Robinson: “Only those who can adapt to changing circumstances remain standing”

The following is the body of a speech given this evening in Dublin by Northern Ireland’s First Minister and leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson… The Edward Carson Lecture, “Reflections on Irish Unionism” in Iveagh House in Dublin…

Though a statue of Lord Carson takes pride of place in front of Parliament Buildings at Stormont, a Northern Ireland Parliament was an institution he had not sought. Though he did so much for unionism and Northern Ireland, he regarded the failure to retain the rest of Ireland in the United Kingdom as a massive loss.

Paradoxically his failure to achieve his preferred fall-back position of retaining the nine counties of Ulster in the Union probably – in the longer term – strengthened unionism.

Equally ironic the attempt by nationalists to confine the boundaries of Northern Ireland to much less than the present six counties, by hacking off large parts of the border counties, would have strengthened the Union even more.

Nor was Carson the inflexible leader that has often been portrayed. Rather, he was a man who was prepared to compromise and alter direction when the situation demanded it. When it became clear that all of Ireland could not be saved for the Union, he sought to maintain the historic, nine county, province of Ulster in the Kingdom.

And when that goal became unattainable he cut a deal that preserved the six counties of what he termed statutory Ulster as part of the Union.

He did not blindly pursue lost causes in the name of what would ultimately be self-defeating principle. His hope and belief had been that success for Ulster would thwart the entire Home Rule project for Ireland.

It is ironic that the one part of Ireland which in 1912 did not want a local Parliament, within the Union, was the only part of Ireland that ultimately got it.

Edward Carson was a giant figure not just in Ulster or Irish politics, but on the national stage. He held several key Cabinet positions. He resisted the urging of colleagues at Westminster to challenge and replace the then Prime Minister.

Remarkably, he is one of a handful of non-monarchs to have received a state funeral in the United Kingdom.

If I tell you the others include Winston Churchill, the Duke of Wellington and Horatio Nelson you will recognise what a testament this was to his place and standing in the life and history of the British nation.

He was a relatively rare, though engaging, conviction-led politician. He was a man who always put the case to which he was devoted above any self-interest. Those close to him accused him of lacking ambition for undoubtedly he would have risen to the top national office if he had sought that office.

But tonight, rather than indulging in too large a slice of history, I want to suggest that, one hundred years on, we – from the unionist tradition – the inheritors of the Carson legacy, have a real opportunity to build the kind of Northern Ireland which Lord Carson envisaged.

Edward Carson would not be what in today’s terms could be considered a stereotypical unionist. Though he became the leader of Ulster Unionism his origins are, of course, in Dublin. He defined himself as a “liberal” unionist. He had a thick Dublin brogue. He had leading nationalists among his close friends. Though leading the cause of Ulster he was proud to call himself Irish.

He wanted to keep Ireland united and within the Union and he repeatedly sought accommodation with his nationalist fellow-countrymen.

As part of the settlement Carson and Craig set structures in place to encourage harmony and co-operation between the two parts of Ireland. He would have regretted that it took almost a century for relations between the two new states to reach the level he had envisaged.

If we are to do the past justice we must see all, and not just some parts of the picture.

George Mitchell once remarked that people in the United States knew too little of their history while people in Northern Ireland knew too much. I suspect the truth is that too many of our people know too much of a partial and selective version of history, but little or nothing of the perspective of others.

You will have heard of Zhou Enlai’s response when Nixon asked the Chinese Premier for his views on the French Revolution which had occurred two centuries earlier. “It is too early to say,” he replied.

Well, in this case perhaps it is still, “too early to say” what the real significance of the events of the 1912 decade have been. But having, in this generation, achieved a well established political settlement and enjoying a new era of peace and community stability, I believe we can, for the first time, look back in a more objective and considered way than has been the case in the past.

There is no doubt the island of Ireland in 2012 is a world away from that of 1912 or for that matter the Ireland of most of the decades in between. For us the past really is a foreign country. Today, relationships between the United Kingdom and Ireland; between Northern Ireland and the Republic; and within Northern Ireland, have been and are being transformed.

It has not happened quickly or without considerable pain. That it has taken 100 years to achieve must be greatly lamented.

Her Majesty the Queen, speaking in Dublin Castle last year, rightly counselled us all to bow to the past but not be bound by it.

So before I turn to the issue of unionism today, let me bow to the past – to the heroes, the defenders, the brave and the wise. Let me briefly offer a few thoughts on the events of one hundred years ago from the perspective of a unionist from this century.

In doing so I acknowledge that even viewing through the prism of hindsight is not perfect in assessing the events of that time. In examining historical proceedings I am not an absolutist. I accept that just as there are many interpretations of modern day events so too will we find a myriad of opinions about this great passage of history.
So, unapologetically I will give you mine.

Looking back now it is easy for us to conclude that in 1912, with the changes to the powers of the House of Lords, it was only a matter of time before Ireland – or at least a large part of it – would achieve Home Rule or independence of some kind.

