“…it’s not actually the economy, stupid, after all.”

Jude Collins has been writing about Peter Robinson’s comments in The Times last week which preceded the DUP Leader’s latest declaration that his party would like to attract votes from catholics.

There are quite a few reasons why the sincerity of those comments should be questioned at this stage- as they were when similar comments were made before the summer. Perhaps Peter’s party may even find an interest in addressing underachievement amongst catholic boys in schools, or indeed refrain from boasting about their ability to stop houses from being built for catholics. And then there’s the small matter of Peter’s track record of dealing with the catholics actually residing in his own constituency….

But Collins makes the rather obvious point that the economic condition of either Britain or the south of Ireland has never before determined the constitutional preferences of people in this part of Ireland:

But what if economics isn’t at the heart of this at all? I talked to a unionist politician a while back and he swatted away the economic argument for union. When the south was booming, he said, unionists were against re-unification; now it’s bust  and they still don’t want to join. Might it be that nationalists feel the same way about breaking the link  with Britain? Maybe when the chips are down it’s not actually the economy, stupid, after all. 
Read the whole thing here.
  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Chris, I couldn’t agree more: if one thing is obvious about Northern Ireland it’s that economic fortunes have very little impact on the respective national allegiances – and why would they? Wealth has got nothing much to do with national identity really.

    I’ve always found it baffling how apparently intelligent people would trot out nonsense about how if you “built an economic case” for a united Ireland, unionists could be persuaded, or the other way around. It’s never had any traction, because it’s irrelevant to the question of what your national identity is. The disastrous economy in the Republic for most of its existence did not reduce Irish identity among Ulster Catholics one iota.

    I suppose some of the people who thought unionism was only about seeking economic advantage could be drawn into thinking we’d do anything for a comfortable life, including switching nationality for a few bob. A more thorough misunderstanding of unionism it is hard to imagine.

  • Turgon

    Mainland Ulsterman,
    I agree but to be fair to Chris (did I actually just write that) there is a dishonesty in many of both sides on this issue. Take a hypothetical successful unionist businessman with nationalist friends / business partners. If politics is ever discussed he might say that he is a unionist because he is better off / business is better within a UK context. Now in reality he is almost certainly trying to be polite and not saying that he would be utterly opposed to a united Ireland for cultural and political reasons as well as economic ones. The economic argument, however, might feel more respectable and less threatening. As such a foolish nationalist / republican might think there is merit in an attempted economic argument for a united Ireland.

    Clearly the scenario could be exactly played in reverse.

  • ayeYerMa

    I don’t think things are so black-and-white as the above posters are suggesting. Economics is just one factor out of many. It’s undeniably a factor.

  • ayeYerMa

    … and a rather large factor at that.

  • carnmoney.guy

    Why is everyone missing the whole point of who the DUP are targeting – it is not nationalists – of whatever hue – it is Catholics.
    Typically – middle class home owners, kids in Catholic grammar / integrated or Protestant grammar like B.R.A.
    Professional / semi professional careers.
    Currently non-voters, Alliance supporters.

    The key is how our PR machinations play out. The outreach from DUP is firstly to get them to put DUP on the ballot ahead of UUP or Sinn Fein, then over time get that number as near to one as possible.

  • Alias

    “It’s never had any traction, because it’s irrelevant to the question of what your national identity is.”

    Mainly because both nations in NI have come by history to see the primary function of the State as being to act as a gaurantor of respective national rights (culture, identity, tradition) and as a server for civic rights that are free from discrimination, etc. That is essentially what its reformatted local constitution is about – and both nations signed up to it. The ‘nationalists’ only saw unity as a guarantor of those rights. If they can be guaranteed within the British state then unity is redundant and even counterproductive. If you look at NILT, most catholics are actually constitutionally unionist but culturally nationalist.

  • What washes least with nationalists about Robbo’s er…..outreach is, he knows that the majority in his party have the attitude to Catholics alarmingly similar to the Orangemen in the 1960s, [before the ‘troubles began], that if they didn’t like the way things were in NI, they could go down south. Little has changed in most DUP members in the intervening decades.

  • Lionel Hutz

    well the economic casedoes have to be made because many on all sides would believe that a United Ireland would be a disaster.

