Room for a unionist elephant or two?

When it comes to unionism, there are numerous elephants that follow them into the debate around violence on the political stage. Invoking morality as a counter argument to the deployment of violence in the political arena jars considerably with the history of unionism.

Once ‘Irish’ unionism became a failed political entity (as it didn’t find sufficient electoral support in Ireland), ‘Ulster’ unionism rose on the back of overt and implied threats of violence if a Home Rule Bill was passed (gun-running, drilling, army mutinies etc). As ‘Irish’ unionism had not succeeded and there was no prior democratic (or historical) basis for the partitioned state unionism ultimately acquired, to deny the validity of violence as a means to attaining political ends is to deny the origins of ‘Ulster’ unionism. Without even rehearsing accounts of post-partition history up to 1972 and beyond, several recurring themes render unionist critiques of politically-motivated violence as inordinately hypocritical. Whilst publicly adopting moral positions on violence many unionist politicians saw no contradiction in mixing with those invovled in ‘terrorism’ during parades and in the field, and, on a regular basis, offered character references in court or appeared ambivalent when choosing which violent actions required public condemnation or comment. This is/was an issue that unionism is still unwilling to confront, even today.

A further underlying paradox in the unionist position is a persistent intransigence on the possibility that a united Ireland may come about democractically and that, in that event (however likely or unlikely), they would retain some vague right to violent resistance. Thus whilst holding a moral objection to their opponents deploying violence on the political stage, some unionists would, in the same breath, suggest that aversion to violence is conditional upon them getting their own way (a rough measure of this is to honestly appraise your personal response to the theoretical idea of nationalism attaining an electoral majority).

That’s hardly an argument to persuade the ‘dissident’ republicans onto a solely political stage. As if to illustrate this point, here’s Malachi O’Doherty’s comments from last weekend:

History is letting the Provos off lightly in not plunging them into their own civil war.

Is there not still some ambivalence there?