But more controversially, the benefit of hindsight should also lead us to conclude that the desire of Ulster to remain on the same terms within the Union – and to be prepared to fight for it – was not an unreasonable position to adopt.

The North-East of Ireland was peopled by an identifiably distinct people. Of course Britain could eject them from the Union but having done so Britain had no locus standi or authority to determine that Ulster should be incorporated within a united Ireland.

We should remember that today, the right of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland is a fundamental cornerstone of the political process. Perhaps if the right to self determination, which is so widely accepted today had been accepted in 1912, the history of the last century might have been very different.

The signing of the Ulster Covenant and the events that were to follow were seen by unionists as a struggle for their very existence. As an endeavour to cleave to all they cherished and held dear.

The introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill represented the start of a most perilous period for unionism. For unionists, what was at stake was economic prosperity and religious freedom. At this point Ulster was the economic powerhouse on the island and there was a real fear that Home Rule would threaten the prosperity of the people of the north east of the island. Indeed, Carson believed that Ireland without Ulster would not have been economically viable.

Those who see the response of Carson and his fellow unionists as an over-reaction to Home Rule fail to recognise that the inevitable outcome of Home Rule was complete independence. Unionists in 1912 saw their very way of life as being under threat and, consistent with the modus operandi of the age, were prepared to go to whatever lengths necessary to defend their position.

The Ulster Covenant, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers and the importation of guns demonstrated that unionists were prepared to resist to the last in order to defend their constitutional position. The logic was clear. Carson and the volunteers in defying the government were compelling them to back down or do the unthinkable – send troops to force subjects, who were loyal to the King, out of the nation they loved into an arrangement they feared.

In taking these steps Ulster unionists were not on their own but had powerful and influential supporters in Britain.

However, the intervention of the First World War meant that any conflict between Ulster and the forces of the Crown was avoided and instead the men and weaponry which were in place to defend Ulster were used to defend the Empire. While events in Dublin in 1916 made independence more likely, events at the Somme were to make any betrayal of Ulster unachievable.

The Curragh mutiny demonstrated that the British Army was not willing to advance on Loyal Ulster. The game was up and a deal was eventually agreed. Ulster’s stiff resolve and its stoic unionist leaders had endured. Ulster had survived.

Of course, it was not only the unionists of Carson’s era who have had their backs against the wall. And it was not only the unionists of Carson’s era who formed resistance to British government policy. In more recent years – albeit that time and circumstances had changed the means of resistance – unionists under attack and pressed to accept that which would have been destructive of their citizenship determined that it was right to say “No”.

But that’s another story …

I want, this evening, to reflect on what unionism today can learn from Edward Carson and how we can ensure the inheritance that we have been granted can be secured for the next century.

One thing that we can be sure of is that nothing stays the same. In my forty years in politics it is clear that only those who can adapt to changing circumstances remain standing.

Carson recognised that, and the same is true of any identity or political philosophy. The key to continued success is to retain what is at the core of a philosophy, but not to become obsessed with what is peripheral or transient.

It would be foolish to imagine that unionism has not changed over the last century – or that it will not change further over the next. That is how it has survived and that is how it will continue to prosper. What is important is that it has retained that which is fundamental.

Partition vitally changed unionism. What was once Irish unionism – albeit with a separate identity for the north east of the island evolved to become Ulster or Northern Ireland unionism.

Edward Carson was unquestionably an Irish unionist, and while the legacy of Edward Carson lives on, it may be regretted that the idea of ‘Irish unionism’ in any meaningful sense, as historically defined, does not.

I consider myself an Ulster or Northern Ireland unionist not an Irish Unionist. The same would be true of the vast majority of unionists in Northern Ireland. That is a significant change not just from one hundred years ago but even from fifty years ago.

The change in identity did not come about overnight with the formation of the Northern Ireland state in 1921. Even as recently as the 1950s unionist Prime Ministers were comfortable describing themselves as Irish.

That identity continues to evolve in complex and fascinating ways. It is probably the case that most unionists will identify their homeland as ‘Northern Ireland’ rather than using any other term.

For many centuries, Ulster was a place apart in Ireland, but until more recent decades there was still a real sense of being Irish. I accept that there are some unionists in Northern Ireland who are still relaxed identifying themselves as ‘Irish’ though they are a minority.

Whereas Carson would have regarded himself as Irish and British I believe that most unionists today regard their identity as being from Northern Ireland and British. At the same time it is interesting to note that St Patrick’s Day is more widely celebrated across the community than has been the case for a long time.

The identity of what was Irish unionism has morphed into Ulster unionism, Northern Ireland unionism and even for some northern Irish unionism, but no matter how people define themselves the core of unionism remains the same.

As with any identity or ideology over time the true meaning or purpose can be obscured or even lost. We should remember that the unionism of Edward Carson was never exclusive or inward looking, though too often that is how the media has portrayed unionism over recent decades.

There are many reasons why relations between Northern Ireland and, what was to become, the Republic of Ireland deteriorated in the early decades after partition and there’s probably plenty of blame to go around. As a general rule people who see themselves under threat tend to be defensive.

That is a natural response and there is no doubt that events following the formation of the state, the increasingly belligerent approach of the then Irish Government and the threat of internal insurrection made it inevitable that the unionist leaders of the day would turn inward rather than reaching out.

Unionism in its simplest form is a desire to remain as part of the United Kingdom family. The precise reasons for that will differ. For me, it is a sense of history, culture and identity. It is support for the institutions of the state, the monarchy, parliament, liberal democracy and religious freedom. It is a way of life.

For others, who do not share that emotional attachment, it may simply be a belief that it is in their best social or economic interests to remain as part of the UK.

Yet again, there are some people, who, while supporting the present constitutional arrangements, may not even choose to identify themselves as unionists, because of many of the historical connotations that come with the term.

I believe that unionism will be strongest if all are accepted as part of a patchwork quilt of identity. Unionism is not a single homogeneous entity. It must be about opening up to new communities and building a broad and solid coalition.

In saying unionism must now reach out to others I am not, in any way, being critical of those who have led unionism before me. I believe what has changed is not so much the aspirations of unionist leaders but the existence today of a much more benign environment.

We now live in an era of peacetime unionism. The success of the peace process in the last five years has created new opportunities. The removal of the territorial claim, the IRA ceasefire, the acceptance of Northern Ireland’s right to self-determination, the establishment of stable political structures and the arrival of a sense of hope and anticipation have collectively created an environment within which we can all present our political philosophy – by advocating the positive virtues of our vision in a climate which allows people to weigh the strength of the proposition in the absence of the threat of violence.

I embrace that freedom. I have confidence in the attraction of my unionist vision of the future. I am convinced that it more than matches any alternative that exists.

Ultimately the majority must be able to determine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland but if we have learned anything in recent years it is that the minority must also feel secure within the arrangements, whilst maintaining their own right to seek democratic change.

I said earlier that identity continues to evolve in complex and fascinating ways. What is most interesting is not how people from the Protestant community, but how those from a Catholic background are responding to the new dispensation.
Separation over many generations has changed things for nationalists as well as unionists.

Living in a separate political jurisdiction with different cultural and everyday experiences is bound to make a difference over time. More importantly, I believe the fact that all sections of the population now play a full and active part in government has made a significant difference to perceptions of the State.

Whereas once Stormont was seen as the preserve of only one section of our community, today it is shared space. And for all the difficulties that we experience on a day to day basis while seeking to govern with a coalition of five parties, the importance of widespread buy-in to the political institutions cannot be overstated.

Make no mistake, I want to see our structures at Stormont reformed and normalised – and I want to see it done as quickly as possible – but it must be on a basis which can command cross-community endorsement. In doing so we must not undermine the widespread support for the institutions that presently exists.

The Stormont Assembly and Executive, for all of its imperfection is accountable to the people of Northern Ireland, and in many ways, has delivered better – in spite of the recession – than any of its predecessors.

For countless years there was a real fear on the part of unionists that nationalists would use their place in government to act as fifth columnists to bring the State down. And some nationalists still fear that given half a chance unionists would seek to set up an Executive and Assembly that would exclude and act prejudicially to them.

That unionist fear in the last century prevented modest reform in the early decades after partition just as it is probably true today that nationalist fears are inhibiting significant reforms at Stormont. If people want change then we must work to address those concerns.

Now that a settlement has been reached and the threat has gone we have entered a new political era.

Numerous recent surveys have indicated growing support for Northern Ireland’s present constitutional status and diminishing support for a United Ireland among Catholics. Any individual survey could be dismissed as an aberration but the wider trend is unmistakeable.

The 2010 ‘Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey’ is just one example of this growing trend. When asked, “do you think that the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it to reunify with the rest of Ireland”, only 16% of the population and only 33% of Catholics favoured this option – and we should remember that the question referred to the long-term, and not merely the immediate future.

I believe that number is driven by the new political climate and our new relationship with the Republic.

I have said on many occasions that from a party point of view I want to see more Catholics supporting the DUP. I have no doubt that there are many Catholics in Northern Ireland who have much more in common with the social and economic policies of the DUP than they do with either Sinn Fein or the SDLP and I welcome some early signs of modest progress.

However, I suspect that the survey results do not point to an imminent avalanche of Catholics voting DUP but rather, outside party politics, to a wider acceptance of the present constitutional position of Northern Ireland and as importantly – their place in it.

That is not to say that they will feel comfortable calling themselves British or even defining themselves as unionists, but they see their best future as part of Northern Ireland, within its present constitutional context as part of the United Kingdom.

They might be classed as “no change” advocates. But is it possible that we are seeing the birth of a new brand of Irish unionism. A brand which is culturally Irish but unionist to the extent that they support the status quo of remaining within the United Kingdom. They may not yet, or indeed ever, identify themselves as such but if not Irish unionists in name – they are Irish unionists in practice.

