What makes a ‘unionist’ these days?

Just picking up on Kensei’s discovery of buried treasure in Slugger’s comment zone, I’m tempted to ask the obvious question arising: what is Unionism? For a lot of Slugger’s nationalist commenters it is something akin to an insult or personal slur. In fact, as a political phenomenon in Ireland it’s about 130 years old. Before that the more common split in Ulster was largely in House of Commons terms of Liberal versus Tory.

These divisions collapsed in the general election of 1885, when Catholic voters of Ulster were drawn off to nationalism upon settlement of the land question and energised by Gladstone’s offer of Home Rule. At that point, according to Frank Thompson’s excellent “The End of Liberal Ulster”, the News Letter asserted that “Union with Great Britain is the question of the hour” and the Northern Whig added that “in Ulster, at least, all other political considerations are secondary”.

So is the new UCU-NF alliance ‘Unionist’ in the strictest sense of maintenance of the political union with Britain being its primary purpose, or an embryonic attempt to return us to British state politics?

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  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    David Cameron and the Conservatives think that the union has been weakened by devolution. They think that this in turn has weakened them, easy enough to see given the small number of Westminster seats they hold outside of England.

    They want to reinvigorate the idea of the UK and present themselves as a party of all the regions. UCUNF is their attempt to create this by creating a “just add water” instant political party.

    I do not think they are doing this out of a true passion for the union.

  • Mick Fealty

    I keep coming back to that conversation I had with a catholic friend the other evening. I have to say I was surprised, but not shocked. He’s joined the Tories because they suit his centre right politics. It’s a territory thing with him. Nationalism’s not exactly giving SME business owners a great deal of choice these days either.

    That’s really all most Tories care about. There’s no great passion for the union left, certainly in England. But there may be a recognition, in some quarters, that the party needs to regain the provenance it lost it in the eighties to govern with authority.

    Proselytising the union won’t do that in Scotland or Wales, but appealing to self interest (enlightened or otherwise) might.

  • ScrewUncleTom

    “a catholic friend”
    I wonder if this mysterious Catholic is just one person, that unionists keep referring to. I’ve never met a northern Catholic that describes him/herself as Northern Irish, votes unionist, actively supports Northern Ireland, enjoys watching Orangemen march etc. But apparently they (or just ‘he’) exists. Perhaps I move in the wrong circles.

    FWIW, as a nationalist, the oddest thing about unionists, is their inability to even admit they are Irish. And some unionists talk of their Irishness as an inconsequential regional identity within the UK – personally I feel like that denigrates my Irishness i.e. we’re not a subset of anything, we are a nation. Period.

  • DC

    Well im Irish/Northern, but im probably about 95% Internet these days as per most other well-developed nations.

    By that you can deduce that I am very open to multiple identities in various spheres. I do hope nationalists of whatever hue can respect that and can become a little more fluid than the first past the GAA post.

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    To me, I always considered unionist a bunch of Irish men and women that just didn’t want to leave the union with the rest of Britain. Granted, the large majority are Protestants, but nevertheless they are Irish. I also think that their reluctance to be called “Irish” perhaps comes from the fact that they want to make it clear that they are in favour of maintaining the political union with Britain. This makes sense. If you consider that a unionist calling himself or herself Irish invokes the idea that they want to unite their area with the RoI, which may very well not be the case.

    No matter: English, Irish (north), Scottish, Welsh, Manx, Falklander, et al. We’re all British.

  • frustrated democrat

    The question is ‘Is being unionist distinct from being pro UK’.

    I think there is a difference in people’s minds as unionist has been used by a wide range of parties UUP DUP PUP NIUP VPUP to name some. This has led to the term unionist having a meaning that is beyond supporting the union, its meaning is understood to include some more extreme views based on parties who have been supporters of non democratic policies and also orangeism.

    The term pro UK is much more easily understood in that it has no bagggage, whether deserved or not, and is clear in what it means – being in favour of the union of GB and Northern Ireland with an interest in UK wide politics in addition to NI politics.

  • Self Hating Irishperson

    Interesting distinction there at the end of ur piece Mick which bears thinking about. I tink unionism is about surrender to an external force outside oneself – a little old lady usually but a biscuit maker is next along. It’s also about trying to control that part outside of oneself that one can trust oneself to control – thus the gardening and neat houses. All the self-reliance yada yada about protestantism/unionism is a front for this lust to surrender oneself to orangeness and that little old lady and the utter bizarreness of a monarchy. For all the characterisation of nationalists being in thrall to the antichrist pots…kettles spring to mind. It’s no good for NI though when everyone (both sides) constantly goes crying to mammy for more cash. Though at least the’re going cring together these daze.

  • alex benjamin

    for me Unionism is as simple as this: feeling an affinity and bond with the rest of the UK. I have more in common with someone from northampton than navan. that’s it really, to paraphrase a rabbi, the rest is commentary.

  • But the person from northampton believes and feels that you have much more in common with someone from navan than with them. To a British person, you’re all Irish, protestant and catholic, north and south. He or she would see Ireland as over there, not of their island. Simple really.

  • New Blue

    Being Irish does not preclude you from being British – nor, for that matter, does being Catholic.

    Funnily enough being ‘Orange’ does not necessarily ensure that you are British.

    As FD has already raised, the use of the term ‘pro UK’ or ‘pro union’ creates a distinction between ‘traditional norn iron unionism’ and what many see as pro-british unionism.

  • fin

    unfortunately alex you ended your sentence quite definitively so now you can’t explain why unionists think and behave in a totally different manner than someone from Northampton (or Navan) some points to ponder, what events do people celebrate in Northampton and how do they celebrate, whats the education policy in Northampton, is there any confusion over identity in Northampton, during the BSE outbreak did beef from Northampton change nationality, how does politics work in Northampton Council.

  • slug

    One of the stated aims of UCU’s NF was to attract people who would not previously have been attracted to a pro-union party, that calls itself both Unionist and Conservative. Thus, in attracting people who previously did not believe in Unionism, they are achieving one of their stated aims.

  • Thereyouarenow

    I remember being told a story of a fellow that went to Southampton in error. The job was actually in Northampton. I am pretty sure it was a true story.

    I wonder would alex benjamin be drawn to the North in Northampton for reasons that we can only ponder on.

  • otto

    Mick,

    I know this cutting a pasting thing can be bad form but as this thread is inspired by Ian Parsley’s move I dug out this conversation in which IJP endorsed a fairly frank view of the union as a device that might have had some value at the time of partition but which may now be redundant. I don’t see why he should have changed that view – it sounds like a pretty “finished” opinion to me.

    The title of the thread was:
    http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/is-trimble-leading-the-uup-home/P75/

    ·  As an Ulster Unionist I am faced with two questions when I ponder this.
    1. Is the Union safe
    2. Am I a Tory
    I was always of the opinion that the existance of a unionist party meant we were ultimately failing as the existance of the unionist movement was only required to counter a separatist threat.
    I remember remarking at our Centenary dinner that I hoped we wouldnt have a Bi Centenary one. I am sure some among us might point out that my wish might be granted sooner rather than I thought !
    It would be foolish to think the Union is safe – I think the circumstances are there to afford opportunity to protect it but then the question is is a NI Unionist Party as opposed to a British political Party best placed to do that ?
    ie we are no longer threatened with Home Rule etc post GFA so perhaps circumstances have changed and indeed a unionist Party with its baggage only serves to alienate Catholic unionists ?

    Then am I a Tory – 20 years ago as a child of Maggie I certainly was.
    However I am sort of that “Socialist when your young and heart thing v capitalist when old and head” analogy in reverse.
    My right wing politics have mellowed.
    A lot of that has to do with being in the UUP where class difference is not relevant. It has opened my eyes to the fact that some people need help and that wealth needs better distributed if we want a fair and stable society.
    Having said that Cameron believes that too.
    However it would certainly split the Party again as it would be very wrong to think all UUP are Tory – indeed our own Association has two members I know who would be old labour and one who has no time for the Royal Family.
    Posted by John East Belfast on Apr 18, 2007 @ 10:15 PM
    ·  JEB,

    ·  JEB
    “is the union safe”
    Have you come across the concept of “marketing myopia”? It’s the error business types make when they become overawed by the features of their product, forget to keep revisting their customer’s underlying needs and so are overtaken by newer, more appropriate answers to those needs (think horses, trains, cars, homeworking).
    The union exists, not for itself, but to serve a purpose – the well-being of the unionist people.
    Your question might better be – “is the well-being of the unionist people safe”?.
    If you accept this then the question is whether Trimble’s move serves the unionist people, not an obsession with the union as a constitutional feature in itself.
    I think not; although it may well serve Mr. Trimble’s career.
    We’re in the fortunate position of having co-sponsors who seem prepared to go along with any solution that promises long term fairness and stability, a good deal of goodwill internationally and, if we can secure a bit of independence over our local economy, the chance to do some radical and flexible things, making the most of our geographical situation, which would certainly be impractical for the mainland and which would be unlikely to show in any Conservative Party manifesto.
    Posted by jaffa on Apr 18, 2007 @ 10:51 PM

    JEB
    Is the Union safe?
    I will never understand why people obsess over this question, for the reason Jaffa outlines so outstandingly.
    Posted by IJP on Apr 18, 2007 @ 11:10 PM

     

  • otto

    and it went on

    · jaffa
    “If you accept this then the question is whether Trimble’s move serves the unionist people, not an obsession with the union as a constitutional feature in itself.”
    “The union exists, not for itself, but to serve a purpose – the well-being of the unionist people.”
    The Union to unionists is about more than what you can get from it – it is about your country and your nationality – speak for yourself if that aspect of your life is up for sale to the highest bidder.
    If your politics is about “marketing” and “customers” then good luck to you with New Labour I suppose – some of us also have principles.
    Therefore to unionists the question of the Union being safe remains paramount because that was the question that caused the Unionist Party to be set up in the first place.
    Trimble believes his work to secure NI within the Union has been done and he wants/has to move on. Some of us are not as sure and believe a unionist movement is required.
    If our support base (customers) become Irish nationalists then that is a different matter
    Posted by John East Belfast on Apr 18, 2007 @ 11:11 PM

    · IJP
    “Is the Union safe?
    I will never understand why people obsess over this question,”
    Well as you dont care either way and are happy to leave the decision to others then why should you understand ?
    Posted by John East Belfast on Apr 18, 2007 @ 11:14 PM

    · “Therefore to unionists the question of the Union being safe remains paramount because that was the question that caused the Unionist Party to be set up in the first place.”
    Wrong.
    The questions addressed by the convenant and the establishment of the Northern Irish Parliament was how best do we protect our civil, religious and political freedoms….and our commerce.
    Posted by jaffa on Apr 18, 2007 @ 11:20 PM

    · jaffa
    “Wrong.
    The questions addressed by the convenant and the establishment of the Northern Irish Parliament was how best do we protect our civil, religious and political freedoms….and our commerce.”
    The Covenant was signed in 1912 and the Northern Irish Parliament was formed 9 years after that.
    The UUC was created in 1905.
    Anyhow I am reading my grandfather’s 1912 Covenant and it talks about “our cherished position within the Union”
    Nobody is saying that Ulster was not very different than the rest of Ireland in the early 19th century in terms of religion and commerce and this shaped opposition to Home Rule. However there was also a British heart just as there was an Irish one
    – perhaps you are different and your politics is served by the highest bidder – but as I said speak for yourself.
    Posted by John East Belfast on Apr 18, 2007 @ 11:37 PM

    · “perhaps you are different and your politics is served by the highest bidder – but as I said speak for yourself.”
    I’d never pretend to speak for anyone else.
    You seem so excited by the promise of voting for a “proper” British party that you’re prepared to reorder your own personal social and economic priorities. “Am I a Tory?”.
    Who’s selling out?
    Posted by jaffa on Apr 18, 2007 @ 11:52 PM

    · JEB
    In all honestly, what are you talking about?
    After 80 years, there has been no recorded incidence of a Nationalist elected rep defecting to Unionism or vice-versa. Even Conor Cruise O’Brien showed his true colours in the end!
    We live in a divided society. Basically, if there’s a Protestant majority the Union’s safe – and if there isn’t, it’s not.
    Don’t kid yourself that there’s anything you can do about it.
    Jaffa is spot on of course.
    Posted by IJP on Apr 19, 2007 @ 08:35 AM

  • otto

    and then there was this.

