We have all the identity we need

Ed Curran’s column, asking what is actually meant by unionism and nationalism today is no less wise by being familiar. He injects a note of basic reflection into a dour political scene that seems trapped in its own silos. Lightening up about identity is one way out. People are often embarrassed to question the fundamentals because like a sermon about God is Love, it fails to reflect ” the real world.” Phooey. I would only add that the choice of British and Irish doesn’t have to be and “either” “or”, it is actually both. That is what the politicians actually created with the Agreements although they still flinch from acknowledging it. The time for us all to play catch up is long overdue. The creature looking down at us from Mars would see only an Irish-British continuum today. We need a political rhetoric that confidently declares that this is an age for making new links, not for breaking old ones. Acceptance of both identities without surrendering a preference for either is surely the best way ahead. Britishness today is much more familiar throughout northern society than ever it was in the days of the old Stormont because of the long period of direct rule, frequent summitry, global consumerism and cheap flights. It is no longer synonymous with Ulster nationalism, any more than Irishness can be stereotyped by the physical force tradition. This penny has yet to drop on both sides because of the unconscionably long time it is taking over sorting flagwaving and marching at flashpoints like Drumcree. The development of Irishness since partition was further stunted because the Troubles sealed NI off as a place apart. We should now trumpet the logic of new developments like Derry-Bridgend if they come off and carry them forward to wherever they might lead, not just across the fading political border but across more stubborn frontiers, those in people’s minds and in the barely suppressed struggles for territory that continue to plague our cities and towns.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London