For unionism to prosper in the decades to come it must be inclusive and not exclusive. I want to see a broad and inclusive unionism that can embrace all shades of those who support Northern Ireland’s present constitutional position. Unionism must reach far beyond its traditional base if it is to maximise its potential. That means forming a pro-Union consensus with people from different religious and community backgrounds.

When one reflects on the record of the last one hundred years it is remarkable the extent to which, for the most part, neither side sought to persuade or accommodate the other in a way which would have been in their own best long-term interests. Perhaps in the past circumstances contrived not to allow that, but today I want to see it change.

John Hume often said that the strength of unionists lay in our numbers and our geography. That is of course right but just think how our position would be strengthened if we were to reach out and draw into the ranks of the pro-Union community those who for whatever reason may have felt excluded or unwanted in the past.

This vision is entirely in tune with Edward Carson’s vision as he set it out on 4th February 1921 at the Ulster Unionist Council.

On that day he said:

“You will be a Parliament for the whole community. We used to say that we could not trust an Irish Parliament in Dublin to do justice to the Protestant minority. Let us take care that that reproach can no longer be made against your Parliament, and from the outset let them see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from a Protestant majority …

Let us take care that we win all that is best amongst those who have been opposed to us in this community … And so I say: from the start be tolerant to all religions, and, while maintaining to the last your own traditions and your own citizenship, take care that similar rights are preserved for those who differ from us.”

Whatever the factors were that combined to miss that opportunity in the past let modern day unionists put it into practice now.

For almost all of our existence unionists have been under threat of one form or another, but now in this generation we have an opportunity, free from threats, internal or external – perhaps not the first chance, but undoubtedly the best chance – to put into practice what Edward Carson visualized.

As a unionist my raison d’etre is the Union and I want to see as many people from all backgrounds supporting it too. But, we must ensure that all who live in Northern Ireland have equality of opportunity, whether they support the Union or favour a united Ireland.

I value the relationship I have with the present Irish Government – and though we will not always agree – I know we can work together to the benefit of our people. If I have learned anything over the last forty years it is that we will not have peace, progress and prosperity unless we can all benefit from it.

As First Minister I have sought to reach out to those outside my own tradition, not because it is expedient, but because it is the right thing to do. We have come through a period of conflict and upheaval and the pieces in the kaleidoscope are happily moving into place.

We have a golden opportunity to mould a new society before the new arrangements are firmly shaped and settled for future generations. That is the vista we now have. There is much that can be done and much that can be improved. I want to take advantage of this formative moment in a way that our forefathers could not and did not.

What I advocate is not some new variety of unionism but the unionism of Edward Carson – a unionism that can reach out and include those from every background. Maintaining Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom simply due to demographics should not be the height of our ambition.

I want us to create a wide consensus for our present constitutional arrangements. In this new Northern Ireland I want to see pro-Union support grow but in parallel I want to ensure that no one, whatever their political and constitutional aspiration, is left behind.

Edward Carson may now be consigned to the pages of history, but he still speaks to us today. If this generation of unionists is listening then let us work to broaden support for his vision for Northern Ireland’s future.

That vision of unionism, threatening to no one, open to all, living peacefully and in co-operation with our neighbours, will truly honour the bravery, the ideals, the sacrifice, the memory and the legacy of those who were counted when the challenge came all those years ago.

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  • ‘Where to start with that load of revisionism and avoidance of any critism of past unionist actions.

  • PaulT

    ardmajel55, 20 years ago he would have denied knowing where Dublin was, claim it was a foreign country and he had no desire to go there (apart from attacking police stations)

    Today, you mightn’t be impressed with what he sais but he’s started a conversation which it would be beneficial to continue.

    Cast your mind back to how the backwoodsmen in the DUP use to behave and see how far they’ve come.

  • latcheeco

    Ulster Unicornism is the way of the future!

  • dennis the menace

    Pault, sorry to be pedantic but it is a foreign country . It has an embassy in London dont you know.

  • Reader

    ardmajel55: Where to start with that load of revisionism and avoidance of any critism of past unionist actions.
    Since all political traditions in Ireland avoid self-criticism, and since ‘revisionism’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing anyway, probably the most sound approach would be to start at the beginning of the speech and pick out factual inaccuracies. That would certainly be more classy than dismissing the right of unionists to hold a point of view different from your own.

  • SK

    “Since all political traditions in Ireland avoid self-criticism”

    I’d disagree with that, for starters. Peter Robinson wouldn’t have been invited to the capital to give such a speech if the southern nationalists were frightened of criticism.

    “probably the most sound approach would be to start at the beginning of the speech and pick out factual inaccuracies”

    The implication that Home Rule was somehow synonymous with being forced from the UK seemed a bit weird to me. Is that what you all tell yourselves up there to justify what Carson and pals got up to?

