Why is Nationalism not interested in unionists?

As a Slugger pairing with Tommy McKearney’s piece in Daily Ireland yesterday, Trevor Ringland had this letter in the Irish News last Friday, which seems to be covering similar ground, but from another angle. In it he questions Republicanism’s past methods for unifying the island, and asks to what extent they have Unionists in mind in their vision for a unified future.By Trevor Ringland

PATRICK Murphy (August 20) in his article entitled ‘Unionists need to address some searching questions’ argued that, while it might not seem obvious at times, the moderates have won the argument within.

Sharing of power/responsibility in government is no longer an issue nor is the working of properly constitutional cross-border bodies. That some leading unionists have taken over 30 years to buy into those core principles is a matter of regret.

The problems of Ireland can be put down in simple terms to two flawed ideologies: a Britishness in Northern Ireland that did not include those who saw themselves as Irish; and an Irishness which could not accommodate those on the island who saw themselves as British. Partition happened because the people were already divided and the fault for that lies on both sides.

In 1998 the people on the island of Ireland voted in support of unity of the people over and above the concept of unity of two parts of the island. Patrick Murphy might reflect on the fact that a majority of unionists voted for the agreement in that referendum. Further, he does us all disservice by failing to pose the same question to the republican and nationalist communities.

Many of the issues we face are problems for democracy, not merely a unionist concern.

The question many from my community want to ask is: are you going to engage constructively to make Northern Ireland work for the benefit of all, as a means of promoting a United Ireland in preference to remaining part of the United Kingdom? Or not?
I have often remarked to my friends in the Republic of Ireland that the biggest mistake they ever made about uniting Ireland was that they never asked the people they want to unite with – over one million unionists who are not going away. In fact I said worse than that – the only method used to persuade the unionists of the benefits of a united Ireland was the bomb and the bullet.

Who ever created a relationship with their partner by threatening the parents, shooting the brothers and sisters and bombing the family home?

In discussions over the proposed equality agenda with nationalist and republican politicians at different times, two in particular I asked: “What definition of Irish are you using and does it include me?”

I pointed out that my definition of Britishness included them – reflecting its main constituent elements of English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish among the many other groups in an increasingly complex identity. Both promised an answer but many years later I am still waiting for it.

Most of us in moderate unionism expected that the outworking of the agreement would create a competitive battle for hearts and minds, one that would allow us to create partnerships and build relationships and through that to pursue our respective constitutional goals. We expected to create a peaceful and stable part of the world for the benefit of ourselves and our children.

What better tribute to those who lost their lives and suffered so much than to build a shared society and a shared Ireland to bring closer the relationships on these islands to ensure that such conflict never happens again.

Idealistic but a better option than any offered by those who promote driving the British out or a Protestant state for a Protestant people.

A shared future is the only way forward and through the consent principle we have created a basis for constitutional stability or a means by which the constitutional position could change.

Realistically, would any nationalist or republican want constitutional change without the consent of the vast majority of unionists? I am not sure there are many in the Republic of Ireland who would.

So stereo-type unionism, put it down if you wish, but don’t fail to recognise the changes in thinking that have gone on in unionism.

What Gerry Fitt argued for in the 1970s was right for unionism then but it is also right for nationalism and republicanism now.

If we are forever to be kept apart by the promotion of exclusive visions of Britishness and Irishness then we will not be able to produce a stable society here.

It is for politicians to take responsibility and share it in a manner that makes Northern Ireland a better place for all.
Promotion of inclusive concepts of unionism and nationalism create a basis on which relationships and a shared future can be soundly built. Those in unionism who won the argument over that inclusive concept will continue to make it and challengethose who undermine it.

However, republicanism and nationalism face their own searching questions. Not least, where are they going and precisely what kind of future do they want with their unionist friends and neighbours?

First published in the Irish News on Friday 2nd September

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty