Sectarianism is corrosive of the Union

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?

,

  • I guess the irony of the situation, is that, it’s very possible that a majority of Protestants across the united kingdom would dissolve the union tomorrow if they were allowed vote on it.

  • joinedupthinking

    “In reality, though, what really hurt was the fact that Tony Blair had given voice to something we know to be true: there is indeed a high level of sectarianism within our community, and it is by no means restricted only to those who would resort to violence.
    Neither can anyone credibly claim surprise at learning that outsiders view Northern Protestants as bigoted. We have been aware of that unhappy fact for decades now: we just don’t like to be reminded of it.”

    Above is another important line or two from the same Irish Times column.
    When reading it this morning, I was struck by the fact that, to date, Adams is the only unionist to acknowledge that Blair had a real point.

  • Mick Fealty

    j-u-t:

    Publicly at least. But then I wouldn’t single out Protestants/Unionists for a marked tendency to circlic wagons when under collective critical attack.

    It’s one possibily addition to the litmus test for Northern Irish ‘citizenship’.

  • Sectarianism isn’t the issue here but colonialism. The Protestants are descended from British colonists and Irish uncle toms who collaborated with the British. The Catholics are descended from Ireland’s indigenous population. The only way that peace will ever be brought to the north is for Britain to dismantle its colony and relocate the British colonists back to the land of their ancestors.

  • “we just don’t like to be reminded of it.”

    Or just don’t like our Prime Minister contributing to that view.

    Everything in the OP is correct though, it’s just a pity the politicians haven’t realised yet. Maybe they just think God’s a Protestant and will graciously send some miracle to save his chosen people.

    I know which scenario I have more faith in…

  • Yokel

    Of course it exists..sometimes its to the degree of becoming a reason to kill someone, other times its a low level distrust. The irony is that you’d get more acknowledgement of this on the Shankill than you would by grand politicians in nice houses far from the cockpits of violent loyalism.

    Adams underlying premise is correct and it reflects the fact that Republicanism & Nationlism has managed to largely avoid being strongly associated with sectarianism in the eyes of the outside world even though it has its elements too.

    The whole parades issues was such a massive contributor to the idea of strong sectarianism within unionism (in the eyes of those looking from the outside in)as is the now not so fat preacher from Ballymena. The Shinners couldn’t have imagined the sheer success of the anti-parades movement that they have taken the lead in. When I go overseas and Northern Ireland is raised, the parades issue invariably comes up. Who is responsible for this? Unionist politicians and the Orange Order, they pretty much gave Sinn Fein so much ammunition and made it way easier than it may have been.

    Corkman, whilst you are correct, there is one small detail and its called internationally recognised concepts of democracy. This is applied in a very simple and understood way, the majority of the population in the area of conflict wish to remain in the Union. That is why the British remain and will do so long after the end of the ‘holding the line’ period of this country is over.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Dear God, thanks again to Diarmuid for proving that rampaging sectarianism isn’t just a Protestant problem.
    For the record, I’ve read columns by several unionists over the past few weeks conceding that Blair had a point. In fact, I think Barry White even wrote “Blair had a point”.

  • fair_deal

    This article misses the point. Sectarian attitudes and beliefs do exist in the Protestant community as it does in Catholic communities. However, the response to Reid, McAleese and Blair is not about denial of sectarianism but about sectarianism being portrayed as the preserve of the protestant community.

    Also as he does consultancy work on tackling sectarianism should he not have declared a self-interest?

  • Yokel

    Mr Logan, bless yer analysis but the idea that the Irish is a purely indigenous line descended over thousands of years is bollocks. French, Spanish, Hugenots, English, Scots and hey even St Patrick (though he may not have spread his godly seed!) all have contributed to the mix of the Irish population. It’s just as much a mongrel breed as many others and thats a good thing

    If you accept that they have all been involved in contibuting blood lines to the population your analysis actually goes back on itself because what you really mean is Catholic Ireland as the indigenous population……oh look its religion.

    By the way Mr L, have you ever thought or used the phrase ‘Orange bastard’? If your apparent view is genuinely and deeply held such a thought would never pass yer head or yer mouth…..what you would think is ‘colonialist bastards’

  • Shore Road Resident

    In fairness to our republican/nationalist friends, it must be said that Diarmaid’s blog (follow his hopeful link) is a reassuringly barren outpost of lunacy – an entire month of frantic postings on the main page without a single reader’s comment. Is that some kind of record? Also, is the prevalence of articles by Jude Collins and Jim Gibney some kind of sign?

  • Realist

    “The only way that peace will ever be brought to the north is for Britain to dismantle its colony and relocate the British colonists back to the land of their ancestors”

    Basis of a good BNP speech there.