  • Alias

    “The 2010 ‘Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey’ is just one example of this growing trend. When asked, “do you think that the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it to reunify with the rest of Ireland”, only 16% of the population and only 33% of Catholics favoured this option – and we should remember that the question referred to the long-term, and not merely the immediate future.”

    Good point of emphasis there about the question referring to long-term future for Northern Ireland. The standard objection from Shinners has been that answer reflected a short-term preference among Catholics for remaining within the UK but that isn’t what the question asked.

    Hence:

    “Unionism in its simplest form is a desire to remain as part of the United Kingdom family.”

    Which, of course, redefines the 66% of Catholics who wish to remain within the UK as unionists rather than, as they are incorrectly termed, Irish nationalists (or, as Turgon put it, Unicorn Catholics).

    This abject defeat for Irish nationalism and magnanimous victory for unionism within Northern Ireland would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of the Shinners.

  • BluesJazz

    The Darwinian headline quote is intriguing. Maybe Peter unconsciously accepts evolution as fact and uses the faux born again crap as a ‘must have’ accessory. As Mike Nesbitt recently rediscovered his ‘faith’ in time for the leadership election.

    But then we get:
    “The North-East of Ireland was peopled by an identifiably distinct people.”

    A bit like the Galapagos finches? Or the lost tribe of Israel? Several people were obviously involved in drafting this speech, and it shows. Maybe in future he should get Jonathan Powell to write it for him. Worked for other Irish politicians.

  • Most Interesting and best written article in a long while 🙂

  • Alias

    smcgiff, it’s certainly the clearest insight into the state of unionism that I can recall reading in under 5 minutes.

  • PaulT As to the backwoodsmen who er….’used to be in the DUP’? . Gregory Campbell and Nelson McCausland are still there. Robinson was clearly being dishonest in at least one part of his speech, claiming that the St Patrick’s day events in Belfast were a sign of a new reconciliation, when he knows damn well why there are such days. only since unionists gradually lost control of Belfast council. It’s a bit like gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness being more conciliatory. It’s the ageing process that makes them ‘reasonable’. They are getting old and running out of time.

  • Ruarai

    “For many centuries, Ulster was a place apart in Ireland, but until more recent decades there was still a real sense of being Irish.”

    He’s right – but not necessarily in the way many may think. Ulster’s distinction – “beyond the Pale” – was that it was the least British-friendly part of Irleand; the part most resistent to occupation and foreign rule. Hence the Plantation. Nothing new there but worth remembering.

    As radically as Ulster’s identity was changed by immigration in the 1600s, perhaps the inevitable new wave of developing to developed world immigration in the centuries ahead will realign all the identities once more 🙂

  • Ruarai

    Alias – your comment:

    “This abject defeat for Irish nationalism and magnanimous victory for unionism within Northern Ireland would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of the Shinners.”

    …is bizarre in light of how Northern Ireland’s internal and external relationships reflect SDLP party policy from the 1970s-1998.

    Compare the SDLP vision for NI and ROI with any policy paper produced by the UUP or DUP from 1970-1998, then try that sentence again with a straight face.

    Today’s NI is a defeat for Provisional Irish Republicanism because it’s an endorsement of the SDLP’s advocacy.

    (A problem the SDLP have is understanding that that’s history.)

    This would be old groud and a distraction from the post except that the strength of the post, in fairness to Robinson, is that the tone of his speech – in fact the very fact of his speech – is evidence that he’s possibly able to lead Unionism away from its old ‘them -n- us’ Celtic vs. Rangers mentality -the one your petulant finger-in-the-eye post remains rooted in.

    Move on man.

  • Ruari. But what if Robinson is just spouting rhetoric knowing that he’s on his own in the DUP on this schtick, [which is strictly for the optics], and not in danger of gettting so far ahead of the DUP neanderthals as to risk votes?

  • BluesJazz

    DUP neanderthals ardmajel?

    Robinson has, apparently, accepted Evolution as fact and thus neanderthals must be discarded to pre-history. That’s part of the speech. but it becomes disjointed and talks of ‘Ulster’-the ‘statuatory’ one as some sort of genetically homegenous separate kingdom.
    I’m sure the speechwriters didn’t mean to contradict themselves, it’s unlikely any were scientists-, but the whole thing is meaningless guff. Not that Robinson would have known or noticed. He didn’t write it.

  • Ruarai

    ardmajel55 – “what if Robinson is just spouting rhetoric..?” – so then he’s just spounting rhetoric.

    But it’s worth giving him a fair wind, no?

    As I see it, while his speech was pretty boring and repetitive, it’s founded on a radical change in Irish politics: The objective of an ideology being the conversion of people to it’s case rather than rallying its believers to arms in its defense.

    That’s not nothing.

    From a Nationalist perspective, if the leader of Unionism is staking the house of a vision held by Edward Carson, well, good luck with that.

    But at least he has a vison and is trying to persuade rather than threaten.

    Is there a single leader in Ireland laying out a case for a United Ireland with the same effort and, critically, attempts to be specific?

    If the next 10 years are set to be a series of boring speeches on “reaching-out” and “persuading others” by the elected leaders of northern unionism and nationalism then, interminable as sitting through them may be, it’s radical stuff – and the real conversation will come down to who can create specific proposals.

    Irish Nationalism has all its work ahead on that front but, then again, so does any political movement anywhere in the world.

    With the two tribes finally engaging perhaps we can finally get on with dropping the pretence that there are two nations on the island and starting, for the first time, building one. The differences are embarrassingly small, the opportunities enticingly huge, and the costs of sitting through Martin and Peter’s faux-profound inclusivity and engagment speeches incentive enough to start producing imaginative specific responses.

  • Alias

    Ruari, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that nationalism wasn’t defeated because a party that declares itself post-nationalist supported post-nationalist policies and many of these post-nationalist policies have an outworking in the GFA? Interesting.
    They actually have an outworking in constitutional arrangements pre-GFA and pre-SDLP, e.g. the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the Ireland Act 1949 before being re-stated in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
    A lot of gullible folks mistakenly think that the Northern Ireland Act 1998 must be an Irish nationalist document because those they mistakenly think of as Irish nationalist support it. That simply shows the importance of getting a particular political class to endorse your policies and to present them as their own.

  • weidm7

    “There are some unionists in Northern Ireland who are still relaxed identifying themselves as ‘Irish’ though they are a minority.”

    Is this true? I’m interested in hearing on-the-ground unionist opinions, since, if I remember rightly, it was around 75% of protestants, according to the Life and Times Survey that Peter quotes elsewhere, who said they identified as ‘Irish’. Of course protestantism does not equal unionism, but it gives us an idea, it certainly doesn’t suggest a minority of them consider themselves ‘ulster / NI’ and not Irish. A certain selective quoting of figures from Mr. Robinson, assuming I didn’t confuse the figures.

    Incidentally, that sense of Irishness is a hope for a future wave of Protestant Nationalists.

  • Ruarai

    weidm7,

    “Incidentally, that sense of Irishness is a hope for a future wave of Protestant Nationalists.” – That’s nuts mate.

    If anything, northern Protestants self-identifying as Irish (and thereby, at long last, on some level, sharing with Southern Protestants and the rest of the others on the island an emerging confident ownership of Irishness) surely indicates that what Irishness means is maturing and broadening, and rightly so.

    But that sense of Irishness need not equate with any negative corrrelation of affinity with Britain, Britishness or loyalty to, or at least preference for, the Union.

    As an “Irish Nationalist”, I’ll be the first to concede that the very term is borderline unserious – since how can we believe in a nation that hasn’t been created yet? If one of the oldest traditions on the island is hostile to the notion of an Irish nation never mind a unified state, isn’t our nationalism more like tribalism.

    The “new wave”, as you say, that we should be working towards is a new wave of thinking among Irish Nationalists based on a critique of why so many Irish Protestants have an aversion to the nationalism we espouse. That’s how nations are built.

    As I read Robinson’s speech, it’s just such a self-critique that he’s now engaging in. And credit for that.

  • Alias

    Ruarai, perhaps you should study the clarity and understanding in Peter Robinson’s speech and then compare it with the gibberish and waffle in your contribution?

    Apparently you can be a member of a nation “that hasn’t been created yet” and also be “Irish Nationalist” while denying that an Irish nation exists, and also be working to undermine something that doesn’t exist.

    You have to love the comedy value…

  • Mick Fealty

    Seamus

    Robinson rarely disappoints on these occasions. He’s the only prominent NI politician who seems æble to grasp the epic nature of our politics at the moment.

    And to be fair, despite the concerns expressed re revisionism this is one of the more open threads we’ve had in a while.

  • PaulT

    is it me or is there a big spike in unionist politicans getting speaking engagements these days, they’ll be clambering to speak in the Dail next!

  • Ruarai. Robinson cited the NILT survey on nationalist vote intentions as if this was now the definitive margin of those wanting a UI, where he , like all the others who like the NILT because it tells them what they want to think, it leaves out the distorting factor of the Republic’s economic crisis as if it was irrelevant. It clearly isn’t and it will take at least 20 years for the south to get back on an even keel. The SoS whoever that is then won’t let a referendum be held while those condition in the south prevail so the NILT figures are meaningless.

  • Red Lion

    Cant help thinking that a major factor in Robinsons/DUPs more conciliatory tones , reaching out to catholics and all that, is prompted by demographics. If we take the 50+1 consent principle, then liberalism (or at least sounding liberal) is the only place left for unionism to go.

    Ive said before, has Robinson had advance news of the census results??

  • Reader

    Red Lion: Cant help thinking that a major factor in Robinsons/DUPs more conciliatory tones , reaching out to catholics and all that, is prompted by demographics.
    If Robinson is genuinely smug about the NILT survey, then he believes the Union is safe for ever more, and he is working for party advantage and a Union tinged Assembly.
    But if he is reaching out for cross-community support for the union, then he thinks there is a big problem with NILT.
    Either way, the census results are irrelevant. It is finally clear that Hun/Taig ratio is close enough to 1 to be politically irrelevant – now the contested zone is economy, security, stability and a warm house. It’s actually amazing to me that Robinson and the DUP are streets ahead of the Shinners in recognising that.

  • GoldenFleece

    “He’s right – but not necessarily in the way many may think. Ulster’s distinction – “beyond the Pale” – was that it was the least British-friendly part of Irleand; the part most resistent to occupation and foreign rule. Hence the Plantation. Nothing new there but worth remembering.”

    Ruarai,
    True, but it goes the other way as well. The Ulster kingdoms rebelled more fiercely then any other kingdoms when Brian Boru tried to unite the Island of Ireland into a single identity.

    The north has always danced to its own beat throughout history, despite what the rest of the island or Britain would have otherwise.

  • OneNI

    “Robinson rarely disappoints on these occasions. He’s the only prominent NI politician who seems æble to grasp the epic nature of our politics at the moment.”

    Really Mick? – a man who had excelled in small mindedness and petty bigotry for over 40 years finally sees the error of his ways would be more like it.

    What is his vision? Warm words and unionist unity – which amounts to perpetuating divison. How does he envisage us moving away from unionist/nationalist zero sum politics? He doesn’t.
    There is a glaring contradiction is what he is saying – about unionism not being homogenous and his approach to politics in NI
    He simply wants everyone to join the DUP – a party that (like the others to be fair) has no coherent policies on the economy (beyond a pathetic business rates tweak) no vision of education (beyond warm words) and most clearly no idea what it is doing in health.

    A pathetic mix of puesdo unionism (but in reality more ‘Ulster Alone’) and anti London populism

  • Republic of Connaught

    Indeed, Red Lion. The Catholic demographic is growing in the north and the DUP leadership can’t help but reiterate repeatedly how he wants to see a new inclusive Unionism. How visionary, rather than all that old croppy lie down stuff that went on for quite a while!

    The determining factor for a border poll when Catholics become a majority in the north. unless Scotland speeds up the process, will be how well the Republic is doing.

    I notice the English colonial lietentant Owen Patterson was there too, admiring his loyal Paddy Peter Robinson still championing England’s cause in Ireland.

  • OneNI

    On the question of the idea that because Ulster Protestants are increasingly relaxed about calling themselves ‘Irish’ and that this is somehow a ‘hopeful’ sign for Irish nationalism I’m afraid this shows how nationalists just don’t ‘get it’

    Nationalist thinking has been predicated on this idea of dividing the British and Irish identities. It has sought to make them exclusive and use the Irish language and culture for example as a political weapon. It was a highly flawed strategy and has ended in complete failure. (Even though the UUP and DUP feeling into the trap of endorsing this mentality)

    True Unionism, as espoused by Carson wanted Britishness to CONTINUE to incorporate English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish identities. This is the reality of modern society. In reality many of an Irish identity – regardless of their religious or ‘ethnic’ background feel comfortable within the UK.

    The idea that Robinson and the DUP are the inheritors of this inclusive, progressive vision is laughable as they are the very people who have done most to promote an insular ‘ourselves alone’ Ulster Protestant’ mindset.

    If Robbo has had a conversion he should disband the DUP and urge people to involve themselves in left/right politics

  • Roy Walsh

    ‘ Unionism is not a single homogeneous entity. It must be about opening up to new communities and building a broad and solid coalition.’
    This, again, smacks of unsuredness on the part of the First minister, months appealing to the still second class Catholics to remain in the Union which put them in this position in the first place and now seemingly appealing to the African, Asian, European ‘new Irish’ to vote to retain the link with Britain.

  • Bluesjazz. In using the word neanderthals, I wasn’t thinking of the biblical obsessives in the party, but the political backwoodsmen in the DUP who are still hankering after the good old days pre 1968. But their day is well and truly done.

  • Hm.

    I want us to create a wide consensus for our present constitutional arrangements. In this new Northern Ireland I want to see pro-Union support grow but in parallel I want to ensure that no one, whatever their political and constitutional aspiration, is left behind.

    The problem with such a double-headed approach is that the two may not be compatible. If and when they come into conflict, which will he prioritise? Even “liberal unionism” continues to cling stubbornly to its baggage.

  • Greenflag

    An honest speech by Mr Robinson and probably the best emanating from the house of ‘ Unionism ‘ which explains and describes ‘unionism’s raison d’etre on this island over the past century and more .

