David Adams believes that whilst President McAleese’s and Alex Reid’s remarks on Protestants were followed up by a hasty qualifications and withdrawals, Tony Blair’s remarks, coming from the Protestant Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not so easy for Ulster Protestants to shake off(subs needed): particularly those who are still politically committed to maintaining the Union. Not least, he argues, because the very attitudes under attack, themselves undermine the core values of both civic and religious Protestantism.
Regardless of the real or perceived shortcomings of others, it is high time that we in the Northern Protestant community stopped ignoring sectarianism, or making excuses for it, and tackled it head on. It is irrational, corrosive, self-perpetuating and a destructive poison that, for far too long, has initiated violence and functioned as an authentic voice. A major contribution to undermining its influence would be the disentanglement of politics and religion.
The notion that if Protestant you must by definition also be unionist – or, conversely, if Protestant but not unionist, then virtually a traitor to your religion – works in the worst interests of politics, religion and community relations in Northern Ireland. Not only is it self-evidently a theological absurdity, but it robs both civic and religious Protestantism of what is rightly seen as one of its greatest assets, individualism.
And, the realpolitik angle:
This parcelling together of religion and politics is also potentially self-defeating for unionism. It virtually guarantees that unionists will never be able to attract anything more than a sprinkling of Catholics to their ranks. Which, in turn, ensures that for the foreseeable future the unionist position will remain balanced on a demographic knife-edge?
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