    · ˜The union exists, not for itself, but to serve a purpose – the well-being of the unionist people.˜
    You’re not a unionist at all. You’re a nasty little ethno-religious nationalist, no better than Irish nationalists.
    Posted by Ziznivy on Apr 19, 2007 @ 12:55 PM

    · IJP
    “In all honestly, what are you talking about?”
    In all honestly what are you talking about ?
    You said last night that you couldnt understand why unionists pr-occupied themslves with thinking whether the Union is safe or not. I reponded by saying that as you are not a gut unionist (ie you dont care) then that is hardly surprising.
    Therefore I assume by your 8.30 post you are saying the Union’s safety is outside of unionist’s control ?
    That is a ridiculous notion.
    The Union can be both protected and advanced by those who support it – it can also be screwed up by them as well.
    The bottom line is if there had been no UUC formed in 1905 there would be no such thing as Northern Ireland and if there had been no Unionist Parties since then there would be no Union now.
    The Alliance Party wouldnt have protected it.
    Posted by John East Belfast on Apr 19, 2007 @ 01:19 PM

    · Ziznivy,
    Ouch!
    Me
    “The questions addressed by the convenant and the establishment of the Northern Irish Parliament was how best do we protect our civil, religious and political freedoms….and our commerce.”
    You
    “those of us who would like to define our state and predicate our nationality on secular considerations such as rights, freedoms and collective responsibilities.”
    So I suggest that;
    1) unionism’s declared purpose was to protect civil political and religious freedoms and then
    2) I think these can now be secured irrespective of the union, and that
    3) therefore we can be flexible in our relations with everyone else on the island
    and you say this shows I am “a nasty little ethno-religious nationalist, no better than Irish nationalists”
    whereas, you declare your commitment to “rights, freedoms and collective responsibilities and you are neither nasty, little nor an ethno-religious nationalist.
    Nope; can’t get it….my brain has melted.
    Posted by jaffa on Apr 19, 2007 @ 02:24 PM

    · Ziznivy,
    If you’d followed the thread of my conversation with John from East Belfast he was calling me a sell-out and stating that the Union had intrinsic value in itself because you either have a “British heart” or an “Irish heart” whereas I was saying that if it existed for anything, surely it was to serve the values listed above (as set out by unionists in the Ulster Covenant).
    Actually I’m getting pissed off now. You really need to learn to read Ziznivy, before you try the tricky thinking stuff.
    Posted by jaffa on Apr 19, 2007 @ 02:31 PM

    · Jaffa, the clue is that you seek these criteria for one group, and you say “unionists”, but have no inherent belief that the union is necessarily worth defending in itself. Now when you take the union out of unionism I think we get closer to your real concern which is for Ulster protestants. Now that kinda falls into the category of an ethno-religious group! You follow?
    I champion the union because I believe enshrined in the very fibre and constitution United Kingdom, are the civic rights, freedoms and also the responsibilities of which I speak and I believe that that Union has therefore an inherent value.
    Pretty profound difference I would say, the odd mutual use of a word or two not withstanding.
    Posted by Ziznivy on Apr 19, 2007 @ 02:45 PM

    · “I champion the union because I believe enshrined in the very fibre and constitution United Kingdom, are the civic rights, freedoms and also the responsibilities of which I speak and I believe that that Union has therefore an inherent value.”
    So these rights and freedoms aren’t available in either a united Irish Republic / Commonwealth or any potential, mutually agreed Northern Irish or Ulster scenario you can think of?
    They must be delivered through the union because that’s just intrinsically better than anything that might be more acceptable to nationalists or liberal “unionists” (call them prods, ethnically British or whatever you like but we both know who we are) who would like to live in partnership and reconciliation with the people who share their island.
    Just because you say so then.
    Posted by jaffa on Apr 19, 2007 @ 03:08 PM

    Jaffa may be getting angry, but still speaks my view much more eloquently than I could!
    Posted by IJP on Apr 19, 2007 @ 06:06 PM

  • IGT

    In which case IJP is an integrationist.

  • otto

    and finally (sorry everyone) Bob’s thoughts on the UUP

    · Mr Shiels’ article is very interesting – except for the fact that it is fantasy.
    The Conservative Party has no interest in mergering with the UUP.
    Conservative minded individuals currently in the UUP have an open invitation to join – and increasing numbers are both coming over and expressing interest.
    What has UUP to offer? A left wing MP who hates her Leadership. A Leader who cannot lead? Not to mention the fact that it has too much historical baggage to mount a serious revival.
    The interesting part of Sir Reg’s interview on Hearts and Minds was his admission that Trimble left because regional parties can have no influence at Westminster – to me you have to question the unionism of someone who does not want to influence Westminster or play some part in national politics.
    For Sir Reg and his allies the survival of the party is the be all and end all – even when they publicly realise it is bad for unionism
    With no sympathetic MPs the Tories have now taken the last thing of interest and use to them in the UUP – David Trimble.
    UUP MLAs with Conservative sympathies must ask themselves whether they ought to jump ship and see if they can help build real politics in NI through the Conservatives or simply slip beneath the waves with Reg.
    Posted by Bob Wilson on Apr 20, 2007 @ 12:29 AM

  • otto jaffé

    “In which case IJP is an integrationist.”

