Keane isn’t a compatriot, not being from Northern Ireland.

    “Can unionists even acknowledge the ownership they have, as countrymen, of these great world figures?”

    No, because they aren’t their countrymen. They are from the Republic of Ireland not Northern Ireland. (And ‘great world figures’ is pushing it for all but Heaney…)

    “`Northern Irish’ just sounds artificial”

    Maybe to you. But to those of us who are Northern Irish and Northern Ireland as our country, it isn’t. You should try to understand that.

    “But let’s set aside these…`northern Irish’ pantomimes.”

    That a pretty insulting and blithe dismissal of the identity of thousands of people’s identity just because you don’t agree with it.

  • slug9987

    I suspect that there has been greater take-up of the Northern Irish identity than Billy’s post sujests. It allows a lot of people to express exactly what they are. Looking at it from a UK perspective anyway, NI seems a pretty clear unit and the Northern Irish a clear component of the UK people, contributing a fourth aspect. Including Heaney, Best, et al.

    “So unionists largely are left with `Simply British’ – which as I said earlier is a pitiable situation to be in. Why? Because they have a nationality, yet for political reasons do not feel comfortable enough to acknowledge it.”

    They are pretty comfortable with Northern Irish and British, what more do they need?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Perhaps I have underestimated the uptake among unionists of the `northern Irish’ construction. From the outside it seems like an issue unionism is still wrestling with, with the effect that some unionists are Ulstermen, others Northern Irish, others simply British.

    If indeed there is such a thing as a `northern Irish’ nationality, as distinct from just being Irish, when did this new nationality come into existence? 1921?

    The point I was trying to make is that unionism’s decision to abandon its rightful claim to being as Irish as Finglas was and is a crazy, self-destructive move. `Ulster’, `Northern Ireland’ and `Simply British’ have proven unequal to the task of replacing `Irish’ as a nationality, hence the ease with which republicans can taunt unionists with the `no culture’ argument – and hence the fact that unionists simply aren’t in a secure enough position to just laugh off such taunts.

  • slug9987

    “Ulster’, `Northern Ireland’ and `Simply British’ have proven unequal to the task of replacing `Irish’ as a nationality, hence the ease with which republicans can taunt unionists with the `no culture’ argument – and hence the fact that unionists simply aren’t in a secure enough position to just laugh off such taunts.”

    Such taunts deserve to be laughed off, however. The unionists are British – and that is a great thing to be!

  • slackjaw

    My personal (Northern, Catholic by denomination) take posted below. I posted a version of the following on Young Irelander’s website a few weeks back, but I hope it’s relevant to this discussion:

    When polite conversation turns to the matter of where one is from, I often refer to myself as being from Northern Ireland, or even Northern Irish. Neither ‘Irish’, nor, for that matter ‘British’, are wholly adequate labels. To choose one of these would be to deny the influence of the other, and in a sense for me to claim that ‘I am not British, I’m Irish’, even though I feel no allegiance to Britain, would be to deny those elements of my identity that can be roughly described as British.

    I read a piece by Carlos Fuentes the other night where he reminded the reader that nationalism, and hence nationality, usually precede the formation of a nation, and not vice-versa. So even if there is no ‘Northern Irish’ nation, I think it is possible to consider oneself ‘Northern Irish’.

    One of the effects of partition has been to create, among some Northern Catholics like myself, a sense of ‘otherness’ from Irish people in other parts of Ireland. This does not manifest itself in allegiance to any Northern Irish nation, but it is there.

    I live in the Republic at the minute, and whilst it does not feel in any way like I am living in a ‘foreign’ country, I often feel a profound sense of being different from people in Clonakilty or Drogheda, as a result of being born and brought up under British rule. Faced with this, I find it more worthwhile to explore the British elements of my identity and think about what they mean, even though I am not a unionist, rather than (self-defeatingly) eviscerate them by seeking to reinforce my ‘Irishness’.

    Nationality is a rather slippery construct, and it constantly evolves according to developments in politics, demography and technology. Notions of what it means to be British now are not the same as those in the aftermath of World War II, or the Battle of Trafalgar. Similar things could be said of Irishness. At one level then, being ‘Northern Irish’, then is no more or less valid than being just ‘British’ or ‘Irish’. And to say that you are ‘Northern Irish’ does not necessarily make you ‘less British’, or indeed ‘less Irish’.

