Unionist Unity is not a Sectarian proposition…

We republish this platform piece from Friday’s News Letter with kind permission of the author. It argues that there is an assumption that sectarianism only happens when unionists are involved. Nationalist involvement attacks against Protestant or unionist buildings tend to be discounted. Along with this, it argues there is a rather lazy assumption that unionists should simply give up everything they have without a fight: “Devolution does not mean giving nationalists a free run to take unionist constituencies”.From ‘Ulster Unionist member in South Belfast’

Liam Clarke in his column suggests Alasdair McDonnell is no threat to the Union (News Letter 13 April) and instead says that the Sandy Row Orange Order’s failure to condemn an Orangeman in England standing for the BNP makes them hypocrites for seeking to thwart the SDLP candidate’s re-election.

This is a straw man argument as the issue for the south Belfast Orange Order is who represents unionists in the South Belfast constituency. Currently we have a semi-abstentionist, double jobbing MP who was elected on a minority vote because Unionists had rival candidates in 2005.

Mr McDonnell’s response, despite him saying he has worked with the Orange Order, is typically abrasive and, as before, he tars his opponents with the ‘S’ word: “If their hostility is simply because I’m a Catholic then it seems to be little more than naked sectarianism.”

However you don’t have to be in the Orange Order to be concerned about nationalist triumphalism in South Belfast. You only need to go to the Holy Land area on St Patrick’s Day to see an unpleasant future. Or read that nationalist students stoned the City Church either in a sectarian or anti-immigrant response to the Roma issue.

That there have been 70 sectarian attacks on Orange halls in Northern Ireland in the last year is another telling fact.

Similarly Gerry Adams in calling for an agreed nationalist candidate in South Belfast says “That’s what we’ve been getting on the doorsteps ‘why don’t you guys get your act in order and try and ensure the Orange Order doesn’t end up choosing who’s going to be the MP’”.

Liam Clarke also argues that the “Border can only be removed” if a referendum so agrees” and that the current Stormont arrangements have stabilised Northern Ireland by “allowing nationalists a place in the sun.”
This may be so but we are in a “peace process,” a phrase coined by Sinn Fein to indicate unceasing political activity leading to Irish unity (after a 30-year war). And some continue the war. Devolution does not mean giving nationalists a free run to take unionist constituencies.

For the “peace process” reason, every election in Northern Ireland can only be a referendum on the border. The loss by Unionism of any and every seat is marked down as a step towards unity. Remember it was Eddie McGrady MP who said on his victory in South Down that the border had come to Belfast.

A victory for Unionism by means of a single candidate in South Belfast is not “a sectarian approach” Rather it would provide a psychological boost to those who want stabilisation of the Union and a non-sectarian city.

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