    Certainly sounds like one.

  • Junior Apparatchik

    MICK

    Good question.

    Given the nature of devolution in the UK, I think we’re all “integrationists” now!

  • Comrade Stalin

    alex:

    for me Unionism is as simple as this: feeling an affinity and bond with the rest of the UK.

    That might be what it means for you, but it isn’t what it means for people like David McNarry. Unionism can just as equally be about resisting Irishness, Irish culture and Irish independence, to the point of absurdity. People in Scotland, England and Wales are happy enough to call themselves Scots, English or Welsh, whether they are unionists or not, the question about why unionists in NI cannot do this is at the heart of this discussion.

    Mick, unlike some of the other morons posting here I am sure your Catholic Tory friend exists. There are plenty of RCs at high ranking places in the Conservative Party (Ancram springs to mind; Chris Patten, in the past) but the issue isn’t about religion – in fact, hasn’t the Conservative Party’s heritage normally been traced back through Catholic/Church of England aristocracy ? (as opposed to Presbyterian, Methodist etc).

    Outside of a few pockets, Northern Ireland, like Northern England or Scotland, just isn’t a hardcore Tory heartland. It’s not even a complete guarantee that North Down is a potential Tory heartland – they elected an MP for 10 years who started out saying in public that he would be taking the Labour whip.

  • Republic of Connaught

    British Unionism in Ireland is an old political ideology which is on life support. Probably only Antrim and Down have a clear “Unionist” majority in 2009. It might well take 50 more years but in the end the majority of citizens in Ireland will have their wishes granted and a completely independent country will be achieved.

    To read an Irish Unionist state he has more in common with Englishmen in Northampton than fellow Irishmen in Navan or anywhere else on this island begs the question how exactly, in your own eyes, are you Irish if you admit you’re more at home among the English? Or is it just Irish Catholics you are bred to feel alien to? Incidentally, I commend you for your honesty and believe most Unionists feel the same.

    However, would you accept you logically have more in common with a Protestant Navan person than English people in Northampton, considering you and the Navan Protestant are from the same ancient Protestant Irish bloodline-tradition which produced great Irishmen like Yeats, Beckett and Wilde etc..?

    Or do you believe “British” Shakespeare is closer to your culture than the Irishman Yeats? The English Bard was evidently Catholic, don’t forget.

  • The Impartial Observer

    We know that the Tories originally wanted to merge with the UUP to form a new party “The Northern Ireland Conservative and Unionist Party,” but the UUP rejected this as amongst other thing, dropping the title “Ulster” wasn’t acceptable to many in the party.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7971533.stm

    I think that over the next 5-10 years, the Tories are going to slowly subsume the bulk of the UUP and create NICUP by stealth. Like him or not Cameron is seen as fresh and exciting and he will continue to draw people in from other parties and those who had been disillusioned with politics. The UUP are still too associated with the chaotic Trimble era to have the same effect and I think that the distinctions between the 2 parties will start to blur until eventually there will be no discernible difference, The backwoodsmen will probably peel off to join TUV.

    I’ve got my own anecdotal story about “closet catholic unionists!” A work colleague of mine lives in the Lurgan area and she is from a strongly republican background, one day during a lunch conversation over politics she admitted that in the event of a border poll, she and nearly all of her family would vote to keep the Union out of pure naked self-interest! Clearly the Tories are no more likely to win votes in Andersonstown, Bogside and Garvaghy Road than they are in Motherwell, Bootle or Ebbw Vale but I’ve no doubt that there are Catholic Tories out there.

    Certainly interesting times ahead for politics here!

  • Comrade Stalin

    “Unionism can just as equally be about resisting Irishness, Irish culture and Irish independence, to the point of absurdity. People in Scotland, England and Wales are happy enough to call themselves Scots, English or Welsh, whether they are unionists or not, the question about why unionists in NI cannot do this is at the heart of this discussion.”

    A unionist is simply someone who believes in the continuance of the United Kingdom for whatever reason. Fair enough within NI too often that reason is cloaked with monocultural, ethno-nationalist, communalism but that isn’t a pre-requisite for being pro the Union, even in NI, as you seem to be implying. I’m quite proud to regard myself (like Carson) as an Irish Unionist.

    “Outside of a few pockets, Northern Ireland, like Northern England or Scotland, just isn’t a hardcore Tory heartland.”

    Northern Ireland is a deeply socially conservative society. It is also a society full of the kind of small business owners, entrepreneurs and farmers which are the backbone of the Conservative party elsewhere in the UK. Any centre-right party which is able to push the constitutional question to the background has a huge potential support here.

  • Archie P

    Those who are criticising Unionists who don’t wish to be labelled ‘Oirish’, should recall the words of the Duke of Wellington, when he said,”Being born in a stable, doesn’t make one a horse”.

  • Mick Fealty

    SUT,

    You need to get out more! And talk to a few more unionists. Or actually read those who write on Slugger.

    I’ve had mates I went to school with say they weren’t nationalists any more (although the Provisional’s campaign against members of their family gave them ample reason not to be); but this was the first I’d met who’d gone to the trouble of actually joining a pro Union party.

  • Mick Fealty

    Archie,

    YOu have been warned! Red means RED!

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    “What makes a ‘unionist’ these days?”

    Someone who supports the now archaic Anglocentric political club which was forced on the people of these islands for England’s interests. Today, in an age of “democracy”, “individualism” and “national self determination” etc…no wonder it’s out-dated and probably on it’s kness.

    If the the Scots vote YES next year for full independance it will no doubt help kill it off.

    The British of Northern Ireland may feel even more marginalized.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    “What makes a ‘unionist’ these days?”