    Also, ‘Irishness’, ‘Britishness’ and ‘Northern Irishness’ are not necessarily distillations of all that is qualitatively good about any particular identity, but should surely contain what is peculiarly bad.

    Perhaps my own take on ‘Northern Irishness’ is idiosyncratic, but I would be surprised if there were not other Northern Catholics who feel similarly. It’s not a question of wanting a nationality, but to find the term that most adequately describes who I am, mainly for the benefit of people who do not come from Ireland. I just feel that in this regard neither Irish nor (certainly not) British on its own goes far enough.

  • Mike

    Billy Pilgrim:

    “If indeed there is such a thing as a `northern Irish’ nationality, as distinct from just being Irish, when did this new nationality come into existence? 1921?”

    It developed after that date, yes. (Building on factors already existing well before then) There are many other nationalities and identities that have developed more recently than that, incidentally.

    “`Ulster’, `Northern Ireland’ and `Simply British’ have proven unequal to the task of replacing `Irish’ as a nationality”

    Says who? I’m perfectly happy with being Northern Irish and British and secure in that.

    (By the way, you ignore the possibility of being Irish without it being your nationality – perhaps nationalism too should be open to different kinds of Irishness).

  • maca

    Slug
    “They are pretty comfortable with Northern Irish and British, what more do they need?”

    Depends, do they want “Irish” people to vote for them? 😉

  • maca

    Interesting post slackjaw.

  • slug9987

    “Depends, do they want “Irish” people to vote for them? ;)”

    I am talking about people not politicos.

  • Lafcadio

    Billy – your post above is (as usual) excellently-articulated, and is deserving of a more involved response, but (thanks to work..) I have to restrict myself to a few observations.

    First, you decry a Northern Irish identity as “artificial” – but all national identities are ultimately artificial constructs, forged over time. I’ve thought a lot over the past few years about nationality, specifically re Ireland, and the only conclusion that it’s possible to draw is that questions of nationality are so subjective and arbitrary, that no absolutes can be drawn from them..

    Personally speaking I always identify myself as Irish or Northern Irish; but further, I’m British insofar as I’m a British passport holder – I’m not ashamed to be identified as “British”, and there are many aspects of British culture and history which I’m proud of. In practical terms as well, I’m British – when I went to live in Dublin, I had to get a new mobile phone, new bank account, used different currency etc etc. When I moved to London, I stepped off the plane and simply switched my mobile on again, drew the same money out of a hole in the wall etc etc, and these things, superficial as they are, nevertheless contribute towards a feeling of “difference” or “belonging”

    I don’t feel that Irish people, from north or south, are foreigners by any means; my bookshelves creak under the weight of writers from Joyce and Yeats, to Joe O’Connor and Jennifer Johnson, I work myself into paroxysms as the Irish rugby team plays (at the minute without a single Northern Irish representative) etc.

    Glancing quickly at your examples, I too feel great pride in Northern Irish figures like Best (on the pitch..) and Van, and others from Mike Gibson to Ash. I also take pride in Irish figures like the sublimely talented Brian O’Driscoll (I could go on about rugby all day..) in music Bell X1 and the Frames etc etc. (Roy Keane – not really, I’m not a ROI fan; U2 – I’m more likely to feel embarrassment at their shamelessly self-promoting frontman, wealthy dilettante and gobshite Bono… Heaney – never warmed much to him..)

    But in my experience, in practice, there is a definite distinction when it comes to Northern Irish identity

    To meander anecdotally for a bit: I remember organising a trip to Dublin with a university society, in fact a thinly-disguised piss-up, and we wound up, a big group of us, catholic, prod and dissenter, in a couple of bars in town, and halfway through the evening it occurred to me that in the eyes of most of the others in the bar we were a big crowd of undifferentiated “northerners” – not necessarily outsiders, or foreigners, but we were nonetheless distinct.

    And since then I notice it all the time – just the other day an Irish girl was talking to me about her flatmates, and one was “an Irish guy, like” and then there was a girl who was “from Ireland, too, you know, from the north, like” – and if you look out for this little extra descriptor “from the north” you hear it all the time.. I worked at a bank in Dublin, where my (southern) colleagues would describe me and my (northern) colleagues as being “from the north” – nationalist or unionist we were “northerners”, just somehow, that little bit distinct..

