Decent government will sort the Constitutional question…

I’ve a piece in Saturday’s News Letter, as part of that paper’s focus on Unionism in 2021. At its core, I argue that Unionists, and Nationalists for that matter, in Northern Ireland have been living vicariously off the virtues of their own ideas of their mother state for years, but that:

Increasingly, our politics will be about being good in government, and making strong coherent choices that enhance rather than blight the future.

As 2021 dawns, our choices should be a great deal richer than those we have today.

Whilst I don’t expect political unionism to collapse, it should by then have developed a more urbane and relaxed mein towards a constitutional matter that ultimately is more likely to be decided by deliberation rather than bloody revolution.

And unionists may, by then, be in the enviable position of deciding for themselves which way they vote on the basis of what’s good for the people of Northern Ireland.

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  • Greenflag

    ‘we all know that logic is not going to get us out of this mess.Neither will violence.’

    Very true 🙂 We’ll have to rely on that infamous clown history or it’s modern day descendant a ‘black swan ‘ incident or a ‘deus ex machina ‘ contrivance . I don’t see any on the horizon yet but then they already be behind us but it’s just we haven’t yet noticed them ;)?

  • Obelisk

    In the event of a United Ireland I’ll have to go with the late Horseman’s opinion of the matter, that Sinn Fein deprived of the main reason for it’s existence will likely fade away.

  • demeceface

    i do not think that sinn fein would have a problem with fading away on an united Ireland.However,many would say that the same logic applies to the current fading away of unionism.As somebody else as pointed out it is only in crisis that unionism activates itself.There is the danger that the constitutional question settles in a calm that they do not see coming.

  • Charminator

    Thanks John East Belfast.

    I note you’ve returned to the more familiar terrain of historical arguments, rather than focusing on my more positive-minded forward looking comments, repeated here:

    “In any case, the GFA arrangements, whilst not altering the quest for a united Ireland, ensure that dual identites will endure, even after any such unity. From a pragmatic Republican/Nationalist perspective, this is only to be expected and I think is being welcomed by many moderate Unionists. The present efforts to reconcile Unionism with the broader Irish identity which many Irish Unionists always adopted (Carson and if I recall correctly, Field Marshal Montgomery from his Donegal links) is positive. Irish Nationalism is trying – and yes, still has some way to go – to understand better and identify more with Unionist narratives which were previously less appreciated (the role of Irish/Ulster soldiers in WWI), but almost the entire Irish political Establishment, from the President down, are making efforts in this regard. That doesn’t mean that the pain of partition is gone, but it means that it is not to the fore and as an historical fact it can be parked, whilst more meaningful engagement evolves.”

    I’m tempted to engage with you on India and Palestine. If you really consider these as examples of ‘successful’ partition, you’re not present in the real world. Both regions have been plagued with war since! In India, over 500,000 people died during the scramble after partition! The British Govt ‘cut and run’ in both circumstances, throwing caution to the wind. That’s common knowledge and, frankly, I’ve never before heard either example being cited as a successful model in partition!!

    Where does your logic of partition end? Where does the right of territorial integrity and national self-determination kick in?

    And btw, ‘lest we forget’: I’m still waiting for that British Govt statements rejecting the Brookes Declaration. You did note that it’s been 20 years since and we’ve seen 5 different British Govts since, the GFA, and the St. Andrews Agreement, so for an informed individual like yourself, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a statement correcting it.

    Or – like I said – get your local MP to enquire. I’m sure it would prove very comforting to have your own British Govt restate, for the record, their lack of ‘any selfish strategic or economic interest’ in your particular region of the UK. Or – in the reverse – show me where a similar statement has been made about Scotland, Wales, even Cornwall!

  • demeceface

    i saw one yesterday.Impressive.

    The electron jumpers all over.

    ok, i’m away

  • Greenflag

    ‘In Iraq it is not beyond possibility that when the West leaves we will see it shred three ways into Shia, Sunni and Kurd.’

    It already is and despite President Obama’s recent comments re troop withdrawal promises being kept – Iraq is still without a broad consensus Government .

    ‘A two state solution is now generally accepted wisdom to Palestine.’

