Republicans and Unionists both need to look at their directions of travel

For some years now I have been of the view that republicanism needs to take a critical look at the direction it is travelling.  I think, in particular, northern republicans need to take a critical look at the type of Ireland we want to see in the 21st Century.

What does it mean to be an Irishman in the north 2010?  For some it is cultural, for others political and historical, while for a few I suppose it’s remains religious.  For me, it is a surreal mixture of all.

I like the GAA but to be truthful I’d rather watch soccer.  I’m proud of the Irish language but I have no more than ‘cupla focal’.  I go to Mass but am critical of the church hierarchy.  I am proud of my country’s history but applaud the British for their stance in the Second World War.

I like Irish traditional music but love British rock and pop.  I supported the IRA campaign but totally oppose those engaged in violence today.  I remember the leaders of Easter 1916 and the hunger strikers but pay tribute to the dead of the World Wars.  I am a walking contradiction.

I look at unionism and I see a people who are similarly confused – a very Irish type of Britishness.  They are loyal to the Crown but rarely their Government.  But for the first time I saw the unionist electorate reject firebrand unionism, this time in the guise of TUV.

Does unionism genuinely want to work with their fellow countrymen in the north?  If so, then it is up to republicanism once again to show leadership and to travel the extra mile for the national good.

As a northern republican I have increasingly believed that a fair deal and true partnership with unionism would lead to a re-evaluation of Irish unification.  The Ireland envisaged by Tone, Pearse and Sands may no longer be achievable or, dare I say, desirable.

It is clear that the Irish people have agreed to unity by consent only. Northern Ireland is here for as long as unionists want it to be.  That is the reality and no small militant factions are going to change that. However there is a real challenge in this for unionism.

If they want Northern Ireland to remain then they have to take a similar critical look at themselves.  They have to accept that many of their neighbours have no allegiance to the Crown and will only give up on their ideals if it is clearly demonstrated that the Northern Ireland of the future is for everyone.

How could this be achieved?

Recognition of the Irish language would help; no more parades in nationalist areas would be a huge step; neutralising emblems would also play a huge role; real cross border institutions would also be necessary.  But the real challenge is to cut your ties with London – be confident in your strength and the safeguards of the Good Friday Agreement.

Recognise that in London you are a very small fish in a very large pond. I didn’t say it was going to be easy for anyone.