Building rickety bridges

Jim Gibney, writing in the Irish News (subs), focuses on the need for more dialogue not less, criticises the recent intervention of the Presbyterian Church’s General Board, and highlights what he sees as at the heart of dialogue with Protestant clergy ‘denial by unionists about their responsibility for creating the conditions for the conflict; fifty years of unionist mis-rule, decades of military occupation.’

Extracts from the article

The Presbyterian’s statement was arrogant and self-righteous.

It reminded me of the early dialogue fourteen years ago.

At those meetings we each brought our own sense of what was moral. For the church people the state was legitimate.

To us it represented discrimination and humiliation for nationalists.

To them the IRA were terrorists. To us they were freedom fighters.

They believed the crown forces were upholding the rule of law; we believed they were oppressors.

It was acceptable to them that in their church pews on a Sunday were seated the political leaders of a one party sectarian state with the foot soldiers of that state: the judiciary, the RUC, the ‘B’Specials, the UDR, the wealthy and powerful.

For them the Orange Order should be allowed to march the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads for us this was a step too far.

It was the dialogue of ‘whataboutery’. Yet it was dialogue.

The church’s statement last week reflects what I always felt lay at the centre of the dialogue: denial by unionists about their responsibility for creating the conditions for the conflict; fifty years of unionist mis-rule, decades of military occupation.

  • slug9987

    “The Presbyterian’s statement was arrogant and self-righteous.”

    To which Presbyterian is he referring?

    Is Mr Gibney related to his namesake Linda in the Sunday Life?

  • fair_deal

    So Jim Gibney attacks a section of the Protestant community for refusing to accept Irish republicans were right and their actions legitimate. How appaling! The cheek of Presbyterians to hold their own opinions!

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken Newell pulled few punches on Hearts and Minds week before last?

  • Circles

    I think you’re being a little too rash there Fair Deal. The term Presbyterians is referring to the general board of the church – not all the members.
    There is a point on the article though regarding a general denial of responsibility on behalf of the unionists for the contribution unionist in the past made to creating an instable state.

  • fair_deal


    Jim Gibney’s article lists the standard republican analysis and criticisms of Northern Ireland 1921-1998. He gives the distinct impression that he expected the outcome of the dialogue be that the Prebysterian representatives accept all their criticisms etc. If that his perspective on what dialogue is about then I can understand why the RM’s understanding of Unionism and Unionists is still infantile.

    It is not a fair or balanced analysis of what the respective communities in Northern Ireland did or did not do during that period of our history. Therefore, I stand by by earlier comment on the thrust of the piece.

  • slug9987

    My advice to the unionists, as an outsider, would be to stay clear of any guilt and talk about the POSITIVE things of the past. As a COI man said at the weekend:

    “Carson’s vision of the union with Britain being maintained and strengthened, is every bit as valid morally, economically and socially as it was a century ago. However, until Friday night last, it is a long, long time since I heard a unionist politician of any hue expound on the benefits of that union. And I say that as a convinced pro-union citizen. It is not enough to say that a party is “simply British” – you have to keep telling yourselves and telling others why. Just like our Jewish friends and fellow citizens at their eve of Passover and eve of Sabbath meals. Tell yourselves regularly and tell us also.

    And in telling your story point out your achievements and those who from beyond your party and your political tradition who have paid tribute to them.

    Have you told of of your achievements in education during the years of the Stormont Governments? Have you told how the 1947 Education Act liberated generations of children from the mills of the industrial revolution and opened the gates of grammar schools, universities and professions? This record in education of the government of Northern Ireland, is acknowledged by both Cardinal Daly and Dean Victor Griffin in their biographies.

    Have you told of the role of your party and this province in securing the democratic freedoms of Europe in two World Wars? It is acknowledged by David Gray, the USA Minister to Eire during the Second World War .

    Have you told of the role of your party in introducing the National Health Service in this province?

    Have you told how your party’s commitment to parity with Great Britain brought immense benefits to all the people of Northern Ireland long before European Union subsidies arrived to do so in the Republic of Ireland.”

    In short, counter the negatives with the positives!

  • Dec


    The 1947 Education act? The two world wars? the formation of the NHS? Is this an admission that the last compelling reason for maintaining the Union occured in the 1940’s?

  • fair_deal


    Interesting stuff

  • slug9987

    Dec: the thread is about the past isn’t it? Unionists haven’t been in government in the last 30+ years.

    The past 100 years saw many good things – NHS, welfare state, BBC, free education provision – being brought into NI. In many practical ways these improved the quality of life.

    Unionists should talk about the positives!

  • aquifer

    And what about:

    Michael Collins dispatching the IRA to destablise the 6 county state, the subject of peace agreements he was a party to.
    The Belfast boycotts that entrenched partition.
    Ireland’s pocket dictator rejecting an offer of unity in exchange for opposition to the Nazis.
    The unilateral declaration of a republic in 1949
    The Catholic Churches insistence on separate welfare and educational facilities in NI.
    Occassional doomed IRA campaigns.

    The northern nationalists were the losers in all of this, but the Unionists were not the only architects of their misfortune, nor of sectarian division.

    Thankfully we are all riding on the back of the Atlantic tiger, and its all behind us, as is Bosnia, 9.11, and the fall of the wall.

  • Mark McGregor

    ‘The church’s statement last week reflects what I always felt lay at the centre of the dialogue: denial by unionists‘

    I’m surprised no one has commented on the theory of Unionist denial being a factor in failed discussions. (or Presbyterian in this case)

  • aquifer

    Most of the legitimate nationalist grievances have been addressed well:

    One man one vote
    Housing discrimination
    Job discrimination
    Police and justice reform
    Political exclusion

    Maybe Unionists are not prepared to be lectured on these issues by people whose wish is not for redress, but for the destruction of the NI state at whatever cost in human life and dignity.