    Not to some of the Israeli Government factions it isn’t . They still believe in a Greater Israel . The David v Goliath victory of the Israelis in the 6 days war now looks in retrospect as if David defeated not Goliath but himself ;(

    Re the future of ‘unionism ‘ if any , there is also the elephant in the room of broader Anglo Irish relations . There is a growing realisation that both countries have more to gain by a Northern Ireland that has disappeared from the pollitical map or that has somehow found internally an acceptable framework for good local governance minus the tribalistic histrionics . The latter possibilty in my view is the least likely given the circumstances . Whatever elations between Britain and Ireland will be on a better foundation as we go forward .

  • Mack

    I agree repartition without agreement would be a disaster.

    That said either side should be free to attempt to persuade the other of it’s virtues.

  • Greenflag

    ‘There is the danger that the constitutional question settles in a calm that they do not see coming.’

    The same of course applies to ‘nationalism’ 😉

  • JH

    I may be wrong but unlike most other political movements, which tend to have a few binding factors that exemplify an over-arching philosphy towards other issues; whether labour, socialist, British conservative, Irish republican etc, Unionism seems to be completely one dimensional. Exemplified by the second reply to this thread, it’s raison d’etre is that simply that it isn’t Irish nationalism.

    Is it redundant? I believe that in it’s current form it is. I think the next decade will see a decline in the vocal Unionism of the DUP and UUP and a movement towards the ‘status quo’ Unionism of Alliance. The former are just not dynamic enough, they haven’t moved quickly enough with the times. As JEB said, young protestants may start off voting DUP but as they travel and mix with other cultures that can only decrease in number.

    Going by NILT, which I had the pleasure of working a little bit on, I would anticipate that a border referendum with a solid marketing campaign and proper public engagement could return up to 40% in favour of a United Ireland. Unionist leaders will of course rejoice that this copper-fastens the Union, but the following mandatory interim period between the first and second referendums will mark an increase in confidence and change in public opinion towards reunification and make over 50% very much achievable in the second.

  • demeceface

    could we have a hold your breath competition and get it over?

    Of course, there are huge differences.Irish nationalism will be more and more aired and driven by the ROI.Whilst, unionism holds it breath.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Repartition is nonsense. It’s all very well talking about what Parliament wants. Whether or not that will be stable is another matter. Dicking around with the border will only make our problems worse.

  • SK

    “One of the reasons I am against a UI is because I would fear the standard of politics in a small state from a small pool with a toothless RTE v what passes for politics in the UK – there is no comparison.”

    Surely you mean ‘what passes for politics in Britain’, as opposed to the UK?

    You may extol the virtues of mainland Britain all you wish, but you cannot pretend to share in them.

    Northern Ireland remains a bitter, perpetually dysfunctional, handout-dependant backwater, and I would respectfully suggest that its unhappy residents are in no position to make such smug judgements about their neighbours to the South.

  • RepublicanStones

    Despite the political psychosis of some of nationalists, NI IS as British as Finchley,

    Indeed Mick, Finchely has a two communities with different narratives, it has one half of its populace which doesn’t identify with the state, it has one half of its populace who don’t identify with the english flag, its has one half of its populace who seek to dissolve the state, it had until 12 years ago one half of its populcae policing the other, it has a recent troubled past of two tribes at war with eachother. Sure its as British as Finchley. Maggies need to make the claim was demonstrative of her Purloined Letter approach to masking these very real differences.

  • Greenflag

    Probably not going to happen JH at least not as in your sequence . There will only be a referendum at such time as it’s likely to produce a overall Yes Vote and that probably by significantly more than the 50% plus 1 advocated by some of our absolutist ‘democrats ‘ 🙁 . Even the mechanism by which such a referendum would or could be called is somewhat less than transparent .

    As for ‘Unionism ‘ being one dimensional ? An understatement . Length and width it has but ‘depth’ is another matter entirely 😉 Political Unionism in Ireland is a gold fish that is forever having its bowl reduced in size .

  • Reader

    Charminator: Actually, it’s rather more simple than that, and rather more unselfish too.
    Lets keep it really simple. Six statements, lets see if you disagree with any of them:
    GB has no selfish strategic interest in NI.
    RoI has no selfish strategic interest in NI.
    GB has no selfish economic interest in NI.
    RoI has no selfish economic interest in NI.
    Either GB or RoI can declare, or just act upon, any other interests or inclinations it wants. Same applies to any political party.

  • Greenflag

    ‘As somebody else as pointed out it is only in crisis that unionism activates itself.’