    I think the bottom line is that feelings of “identity” and “nationality” are nebulous enough to defy any concrete explanation, frustrating though that may be. I don’t deny my Irishness, but I equally don’t deny my Britishness; and ultimately it’s only me who can say what national identity I profess..

    crap I’ve really got to get some work done..

  • beano

    If indeed there is such a thing as a `northern Irish’ nationality, as distinct from just being Irish, when did this new nationality come into existence? 1921?

    Not to argue about the official birth of “Northern Irish” as a concept, but I can only presume that it took on more popularity as the Unionist people of Northern Ireland saw it as necessary to use the term because being Irish was increasingly being interpreted to mean

    This is (although an incomplete list) why I think, being born so recently (relatively) as 1983, I have never seen myself as Irish, while my mother’s family, who emigrated 30 years ago would still talk about home as “Ireland” (despite our protestations).

    Between the associations above and the portrayal of the British and Irish as enemies, it seems to have become very difficult for Ulsters unionists to consider themselves Irish. This is not a trend I see being reversed, as the older generation gives way to a younger one who, like myself, have never felt any affiliation with Irishness, mainly due to what Irishness has come to mean to us.

  • beano

    That sounded really harsh – as if everyone portrays British and Irish as enemies, when in reality it is the minority of card carrying SFIRA and their “loyalist” equivalents.

  • Ringo

    Two really interesting posts there Slackjaw and Lafcadio.

    As regards NI’s status as nation of its own – one thing for sure is that it has written more pages unique to itself in history books in the past 35 years than many countries have in their existance.

  • JD

    Really interesting discussion.

    To meander anecdotally for a bit: I remember organising a trip to Dublin with a university society, in fact a thinly-disguised piss-up, and we wound up, a big group of us, catholic, prod and dissenter, in a couple of bars in town, and halfway through the evening it occurred to me that in the eyes of most of the others in the bar we were a big crowd of undifferentiated “northerners” – not necessarily outsiders, or foreigners, but we were nonetheless distinct.

    I found myself wondering about this, not because I disagree, but because I think that this phenomenon might be more the norm than anything. I’ve felt the same in pubs on the Northside of Dublin (I’m a Southsider, although not from any of the so-called “nice” bits). I’ve felt the same way in Cork, even though I’ve people from there. I’m looked at like I’ve two heads (of course, the fact that I do has nothing to do with my being President of the Galaxy…). Can’t wait for April 29th. Must be calm.

    Ahem. I suppose I’m saying that you don’t have to be from a different political realm to feel like you are distinct.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Some fantastic posts here, with particular honours going to Slackjaw and Lafcadio. (Surely Slackjaw must be high in the running for Poster of the Year? He makes me proud to be an Armachian.)

    Re. Slackjaw’s central point. I don’t doubt that there are northern nationalists who consider themselves `Northern Irish’ – how could it be other? When you go abroad and someone asks where you’re from, it is unfortunately a fact that `Ireland’ is an incomplete answer, however much some of us might wish otherwise.

    “One of the effects of partition has been to create, among some Northern Catholics like myself, a sense of ‘otherness’ from Irish people in other parts of Ireland. This does not manifest itself in allegiance to any Northern Irish nation, but it is there.’’

    I know exactly what you mean. Would you accept my point though that though an Armagh man and a Cork man may be different in many ways (though to say `profoundly’ so seems OTT) we are both Irish and both have an equally valid contribution to make towards whatever the hell it is to be Irish these days? And most significantly, would you accept that Sammy on the Shankill and Alasdair in Bangor also have an equally valid contribution to make?
    Mike

    “By the way, you ignore the possibility of being Irish without it being your nationality – perhaps nationalism too should be open to different kinds of Irishness).’’

