What is Unionism?

The academic works on Unionism, historical and contemporary, are numerous. But it is always interesting to hear what Unionism means to those who believe in it. United Irelander last week issued somewhat of a challenge to Chekist, who responds with something of a narrative, and something of what ‘Civic Unionism’ means to him.

  • Gréagóir O’ Fránclin

    What is Unionism?
    Are no Unionists gonna reply and give us an insight?
    An hour and a half has passed. All out to lunch?

  • Well I don’t know what “Unionism” is perceived to be by the UUP or the DUP. Both parties have been itching to enter a devolved administration which elevates those who have killed in order to achieve a united Ireland to the most senior gov posts.

    What makes me British? Well to me it’s to do with a shared culture and history.

    I am proud to be part of the country which devolved parliamentary democracy.

    I am proud of the literature produced by Britain (Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth, etc.)

    I am proud to be part of a country which stood up against tyranny in WW2 while the Republic sat it out.

  • Juan

    What is Unionism ?

    Unionism is a political practice that seeks to maintain and strengthen the union of Great Britian and Northern Ireland.

    ‘what is the culture of Northern Ireland Protestants?’ is a different question.

  • jaffa

    Chekist says;

    “There is a very clear distinction, however, between valuing diversity and institutionalising, emphasising and fetishising difference. Rather than building bridges, the agenda of the two main parties, which others are allowing themselves to be drawn into, is to polarise and separate our two communities.”

    Yet it was Reg Empey who squealed loudest over the terrible danger of adding some additional ink to road signs and public documents and it was the UUP which welcomed Enoch Powell as an MP after he had disgraced himself in “mainland” politics with a racist anti-immigration platform.


  • Once again we have the assumption that the epitome of inclusiveness is wasting money on a language no-one exclusively speaks. Allowing people to freely indulge in the language and providing education provision for it is inclusive, wasting public money on it is not.

  • fair_deal

    FFS not another rehash of this.

    1. These have always been the two strands within broad Ulster Unionism.
    2. The tensions between the two are now more obvious because of the increasing secularisation of Ulster society.
    3. It is false to assume that they are always mutually exclusive – you can have a concern for the identity of your particular community and still have a vision for the state above and beyond that.
    4. It is also false to think it must be a strict choice. Unionism does not need a straight jump from an identity narrative to a civic narrative. It needs a bridging narrative between the two. The power of identity may be reduced in electoral strength but it is far from a dead duck and civic Unionism has so far failed to produce the many thousands of voters it imagines are waiting to flock to its electoral standard.

  • “What is Unionism?”

    One answer to your question is provided in the linked article. If you’re that interested go read it and discuss it instead of feigning surprise that individual unionists don’t feel they have to come on to slugger to justify who they are to those with hostile intent who will throw back the same circular facetious accusations, for example, pretending that being opposed to wasting public money flooding Northern Ireland with Gaelic road signs somehow stems from anti-Catholic bigotry rather than an unwillingness to endulge hobbies through the public purse.

  • Mea Culpa

    “3. It is false to assume that they are always mutually exclusive – you can have a concern for the identity of your particular community and still have a vision for the state above and beyond that.”

    In fairness the piece does seem to take that point on board very early on.

  • jaffa

    At least you’re consistent Z, but your point might have more credibility if you hadn’t earlier berated “North Down housewives” taking part in Irish language education (in their own time, at their own expense) for wasting their time on “pish”.

  • Ziznivy

    That was a personal opinion, not a political principle. I’m quite steadfast in the opinion that they can waste their own time on whatever they please, whether it be Irish Language, or bunging up the fairways of golfcourses.

  • fair_deal



  • Chekist seems, so far (and he promises further instalments), to be relying upon the dichotomy of “civic” and “cultural unionism”.

    One prime source is, I suppose, Norman Porter’s 1996 Rethinking Unionism. There’s an extended extract, in effect trying to define Unionism, on the CAIN site at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/docs/porter.htm.

