Mack’s question, “Should the 12th of July be a bank holiday in the Republic of Ireland?” is a fascinating one, because it, to me, highlights the fallacy that Irish Nationalism has put at the centre of it’s existence in the past 100 years. It is not a bad question, nor unreasonable, but the fact that Nationalism, in this case south of the border, has not even begun to consider who Protestants and Unionists are, and why they think like they do, shows in detail the blinkered view of the world that survived Eamon de Valera. Unionists are not simply misguided Nationalists. They are a distinct group with a very different world view.
This concept has been brought into sharper perspective this week by Gerry Adams, who has embarked on a crusade for Irish unity, yet doing little more than exposing his own ignorance.The messages in his Guardian piece seem strangely hap-hazard. It is easy to assume that the target of the exercise is Londonderry rather than London. Stuck in a British system of Government, election success in the south having dried up and Irish unity as far away as ever, Adams playing the statesman in far away places, building an international coalition for Irish unity may seem like a good way of both shoring up the possibility of a wobbling northern vote, whilst also showing the southern electorate the sophisticated and respectful face of Sinn Fein. However references to the numerical realities making Unionism very much a minority in the UK polity smell strongly of a reaction to Sir Reg Empey and David Cameron’s commitment to ending that situation. Adams’ call for the UK Government to become a persuader for Irish unity may not be a new one, but it copper fastens the right of the UK Government to be a persuader for British unity, in ceding the principle the it can be anything other than a neutral arbiter. This is not a nuanced and carefully thought out campaign, it is old rhetoric perhaps designed to give Adams something to do with his time.
What is interesting is that both Adams and Chris McGimpsey in his rebuttal claim the Belfast Agreement as source material for their positions. Adams claims that the North-South elements of the agreement represent an opening od the door to unity:
Some progress has already been made. The Good Friday Agreement has put in place all-Ireland political institutions which can be enhanced and developed. It contains a legislative, peaceful and democratic mechanism to set up a new and democratic Ireland. Advancing this means reaching out to others, including those who are unionist, and engaging with them on the type of Ireland we want to create.
Whilst McGimpsey sees the principle of consent as being the key:
The difficulty that Adams faces is that under the Good Friday Agreement the Irish government gave up its territorial claim over the people and territory of Northern Ireland and accepted that a united Ireland is not a right, but can only come about once the majority of the population of Northern Ireland demands it. Northern Ireland remains within the United Kingdom and Martin McGuinness….and his Sinn Féin colleagues are helping the rest of us (DUP, UUP and SDLP) to administer British rule in Northern Ireland.
Chekov similarly highlights the Northern Ireland aspect of the Agreement:
It [the “unity” campaign]s focus is concentrated on the diaspora, those who claim Irish descent in the US and GB, rather than the electorate in Northern Ireland, which, all parties and both governments now agree, will actually determine its own constitutional future.
This raises the biggest question of all for the unity campaign – whats the point? National governments do not give up territory lightly, particularly not to another state. It risks bargaining power at international bodies, in the UK’s case it would put added pressure on the UN Security Council seat. Persuading the UK Government to actively lobby away a portion of territory, no matter how small, is unlikely in the extreme. Asking the Americans to come on board may be marginally more likely, but much less significant if it were to occur.
Unionism should not be vexed by the Sinn Fein international effort, the Belfast Agreement is the secure hinge on which Northern Ireland’s future rests. Adams’ effort is another effort in naval gazing that does not address the realities of living with unionists and is meaningful only to the nationalist electorate. But perhaps the critical point is, more fool them.