In a response to Michael McDowell’s call for Republicans to reclaim the Orange heritage implicit in the Irish flag, Trevor Ringland argues that there is now the opportunity for Unionists and Republican to engage each otehr in a democratic struggle for hearts and minds. But, he notes, in order to be productive that struggle will need to be fought in terms of delivery rather than philosophy.
Minister McDowell’s call to republicans and nationalists to build relationships with those of us in the unionist tradition is a welcome development. It will mean that republicans and nationalists will also engage unionists in battle for those same hearts and minds. To prove that a united Ireland would be a viable option for the people who live here, then first of all they will have to make Northern Ireland work. They may then prove to their unionist neighbours, who make up around one fifth of the population on this island, that they can work in harmony with them.
Even if, as is likely, we remain two separate countries, there is no reason why we cannot build co-operation, identifying areas where we can work together for mutual benefit. But it will also require all of us to move from a politics of philosophy to one of delivery. In doing so we will have to focus on Northern Ireland’s economic and social bottom line, so enabling us to attract new industries and begin to compete in the global economy.
So the 1998 Agreement mandated by the people on this island creates a whole new basis by which we build relationships. There is now reasonable evidence that there are now two communities on this island. One is largely made up of those that want to share it in a peaceful way in which we all prosper. The other wants to continue the battles of causing further division and hurt.
True republicanism and true unionism must live out their core principles by creating an inclusive vision of Irishness and Britishness, leaving behind those exclusive visions that brought so much tragedy to the people who live here. It requires us all to be competitive, but constructively so in a manner that increases the benefits of all.