Further thoughts on the direction of unionism

Prof Henry Patterson adds a similar perspective to Arthur Aughey’s . I quibble with him on two points one present, the other, past. Of the 1970s he says:

At that time nationalists north and south, contemplating the deepening crisis of the Northern Irish state and the increasing if reluctant involvement of the UK government in its affairs, hoped that there could be relatively rapid progress towards unity.

While it’s possible to uncover many statements and strategies to that effect you have to ask what they amounted to. My view at the time from many contacts and since is that constitutional nationalists were overbidding to try to redress a sense of helplessness in the face of political drift, on top of the armed insurrection, sectarian counterattacks and military occupation in their midst. Unionism had moved from complacency to paranoia almost in a single leap after October 1968 when the main focus of politics shifted to the streets and stayed there for decades. The first real political test of all sides’ positions after collapse came when Garret FitzGerald in particular tried to call everyone’s bluff from 1973 onwards ( including his own probably). All were found wanting. Yet whatever the aspirations (including those of British governments, the consent principle never came under serious threat.

On today’s “well educated unionists” I hope Henry’s right. In a diverse and quasi –federalising UK, I suspect they will make little impact if they cling to a narrow and outmoded model of unionism, and put all their eggs in a right wing British basket. The ground of “British Ulster” is far too narrow. Crucially it fails to reflect how people actually lead their lives. Today’s younger unionists would be well advised to work seriously in a cross community direction and contribute – as many their predecessors of long ago did – to a diverse Irishness as well as Britishness. This is a half-forgotten but essential unionist insight which should be rediscovered.

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  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “Yet whatever the aspirations (including those of British governments, the consent principle never came under serious threat.”

    Didnt Callaghan meet Fitzgerald in Cork and try, after a few scoops, to pass Ulster over to him only for poor Garret to nearly fall out of his standing and tell the suprised James, thanks but no thanks.

    Some years Later Thatch tried (cue GreenFlag) to pass South Armagh over the border.

    … and the Engleze’s have a history of that type of thing as Randolph’s motto of Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right. had been changed by son Winston, during WW2/The Emergency to if Ireland will fight then Ulster will be swapped.

    … and anyway the consent principle was thrown out the window with the sigining of AIA which gave Ireland a say in the constitutional running of Ulster. Unionists then had to agree to Ireland’s role in Ulster by ‘consenting’ in the GFA referendum or face greater Dublin involvement in their affairs.

  • hoboroad
  • abucs

    I also think Thatcher asking her civil servants to draw up repartition plans was a pretty big departure from “the consent principle”.

    But your call for cross community contributions from confident young unionists to build up a consensus and togetherness in a strong NI is a good call.

  • Johnny Boy

    The only hope for the Union in the long term is a fully functioning, well run, NI Executive. Only then can those born into nationalism be persuaded that maintaining the Union is in their best interest.

    Equally, the quickest, smoothest route to a unified Island of Ireland is a fully functioning, well run, NI executive. Only then can Unionists be persuaded that they have nothing to fear and that they will still have a significant say in what happens in Ulster.

    Putting aside sovereignty, does either side really want to be governed from Dublin?

  • Greenflag


    ‘I also think Thatcher asking her civil servants to draw up repartition plans was a pretty big departure from “the consent principle”.’

    Which ‘consent ‘ principle would that be ? Thatcher’s ‘repartition’ plan was drawn up in the early 1980’s when it looked as if NI as a 6 county state would become ungovernable -largely as a result of Thatcher’s own ‘policy’ re the hunger strikers . What I understand by the consent principle has only come into ‘real effect’ in the sense that it has been accepted constitutionally and practically from a political perspective since the GFA was given practical effect by a ‘functioning ‘ NI Assembly ( regardless of it’s actual performance)

    ‘But your call for cross community contributions from confident young unionists to build up a consensus and togetherness is a good call.’

    I agree . I’d forget the strong NI bit though . I’d use the words politically stable , culturally diverse and tolerant instead . And if that happens then I’m sure the ESB will not switch off the lights for NI consumers ;))

  • Greenflag

    ‘does either side really want to be governed from Dublin?’

    Or London ?

    It will eventually have to be one or the other . Either that or ‘repartition’. The current Assembly’s main function is to keep both sides from eating each other and for now and for some time to come that will be as good as it gets .
    Unless of course ‘history’ unexpectedly intervenes and upsets all carefully laid out ‘applecarts ‘ ?

  • jon the raver

    I have always though the problem with unionism is the Union itself.

    To use the football, analogy – it’s difficult to defend a lead, whereas its easier to attack when your down.
    Hence where does unionism go when there is no armed struggle to condemn and nationalism is making steady advances towards unionism’s box – on the terms set out in days gone, by unionists themselves.

    Younger people who would traditionally side with unionism are seeing jobs lost and money tight all while the DUP consistently try to undermine SF – their bedfellows in the Assembly – it is pathetic.
    Peter Robinson in his party conference did list the amount of things they stopped SF getting in the past year in the Assembly.