  • joinedupthinking

    I think to portray the article as arguing against sectarianism simply because it weakens the union does it a disservice.

    Part of his conclusion reads – “More critically, such an overlapping of religion and politics all too easily allows non-unionists to be painted, or subconsciously perceived, as anti-Protestant.
    Political opponents can, and often have been, wrongly presented as being religious enemies as well: a recipe for sectarianism if ever there was one.”

    Now I wonder who he could have been thinking of when writing that.

    Neither does he blind himself to sectarianism elsewhere as some seem to be suggesting but argues, rightly in my view, that “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.”

  • slug

    A self-critical voice from within unionism like that of David Adams is much more interesting to read than criticism by nationalists of unionism because the author is more likely to know, and care about, what he is talking of. It is a more valuable thing too, because a within-unionism conversation of this sort is likely to be constructive in its motivation, and in its outcome. Such voices are important.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    SRR

    “In fairness to our republican/nationalist friends, it must be said that Diarmaid’s blog (follow his hopeful link) is a reassuringly barren outpost of lunacy…”

    Good man SRR, for being fair-minded. I strongly suspect that Mr Logan is a troll. Without even getting into his actual thoughts (which would’ve been pretty hardline even in the 17th century) I was alerted by his name. Now, I have known people who spelled it DiarmUid, and I’ve known people who spelled in DiarmAid, but I’ve never heard of anyone spelling it Diarmid. So I’m suspicious.

    Fair Deal

    “Sectarian attitudes and beliefs do exist in the Protestant community as it does in Catholic communities. However, the response to Reid, McAleese and Blair is not about denial of sectarianism but about sectarianism being portrayed as the preserve of the protestant community.”

    But the point is this – saying “we’re not the only b1gots” is an utterly useless response to the issue.

    The fact is, Catholics can’t do much about the b1gotry of Protestants and Protestants can’t do a lot about the b1gotry of Catholics. All either community can do is tackle their own tendencies to b1gotry.

    The Protestant community here is regarded internationally as the substantially greater offender – perhaps one of the reasons for this has been the Protestant community’s apparent willingness to point to instances of Catholic anti-Protestant b1gotry, and LEAVE IT AT THAT. As though that solves anything.

    There is no-one who would claim that religious b1gotry is the sole preserve of either community here. We know that sectarianism exists on both sides – but really that’s a meaningless platitude. It’s not enough to say “well, there’s Catholic b1gots too,” if Protestant, anti-Catholic b1gotry is ten times more prevalent.

    That’s an increibly unscientific observation, I know, and there’s no way in the world to substantiate it so I won’t even try. I’m not even asserting that it’s true. The point I would make though, is that it’s how the Protestant community here is perceived.

    The fact is that people looking in from the outside can see Holy Cross, Drumcree, Harryville, Carnmoney Cemetery, Whitehall Square, the Poles of Donegall Road – and that’s only the last decade – and they don’t see equivalent examples across the divide. They look at Ian Paisley and he seems to confirm everything they suspect about the Protestants of Ulster. Their conclusions are understandable, and damning.

    So I applaud Adams as a voice emerging from within unionism for finally saying what nationalists have been crying out for decades – that regardless of the failings of others, the Protestants of Ulster have got to get their own house in order.

    Fair Deal – your response is the same old responsibility-dodging formula that political unionism has been trotting out forever. It’s the mantra of someone who doesn’t really see sectarianism as a problem – not really – and who doesn’t really think that the combatting of b1gotry should be a priority.

    Which of course is the calling card of the DUP – the most faithful keepers of Ulster Protestantism’s pariah status.

  • slug

    Last year I asked Billy Pilgrim whether this incident was sectarian.

    Here is his reply in full:

    Well, yes and no. I mean, of course they threw the bricks because there was a sectarian reason to do so, but to be honest, it wasn’t really about sectarianism. Whoever threw those stones at the Linfield fans last night – they were just thugs and hoods. They’ll throw stones at someone else tonight for reasons that aren’t sectarian. Maybe at the weekend they throw stones into the Fountain – again for sectarian reasons. Then they’ll get drunk and kick some poor bastard’s head in – for non-sectarian reasons.

    If the stone-throwers in Derry were the only sectarian people around, then we’d have no problem. But I have come to the conclusion that our problem here is how we consistently choose to react to events in the most nakedly sectarian way. Look at the front page of the News Letter today for example – it’s an emotive picture and a screaming headline, both of which they are perfetly entitled to use. But just look at how it panders to our prejudices.

    So I suppose my point is that in reality, thugs throwing stones are not the problem. There will be thugs doing thuggish things every night in every part of the world from now til doomsday. The problem is when, from some distance, the great silent majority take a quick glance and say “what would you expect from them”.

