The extent of latent sectarianism that manages to surface each summer is depressing (and I am by no means suggesting that it is solely an issue for unionism). Mid-summer regularly reveals attitudes that hollow out the heavy lifting of the political processes as largely an exercise in displacing empty boxes.
Nowhere is this more obvious than that other major element of the silly season – the persistent civic adolescence that has been a permanent feature of the political scene. Chris has mapped some of the outlines of the attempted UVF assault on the Short Strand, an episode which has been dismissed, as ever, as some mere tit-for-tat sectariana. Indeed, one noted journalist spent a whole radio interview declaiming the end of the peace process, no less, since shots were fired from the nationalist side, which could only have been the Provisional IRA, in his opinion, and was, he claimed, the most significant event to date (I think he managed to avoid mentioning the UVF at all). While this failed to gain traction, the recurring contextualisation of overt unionist threats, like the massed UVF action, into some vague ongoing dispute tends to come as unstuck as the most recent episode, as Chris outlined.
The recurring failure of both mainstream unionism and the media to name and address anti-Catholic sectarianism when it occurs will, again, and as ever, include equally little comment on those same UVF men marching alongside unionist politicians over the next couple of weeks. Nor will any unionist politician refuse to participate if any of the same UVF members attempt to parade with them.
That this civic adolescence is endemic is wonderfully illustrated by the belief placed in the NILTS report. The value of opinion polls is generally calibrated against electoral results. Yet NILTS is held up as of great significance when it has failed that most basic test. Since it has erred onto what the mainstream take as the palatable side of results that same civic adolescence happily disregards that central flaw (how long would the method survive over-estimating nationalist sentiment?). That NILTS is regularly cited in policy reports isn’t considered. If the underlying method is not consistently extracting political opinion that mirrors actual opinion (which we can compare to the real thing as expressed at the ballot box), how can the other results be meaningfully evaluated in other spheres?
The main thing NILTS revealed was that, politically, many can still only deal with central political issues in NI by partitioning them off from reality.