    Another is, probably, Paul Dixon’s attempt to describe David Trimble’s Unionism (in Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 16, Number 3). That was stymied by Trimble’s failure to achieve any clear ideology (so the description of him as a “civic Unionist” does not work) and Trimble’s inability, as a result, to transcend sectarianism.

    For my money, though, opposing “civic” and “cultural” unionism (which, of course, overlap – as Chekist asserts) is giving modern dress to an older distinction: that between the two strands of the Ulster-British and the Ulster-loyalists. It is also seeking similarities in modern Scottish history and elsewhere. Yet another way of approaching the distinction is to focus on the rhetoric (as many sociologists have done) and on the narrative and its significance (a historian’s point of view).

    I also find it curious if we try and circumscribe this neatly into contemporary society. The lines were drawn long ago: “unionists” (who wouldn’t have recognised such an anachronistic term) were present on both sides of the Boyne: the essential difference was “whose union?” And, inevitably, there is the historic and cultural division between Churchman and Dissenter to queer the pitch.

    I should be grateful for a more comprehensive reading list than those I have mentioned here and elsewhere: perhaps others might propose names and sources.

    Much of this ground is, of course, well-trodden: for example, I recall at least one extended argument, here on Slugger exactly two years back (see ttp://www.sluggerotoole.com/archives/2005/07/can_unionism_ev.php)

    Chekist deserves the space to develop his themes; then we can see if anything new is emerging. Since we know from his profile that Chekist is a “civic unionist”, I’m not holding my breath. But why does he chose a nickname from Dzerzhinsky’s mob? Or is it just a fetish for leather? Or a love for Putin?

  • To clarify, my comment number 7 was directed at comment number 1.

  • Gréagóir O’ Fránclin

    Jeez Beano, It was just a qustion to get some insight from Unionist contributers. By the way an hour and a half had passed, before Juan replied. No need to be sarky if ye can’t reply. If you have faith in what you believe in, you will be confident to defend it in a logical, rational and understandible way. No need to be all defensive!

  • peadiddy

    @Malcolm Redfellow

    “And, inevitably, there is the historic and cultural division between Churchman and Dissenter to queer the pitch.”

    Doesn’t exist. It once did, intermarriage destroyed it. Trying to drive a wedge between Churchman and Dissenter today would be about as realistic as driving a wedge between Celt descended Icelanders and Norse descended Icelanders.

  • peadiddy @ 09:47 PM:

    Read what I wrote again.

    Of course there was “a historic and cultural division”. And, yes, it does persist. It may even be called, for shorthand, a class division. That, though, wasn’t the intention of my original remark. Start from a consideration of 1798: why were the Presbyterians of Antrim and Down so revolutionary? Then evaluate the factors throughout the next century which made the Presbyterian tradesmen and artisans and tenantry choose to affiliate to and ally their interests with the landed classes. [Notice, in passing, that I credit free will and conscious decision, unlike the marxists who assume mere manipulation.] Those are the factors, surely, which provide the definition of twentieth-century unionism and also the continuing fissures between strands of unionism.

    And let me throw in an anecdote, if only because I like it.

    Some years ago, admittedly, I was present at a County Armagh event, addressed by a younger David Trimble and other worthies. I happened to be standing close to a couple of women who gave each other a running commentary on events. When one objected to a statement, the dialogue went something like this:
    “That’s not right! Why does he say that?”
    “Ah, he’s a Methodist or something.”
    “A Methodist? That’s almost Church of Ireland. And they’re halfway to Rome.”

  • curious

    [b]What is Unionism?[/b]

    Can any reader explain what is the difference between anti GFA “Union First Group” formed by Jeffery Donaldson and some UUP members 7 years ago and the”Union Group” formed recently by UUP members?

    [b]Group’s actions are a danger to the Union[/b]
    By letters ( M. C., Co Fermanagh)
    DOES anyone remember Union First, it was a newly-formed group which included Jeffrey Donaldson, William Ross and a host of others, an internal pressure group?

    Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, a fierce critic of the Good Friday Agreement,……..said he had been told that his phone, and up to 30 others belonging to members of the anti-agreement Union First group, had been tapped.