On the fallacy of Alex Kane’s foxhole invite to catholics

Thanks to Pete Baker for posting a thread on Alex Kane’s reply to my Slugger post in his Newsletter column as, without it, I’d have remained blissfully unaware of the existence of the piece.

Alex’s article is most welcome, not least because he further elaborates upon his rather contorted vision of a catholic-friendly but Irish nationalist-hostile unionism, therefore presenting me with a second opportunity to expose the utterly delusional nature of his thinking.

Alex conveniently ignores the critical failing of the DUP strategy he is supportive of and which I sought to expose as, essentially, a fraud- namely, that unionists seeking to attract catholic support for the Union whilst not seeking to actively accommodate the Irish nationalist political and cultural identity are guilty of failing to learn the hard lessons of our divided past.

There won’t be any shortcut to the realisation of unionism’s dream any more than there will be a mysterious bypass uncovered by nationalists seeking to convince northern protestants of the merits of a reunited Ireland short of proving the ability to accommodate the political and cultural identity of unionism in that event.    

It is as likely that catholics will buy into a unionist vision of the future as it is that protestants will buy into an Irish nationalist vision at this juncture in our history, and pretending otherwise is indicative of a political outlook which has yet to prove itself capable of adapting to the changing political realities.

The one section of Kane’s article which rings true is the fact that the ancient hostilities and skirmishes between Irish nationalism and unionism have meant that our society remains deeply divided, even when at surface level things may not seem so.

Kane’s rejection of a shared future with his Irish nationalist and republican neighbours highlights the continuing failure of elements within political unionism to grapple with the realities of the post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland, which is all the more troubling given that he clearly recognises the extent of segregation in our society without connecting the dots and acknowledging that breaking down such division will require the triumph of a genuine respect and trust which is incompatible with his vision of a unionist-only shared future.

Whilst sovereignty remains in Britain’s hands, the constitutional framework provided by the Good Friday Agreement has meant and will continue to mean that Irish nationalists will wield as much power and influence within northern society as their unionist neighbours within Stormont.

Like Alex and other unionists, those Irish nationalists and republicans have their own political projects in mind, with short and long term objectives.

Setting one’s face against reality and wishing that were not so may pass for a thought-provoking narrative in The Newsletter, but on Slugger we’re more used to putting ideas to a critical audience ever eager to highlight flaws and expose contradictions.

How on earth does Alex believe that catholics will be convinced to actively advocate the Union if unionists are not to enthusiastically embrace a vision of a shared future which does not seek to triumph over Irish nationalism but, rather, one which seeks to accommodate the political ideology which remains as doggedly identifiable with northern Catholicism as unionism is with northern Protestantism? Does he seriously believe that the call to ‘come join us in our foxhole’ will prove irresistible to a certain type of catholic?

 It is not only an absurd suggestion, but one which is illustrative of a mindset which has yet to realise that Irish nationalists can not be wished away.

British Ulster is dead, and that fact clearly remains as lost on Alex Kane as the notion of an exclusively Irish Ulster is on many in the anti-Agreement rump of dissident republicans.

 As I have argued on Slugger many times before, the objective of intelligent republicanism/ nationalism should be to re-orient politics on an all-Ireland basis whilst seeking to reassure unionists that their distinct political and cultural identity will continue to be respected. Similarly, the objective of a thoughtful unionism should be to find a place for Irish nationalists and republicans within the existing constitutional arrangement.

The ultimate objective of both should be to find political and electoral favour beyond the religious community which historically identified with either political tradition. But history’s lesson shows this to be a formidable task, and certainly not one which can be achieved by simply ignoring the stark reality that religious, political and cultural identities are interwoven in a manner which will ensure that any potential electoral breakthrough for unionism- or nationalism- is achieved through developing an inclusive and adaptable political vision.

Alex’s argument betrays the fact that many of those seeking to dismantle the power-sharing structures at Stormont see it as a means of disempowering nationalists and returning to a form of majority rule.

Alex Kane’s blind spot for the beliefs and sentiments of his nationalist neighbours is such that he doesn’t see the rather large elephant that is the harsh historical and political realities of division and identity in the north of Ireland casting a dark shadow over him as he angrily punched the keys of his laptop whilst producing his article(ain’t that a long name for an elephant!)

He believes political unionism should reject a shared future with their nationalist neighbours simply because they have different long term objectives. Erm, somebody could perhaps inform Alex that this has been the case since the Plantation some years/decades/centuries ago and it hasn’t really worked as a strategy in the interim period….

Alex castigates republicans for having a “concept of a shared future….in which they are allowed to use the political institutions to bolster their own cause.” He then goes on to argue for the destruction of the political institutions as that will provide unionists with a better grip on those political institutions to bolster their own cause.

Go figure.

 Having argued against seeking to construct a shared future with his nationalist neighbours, and for the dismantling of political institutions which empower nationalists to pursue their own cause, he then remarkably states that “Sharing is a two-way, mutually beneficial process. For Sinn Fein, though, their end goal remains the destruction of unionism itself.”

Perhaps Alex can explain if it is not the case that he is arguing that unionism’s end goal remains the destruction of republicanism itself- and hence the rather frenetic gorgonzola line….

With regard to his parting shot, Alex’s selective vetting of the current affairs section of the news has clearly meant he missed Sammy Wilson’s insulting remarks about ‘Seamus’ and the hunger strikers as well as the antics of unionist councillors in Belfast in the past week, ridiculing Irish as a ‘gobbledegook’ language and wailing loudly about the injustices of erecting a sign expressing Nollaig Shona Daoibh to visitors.

But perhaps the ideologically bankrupt vision of unionism ascribed to by Alex views those comments and actions as vote winners amongst northern catholics.