    Or as somebody else pointed out -if you enjoy crises or prefer a state of permanent crisis always hire somebody who is good in a crisis 😉

  • Anon

    Or it might make everyone happier. It’s a counterfactual. I’m, not keen: most people aren’t. They prefer all or nothing. But if a majority West of the Bann took to it, there isn’t a lot that could stop the natural outworking of those forces whether I like it or not.

  • south_armagh


    If what you say is true i.e.

    Britain now has a selfish and/or strategic interest in Northern Ireland

    that would move my position from ambivilance about dissidents to support. I would say that was the crucial reason behind stopping the IRA campaign. If it is/has been removed there would be a huge increase in support for a military strategy.

    I am not going to debate the rights and wrongs of the above. It’s just a fact.

  • Charminator

    Thanks Reader.

    As I said earlier, frankly, you’re missing the point. But let’s restate it very, very simply.

    (1) The Irish Govt and Irish State retains a MAJOR interest in the North.
    Ireland’s Constitution, at its very outset, lays out an interest in uniting ALL the people and, by extension, ALL the territory of the island. You can take this as selfish or economic, but you’re probably safer taking it as something that runs even deeper than either: an interest which extends beyond temporal economic or selfish benefits and reaches to the actual people of the North and the territory itself.

    (2) Now, the British Govt and British State, never mind not expressing any interest in retaining the territory and the people themselves have gone further and ACTUALLY do not have any interest which operates on even economic or strategic plane.
    It is, rather, a link with the North which persists only insofar as the people in the North desire it. The Irish State, however, already expresses a ‘firm will’ to unite all the people, EVEN in the present circumstances where the majority of the people do not desire it.

    The Irish State’s interest, be it economic, strategic, or actually in far, far deeper, and based on the people and territory of the North itself, is not just a statement of Govt policy, it is a constitutionally mandated imperative.

    You also note:
    “Same applies to any political party.”

    This is a red herring, the position of a political party is of minimal interest, except insofar as that position is translated into Govt policy. If it isn’t translated into Govt policy then it’s mere waffle. So I am personally disinterested in examples of David Cameron waffling about the Union with ‘NI’ as an opposition leader, and especially so in advance of an election where he may need to play the ‘Orange card’, except IF he then restates such positions as British Govt policy. I deem this unlikely, not merely for North-related reasons, but because recent British Govt’s have moved beyond causing gratuitous harm to London-Dublin relations.

    If I were a Unionist, I would be seeking Cameron to restate his pro-Union links with ‘NI’ as a shift from the Brookes Declaration. Why shouldn’t he? Irish taoisigh are constitutionally compelled to seek unity, why shouldn’t the British PM similar state, on record, that he not only NOW has a selfish strategic and economic interest in NI, but actually has an interest in unity with the North’s people and territory, IN SPITE OF any transient selfish, strategic, or economic factors.

    Good luck extracting anything remotely close to an affirmation of the Union as being something ‘mainland Britain’ desires in and of itself, not merely because the wishes of the North so presently reflect it, from any serving British PM.

  • spige

    Lignite. Nobody mentioned the vast NI resources of lignite.

  • shane

    To suggest that Irish unification should occur without external financial aid is ridiculous. Britain off course would pay into a arranged financial package that would decrease over time to assist the transition. The alternative for the UK would be to continue to pay the huge subsidy with no prospect of it ending unless it decides it no longer cares for the welfare of the people living in Northern Ireland but continues to have jurisdiction over them anyway.
    In actual fact it is a good scaremongering tactic that is affective at maintaining the status quo when actually unification good bring an unprecedented level of investment to Ireland for a period of time that would offset the disruption of realigning resources to attend to the needs of the people.
    Also just a reminder to those that have mentioned the current demise of Irish States finances. The UK national debt currently lies at around 1 trillion pounds and the UK government is currently only beginning to address this, which will have a increasing detrimental affect in NI over the coming years. The recent national solvency crisises is affecting many countries not just Ireland(USA,UK, PIGGS to name a few). The Irish state should see a recovery or improvement in its fiscal deficit in the next five years as some money is retrieved from NAMA. The once off payments have been made to the banks which are making our problems appear a lot worse than they are although still abhorrent that we got into this situation. There will be no default or at least it wont be admitted, just practical restructuring.