    The only way for unionism to progress is to move on from sectarian head counts and start focusing on Northern Ireland and making it a functioning state and executive.

    If the country starts to perform, with good infrastructure, inward investment and a real sense of development then surly it will be difficult to argue for change toward uniting Ireland – and equally it could make the a united Ireland an attractive prospect to southerns.

    As time moves on the union and equally a united Ireland will become some what moot subjects. But while unionism struggles to work out what to do and splits with itself nationalism/SF will continue to progress and gorw election shares

  • slug

    Jon you’re right. It’s the economy now. To be fair the last election did focus on that a lot more than previous ones.

  • jon the raver

    Its probably more simple than that –

    SF concentrate on issues of equality and fighting for a cause.

    DUP concentrate on beating a party they hold hands with – there is no real policy issue!

  • Joehas

    Many moons ago my A level politics teacher stated that it was all about “the pound in your pocket”. Whomever is perceived as able to make the biggest contribution will ultimately be able to attract the greatest support.

  • jon the raver

    Joehas says:8 July 2010 at 3:15 pmMany moons ago my A level politics teacher stated that it was all about “the pound in your pocket”. Whomever is perceived as able to make the biggest contribution will ultimately be able to attract the greatest support.


    Differnce here is that when people can’t relate to their chosen party then they have nowhere to turn and that is what unionism votes dropped and probably will continue to

  • joeCanuck

    There are many ways to measure direction; North/South, up/down, right/left, forward/backwards etc. For unionism (particularly the UUP) I would humbly suggest down and out.

  • o’connor

    Drawing the north into a UI requires subtlety and persuasion, regrettably neither are SFs strong suit.

  • tyronelad1987

    United Ireland will never happen according to Michelle Gildernew SF MP on 5th July 2010 at Kings Hall Belfast! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phRciFGrv38
    Never in my life did i think i would hear those words come from a SF MP!

  • Mick Fealty

    Aye, nice try. You snipped her off in mid flow. Really, it would have been better to have let her speak for herself and let the rest of us come to out own judgements on what she actually said…

  • Greenflag

    Your A level teacher was only partly right . If it was just a matter of the money an Irish Free State would never have come into being neither would an Irish Republic have been declared in 1949 .

    There is a considerable number of Unionists for whom all the tea in China or it’s value would not entice into any UI . Likewise there is an even greater number of Irish nationalists and republicans who for a similar ‘reward’ would not be enticed back into the UK . Between those two ditches the middle ground of politics in NI has to find an accommodation which by definition will not fully please either side .

    Longer term disenchantment has been built into the system for reasons of state .

    Now that might change several centuries hence either way but for now

  • Greenflag

    tyronelad1987 ,

    Where’s the rest of the clip ? That kind of cutting off in mid speech crap does’nt work on slugger . Henceforth unless you can rectify the word ‘troll’ will adhere to your offerings ;(

  • Greenflag

    And where exactly do you think SF would have learnt subtlety and persuasion from ?

    The DUP ? The UUP since 1920 ? the Orange Order ?

    Wake up man and get real

    We all know the reward the SDLP got for their ‘subtlety ‘ in dealing with ‘unionism ‘ of any ilk .. Why would SF want to replicate the SDLP ‘experience ‘ ?

    As you sow so shall you reap .

  • Greenflag

    ‘For unionism (particularly the UUP) I would humbly suggest down and out.’

    It doesn’t pay to keep punching your head into your own fist or to look like an octopus on roller blades displaying lots of movement with no definable direction yet in sight or seemingly even decided .

    NI ‘unionism ‘ cannot survive longer term in a 6 county NI state and an increasing number of ‘unionists’ realise that but they’d rather not think about it for now .

  • tyronelad1987

    I can provide you with the rest of the clip if desired. She said she doesnt believe there will be a united ireland. Anyway….. Also many of my friends, sum of the best are catholics… they vote for sinn fein simply because its the ‘catholic thing to do’ and would rather see northern ireland remain part of the united kingdom! Unionism is strong and i look forward to 12th july parades on mon 🙂

  • o’connor


    Bombs and Bullets work better do they? I was wondering why everything the GFA gives was available in 1972. Silly of me, I should have known.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    Are you suggesting in 1972 they were going to abolish the RUC and let all the prisoners out?

  • o’connor


    Do you think not? Im surprised and disappointed that such cynicism can turn, as soon as SF are mentioned, into sycophantic hero worship.

  • Obelisk

    I’ve seen the belfast telegraph polls and the University research that suggests anything between fifteen and thirty five percent of Catholics are closet Unionists, and although I’ve never met one I’ve no reason to doubt they exist. What I question is if these people are really going to be fervent Unionists?

    They are probably people persuaded that their economic situation is best catered for by remaining in the United Kingdom, yet they come from a community that is majority in favour of a United Ireland, and they would not have the knee jerk reaction against unity many from a Protestant Unionist background would.

    I can believe that a good chunk of people from my community would vote for the Union based on economic reasons, but I cannot believe that they would have that visceral, gut based emotional connection to it.