    The major economic case to be made out against the union is the glaringly obvious point that Westminster is happy to watch us wither on the vine so long as we arent killing each other. They dont care about us.

  • Alanbrooke

    The question isn’t if we are happy in the UK or Ireland but if NI wishes to merge with its German neighbours.

    Is beer and sausage more attractive than champ and guinness ?

  • ayeYerMa

    Indeed Carnmoney, I don’t get why it is do difficult for people to understand that Peter Robinson wants the DUP to try to reach out across the religious divide, not the constitutional preference one.

    People like Mark Devenport trying to make an issue out of Northern Ireland and Union flags somehow being incompatible with this really don’t seem to get it at all. The DUP are not going to reach out to Republicans, nor should they.

    Madraj, a majority? Some rather bold assumptions plucked out of thin air. I think that if the DUP were to tell any rabid Irish Republican that if they don’t like things in NI then they should go down south, then that would be a fair message; you really do seem to be having difficulty distinguishing between rabid Republicans and Catholics – what are you, a “Loyalist” terrorist in disguise?

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s a good thought experiment to remove te economy from the equation (though it is also removes from sight a number of important drags on any future unification process)…

    So what questions does it usefully raise in its place?

  • Cynic2

    Well all the opinion polls I have ever seen all through the Troubles seem to have indicated a substantial minority of Catholics who were pro-union. Those were through good times and bad and probably a factor in SF’s insistence that it be written into law that a referendum cannot be held unless the Secretary of State believes the vote will be yes for unification. It would just be too embarassing

  • Jack2

    DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson hand delivered a letter to Downing Street protesting the proposed change in law, allowing Royals to marry a Catholic.

    This wasnt in 1970/1980 or even 1990. It was this month.

    (All commonwealth nations have agreed to the change.)

  • FuturePhysicist

    To many the economy isn’t, nor is it faith or even heritage.

    I once asked a unionist if he would even consider accepting a united Ireland as a possible necessity if the oil ran out and Britian had enough problems of its own and its peripheries would be more isolated. At this stage GB may not be other enthused about the position of consent.

    He said people have had rowing boats since around the Bronze age.

  • FuturePhysicist

    DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson hand delivered a letter to Downing Street protesting the proposed change in law, allowing Royals to marry a Catholic.

    This wasnt in 1970/1980 or even 1990. It was this month.

    (All commonwealth nations have agreed to the change.

    To be fair to Jeff, if Catholics didn’t marry Protestant Royals, there would never had been an Orange Order.

  • Mick Fealty

    What do you think he was trying to tell you FP?

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    I can speak for myself and myself alone.

    I would vote to be a part of a united Ireland even if I would be significantly worse off financially.

    For me political freedom is priceless.

    That is not to say that if there was cultural equality and that if I felt partition was necessary to protect the nation that I would not be prepare to consider partition a necessary evil.

    But economics are irrelevent to me.

  • Mac

    “Why is everyone missing the whole point of who the DUP are targeting – it is not nationalists – of whatever hue – it is Catholics.”

    I tend to think they are targetting ‘garden centre’ prods who don’t vote for the ‘nasty party’. You don’t have a hope in hell of attracting catholic votes with people like McCrea or Causland in the party. The best you can hope for is detoxifying the party in the eyes of non-voting protestants who have no time for marches, religious bigotry and hundreds of old men shouting yoooo!!!! at party conferences everytime some says british/ulster/red white and blue or whatever.

    As a ‘catholic ‘, If I want to vote for the union I’ll vote Alliance or make a personal vote for someone like Basil McCrea.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘But economics are irrelevent to me…’

    That comment leaves me intrigued as to what your occupation (or lack of one) might be.

    But you can be sure that economics will influence the readiness to embrace unity south of the border. It will almost certainly entail a sharp drop in the number of DLA recipients in West Belfast. So I’m assuming that you aren’t a recipient of DLA in West Belfast or anywhere else. Perhaps you’re independently wealthy or, better still, a businessman whose prosperity is independent of the state of the economy anywhere on the island of Ireland.

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    “‘But economics are irrelevent to me…” in terms of voting for a United Ireland or not.

    My vote is my vote, it is one man one vote.