  • Greenflag

    A young Belfast schoolgirl of the non unionist persuasion was set an essay in which she had to answer the question
    ‘Why do you love Northern Ireland and the Union’

    She went to her father ‘

    ‘Why do you love Northern Ireland and the Union “? she asks .
    ‘Love Northern Ireland and the Union ‘ he shouts
    *&*#@!^%&* bloody so and sos ‘ he answers.

    So she asks her mother ‘

    ‘You can’t love such a backward sectarian brain dead country ,darlin !’ says her mother !She goes to other family members and to her friends and they all give her more or less the same answers . She returns to school and answers the essay question ‘

    ‘I love Northern Ireland and the Union because nobody else does’


  • Erasmus

    Parnell was criticised by his own ‘green fringe’ for wringing economic concessions from the Liberal Govt. on the basis that this was blurring constitutional agendae.
    His reply:
    ‘If the people wax fat they will kick’

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk


    NI is not and never has been an “integral” part of the Union. The overwhelming majority of people in Britain don’t understand it and don’t care about it. The majority of those that do would favour British withdrawal. There is little sympathy for the NI Unionist position – seen for decades as being represented by Paisley, the OO and saying no to everything (except more British govt handouts).

    With Scots and Welsh devolution along with the growing tide of English Nationalism, NI is becoming more and more irrelevant to GB.

    Do you really think that English people sit around in pubs or at their dinner tables talking about NI and it’s future? – do they f**k.

    I spent 20 years in London and once they hear your accent, you’re a Paddy (I mean that in a friendly way) – they are not the slightest bit concerned about Catholicism/Protestantism – Nationalist or Unionist

    Douglas Hurd wrote that he was surprised by Thatchers “as British as Finchley” remark as it was clear from his conversations with her that this wasn’t her true view at all. Most sensible people saw it as a political soundbite except for pathetic Unionists who seek scraps from the British table and think the Queen gives a shit about them.

    I love when Unionists bring up the MI5 building – so what? Did you ever hear of the Ulsterisation policy? If the MI5 building in NI is attacked, it will have a lot less political damage for the UK govt than an attack in Britain.

    Like it or not, people in Britain became immune to stories about people being killed in NI – it was attacks in Britain that really upset them – quite understandably so.

    I’m quite happy for NI to remain in the UK as long as the majority wish and for people there to have British citizenship if they wish.

    Just don’t delude yourself that, in the eyes of the British population, someone from the North is as British as someone from London or Manchester.

    NI Unionists have never been considered as such and they never will be.

  • Reader

    spige: Lignite. Nobody mentioned the vast NI resources of lignite.
    There’s too much resistance to its use – at least until we get past Peak Oil.

  • Reader

    Charminator: As I said earlier, frankly, you’re missing the point. But let’s restate it very, very simply.
    You forgot to say if you disagreed with any of the six statements. Do you?
    Charminator: …why shouldn’t the British PM similar state, on record, that he not only NOW has a selfish strategic and economic interest in NI…
    Why should he? He probably doesn’t. He’s not much interested in guarding the Western Approaches or taxing the linen industry.

  • Charminator

    Thanks Reader.

    I’d have thought my paragraph outlining was pretty clear. It included a number of conclusions. I’ve restated it again.

    “(1) The Irish Govt and Irish State retains a MAJOR interest in the North.

    Ireland’s Constitution, at its very outset, lays out an interest in uniting ALL the people and, by extension, ALL the territory of the island.

    You can take this as selfish or economic, but you’re probably safer taking it as something that runs EVEN DEEPER than either: an interest which extends beyond temporal economic or selfish benefits and reaches to the actual people of the North and the territory itself.”

    On the British Govt’s interest in ‘NI’, we agree as the Brookes Declaration already makes clear anyway. But in case you have not noticed there have been others posting here who have sought to suggest that the British PM is some sort of redivivus Craig, rather than accept what is blindingly obvious to everyone else: a Tory leader can say what he likes (about EU, ‘NI’ etc) whilst keeping the ‘Orange card’ up his sleeve in advance of an election – but when he enters Downing Street, the full realities are a little more complex.

  • shane

    Why is it some people like to paint Ireland as some sort of third world country. Oh they want to be independent but they want the Brits to pay for it. How is that independent? The Brits have spent billions over the years, if they walked away tomorrow people who are ever ready with the thinly disguised begging bowl would have nothing more than their just comeupance.

    Ireland is a modern, fairly wealthy country in the heart of Europe, not some third world basket case, living in and off its past.