    It’s attitudes like that that explain why our middle class is so virulently affected with a sectarianism that goes beyond that of the normally maligned working class.

    Posted by: Billy Pilgrim [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 23, 2005 06:00 P

  • Ciaran Irvine

    Folks, Mr Logan has been inhabiting the wilder fringes of the Interwoogie for at least a decade. He’s a notorious loon. Ignore him.

    Mick: though this might be considered playing the man, I think Mr Logan is very well known among veteran users of Irish discussion boards, has been for a very long time, and is universally considered a lone crank. A trawl through the archives of the soc.culture.irish Usenet group (probably the oldest Irish politics forum online) will quickly establish the truth of this.

  • elfinto

    Slug,

    I’m not quite sure why you posted that unless you were trying to re-open some ancient quarrel.

  • Ach, in fairness, Billy (along with George and Mick Hall) has been an outstanding contributor and very fair minded in his contributions in the last year or so since I’ve been reading slugger’s comments section. Billy and the other two should be writing for newspapers or journals, they’re that wordy and erudite.
    Keep up the good work lads.

  • English

    To be fair, there is sectarianism on both sides, obviously. The difference is that coverage in England is one sided against Sinn Fein/IRA who get a much worse press than Loyalists. The reality is Loyalists get much less criticism for their murderous activities, or sometimes don’t even get a mention. Protestants certainly cannot complain about being singled out! The fact is they are both as bad as each other, and not enough people here recognise this!

    In England everyone knows about the IRA, they are World famous. Many English people are ignorant in relation to loyalist sectarianism, paramilitaries, and the Orange Order but this is changing. Such behaviour will come firmly under the media spotlight from now on.

    The Prime Minister deserves praise for stating the truth. Protestant fanatics are not Christians, in the same way Muslim fanatics are not true Muslims. Why ‘everyone’ in the Protestant can be insulted by what was said, I do not understand!

  • aquifer

    “Sectarianism is corrosive of the Union”

    What Union is this now. Many “UK” statistics don’t bother including Northern Ireland any more, and the Olympic team is now “Great Britain” which includes only the smaller islands around Britain. The bigoted prods are not considered part of polite british company, but being polite, the brits have not so much chucked them out as left them standing in the corner.

  • Mick Fealty

    Billy:

    “…never heard of anyone spelling it Diarmid”.

    The grammatical rule is: “slender with slender, broad with broad”.

    Ciaran: welcome back!

  • English.
    I agree because that’s what I’ve always thought, the English /British folk across the pond, like the Americans, by and large, see the Northern situation as one between the Irish and the British government, the Unionists/Loyalists don’t even enter the equation.
    Maybe the 12th of july should go for the Brazilian evangeilcal community for next year, after all, if the fairer sex led the parade the south and the Shinners too would drop all objections. They’re buxom beautuful brown skinned lasses and they’ll parade in their knickers, all of a sudden everyone will say, “the future’s bright, the future’s orange” I guarantee the whole of the 26 counties will tune in to the Northern parades and will look at them very enviously.
    So please Orangemen, a change is as good as a rest.

  • Ladies and gentlemen and Micheal, a fhear, sorry for contributing under “duress” , apologies all round (the emote for a red face).

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”The only way that peace will ever be brought to the north is for Britain to dismantle its colony and relocate the British colonists back to the land of their ancestors.”

    Well said Diamond. In fact just as soon as all those pesky colonists have been relocated from Australia, Canada and the US of A, I’ll be planting my very own ‘for sale’ sign and high-tailing it back to Scotland where my great great great grandaddy sprung from.

  • páid

    Mick, although the grammatical rule you quote is correct, I am not sure if it is relevant to the spelling of Diarmid, Diarmuid, Diarmaid etc. Anyway, the Logan part is more interesting. In any fantasy future where descendants of planters are repatriated to Scotland and England, I suspect Mr Logan (and Michael Bell of the Irish Labour party who made a similar suggestion some years back) might find themselves on the first boat out of Larne. We’ll know more in the years to come when Y-DNA info becomes widespread but I believe there might be some surprising passengers on that fantasy boat, and some surprising people waving them off.

  • páid

    Getting back to the article…..it makes the point that protestantism does not neccessarily equate to unionism and both are poorer for their fidelity to each other. This is interesting stuff, and perhaps the alliance of anglicanism and presbyterianism in ulster unionism may be starting to unravel. Before nationalists start jumping for joy, Protestant history teaches us that those who question articles of faith often triumph in the long run. The glacier melts around the edges…

  • Jacko

    pid
    “We’ll know more in the years to come when Y-DNA info becomes widespread but I believe there might be some surprising passengers on that fantasy boat, and some surprising people waving them off.”