    If the circumstances arise in the future where the argument for a United Ireland makes more sense than continuing in the United Kingdom, I believe that this section of the community would easily be swayed back to supporting it,
    Unionist politicians who believe that finding a way of securing open Catholic support is a way of cementing the Union may find themselves building a house on quicksand.

  • union mack

    Paul, you got a new alias?

  • Greenflag

    o’connor ,

    ‘Bombs and Bullets work better do they?’

    Is that what I said ? Learn to read . There is a school of thought that says were it not for violent resistance the preent position of nationalists in NI would be as it was in the 1950’s or 60’s . I don’t particularly want to believe that but it’s at he very least conceivable I’m sad to say ;(

  • Greenflag

    Don’t talk about providing the rest of the clip -just do it . Leave the poncing about until the 12th . Now don’t trip over yourself on the march and try and avoid doing the best stroke in the gutter on the way home and don’t vomit over your ma’s clean kitchen floor 😉

  • Greenflag


    That should of course be the ‘breast ‘ stroke and the reference is purely to swimming

  • o’connor

    I read it alright. The civil rights movement was gaining when it was hijacked by republicans.

    All any history book shows anyone who reads them is that violence has never worked.

    In a democratic process other, more sophisticated, tools are required. You know more sophisticated than: ‘My guns bigger than yours’.

  • aquifer

    In an increasingly heterox society, Orange unionism’s exclusionary claims lead inevitably to political decline.

    The random turbulence of a modern globalised economy and our position as a prosperous island in an impoverished world invites people here, and tells the talented to get out.

    Unionism needs to offer them more than a coloured silk sash and a closed bible.

  • sammymehaffey

    No! But neither do the people of the south want us! An often forgotten factor. Remember it requires a majority in BOTH parts of Ireland to vote in favour of a united Ireland and there is no chance of the south voting to take us in – and they have more sense than to share government with SF.

  • sammymehaffey

    and nationalism is making steady advances towards unionism’s box ……

    Whatever gave you that idea?

  • sammymehaffey

    The only ecomomic position DUP took in the last election was
    ‘trust us to keep the begging bowl full with the block grant’
    In that they are at one with SF.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Likewise Republicanism needs to offer more than a glorification of failed terrorism and a few vague leftist policies. In the event of a UI, SF can expect to join the queues at the dole office.

    Fact is both sides are seen as archaic irrelevancies outside NI.

  • Greenflag

    T’he civil rights movement was gaining when it was hijacked by republicans.’

    Yes and the SDLP were gaining when they were hijacked by irredentist ‘unionism’ of the UVF/UDA / and the Unionist parties of no power sharing ever . Well they have their power sharing now with SF a party which hardly existed in 1974 .

    ‘All any history book shows anyone who reads them is that violence has never worked.’

    Absolute codswallop . For starters you had the French Revolution -the American Revolution -the Easter Rising , -Cromwell’s ‘regicide ‘ and no end of ‘violent ‘ uprisings and conflicts of wars of independence in South America , Africa , and Asia – Vietnam etc .

    Normally ‘violence ‘ tends to be absent from modern democracies . The fact that any modern state is subject to serious internal violence between various groups of citizens is usually an indication that there is something rotten at the heart of that democracy . This was amply demonstrated by the violence 1969 through 1974 and later in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world.

    Neither Hitler nor Mussolini would have been removed without ‘violence ‘ and we all know that if Saddam had had nuclear weapons and a well trained and well equipped army of a million men neither the USA nor UK would have invaded that country .

    Tyrone lad 1987 seems to have gapped it 😉 ?

  • Greenflag

    ‘Unionism needs to offer them more than a coloured silk sash and a closed bible.’

    In days of yore Unionism could offer jobs and sinecures to ‘followers ‘ and staunch orangemen -jobs for the boys with preferement all down the line . Those days are largely past now and all thats left is the silk sash and the closed bible . Both are just the ticket and all the skills anybody needs to make it in today’s world . ;)?

    The inexorable and continued advance of the Horseman Apocalyptic will not improve the competitive standing of the bowler hatted marchers from the age of the industrial revolution and empire days long gone.

  • HeinzGuderian

    …….and yet the Keltic Tigger goes from strength to strength……………:-)

    I think this thread can be summed up in a few concise words…..

    ‘A Notion Once Again’ 🙂

  • HeinzGuderian

    This felow clearly has a problem playing the ball !! Akin to the Germans against Spain !! 🙂

  • Joe Bryce

    Exactly. Win win all round. So that Norn Iron ends up in reunified Ireland, stays in the UK, or does a bit of both. I’d like to see SF take their seats in the Commons and the DUP sitting in the Dail. The Six Counties are governed, in effect, by London and Dublin, and should have a say in who is elected in both.

  • o’connor


    How silly of me to think this was about Ireland! If it is going to get historical, and when is it anything else, the Irish have never defeated the Brits in a war. In fact they have often fought with the Brits and won.

    It seems wrong to mention Hitler and leave out those republicans who supported him. “My enemys enemy is my friend”? Rubbish. Celts would have followed Jews into the gas chambers.