  • Neil

    An awful lot of people would not be influenced by economic factors. Unionists and Republicans make the mistake of thinking that, while their own principles could not be bought and they would stick with their own ideology come hell or high water, them treacherous [people from the other side of the peaceline] would sell their grannies.

    I ask those Unionists who think that the economic factor is decisive: would you change your political designation for money? If the answer is no, why on Earth would you think that your opposite number in the other community would do? Because they’re lesser people than you? Cathc yourself on.

    I know of no one who would even mention economics in response to the question are you a Republican or a Unionist?

    And as I’ve mentioned recently, it’s fun to naval gaze from time to time, but with Scotland’s mooted referendum, Europe’s expanding powers and English apathy towards the leech across the pond who contributes nothing, takes everything and complains about the portion size afterwards I would say our constitutional future will be impacted from outside first and foremost.

  • Fair Deal

    Carnmoney Ayeyerma

    They do get it. They just pretend not to as it is the easier means to try and kill the narrative.


    “refrain from boasting about their ability to stop houses from being built for catholics.”

    The person who described it as boasting on that thread…the independent source…oh it was yourself in the comments. Way to support an argument.

  • Henry94

    The point of reaching across the divide to attract votes isn’t really to win extra votes but to reassure the other sides that you are not blind to their interests entirely. Does anyone really believe that in a decade or two we will be able to look back on the breakdown of traditional voting patterns in any statistically significant way. But who wants to stand up at an Ard Fheis or annual conference and say that they are writing off the other community and intend to devote all their energies to infighting. Nobody wants to hear that kind of thing no matter how true it is.

  • Chris Donnelly

    So what questions does it usefully raise in its place?
    I’d have thought that pretty obvious. It is more important- and strategically credible- to attempt to attract support from ‘catholics’ by finding a way to accomodate the political aspirations- and cultural dimension- which make up a significant part of the identity of northern nationalists, who essentially double as ‘catholics’ in the same manner that northern unionists double as ‘protestants.’

    Instead, we have the DUP doing precisely what many in the media/ academia have historically attacked Sinn Fein and other Irish nationalists for doing- ie ignoring the political/ cultural aspect of unionists.

    Fair Deal
    The fact that a DUP insider like yourself has blessed us with your presence on this thread is to be welcomed.

    But, I suspect, you’ll find the topic which you pick to quibble about is one that goes to the heart of the problem facing the DUP on this new journey.

    Look at the comments made by Ian Crozier on the Girdwood thread. He is clearly delighted by the fact that the DUP has the power to veto houses being built for catholics in an area in which there is a chronic housing shortage.

    Is that really something liaible to make catholics, as apparently distinct from nationalists, consider voting for the DUP?

  • Dec

    ‘They just pretend not to as it is the easier means to try and kill the narrative.’

    I thought Sammy did a fine job of killing the narrative with his ‘Seamus’ remarks. Or maybe that was part of the outreach, and I just don’t ‘get it’?

  • Mick Fealty


    You want the DUP to become more nationalist?

    For such demographically insignificant group I know a fair few political cross dressers. Some are hard core, but for most it is a weak choice.

    Carmoney guy has your answer. Unionism’s great advantage is that it retains the status quo. If the roles were reversed, it would suffer the same disadvantages.

    For most part, these Catholics who consistently over time seem to be denying their own party politics are expressing a weak preference for the union.


    Because, particularly the middle class do not like sudden or traumatic change. And, given the last great attempt to break the border ended in failure, there is no overwhelming sense that it is even possible, never mind plausible.

    That’s one crucial difference between Adams and Salmond. The other is that Salmond has a much simpler task, and his enemies had long since left the door into the back kitchen wide open.

    That’s why Robinson’s strategy makes sense. But he needs to change conditions within his party, if anyone else is going to believe he actually means it.

  • Old Mortality


    Your personal stance is very clear but what matters is how many other people share it, if I interpret it correctly as: ‘Unity at ANY cost’. And you still have to consider the amount of goodwill south of the border.

  • Chris Donnelly

    You want the DUP to become more nationalist?

    The fact that you interpret the DUP moving to a position whereby the party becoming more accommodating of aspects of the Irish nationalist political/ cultural identity as making it “more nationalist” beautifully illustrates the dilemma which will face the DUP if they are indeed serious about this initiative.

    To answer the question more directly, such a move would be truly significant and strategic, and it would mirror what has been happening within Nationalist Ireland- including Sinn Fein- for more than a decade now.

  • Mick Fealty

    I was only going on the terms you used. There are Catholics who don’t have time for GAA, who detest the Irish langauge more intensely than any loyalist and who prefer to play cricket.

    Even so, the implication of the seige is over, stop treating Catholics as the enemy should betoken an emergent acceptance that Irish culture is indigenous to the NI it seeks to represent.

    Just like SF, it ought to look upon stronger bonds with such cultural outcropping as building its own provenance. Unlike SF it has a difficult to manage internal democracy that has to be managed rather than ordered.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi All,

    Germany are going to insist on fiscal union as a condition to agreeing to Eurobonds. That means no more low corporation tax for the Republic. There’ll be no more feting of the Republic as in Lisbon2. This time what the republic thinks won’t matter. The Republic nationalising the bank debt did not go down well in Europe as it hurt the european banks.

    So, the Republic has BIG decisions to make. Really become a member of the Euro area (and genuinely distance itself from the UK) or come back to the UK. If they choose the EU I can’t imagine NI ever voting to join with the Republic as I can’t imagine the Republic doing too well in that scenario. So, ironically it may be the Republic that votes over whether they wish to be part of the union.

  • JR

    To be honest it isn’t about the economy for me either. I still do believe that is in our long term econimic interest to be in a United Irish economy but It is more about political self determination. It is a fundimental lack of trust in Britain or any even any local Unionist Political party to act in my cultural, social or economic intrest.

  • Mick Fealty

    JR, after everyone else has finished dancing around the handbags, you have put your finger on it: “a fundimental lack of trust”.

    I have protestant friends, who spend a chunk of their working week in Dublin, have holidayed in Donegal since they were no age, who still don’t fundamentally trust nationalist politicians to look after their interests.

    If you listen to the whole of Sammy’s speech (and indeed many SF speeches) you will know this is the base material for any democratic project.

    Any such change cannot be socially engineered. The relayering of politics here will take a lot of trying and a lot of failing before there’s a break in current patterns.

  • JR

    Northern Ireands constitutional future will not be decided by us (those who would vote one way or the other in any case). Already we are at the stage where voter turnout decides whether nationalism or unionism rules the roost at stormont. 80% of us will always vote the same way in a constitutional referendum. It will be whoever can win over the center ground and the apathetic. Right now it is Unionism but none of us have a crystal ball.

  • vanhelsing

    @madraj55 “What washes least with nationalists about Robbo’s er…..outreach is, he knows that the majority in his party have the attitude to Catholics alarmingly similar to the Orangemen in the 1960s, [before the ‘troubles began], that if they didn’t like the way things were in NI, they could go down south. Little has changed in most DUP members in the intervening decades”

    Some research from the BT carried out at the DUP conference – picked this up at lunch time. I assume these are members

    Would you ever attend an RC mass if you thought it was approp 78% – yes

    Would you like to see more RC joining the DUP 94% – yes

    Do you beleive the IRA ceasefire is permanent – 80% – yes

    Interesting figures – it certainly appears that amongst rank and file members that attitudes are changing.

    I think there is appeal out there for the DUP amongst Catholics, well I have two friends who voted SDLP 1 and DUP 2 – just on educational grounds. They may not be big numbers but I think there seems to be a line in the sand.

  • Fair Deal


    No it doesn’t go to the heart of it. It’s what you wish to make it about – undermine a narrative with sideshows. The analysis is stuck too much in the old narratives and failing/unwilling to grasp that this is a long-term programme.

  • Chris Donnelly


    If you close your eyes for a minute, you’d realise that you sound very much like republicans who have been at this for quite a bit longer than the DUP.

    Remember the unionist reaction on Slugger (and elsewhere) to Sinn Fein’s Unionist Outreach initiatives?

    What you’re going to find out is that a little segment in a speech will hardly cut it amongst northern catholics. Not least since the message contrasted sharply with the sectarian antics of Sammy Wilson and the severe tone of Nigel Dodds’ speech.

    And, lest we forget, an educational debate which focused on what can be done to help protestants obtain a better education….

