There are some lessons for Catholics in the unionist tradition

The time  is overdue to review the historic reputation of opposition to Home Rule as Rome Rule in the light of the latest report on the Catholic Church’s continuing saga of abuse, on events in the diocese of Cloyne.  Can we admit to the uncomfortable thought that some of what the early Paisley said was true?  Yet it would be good if we could use the lessons of Cloyne and the previous reports for better than a few rounds of sectarian wrangling, like achieving greater mutual sympathy and respect.

While it still remains a mystery to me how the powerful northern protestant tradition was for so long underrated during the great Home Rule controversy,  human rights had not developed as a significant force in the Westminster tradition. Nationalism/imperialism became more dominant even as the franchise expanded. On one side, the Church was the people’s institution; on the other, freedom was Protestant and imperial.

It has taken the best part of a century for unionism to accept the limitations of their tradition of freedom. Over the same period, nationalism with a good deal of conviction was able to  present itself as a liberation force. But times have changed. Is nationalism north and south about to make a similar transition and allow a mixture of individual rights and the democratic State finally to take over social provision from an institution which has proved that its priorities finally lie elsewhere? As for the Church itself, it could do worse than rebuild its secular reputation on a basis of human rights.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London