    I love that line, well said.
    So true as well.
    The cautionary advice “be careful what you wish for” jumps straight to mind.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Jesus Christ Slug, let it go will ye? You’re beginning to come across as a little unhinged.

    This is, I think, the third time you have resurrected that particular thread. I played ball with you on the previous occasions and we argued the point exhaustively, with the context for our opinions given full consideration, to what I thought was your satisfaction. Now I see I was wrong about that. Sorry man, life’s too short to resurrect it a third time (and argue it a fourth time).

    Any thoughts on the subject at hand?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Corkonian

    You’re too kind!

  • Dread Cthulhu

    SRR: “Dear God, thanks again to Diarmuid for proving that rampaging sectarianism isn’t just a Protestant problem.”

    No, it may be anti-colonial, rude, ethnically biased and provincial in the extreme, but it is not “sectarian,” per se.

    Words mean things, usually specific things. Mis-using them only confuses and complicates matters.

  • Concerned Loyalist

    corkonian,
    “a majority of Protestants across the United kingdom would dissolve the Union tomorrow if they were allowed to vote on it”.
    Is that pure guess-work on your part or do you have any statistics to prove this?

    It’s not a valid point anyway. Would a majority of Britons not vote for a cap on immigration, or a lowering of taxes for example, if it were put to the vote?

    As for B-LIAR’s remarks, the man hasn’t even got the support of his own party, let alone the country, so I take what he says with a pinch of salt. Like Horrific Hain the man was a proponent of Irish “unity”, so to say I don’t have a lot of time for him would be to put it mildly…

  • Mr loyalist.

    How’s this one…. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,2763,540092,00.html

    That one can be coupled with yesterday’s Business Post poll where a majority in the South favour Irish unification.
    But I guess the unionist community still holds all the aces though, for the time being.
    The poker game continues, 80 odd years of it…

  • Billy.
    You’re welcome.
    There’s a good book about the northern situation and what to be done in the future waiting to be written by you.

  • slug

    Since people are asking about my earlier post.

    The point of my earlier post was to make a contrast between, on the one hand, Billy’s exhortation of unionists to “see” their sectarianism:

    Fair Deal – your response is the same old responsibility-dodging formula that political unionism has been trotting out forever. It’s the mantra of someone who doesn’t really see sectarianism as a problem – not really – and who doesn’t really think that the combatting of b1gotry should be a priority.

    …and his response when queried on whether the stoning of a bus full of Linfleld supporters was sectarian (quote 2 below):

    Well, yes and no. I mean, of course they threw the bricks because there was a sectarian reason to do so, but to be honest, it wasn’t really about sectarianism. Whoever threw those stones at the Linfield fans last night – they were just thugs and hoods.

    In the first case Billy exorts unionists to see their sectarianism, while in the second he claims that the stoning of Linfield fans “wasn’t really about sectarianism”.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    BP: “Well, yes and no. I mean, of course they threw the bricks because there was a sectarian reason to do so, but to be honest, it wasn’t really about sectarianism. Whoever threw those stones at the Linfield fans last night – they were just thugs and hoods. ”

    Slug: “In the first case Billy exorts unionists to see their sectarianism, while in the second he claims that the stoning of Linfield fans “wasn’t really about sectarianism”. ”

    Arguably, if their raison d’etre is to lob a brick, regardless of the stimulus provided, then, no, its not really about sectarianism. Hell, to list to BP, they’re pretty equal opportunity about their brick-lobbing.

    sec·tar·i·an (sk-târ-n) KEY

    ADJECTIVE:

    1) Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect.
    2) Adhering or confined to the dogmatic limits of a sect or denomination; partisan.
    3) Narrow-minded; parochial.

    Calling yobs lobbing bricks “sectarian” is a bit of a stretch, slug, particularly when compared to the Unionist community, who have had the same religious and political stances and slogans for, what, 350 years?

  • Depardieu

    If asked “What do you think of when you hear the terms “Protestant Bigot” and “Northern Ireland”?” most Englishmen, most Welsh and most Scots would answer “Ian Paisley”. That is the reality David Adams needs to address if he is to help bring his community even remotely close to reality.

    The next question is for Tony Blair: less than a year after the spewers of religious hatred caused the deaths of 51 victims in London’s underground, Britain’s Privy Council now includes the man regarded as a supreme Protestant bigot, Ian Paisley, as one of its
    members. What an insult to the dead of July 7!
    And are the British people really going to stand by and see the House of Lords contaminated by the arrival of the wife of Northern Irteland’s apostle of religious hatred?