Mr Adams: Unionists are not going away, you know…

We’ve more videoed interviews coming from the BIPA, but I thought this was worth flagging up as a reaction to Gerry Adams’ extended hand of friendship there on Tuesday… It’s what I take to be the editorial in yesterday’s Newsletter… and it is, to some extent stating the ‘bleedin’ obvious’, but possibly missing the point of the Adams pitch… But first, the point that most liberal nationalists (north and south) seem to miss about the problem unionists have with Mr Adams himself:

Mr Adams often quotes Irish history, but he clearly needs reminded that it was republican terrorists, many of them known to him, who murdered 60 per cent of the people who died during the Troubles. The survivors of what was often a campaign of ethnic cleansing will find his remarks offensive. They will have real difficulty understanding his view that republicans were not trying to conquer or humilate unionists. In fact many believe republicans were trying to wipe unionists off the face of the map of the new Ireland they were trying to achieve.

Republicans will give you another argument, but the Newsletter is not wrong about the practical effects of that campaign, particularly out in the west of Northern Ireland… The trouble here is that Adams’ message (and it was welcomed from the floor by the Crossbench Peer Lord Bew) is right his call for a more serious local dialogue, as opposed to the negotiation by proxy with the ‘old colonial master’ in hopes they’d sell their loyalist (and I mean that in the traditional, not the latter day pejorative sense btw) fellow citizens birthright the party has traditionally fallen back to in previous periods of impasse.

The other complication here of course is that just as nationalist and Catholic are interchangeable in terms of what is often meant by politicians in Northern Ireland, so too are unionist and Protestant… So far only the Conservatives have been straightforward and up front about what they mean (and they have taken a lot of disingenuous flak for it from other supposedly non sectarian parties which nevertheless persist with profoundly sectarian bases.

Mr Adams would have been clearer if he’d suggested upfront he wants Protestants to join his cause. That outreach is in fact to people not other political parties whose long term objects he will never share. But if he really did mean that he might get the Unionist parties to turn their tanker round then the Newsletter perhaps has a point when it says:

There are four main unionist parties – the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Traditional Unionist Voice and the Progressive Unionist Party. All four parties have the word ‘unionist’ at the their core and it is there for a reason.

Unionists do not want a united Ireland. Any concept of a united Ireland is contrary to everything they stand for. Mr Adams can bleat on all he wants about his vision. The truth is that the unionist population in Northern Ireland and many people in the Republic of Ireland do not share his concept of the future.

Mr Adams – unionists are not going away, you know.

Quite. But as we pointed out six years ago, unionists should play their politics as though each election held the constitutional status in a fine balance. Their aim should be to increase the numbers of people with whom the Union with Britain is a genuinely popular project (as both Craig and Carson told them to at the beginning of Northern Ireland’s history).

It’s worth noting too that whilst Adams made that statement in August 1995, eleven years later that organisation substantially ceases to exist… Unionism’s long term weakness may lies in its apparent long term strength (ie, incumbency and the slowing of historic demographic trends)… Like him or loathe him, Cameron is demonstrating the kind of leadership those early Unionist leaders commended but were unable to provide…

Perhaps the reason that most other local players (on both sides of the sectarian divide) seem reluctant to follow is that it might require at some level the acknowledgement at some point the sectarian basis for much of their political progress… Or probably more importantly, they fear that in shifting the provenance of their political appeal the wheels would simply fall off the cart they currently have.

Either way, it is sheer fantasy that the Union can be maintained or breached with the support of just one community set. That argument will be won or lost by winning the confidence what passes in Northern Ireland for the middle ground as it is in every other western democracy…

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another political generation for our political leaders to realise it…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty