Given we are now heading into the decade of Centenaries, this is a nicely provocative piece from Arthur Aughey in the News Letter today, in which he gently teases some Republicans who seemed ‘convinced’ there would be United Ireland by 2016. More likely, claims Aughey that Northern Ireland will still firmly be part of the UK:
…debating the future of the Union is no longer a peculiar Ulster pastime but is central to a deliberation about constitutional politics that is happening across the UK. Until recently, Northern Ireland’s future was discussed separately in terms of a range of constitutional options including Irish unity.
No longer. In British politics today, there is no serious constituency advancing Irish unity. There is no serious constituency in Irish politics advocating it today, either and not only because the economic crisis makes it impossible.
But the question Aughey asks of local unionists is, can they contribute the national (or rather, to use his terms, ‘multi national’) debate. Clearly he thinks so:
The unionist ideal is multi-nationalism in that, unlike the Republic of Ireland, it is not a nation state but now a state of unions between four countries.
The principle it upholds is free association – in other words you are not compelled to stay within it (what people here know as the principle of consent).
And what of the call for Unionist Unity? Well, Aughey is a sceptic. Not because it won’t work, but because it risks the attainment a larger prize: substantiating Northern Ireland legal status inside the UK, into a harder political one and of bringing outsiders (those who are currently nationalists and others) in:
Firstly, it doesn’t respect the new Northern Ireland which unionists themselves have helped bring about. It suggests a retreat back into the old defensive, paranoid mentality which is no longer required.
Secondly, it doesn’t respect the diversity of opinion within unionism. It denies it.
Thirdly, it doesn’t respect the big question but returns to talking to ourselves again, what Lord Castlereagh called the curse of ‘tumultuous pedantry’.
It pins on again that badge of exclusion which took so long to remove.