    I think I see what you’re saying. I mean, what fundamentally is `Irish’? It’s a word. It’s a word used to describe the people who live here. There shouldn’t be anything prescriptive about it, and all forms of discourse or language or music or rugby or whatever else you might want to put the word `Irish’ before are inherently nebulous. Therefore Oscar Wilde was a great Irish writer, because he was a great writer who came from Ireland – that’s all the criteria he needed to meet. Louis McNeice was a great Irish poet according to the same criteria. George Best was the greatest of Irish footballers. Jackie Kyle was the greatest of Irish rugby players. Van Morrison is a great Irish songwriter. And Ian Paisley is a great Irish orator.

    My point throughout all of this is that in Ireland, as in any country, notions of what it is to be `Irish’ are constantly in play, and a whole tranche of Irish people – who have made an immense contribution to our central ideas of what it is to be Irish – have absented themselves from the pitch. Now there might be something in their argument that there’s a bent ref – but my point throughout has been that for all that, and as much as their disillusionment with the game might be justified, it was and is a mistake to leave the field. The game will come back closer to your way of thinking soon enough. Perhaps there is a genuine fear that you’ll enjoy the game too much?

    Lafcadio

    “First, you decry a Northern Irish identity as “artificial” – but all national identities are ultimately artificial constructs, forged over time.’’

    I wouldn’t say nationalities are artificial, but I see what you’re saying. I’d say it’s more that while nationalities are organic, they are in a perpetual state of flux. But some nationalities are quite simply artificial, and tend never to achieve stability. North Koreans, northern Cypriots, Yugoslavians, Czechoslovakians.

    My point was more that the people who set up `Northern Ireland’ HAD a national identity and were part of a nation called Ireland. (I would stress that I fully acknowledge this in no way conflicted with their sense of Britishness and unwavering support for the union.) In fact they made a huge contribution to Ireland’s standing in the world. Jesus, in the 50 years before partition most of the Irishmen and woman who made Ireland considerable in the eyes of the world were unionists. (For example, I take pride in the fact that the largest shipyard in the world was once in little old Belfast – despite everything I know about Harland & Wolff’s Hyde-side, I’m still proud of how great it once was.)

    Since partition it became necessary to patch together a new identity called `Northern Irish’, and since the troubles that necessity has been exacerbated. So while you’re spot on when you say nationalities are forged over time, it’s clear that `Northern Irishness’ has been a bit of a rushed job, and it shows.

    “the only conclusion that it’s possible to draw is that questions of nationality are so subjective and arbitrary, that no absolutes can be drawn from them..’’

    We’re fortunate in that we live on an island, in that there is one absolute we can draw. (Continental countries with land boundaries I don’t know about.) This land of ours is Ireland. The people who live here are the Irish. Everything else about `Irishness’ is arbitrary and subjective. So let’s play.

    “To meander anecdotally for a bit: I remember organising a trip to Dublin with a university society… in the eyes of most of the others in the bar we were a big crowd of undifferentiated “northerners” – not necessarily outsiders, or foreigners, but we were nonetheless distinct.

    Agreed. I lived in Dublin for six years and the `nordie’ thing was a fact of life. Initially it pissed me off and I self-righteously made a point of insisting that I was just as Irish as anyone thank-you very much. After a while I lightened up and came to realise that despite four generations of separate development and 30 years of the north going crazy on RTE, we nordies are still unequivocally regarded as being part of the family – even if we are the black sheep. That was the important point, and eventually I came to kinda cherish the exoticness of being from Ireland’s badlands. Fact is, life IS different when you cross the border, but this head-slappingly obvious reality doesn’t mean the people either side of the border are different nationalities, any more than two brothers – say one is a button-down careerist type and the other is a Marxist with a drinking problem – cease to be brothers if their personalities diverge sufficiently. I LOVED being a northerner in Dublin, but I was always a northerner with a small `n’.

    “I think the bottom line is that feelings of “identity” and “nationality” are nebulous enough to defy any concrete explanation, frustrating though that may be. I don’t deny my Irishness, but I equally don’t deny my Britishness; and ultimately it’s only me who can say what national identity I profess.’’
    Fair dos.

    Beano

    Good post. You’ve given a good explanation as to why we are where we are. But that accepted, would you accept my point though that `Irishness’ doesn’t belong to Sinn Fein any more than it used to belong to DeValera? That it is shared both by those who support union with Britain as well as those who support the reunification of Ireland? Do you take my point that there is a game afoot here, but unionism is sitting it out? Do you think I have a point?

  • maca

    “And Ian Paisley is a great Irish orator.”

    Thanks a lot Billy. I was just taking a slug of coke and nearly choked on it when I read that. Ya fecker! 😉

    Brilliant discussion lads, very interesting. Note the complete lack of insults or personal attacks!!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “Brilliant discussion lads, very interesting. Note the complete lack of insults or personal attacks!!”

    Not to worry Maca, I’m sure we won’t be waiting too much longer…

  • Davros

    My point was more that the people who set up `Northern Ireland’ HAD a national identity and were part of a nation called Ireland.

    (I agree with Maca, brilliant discussion.)

    Can you define this national identity Billy?
    Can you define the ‘nation called Ireland’ ?

    Essentialism is simple and superficially attractive, but does it bear close examination?

  • Lafcadio

    I posted earlier in something of a rush, as my “few observations” ended up chewing up about an hour at my desk! And I missed my last train home, and am consequently late for dinner tonight!

    So I don’t have time for anything more than another couple of observations..

    Firstly, Billy: I agree with your first two paras in response to me (“I wouldn’t….once was”), but not entirely with the third. I think a Northern Irish identity has been largely down to the fact of partition, for right or wrong, but while I accept that for you it’s not a satisfactory identity (I have read with interests past posts on the matter), I think that you must accept that it is for others – me for example – as it recognises Irishness, but recognises the “otherness” that slackjaw mentioned (more eloquently..) in his excellent post above.

    “I LOVED being a northerner in Dublin” me too, among other things I discovered that Irish girls loved my accent!

    As for what you say to slackjaw: “Would you accept my point though that though an Armagh man and a Cork man may be different in many ways (though to say `profoundly’ so seems OTT) we are both Irish and both have an equally valid contribution to make towards whatever the hell it is to be Irish these days? And most significantly, would you accept that Sammy on the Shankill and Alasdair in Bangor also have an equally valid contribution to make?”

    This is pretty much my take on the “Irish identity” question – and I would love to believe that most people out there, north and south, bought into this. However, quite apart from all those recalcitrant “Brits” in the north who have been the focus of this thread so far, I have met many southerners whose take on Irishness is informed by a much narrower set of parameters – to give one example, I lived in Paris for a year with a bunch of Irish people, and met one girl in particular who really took issue with me for calling myself Irish! Her brain was simply hot-wired to conflate “Irishness” with “republican” or “Gael”, and I’ve met with this many times subsequently.

    I think beano makes a good point above – a lot of the vocabulary and imagery of “Irishness” has been lost to Unionists as it is perceived to have been appropriated by nationalists / republicans to their exclusion (and I’m not stating that this has necessarily always been the case, just that the perception exists) and so to an increasing extent both national identities in the north have come to increasingly define themselves in opposition to the other.

    right, must go, again (I’m starting to feel like the rabbit from Alice..)

  • beano

    Good post. You’ve given a good explanation as to why we are where we are. But that accepted, would you accept my point though that `Irishness’ doesn’t belong to Sinn Fein any more than it used to belong to DeValera?

    Billy, first of all this will be slightly rushed (and probably not well thought out) so I apologise. In answer, it’s hard to say. Obviously, legally they don’t “own” Irishness. But on the otherhand they seem to have developed a monopoly on defining it. Kind of a catch 22. They define it as anti-British, “we” reject it, handing them more control to redefine it in their terms. Foreign (read American) media tends to help in that most Americans sympathise with this republican idea that the Irish are oppressed bitter enemies of the British occupiers, which we don’t accept.

    That it is shared both by those who support union with Britain as well as those who support the reunification of Ireland?

    Perhaps it should be, but it isn’t. It’s got to the point now where its not in my interests how Irishness is defined (except when it that defined is in relation to my own Britshness or Northern Irishness).

    Do you take my point that there is a game afoot here, but unionism is sitting it out? Do you think I have a point?

    It does worry me slightly that in some people the Northern Irish consciousness isn’t secure enough to admit the extent of (historical) Irish influence in it. For example how many unionists on the street would actually know the story of Cúchulainn or the origins of the Red Hand? Yet we’re all taught 1066, Wolfe Tone etc. However I don’t think there is any desire to reclaim any sense of ownership of or belonging to Irishness.