    Someone who supports the now archaic Anglocentric political club which was forced on the people of these islands for England’s interests. Today, in an age of “democracy”, “individualism” and “national self determination” etc…no wonder it’s out-dated and probably on it’s knees.

    If the the Scots vote YES next year for full independance it will no doubt help kill it off.

    The British of Northern Ireland may feel even more marginalized.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Indeed, Archie P.

    Horses, stables, Wellington.. .it all makes so much sense now.

    Thus those who chuckle at bald people for denying they’re bald should indeed remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: What makes a ‘unionist’ these days?
    That’s a trick question. The answer is different for mere people and for politicians. For instance, I have long taken it for granted that Alliance voters, and members, and representatives, include a large proportion of people who are actually unionist or nationalist. But the politicians following the Alliance manifesto aren’t acting as unionist or nationalist politicians – they have other fish to fry…
    The first sentence of post #8 will do for unionists in the general population (except the crypto-Ulster nationalists). But for Unionist politicians we need something more like “A politician who is motivated by a desire to preserve the union”

  • Drumlins Rock

    I am a Unionist, I feel British, I also feel Irish but more British than Irish, most of all I feel I belong to Northern Ireland/Ulster. When away from home I usually find i have most in common with Scots and then Northern English and Southern Irish, but to be honest if step back a bit further and view us from a European or world view your average Turk, Arab, Korean or Brazilan could not tell us apart.
    I view London as my Capital city, not Dublin, thats where my parliment sits, my Queen reigns, my taxes are wasted! and I see how much of it was build and influenced by Irish people from Hans Sloan to Wellington, Montgomery and even the current Duke of Westminister. We like the Scots and Welsh have the best of both worlds, small nations where we can belong, but also part of sometihng bigger that has influence if no longer porwer across the world. I personally cant why we would swap that for a UI what are the advantages?

  • Submariner

    Drumlins
    Montgomery, are you referring to Field Marshal Montgomery? He was born in London and is English just another one of your Unionist myths.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    Superbly summed up Drumlin’s Rock, and it’s how I view the British Unionists of Northern Ireland. Labelling you as solely Irish (as some Irish Nationalists do) is incorrect. It is wrong to deny you your Britishness and your deep affiliation with London and England. Those who do deny the consequences of Irish history.

  • GavBelfast

    DrumlinsRock,

    Really well-articulated. I’m sorry so many seem not be able or just unwilling to grasp said emotions, values and just what makes up such a being.

    And fair-play to Greagoir: you clearly ‘get it’!

    On the other hand: if people can’t and won’t – tough!

  • Coll Ciotach

    Unionists to me are unionists because they are. That is their emotional affiliation and that emotional bond will affect their views across the board. For nationalists to foist an Irish identity on unionists that they do not want is wrong. It is a form of fascism. In fact it is just as bad as the unionists demanding that the Irish are British.

    We Irish need to accept that there are people who do not consider themselves as Irish in the manner we do. Being Irish to them means something different to the meaning we place upon it.

    That is why the idiots who claim we are all Irish miss the point. We are not. The same word has different meanings.

    The sooner we Irish accept that the people here who are British are British the better.

    Then we can move on.

    To me as an Irishman an Irish unionist is a person who allegience is, in general, to a foreign queen and country. (there are others with nuances granted but I am speaking in generality). Their legitimacy is not only in their numbers, people are free to form their emotional bonds as they see fit.

    We need to be able to accept that.

    Although having said that it does not follow that they have, as they are a minority in Ireland, the right to dictate the odds to the majority.

  • RabM

    Drumlins Rock’s post would sum up my own feelings of identity as well.

    I would feel closest to the Scots, with all other parts of the British Isles outside NI coming in an equal second. In East Antrim I’m actually also geographically closer to Scotland than to the Republic of Ireland. I am Irish in that I am from the island, and am proud to share several common cultural traits throughout the island, however, there are some Irish traits (particularly those cultural ones that came out of Irish Nationalist movements) which I see myself in having nothing in common with at all.

    We must remember that the Republic of Ireland is the odd one out in leaving the union of the British Isles. Ideally, the sovereign state that would perfectly sum-up my identity would be (as prior to partition) a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or United Kingdom of the Isles. This is what the word “British” means to me, despite Irish Nationalists’ self-serving and inaccurate attempts on Slugger and elsewhere to define “British” as only referring to Great Britain.

  • joeCanuck

    The general unionist polity is better defined (by their actions) as being against something rather than for something. That is, preventing equal treatment of all citizens, no matter what the good or bad reasons, has been more important than the “union”. The union has been simply a means to an end. As the realization crept in that the people across the sea didn’t give a damn for 17th century thinking, first Faulkner, then Trimble, knew that there was no long term future in unionist domination. They both failed to convince a sufficient number of their followers that this was the case. First Paisley crying “traitor” from the sidelines and now Allister performing the same role.
    There is no going back. “Traditional” unionism is dead and doesn’t really know where it wants to go.

  • RabM

    As a Unionist, may I also add that I see absolutely no need for any political parties in Northern Ireland to have the words ‘Unionist Party’ in their name. Political parties defining their manifestos mainly on their unionism are a sign of insecurity. It’s time for an increased confidence from Unionist politicians and return of normal politics to Northern Ireland. Time to move on and leave the divisional sectarian politics, leaving Irish Nationalists to be the exception to normal politics (like in Scotland and Wales).

  • Comrade Stalin

    oneill:

    A unionist is simply someone who believes in the continuance of the United Kingdom for whatever reason.

    That isn’t true. That maybe what you think, but it isn’t what a lot of other people who stood under the Ulster Unionist banner think. Like David Burnside for example, a prime example of an Ulster nationalist if there ever was one. And the Ulster Unionism that we know today was descended not from people campaigning to retain the union, but from people campaigning against Home Rule which is something completely different. This is not merely about whether or not the union exists; it’s about whether or not Irishness is on top on this island.