    If the DUP are serious about this initiative, then they’ll need to prepare themselves for the ‘catholic’ engagement in a way which will have significant repercussions for the party’s attitude towards a range of issues.

    Whining that it’s not fair to point out the contradictions between a few of Robinson’s words and the weight of his party’s actions ain’t gonna cut it.

  • ayeYerMa

    Once again, I see that BBC journalists are showing their complete incompetency over this issue.

    Julian O’Neill on BBC Newsline tonight has boldly declared that the DUP vision is “a long way off” due to Sammy Wilson mocking Sinn Fein playing up their prisoner past.

    Julian and the BBC, please send a memo to all your journalists to grow a few brain cells and realise that CATHOLICS AND REPUBLICANS AREN’T THE SAME THING. The entire concept of Irish Republicanism and paramilitarism is incompatible with Northern Ireland working and deserves to be mocked wholeheartedly by the DUP.

    Julian must also somehow seem to think that it is somehow abnormal or unhealthy in a democracy for political parties in to have jabs at their political opponents.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Yes, the BBC should really consult a staunch loyalist like yourself when seeking to better understand the mind of catholics/ nationalists/ republicans.

    What’s the name of that river in Egypt again….

  • socaire

    And some of us think that the lost tribe got a fair crack at democracy etc. etc. and would cry no tears if “NIplc” went down the tubes.

  • andnowwhat

    One thing the DUP cannot be is plural.

    Whilst the younger Catholics are not as political they are much, much more in to their Irish culture and sports than my generation was.

    Just look at the infamous students who blight the Holy Landsand their ubiquitous GAA tops. These are the professionals of the future who are as likely to talk about Canavan as they are Walcott.

    They are also as likely to go to a folk session as they are a disco. My generation did not have that confidence. Our expression of culture was ghettoised save for the cultural elites, many of whom were from “the other” cultural tradition.

    And yet we have the DUP who are ever ready to snipe at the language, culture and sport. The DUP can simply not bring themselves to the point of actual pluralism, token gestures aside.

    When Robinson made his speech I knew it would only be a matter of time before one of his party would invalidate his speech. I didn’t predict that it would only take an hour or so.

    Listen to the audience’s reaction to their leader’s speech and then how they reacted to Wilson’s. That’s all it takes.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    When I said “and the other way around” that’s what I meant, that unionists have used these arguments naively and frankly a bit offensively too.

  • Mick Fealty

    I spoke to David Trimble in London, must have been early 2004. He was still convinced the DUP was incapable of dealing with SF. I would not judge what the DUP are capable of against what they were in the past.

  • Alias

    “I ask those Unionists who think that the economic factor is decisive: would you change your political designation for money? If the answer is no, why on Earth would you think that your opposite number in the other community would do? Because they’re lesser people than you? Cathc yourself on.” – Neil

    I don’t think you can claim that both nations are equally committed to the principle of sovereign nations. The evidence doesn’t support it. The evidence only supports the conclusion that the British nation within NI are more committed to that principle than the Irish nation within NI.

    What was significant about the GFA is that it was the first time that the Irish nation within NI accepted that it had no right to national self-determination and that that right properly belonged to the British nation. Prior to that, they had always maintained that the British nation held an illegitimate veto over what they then claimed was an inalienable right. The Irish state had accepted the legitimacy of British rule in Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985, so it, at that point, regarded your claim to national self-determination as illegitimate. It took another 13 years before you also agreed in a plebiscite that your claim was illegitimate. So the catholics downgraded their former right to national self-determination to the legal status of an aspiration and upgraded the “unionist veto” to the legal status of a principle.

    On the other side, the British nation signed up to an agreement via plebiscite that endorsed the legitimacy of British rule as it has existed in earlier constitutions. So they did not throw away their claim in the way that the catholics did, and so it can’t be claimed that they are not more committed to it and than the catholics are. The evidence is otherwise.

  • vanhelsing

    Mick 🙂 do you think that Trimble was the best man to judge!!

  • Fair Deal


    “Sinn Fein’s Unionist Outreach initiatives?”

    Just as the UUP provide much of the manual of how not to do politics SF provide the section on how not to do outreach.

  • And right on cue SF’s “Unionist Outreach” strikes again: