Unionism: pragmatism versus idealism

Alex Kane has a very interesting piece on the Newsletter website this week. It is a book review of Frank Millar’s book on Trimble and David Vance’s book “Unionism Decayed.” The whole article is well worth reading but one paragraph in particular stood out for me: “What they document is the clash between pragmatic unionism (which can be summed up as making the best of unpleasant political realities) and moral high-ground unionism (the view that almost anything is better than terrorist appeasement). The pragmatists have carried the day, so far. Yet, to be brutally honest, I acknowledge that as a matter of fact, rather than as a matter of pride.”

Although I am extremely reticent to claim the high moral ground for an anti agreement unionist position, as that ground is very likely to be found to be a high horse instead; Kane encapsulates the dilemma which many unionists may feel over the current dispensation. Many unionists who support the agreement do so with a heavy heart, there are still massive misgivings regarding the current process. Incidentally I am sure this position is mirrored within nationalism / republicanism.

Supporters of the agreement (or maybe acceptors would be a better term for many of them?) will often assent to all the criticisms made of the current agreement and then, with varying degrees of unhappiness, say that they still support it. Even here on slugger we have self proclaimed unionists from positions as disparate as Jo to Bigger Picture and many, many in between clearly not delighted by what has happened but willing to accept it for varying reasons but essentially either because it was a necessary price to end the conflict and / or because it was better than the alternatives.

Whilst I do not in any way impugn the moral rectitude of those who make this argument, I would submit that this is a very flawed approach and one which is not going to help build a civic society here. The lack of an alternative is also a very valid criticism albeit one which Jim Allister has begun trying to address.

Alex Kane’s last comment is also extremely valid and on it (as well as other issues) may depend the future of the agreement, the UUP, DUP and the TUV: “The electoral strength of the TUV… has yet to be properly gauged; but I’m increasingly of the opinion that it is much stronger than any of us think.” Then again of course I want to believe that.

  • Here’s a little bit from the Garland link which shows the threat in and to the RoI:

    Garland: .. “This changes drastically our traditional line of tactics. There are no longer two different types of republicans; physical force men and politicians. We in the Republican Movement must be politically aware of our objectives and must also be prepared to take the appropriate educational, economic, political and finally military action to achieve them.”

    He [Garland] went on to enumerate the burning of eight buses and the E.I. Shannon dispute as the sort of activities in which the civil wing should be engaged.

  • Gregory

    “So when Britain thinks of its national interest, the people of Northern Ireland don’t come into the equation and when the Republic thinks about its national interests the people of Northern Ireland don’t come into the equation. ”

    Nuclear submarine sinks in Belfast lough, Q Where are the crew from?


  • To be a little more specific, George, I believe London and Dublin both acted to protect their key interests and tolerated an acceptable level of fascism and mafiaism here – and they’re still doing it.

    I don’t believe the RoI was acting to protect its citizens, more its institutions and economic interests. Garland and related material demonstrates that the ‘commie’ intent was to replace the political administrations in both Belfast and Dublin.

    Do I sound angry? I’m certainly pretty pissed off with the way London and Dublin ‘collaborate’ with the paramilitary godfathers and often leave Joe and Josey Public to fend for themselves, especially in those communities where the godfathers rule or have ruled the roost.

    The RoI has been getting an additional mention here because Greenflag appears to be in denial.

    We’ve more or less had a form of joint authority here since 1985. My proposal is for optimum devolution under shared sovereignty, the combination of strands 2 and 3 and no hiding place for the godfathers. That IMO would be very different from joint direct rule.

  • Nevin,

    At the time you refer to (late 1960s to mid-1970s) the southern establishment was very well aware of a potential threat to its constitution. However, unlike the state in the north, the state in the south took strong and effective action to protect itself. The key difference, I suspect, was that the southern state had the support of the overwhelming majority of its citizens. The threat was only a potential one, as the various groups and organisations were all miniscule. However the economic situation was rather precarious, and so the state feared that an economic slump might push large numbers into a ‘workerist’ anti-state position.

    The reality, as we now know, is that that didn’t happen. But the southern state had, in the meantime, established a very strong line of defence through the Gardai aand the army. A line that was, to a huge extent, supported by the people. Again, this is a crucial difference between north and south. Whether the northern state could have reformed itself sufficiently to attract such support is not possible to say, but my opinion is that it could not have.

    I read your comments on the reaction of the southern state to the events of that period as some sort of wistful longing, as if you have a slight envy of the coherence and unity of the southern state and people. Tell me if I’m wrong.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    many republicans would be prepared (I think) to leave SF out of the equation if for example FF/SDLP were to get a ‘greener’ deal out of Unionists. The problem is that no Unionists are prepared to cede (more) soverignity to rid themselves of SF – although they do hint at it.

    I put this specific point to the TUV in an email and got the standard reply about not wanting foreigners (ROI ) involved in Non Iron’s internal affairs. If Unioinsts dont want a ( formerly violent ) fenian about the place it might be worth their while speaking to SDLP/FF – but they will have to pay a price, otherwise it could be Catriona for Attorney General and Marty for 1st Minister in a few years.

  • Horseman, ‘mutual’ reform was required in both states but the RoI’s nimbyism during that era put nearly all of the pressure on NI.

    It only takes a minuscule number of folks in the appropriate conditions to set people here at each others throats. [see A T Q Stewart’s “The Narrow Ground”]

    I spent quite a bit of the 70s to the 90s doing what might be labelled as cross-community voluntary work, mainly with older teenagers. We had tremendous coherence and unity within our groups and I suppose I have a wistful longing to be in the presence of young people acting with enthusiasm and responsibility; the crack was exhilarating.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    Read George’s post No 25 on page 4 again and again . George must have read my thoughts on this subject 🙂

    The differing ‘impacts’ of your ‘commie’ revolution north and south can be attributable to the fact that the Republic was based on firmer democratic principles.

  • Sammy McNally, my proposal means a degree of pain for hardline/irredentist Unionists and Nationalists but it gives a strong measure of equality to the two main political aspirations. I think it would also strengthen the centre ground parties and maybe even the fickle moral electorate would give it a fair wind.

    I’ve noted Turgon’s silence on this issue 🙂

  • Greenflag, the RoI sold out to the ‘Catholic-Ireland’ IRA faction early on; hence the differing impacts.

    PS It wasn’t my ‘commie revolution’; I was indulging in a ‘revolution’ of a different kind [post #6 on this page]

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    Turgon thinks, as do the TUV, that “no terrorists in government” is a right and not something to surrender (further) your birthright for.

  • Greenflag


    ‘It only takes a minuscule number of folks in the appropriate conditions to set people here at each others throats.’

    So ATQ Stewart is here just describing why the NI State such that it is/was is grounded on something other than democratic principles?

    And you seriously expect that the Republic would put it’s own society at risk to prop up such a regime as ATQ describes ?

    Cross community work is all very laudable Nevin but absent a firm democratic consensus in any State and sooner or later such a state will implode from within or without .

    Northern Ireland never had the necessary ‘consensus’ of a normal democratic state . Even now it’s still groping it’s way forward somewhat hesitantly towards a power sharing future. That may in time be destined to fail also . However the longer it lasts the less likely will be a return to 70’s style violence.

    Thats about the limit of what politics in NI has to look forward to . It won’t /can’t get any better than that .

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    Britain is not interested in JS . Neither for that matter is the Republic . What is ‘optimum devolution’ anyway ? Even now both main parties are having considerable difficulties with limited devolution . JS would not change anything locally within NI. Both governments cooperate in areas that they need to and presumably that will be the modus operandum between the Assembly and Dail going forward . D’Hondt is complex enough without adding several more layers of bureaucracy to clog up the governance of NI.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    Like you I also like to speak on behalf of the 2 governments but see things differently – both are interested in stability. If JS offered more of it and had the support of more people then they would surely ‘facilitate’ the locals.

    Some a thing as JS would not be introduced without a corresponding simplification of the existing structures.

    The point is not what the governments’ want but what are Unionists’ prepared to pay to get rid of SF given that most of the former gunmen will presumably be retired from politics or in Milltown cemetry in 20 years.

  • Greenflag, the gutless RoI administration greatly increased the risk to society here by endorsing the IRA’s ‘Catholic-Ireland’ faction.

    Later on, one of Ahern’s early acts post-Agreement was to open the prison gates without a quid pro quo from the ne’er do wells; Blair rapidly followed suit.

    The ‘sermons in stones’, a phrase used by A T Q Stewart, predate the formation of the two states on the island.

    I use the term ‘shared sovereignty’ deliberately in that it creates the impression of folks here working the common ground together. I’ve experienced it in action so that’s why I recommend it. Traditional Unionists and Nationalists appear to me to be too focussed on the differences.

    The appeasement policies of London and Dublin have enhanced the status of the paramilitary godfathers and so directly and indirectly have given us the Chuckle Brothers.

  • Greenflag


    I speak on my own behalf . If the views of both governments coincide with mine then that usually means they’re both correct 🙂

    ‘ both are interested in stability’

    No question.So too are the vast majority of people in both jurisdictions.

    ‘The point is not what the governments’ want but what are Unionists’ prepared to pay to get rid of SF ‘

    The only people who can get rid of SF are the nationalist/republican voters in NI and there appears to be no trend in that direction. Quite the contrary in fact . These voters are aware -of and many even remember how Unionists dealt with the SDLP in Sunningdale days and later . It would appear that Unionists much prefer SF to the SDLP for as we see they are now prepared to share power with SF .

    ‘ then they would surely ‘facilitate’ the locals’

    Problem here being both governments have spent the past 40 years ‘facilitating ‘ the locals . Most political initiatives ended up as failures. The present ‘arrangement’ is in it’s infancy.

    As I’ve said before politics is the art of the possible and what NI has right now is as possible as it’s likely to get for some considerable time .

    The message from Westminster appears to be here’s your 6 billion -there’s your Assembly -now piss off and be bloody quick about it .

    Britain wants out of NI not further in . All of the parties in NI recognise that even if some don’t , won’t, or can’t admit it .

  • Greenflag


    ‘The appeasement policies of London and Dublin have given us the Chuckle Brothers.’

    Because the people of NI could not accept the Faulkner/SDLP power sharing in 1974 nor the Trimble Mallon brief affair in the 1990’s . So what the people have now is obviosly what the people want -not all of them of course but enough -for mow anyway.

    As I said to IWSMNWDI , what NI has now is as possible as it’s likely to get .If Unionists believe they can do better by themselves alone there’s always the repartition route . But apparently this is not a route which you would recommend either.

    Shared ‘sovereignty’ has never worked anywhere for any length of time . Sooner or later any such dispued territory ends up in one state or another or is partitioned between them . Case in point being NI itself as between Ireland and the UK in 1922.

  • jaffa

    “Shared ‘sovereignty’ has never worked anywhere for any length of time”

    Andorra anyone?

    1278 and counting.

    Provincial Lieutenant-Governor (probably nominated by the Legislative Assembly) and approved by the Crown (as per Canada for example) and the President of Ireland (or her own Bertie’s Bunker based NI VP?) jointly sign NI legislation.

    Easy and cheap.

    We’d need some extra flagpoles too.

  • jaffa

    There’s a page here on “condominia”


    ‘Not sure I want to live in a condom.

    This is funny;

    “The main part of Lake Constance (without islands) is considered by Austria to be a condominium between Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This view is not shared by Germany and Switzerland.”

    Poor old Austria.

  • Gregory

    “Andorra anyone? ”

    Boris Skossyreff anyone?


  • jaffa

    Wonderful story Gregory. Thank-you.


    A suspicious amount of detail though.

  • The Third Policeman

    Sigh, fine Turgon I give up attaempting to squeeze an answer out of you.

    Perhapes the problem is that you don’t think this man Calvert’s line of arguement was all that bad. I would say however that your’s is a political party whose entire raison d’etre is apparently to keep terrorists and terrorist sympathisers out of power. And for one of your elected representatives to belittle such an attack on a 12 year old, well, I think I’ll point you back to your own opening post-

    I would submit that this is a very flawed approach and one which is not going to help build a civic society here.

    You yourself Turgon are a quick one to express outrage at loyalist violence but you’re a naive man if you think for a second the TUV won’t be as bad as the rest of the unionist parties at turning a collective blind eye. Probably worse I’d say, being composed of the dregs and scrapings of anti-agreement unionism.

  • Gregory

    ‘There are two strange incidents worth a mention in Andorra’s fairly quiet history. At the end of the First World War Andorra, which had been on the Allied side, was not invited to the signing of the peace treaty and remained at war with the Germans until 25 September, 1939. Presumably exhausted from being at war for over two and a half decades, Andorra decided that neutrality in World War Two was a wise option.


    Being an Andorran could be tough, global war without end, with exhaustion setting in just as another really big world war kicks off.

    There is something slightly Irish about the thing.

    The very long struggle.


  • “So what the people have now is” .. Greenflag

    something that would not be visited on the rest of these two islands. But that’s nimbyism and the London and Dublin policies of appeasement for you … [thanks for the prompt, Greenflag]

    Anyone for golf? [jpg]

    Hold onto your purce … [jpg]

  • Greenflag


    ‘something that would not be visited on the rest of these two islands.’

    Of course . Northern Ireland as you have often been at pains to tell us is ‘different’ from the rest of these two islands -so a ‘different’ solution had to be found . I’ll admit it’s not a pleasant one from many aspects but sadly that’s all that’s available and possible for Northern Ireland as a 6 county State i.e in it’s present format. Now if the format were to be changed or a new ‘people’ elected then some more ‘normal’ democratic solution might be found eventually. As neither is likely then you’ll have to hope that the TUV have an ‘answer’ . The latter appear to be supremely unaware/oblivious and indifferent to the fact that it has taken 40 years and 4,000 lives to reach this ‘solution’ not to mention the countless efforts of governments from the Republic/UK and USA . One can only surmise that these people apear to believe that another 40 years and another 4,000 lives might clear the ‘path’ to a truly democratic non sectarian Northern Ireland just like the previous 40 years and 4,000 lives 🙁

    Re JS Northern Ireland is not Andorra . There may be many in these islands who might wish it was and was similarly located but alas that is also not possible .

  • “a ‘different’ solution had to be found”

    Greenflag, I think there might well have been a very different outcome had my shared sovereignty proposal been on offer.

    I notice that community restorative justice in your bailiwick isn’t in the hands of the ‘friends’ of President McAleese. Isn’t hypocrisy a wonderful thing?

  • Nevin,

    … there might well have been a very different outcome had my shared sovereignty proposal been on offer

    Nonsense. There is no way that the unionist parties would have accepted that. I doubt if you could trawl up any links to statements by leading uniionists at the time that supported JS.

  • ZoonPol

    I have heard on the grapevine that Ireland may be considering haveing serious discussions about rejoining the Commonwealth.


    The Commonwealth is an association of 53 independent states consulting and co-operating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace. The Commonwealth’s 2 billion citizens, about 30 per cent of the world’s population, are drawn from the broadest range of faiths, races, cultures and traditions.

    The association does not have a written constitution, but it does have a series of agreements setting out its beliefs and objectives. These Declarations or Statements were issued at various Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings. The first, fundamental statement of core beliefs is the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles which was issued at the 1971 summit in Singapore. Among other things, it stresses the need to foster international peace and security; democracy; liberty of the individual and equal rights for all; the importance of eradicating poverty, ignorance and disease; and it opposes all forms of racial discrimination.

  • jaffa

    Reticent as I am to dip another toe into the Commonwealth debate….

    what grapevine?


    Andorra’s not NI?

    Pandora maybe?

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ‘ I think there might well have been a very different outcome had my shared sovereignty proposal been on offer. ‘

    You might think that Nevin but the historical record of Unionist political preference shows otherwise .(dates are approximates) It’s the overall trend that’s relevant.

    1920 – 1972 : Unionist one party rule – no power sharing – negligible opposition – No mention of JS or anything like it.

    1972-1974 : No power sharing – No Sunningdale – No Stormont – No-No -No to SDLP. again no mention of JS.

    1974- 1990:

    No to Anglo Irish Agreement – No to cross border contacts – Unionist leader Molyneaux spends best part of two decades trying to ‘integrate’ NI into Westminster a la Tunbridge Wells or Finchley. JS remains unheard of.

    1990- 1998

    No No No yes No No No No maybe No No No NO well yes if we must. Its a new day – GFA -hooray .

    1998 -2007 –

    Well that hooray was somewhat premature eh ? GFA falters amid several Assembly suspensions. Unionism divides as between the perhaps NO’s(UUP) and the definitive NO’s (DUP). After several elections the definitive No’s win by saying NO/YES even though they had previously shouted NO the most and loudest .

    2008 – New world in the morning time -for now anyway . Ultra No’s (TUV )have now replaced definitively NO/YESES (DUP) among the Unionist baggage train .

    ‘ Isn’t hypocrisy a wonderful thing? ‘

    It is indeed Nevin and it would appear that Unionists as per above have written not just the book of , but could justifiably claim encyclopedic rights on the subject 🙁

    However when it comes to having to choose between the hypocrites and the zealots we humans tend to live longer by ignoring the latter and accepting the former despite their frailties!

  • Greenflag

    jaffa ,

    Andorra’s not NI?

    Pandora maybe?

    There is always ‘hope’ . Good analogy though. I would like to believe that all the ‘evils’ have been released and have fled from the NI box ( to continue the analogy) but one’s innate skepticism outweighs one’s hope as regards the longer tem political prospects for the NI State such that it is .

    If I’m proved wrong I’ll be only too glad.

  • Greenflag


    ‘The association does not have a written constitution’

    Any reason why ?

    Nice words though -laudable aims -objectives etc etc . Sounds almost like the UN . If its twice as effective as the former it may even be half useful .

    Heard it on the grapevine ?

    Thanks for the site 🙂

  • ZoonPol

    I have no idea Greenflag as to why it has no written constitution. All i know is HM The Queen is the head of the Commmonwealth but that may change over time. Maybe not having a constitution reflects our own uncodified one. Maybe as its just a club none is needed. I am sure someone better enlightened will inform us ….

  • Greenflag

    Zoonpaul ,

    The London Declaration of 1949 stated that the British monarch would be a symbol of the free association of independent countries, and as such the Head of the Commonwealth. These words meant that republics could be members – they could accept the monarch as Head of the Commonwealth without being their own Head of State. Thus when Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952 she became Head of the Commonwealth.

    Today the Queen is head of state in 16 of the 53 Commonwealth member countries, all of them fully independent in which – apart from the UK – she is represented by a governor-general.

    When the Queen dies or if she abdicates, her heir will not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth. It will be up to the Commonwealth heads of government to decide what they want to do about this symbolic role.

    Tradition dies hard eh . Perhaps when the Commonwealth elects a Republican as Head the Republic might feel better about joining up. Personnally I have no strong feelings either way and would rather the Republic joined NATO.

  • earnan

    Maybe John O’Connor is the savior

  • ZoonPol

    I am in agreement with you Greenflag on the Commonwealth issue; however, I would suggest it is more likely Ireland would want to join the Commonwealth over NATO, as some may see it as biasing their neutrality if they joined the latter: turning peacekeepers vis-à-vis UN, into peace-enforcers vis-à-vis NATO. As you rightly pointed out the membership of the “club” is voluntary and as I now have time to read http://www.thecommonwealth.org/FAQs/20706/faqs/ it seems to me that Ireland has the right qualities to guide such an organisation: after all its changed from the 1940s!

  • Horseman and Greenflag, I said there would be pain for both traditional Unionists and Nationalists re. my ‘devolution under shared sovereignty plus merger of Strands 2 and 3’ proposals yet you seem oblivious to the pain to be endured by the latter. If you’re (still) a PD supporter, Greenflag, then I presume you’re a Nationalist?

  • Dave

    “Nonsense. There is no way that the unionist parties would have accepted that.” – Horseman

    Acceptance or rejection of a plan by political representatives of either community is only relevant if they are granted the discretionary option by the sovereign government. JA, by default, devolves power to two sovereign governments and not to the political representatives of either community. Ergo, it does not require the approval of either or both.

    However, since the dynamic of the peace process was to offer a political alternative to the use of violence by murder gangs, that dynamic required a token parliament wherein the political representatives of the murder gangs could play politics instead of playing with guns, so that effectively ruled out the option of JA.

    If that dynamic wasn’t in play then JA would be the optimum form of devolved administration.

  • ZoonPol

    Under the terms of the EU Treaty (1992):


    Article 8

    1. Citizenship of the Union is hereby established.

    Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union.

    2. Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights conferred by this Treaty and shall be subject to the duties imposed thereby.

    Therefore be you Irish or me British we are all EU citizens and as such we all share the same ECHR & EC laws.

  • Greenflag


    ‘yet you seem oblivious to the pain to be endured by the latter. ‘

    Eh ? Not oblivious it’s just that historically Irish nationalists have become somewhat inured against pain . No pain no gain as they say. We remember the etc etc etc . You know the drill and litany . There’s a similar if historically shorter one in the Unionist camp.

    ‘If you’re (still) a PD supporter, Greenflag, then I presume you’re a Nationalist?’

    Guilty as charged re being a ‘nationalist’ although not overly so and always with a small n and a sense of humour about ‘national differences ‘ in general . I remain uncommitted to a 32 county Republic and would prefer as you know a 30 county Republic after a fair repartition of NI following the eventual collapse of the present NI Assembly. I don’t believe ‘unionism’ as a political ideology has anything to offer modern Ireland quite the contrary . I distinguish between ‘unionism’ as a political ideology and ‘unionists’ as individuals in this regard .

    While I can and do respect the separate aspirations of the major parties within the Assembly to their ‘ideals’ of opposite constitutional objectives – I cannot see the present ‘arrangement’ working longer term but I accept that for now there is no possible alternative which would not risk a descent to further unnecessary chaos.

    The Assembly is like a donkey with a head at one end and another head where there should be an arse . Each head will tend to move forward in the opposite direction thus progress in any direction will be minimal and can only be made by each head being allowed to go forward a step or two by the other head and then vice versa and so on ad infinitum. . Mr Robinson has I believe called this the ‘battle a day’. WWI and the trenches minus the body count .

    My political party preference has moved away somewhat from the PDs and back to it’s FF roots but Mary Harney will always get a ‘vote’:)

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘If that dynamic wasn’t in play then JA would be the optimum form of devolved administration.’

    So you agree that Westminster would rather diminish it’s direct involvement in NI affairs and would prefer to shunt the province into an Irish republic ?

    Token parliament is about right . But it’s better than nowt and there is of course the relative peace and a modicum of hope for a more tolerant future.

  • “Eh ? Not oblivious..”

    Seemingly oblivious, Greenflag, since I referred to the pain for traditional Unionists and Nationalists …

  • Greenflag


    ‘yet you seem oblivious to the pain to be endured by the latter.’

    Latter I took as being a reference to ‘nationalists’. As for ‘unionist’ pain I would think ‘unionists’ would be far better able to comment on that than I.

    A fair and agreed repartition is probably as close as it’s possible to get to a ‘democratic’ solution. In the absence of the best we can all hope for for NI is the kind of agreement which has been cobbled through and on which Mr Bush will pronounce his blessing a a couple of weeks or so .

  • Avady

    Turgon “stable government is not achieved by a sectarian carve up creating a perpetually unstable statelet where unrepentant criminals have power”
    Thats no way to describe the DUP