    Any centre-right party which is able to push the constitutional question to the background has a huge potential support here.

    So why did the last effort to achieve this by the Conservatives fail ?

    Drumlin’s Rock:

    , but also part of sometihng bigger that has influence if no longer porwer across the world.

    I have no problem with any part of what you said, but your definition of your own identity is based on fantasies that are no longer true. Support for the monarchy is by no means universal; the United Kingdom is coming apart at the seams; and the country has had little or no influence across the world since before the end of WW2. You’re clinging to hopes and dreams.

  • Joe

    [i]Drumlin’s Rock wrote:[/i]
    [i]We have the best of both worlds, small nations where we can belong, but also part of sometihng bigger that has influence if no longer porwer across the world. I personally cant why we would swap that for a UI what are the advantages? [/i]

    Drumlins, this is the part about Unionism which I don’t really get.. the desire to remain part of “a larger and more powerful/influential nation”.

    For example, people in Luxembourg generally lead healthier, happier and longer lives than people in China. But which nationality would you say its “more advantageous” to be.

    And a final point. A United Ireland would be (in numerical terms) far more powerful than the present Republic as its population would be 30% higher and its territory some 20% higher than the 26 alone. 6 million people and a single independent island sounds like a good hand to me.

  • “That isn’t true. That maybe what you think, but it isn’t what a lot of other people who stood under the Ulster Unionist banner think.”

    OK, my definition of a Unionist is anyone who believes that the Union, for whatever reason, should continue…what’s yours?

    “This is not merely about whether or not the union exists; it’s about whether or not Irishness is on top on this island”

    And I am as proud to refer myself as Irish as British, how does that correlate?

  • Comrade Stalin

    oneill, I gave some examples. I regard unionism as Ulster nationalism, for the most part.

    And I am as proud to refer myself as Irish as British, how does that correlate?

    Yes, but you’re a very rare breed.

  • GavBelfast

    He’s only a very rare breed in your opinion.

    True Unionism – a basic pro-UK stance – is not Ulster nationalism.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Stalin, alot of Unionist are proud to be Irish as well as British, but will not express it as the nationalist cannot seem to grasp that concept and turn it into, “so your Irish forget about England then” I’ve manged to move to the point where i’m proud to be “Irish but…” we are just a wee bit different up here.
    Years ago I remember on several occasions the Rev Hugh Ross in our house telling us about his Ulster Independance Movement, it seemed like a soloution to all the problems, but when you added things up it was just pie in the sky, sadly I think some “unionists” mite still have that as a wee pipe dream in the back of thier mind, but it dosnt have any real support on the ground.
    I’m not a Ulster nationalist, but maybe I am an “Ulster Regionalist” and think some things need to be treated differently here from the rest of the UK, as also they do in Scotland, Wales, London, and various Regions of England, even with devoloution the UK is still quite a centralised country, remember its Devolved power not Federal power.
    The North East of Ireland has always been a bit different from the rest, the plantation magnified that, and partition formalised it, sadly the ascendency powers excluded a large minority from identifying with thier region, finally that is slowly being rightified and I hope some sort of consensus develops that whether its a Region of the UK or a UI, NI is still a wee bit different, for obivious reasons that will always be the case within the UK, but it is far from assured within a UI.
    Therefore at the minute as part of the UK I am British, Irish and Northern Irish, and I see no contridiction in being all three, but in a UI the British would be gone, and the Northern Irish fading away, and to be full blooded Irish just isnt me, it would never feel right I would feel like a guest in my own home (where my family has lived over 300 yrs), on reflection I would probably leave as would many others, and crabit and dour and twisted as we are I think Ireland and the world would be poorer without the Ulster Prods.

  • DC

    I tend to agree with you Drumlins in so much as being ruled out of the Dail is as appealing as Westminster, but what I would add in is the ascendency of capitalism and the internet in communication and information terms.

    It’s faintly embarrassing now to talk in terms of identifying with “nations” and its neo-classical structures or neo-baroque parliament buildings etc.

    Let’s just keep the electricity on, the keep the capitalist pipes clean and open to all fairly, along with getting the cash in the account, plus a little footy and/or GAA in between drinking lots will do me sweet up here in NI.

  • Cheerio

    “on reflection I would probably leave”

    Says it all about unionists.

  • “I think Ireland and the world would be poorer without the Ulster Prods.”

    As an Irish nationalist, I would agree.

    Maybe when/if a UI comes about, the UK as we know it will have dissolved and a new political relationship can be created between Ireland and the other countries on these islands that will reassure the Ulster Prods and encourage them to stay put?

  • Sunningdale1973

    The danger with some of the mono-cultural binary logic which often infests the threads on Slugger is that they often miss the complexities and contradictions of identity in Northern Ireland. To be fair there are some interesting insights above but here is an example of how complex life can be:

    I am a Catholic originally from North Belfast, married to a Protestant from Newry, my brother lives in Navan, my brother-in-law in Surrey. My father is an old school nationalist from Derry, my father-in-law is a member of the Ulster Unionist party and a committed trade unionist (who lived in Londonderry as well as Newry).

    On both sides of the family are members of minority communities who tolerated and/or resented the actions of the majority community in their particular home town.

    My Brother and his family are well settled in the Republic and regard Northerners as a bunch of eejits obsessed about NI politics. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law dread coming over from leafy Surrey as every one here wants to talk about NI politics (they would rather talk about sport, food, holidays, family and work).

    We obsess about who we wish to associated most closely with but the joke is that a fair proportion of those who are the focus of our loyalty (UK or ROI) regard the NI population as a bunch of obsessive stalkers.

    Identity has always been complex. Irish identity isn’t pure celt. It is pre-celt, celtic, viking, norman, english, welsh, scottish, as well as catholic and protestant and much the better for it. British culture is even more varied – a mongrel nation as Eddie Izzard once said and again all the richer for it.

    The problem so often is that we seek to define ourselves as what we are not rather than understand the complexities and richness we gain from seeking to understand what makes us different.

    I wonder how many of us cheered as Lafferty scored against Boric for NI and then winced at the irony of cheering a Rangers man scoring aginst the Celtic keeper? But in the end its only a game isn’t it?

  • New Blue

    Superbly put Sunningdale1973.

  • Scaramoosh

    “I have more in common with someone from northampton than navan.”

    Really? Does that include the 10000+ registered members of the ethnic minority community that live in Northampton?

    Or, is it the case that what your comment reveals (perhaps, unconsciously) is that Unionism is, because of its historical roots, a white supremacist, one dimensional movement, within which nobody is capable or able to think outside the box.

  • Comrade Stalin

    GavBelfast:

    He’s only a very rare breed in your opinion.

    No, he’s a very rare breed in the electorate’s opinion. Name me a single senior Ulster Unionist who has ever said at any point in the past three or four decades “I’m Irish as well as British”.

    I happen to agree, by the way, that Unionists are Irish, just like the British people in Wales are Welsh, the British people in Scotland are Scottish, and the British people in England are English. It’s they who deny it, like Sammy Wilson on that fateful Ali G show, “no – I’m British”.

    Drumlins Rock, you cannot possibly be a unionist, you talk far too much common sense. I would absolutely agree that whether NI is part of the UK or Ireland, it will have an identity of its own and, in all likelihood, some kind of regional assembly of its own (indeed the Republicans used to see it that way under their Eire Nua thing).

    My opinions on things are quite similar to yours. I can’t stand the “we were here first ” argument. On the census, I probably look like a nationalist, yet my great grandfather was English and a British soldier so there are people from, say, plantation backgrounds whose roots go back longer than mine.

    I think we all need to embrace all the parts of our identity. And that includes all the SF voters up in West Belfast who grew up watching Playschool rather than Bosco.

    Sunningdale1973:

    Well said.

    The danger with some of the mono-cultural binary logic which often infests the threads on Slugger is that they often miss the complexities and contradictions of identity in Northern Ireland.

    But our problem is that we shoehorn ourselves into electing binary political parties. You can’t redefine unionism – or Irish republicanism for that matter – into something that isn’t narrow and monocultural, so what we need to do instead is redefine our own identities so that republicanism, unionism, or whatever else constitute a much smaller part of the picture.

  • New Blue

    Comrade

    Seems to be more and more of us ‘Irish Unionists’ coming out of the woodwork, could this be *change* at work?

  • joeCanuck

    Name me a single senior Ulster Unionist who has ever said at any point in the past three or four decades “I’m Irish as well as British”.

    I well remember Terence o’Neill being asked that very question by Dimbelby after he was turfed by his party.
    His reply was Ï don’t know”.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Sunningdale, I think your story is becoming more and more common, for example I know 6 friends who have married Brazilians, one of my best mates has married a scouser and another is marrying a Canadian, we all are a mongrel race more and more, but at the root of it all the Anglo-Celtic genes still dominate, to cast sterotypes the Anglo/Germanic bit gives us our scense of duty, order and industry, the Celtic bit give us our love of fun, hospitality and equality, I’m prob a bit biased but I think we have the best mix of the two if we worked together, sadly we seem to prefer to promote the more negative traits of both tribes.
    By the way im not saying prods are anglos and catholics celts, i would guess both are pretty equal mixes, lets guess at prods are 50% anglo 40% Celt 10% others, Catholics are the reverse. (we could try the old “school picture hair colour” survey to check this lol) what i’m saying is although we dont want to lose our identity on either side the common ground for to build up a Northern Irish identity is much greater than many think, there will always be be much that is unique to either side whether its religous or cultural and needs to be accepted by both sides, and (espically when you read comments from the like of cheerio and scaramouche) I believe that both identities can be best protected, and a new common identity further developed better as a region of the UK rather than in a UI.

  • borderline

    Well Drumlins Rock you have articulated your identity eloquently enough in this thread, and it has chimed with other unionists and how they feel about who they are.

    You can rest assured this nationalist accepts your British identity bona fides. You are what you are and you feel what you feel and all that.

    I don’t know from what part of the wee six you hail from, but I’m sure there are plenty of folk who feel like you do in, say, Newry. So let’s say you’re from Newry.

    And if Newry were transferred into the South next Tuesday, how would you then feel?
    Would you forget your aul’ sins and give full allegiance to the Republic?

    Or would you feel cut off from your kinsmen, unfairly turfed out of your country, and disloyal to the state in which you live.

    ‘Cause if you would, you know how I feel and you’d also know where you could shove your line about
    “a new common identity further developed better as a region of the UK “

  • DC

    The problem borderline is that most people do think like that but it’s not about being cut off per se it’s more to do with the way in which NI economy is run.

    It is largely public sector based and driven, there is a big identity to that and I think if we all were to join up with Ireland most people would realise that in terms of private sector employment Britain with London is better than Ireland with Dublin.

    Ergo, people leave rather than stick it out inside a northern 6 county set up with no public sector and little in the way of job creation and clearly lacking the professional public reps to provide the right private sector initiatives.

    Basically, if we opt for unification of Ireland the north will need a massive private sector strategy and that, if we can use a hypothetical overnight switch to Irish unification, will mean sticking it out for ages.

    So why would people stick around for that if London-Britain is better placed economically and indeed better suited to their tastes.

    But as I say this view is reached by considering a sort of quick switch to unification and NI having a greatly diminished private sector upon change over.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I’ve an idea how it feels, not from my own point of view but protestant friends and relatives who ended up on the “wrong side of the border” (incidently mainly from areas that the boundary commission said should have been in the North) those that remained in the south are loyal to the state, even if they have been discriminated against over the years, being close to the border has lessened the seperation from their wider community, however I know more who upt and left, either crossing the border or emigrating futher, often as a result of direct or indirect discrimination, some of it in quite recent years.
    So if say Newry was to end up on the otherside of the border next Tuesday I would safely say within 10 years over half the remaining protestants would have left. I hope you would not want that to happen therefore how would you persuade us that we would be welcome in a United Republic? dispite SF supposed outreach to Unionists and the usual platitudes nationalists have never made any attempt to “persude” us our interests are better served in a UN, personally it would take an amazing offer but sure give it a hot and see what you can come up with.
    We unionists need to do the same thing and make being part of the UK being attractive enough for catholics to feel as if they belong and willing to state that openly.
    In the meantime things remain as they are till that 50%+1 comes along (if ever) and maybe we hould just try to make it work.

  • borderline

    I’ve no problem with any of that Drumlin’s Rock.

    I fully agree with the Irish Govt’s leading light in the Belfast Agreement and de facto chief negotiator on all things Northern, Martin Mansergh: Partition was inevitable from about 1911.
    And we could swap posts all year on what bits ended up on the ‘wrong’ side of the Border.

    And I agree we should try and persuade each other, though I resent the fact that the status quo is I’m in the UK.

    I also don’t want a united ireland if 50%+1 vote for it. A majority would have to be clear cut IMO unless we are to avoid a disloyal north-east.

    Eventually I hope to see an IRFU type solution: Ulster, Ireland and the Lions – where we can all, or nearly all, get a bit uncomfortable but stop the nastiness in order to let future generations make what they will out of it.

  • Drumlins Rock

    maybe there is some common ground afterall borderline, if the relationships north south, east west and espically within NI can be worked at then some day down the line who actually holds the deeds to NI might be irrelivant, and whilst we both hold to our different views, is there anything we in the unionist community can do to lessen you resentment?
    PS. I am glad a 50%+1 is not enough, with the odd exception we dont make great rebels these day, but an overnight switch wouldnt work, maybe the 50+1 could merely trigger negotiations and the finished deal would require a 65% majority.

  • borderline

    “if the relationships north south, east west and espically within NI can be worked at” – that bit about “especially within NI” is the hardest part to swallow for nationalists such as myself, because of it’s implicit acceptance of NI as a discreet territorial unit.

    But swallow it we must, because there is no chance of consent without it.

    “is there anything we in the unionist community can do to lessen you resentment?”

    And with that question DR, you win the award for most dangerous unionist on Slugger 😉

  • Drumlins Rock

    think your safe enough for now borderline, not that many would think that way, if they had of in the 1920s who knows… you mite have noticed we arent that good at forward thinking at times, but maybe thats changing a bit we shall see, may you live in interesting times as they say.

  • John East Belfast

    I wish someone would give me one good reason why I would not be a unionist these days ??

  • Brit

    In mainland Britain a Unionist is someone who believes, or at least proceeds from the starting assumption, that the continued Union of the four nations of the UK is a *good* thing. With the possible exception of NI a unionist stance has long been universal and automatic in mainstream British politics amongst the Labour Party, Lib Dems (and previous incarnations) and, of course, Conservatives. Support for national self-governance within the Union, ie devolution, is by definition Unionist merely a less centralised and unitary version of Unionism.

    It is usually self-evident, though not always expressly stated, that the Unionist position is subject to the will of the people in the relevant nations. Very few Unionists would argue against, say, Scottish independence if the vast majority supported it.

    Some, who might be called de facto Unionists, have no interest in the Union but only *support* or *accept* it to the extent that it reflects the majority view in each of the nations. Some de facto Unionists may be neutral to the continued existence of the Union others may be strongly antagonistic to the idea of the Union but accept that their personal ideas are subject to the will of the people. On this definition Scots Nats and even Sinn Fein are de facto Unionists on some level.

    In NI Unionism means something slightly more specific. Not just that the Union is a good thing but a whole set of identity politics values and assumptions which flow from that. The altenative to Unionism in NI is not mainly independence, as it is for the other member states, but unification with the Republic. Clearly a very different outcome.

    I note that people have referred above to a lack of passion about the Union amongst Unionists outside of NI. This reflects two things. Firstly that it is not a major priority for people, particularly in England where the vast majority of electors live. Economy, jobs, public services, crime are much much more important. Second, the Union in mainland Britain (and indeed in NI) is not perceived to be under real imminent threat. Neither NI nor Scotland are likely to leave the Union just yet. Of course amongst Ulster Unionists the position is different because they have been under political and physical attack by people who wished to force them out of the Union for decades.

    Unionism is therefore consistent with a Far Right fascism, Orange sectarianism, Conservatism, Liberalism, social democracy and socialism. It is consistent with being a small R republican or a monarchist. With being an anti-racist anti-sectarian. With being secular and pro-gay rights. There is nothing inherently reactionary about it.

  • hovetwo

    Comrade Stalin

    “hasn’t the Conservative Party’s heritage normally been traced back through Catholic/Church of England aristocracy ? (as opposed to Presbyterian, Methodist etc).”

    “Tory” is one of the few Irish Gaelic words to thrive in English.

    In English the word Tory started as a pejorative term for a landless Irish catholic aristocrat during the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century – the implication being that the dispossesed elite had become mere outlaws (no better than Tories). Originally it meant someone who was pursued, as in Toraíocht Diarmuid agus Gráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne).

    By 1680 the supporters of James II were being labelled Tories. The phrase was later used about American Colonists who supported William III during the Revolution.

    Not many Tories (including Tory MPs) know that…

  • Brit

    Tory is a swear word in my family

  • Drumlins Rock

    It was never meant as a compliment, but has evolved into a different meaning, dont suppose there is any chance the Lib Dems would count as Whigs these days?
    Conversely the word Fenian went through the reverse process, starting off as a proud title for a particular group but has now bocome a degrogatory term, its never black and white, which brings us back on topic, no-one is ever a complete Unionist or Complete Republican, its not an absolute decision, but for now I will stick with Britain.