    At least he’s trying to look forward and put the issue in a context where what we all like to call ‘liberal ‘ democracy can triumph and the ballot box win out over the gun . And for that the NI First Minister should be given credit . While the speech defends his sense and vision of where ‘unionism ‘ needs to go to survive it’s noteworthy that it comes at a time when those of us who are ‘nationalists ‘ are re-examining our own raison d’etre as a State and our recent lost confidence in it’s political and religious and banking institutions . These things too will pass and who knows what another decade may bring given the current world economic and political situation .

    Ironically on the day that Mr Robinson delivered the ‘Edward
    Carson ‘ lecture some of the results of the 2011 census in the Republic where made known . And Northern Ireland has even ‘become ‘ a country again 😉 at least in the statistical tables

    Under the heading of places of birth of Irish residents (2011) from selected countries- Northern Ireland rates third highest. .

    England and Wales – 212,286
    Poland -115,193
    Northern Ireland – 58,470
    Lithuania – 34,847
    Latvia 19,989

    Thus English/Welsh outnumber NI born folk almost 4 to 1 , Poles almost 2 to 1 and Lithuanians and Latvians combined almost equal the NI born .

    I wonder what the NI census figures will show when released and how they compare with the Republic’s in respect of demographics . Both State’s politics will be impacted by the ‘new ‘ people although exactly how is not yet discernible .

    Here’s a link to the Irish census with some interesting graphics re the main findings .
    http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0329/census2011.pdf

  • The Half-Blood Unicorn

    “Unionism” is not a “people”, “community”, “religious group” or even a political party.
    It is a political philosophy, just the same as socialism or conservatism.

    Do you want to remain part of the United Kingdom?
    If, yes, that makes you a “unionist”, small “u”, big “u”- that’s up to you.

    What Robinson (or probably his clued-in strategy team) has grasped is that NI has changed out of all recognition since 1995.

    For the under 30s there is firstly a distinct lack of engagement in politics, full-stop.

    For those that are bothered, then the constitutional question is of less importance than it was 15 years ago (if you want proof look at political life in QUB now compared to the mid 90s- also check out the pretty poor state of the junior wings of all the political parties).

    The economic state of the ROI and the Scottish independence questions are also important factors at the present time.

    That’s bad news for the political parties but not necessarily bad news for the Union.

    You can be a unionist who is still proud of his Irish or Ulster identity, that’s what Robinson is saying.

    Are SF likewise saying that one can be an Irish nationalist and still be proud of an British identity?

    No, they haven’t yet got beyond the stale Prod=Brit=Unionist circular equation yet.

    Are they prepared to permit their version of Irish identity to become a patchwork of mixed regional/national/ethnic versions?

    Until they do, they have absolutely no chance of capitalising on the rising and tangible sense of Irish identity amongst a section of under 30s protestants.

    Robinson and the DUP may or may not genuine; they may or may not be able to sell the patchwork concept to the loons on the fringes. But they have made the public first move in placing the constitutional question beyond the communal and that is surely to be welcomed?

  • Andrew gallagher. The most effective way to call Robinson’s bluff on this is to ask him if he thinks unionists feel they have any thing to apologise to nationalists for in their treatmanet of catholics when they ran ‘their wee country’
    that will see him for what his real attude to catholics is.

  • GF,

    I’d be interested to see how many of those Englandandwales-born residents were children of two Irish-born parents.

    What, no Scotland?

  • Reader

    ardmajel55: if he thinks unionists feel they have any thing to apologise to nationalists for in their treatmanet of catholics when they ran ‘their wee country’
    That’s not even a sensible question. Every unionist would have to give their own answer. For instance, I have nothing to apologise for except a little internet teasing. I didn’t even have the vote until 1978.

  • Greenflag

    @ Andrew Gallagher ,

    Sorry don’t know -I’m sure some would be or would have one Irish born parent but I know quite a number of English peole and some Welsh who have no prior Irish family connections that they are aware of . . As for Scotland yes that seems an omission or maybe it’s ‘included ‘ in the England /Wales figure ? -I don’t know if they may be included in the ‘other’ general category which has some 200,000 plus people . But that would be an ‘odd ‘ place to locate them from a statistical perspective .

    A good question for the Census staff if they’re taking questions . Sorry no time to follow up as i’m off at the weekend for about two weeks to a place where the ‘internet ‘ reigns not and my cell phone will be dead for 23 hrs out of 24 🙂

  • Greenflag

    @ reader ,

    ‘I didn’t even have the vote until 1978.’

    Bah humbug -excuses excuses next you’ll admit to the dog dining on your homework ;)?

  • Reader. I should have made it even clearer that i meant political class of unionism not unionists generally. The UUP ran the place for 50 years but i don’t suppose Nesbitt or McCallister would deign to apologise for any of their party’s past ‘mistakes’ between ’22 and ’72.

  • Mike the First

    Mick

    “The identity of what was Irish unionism has morphed into Ulster unionism, Northern Ireland unionism and even for some northern Irish unionism”

    I’m note sure where the transcript came from, but surely to goodness that’s a capital “N” as in Northern Irish.

    Which brings me onto a point here – Robinson talks a lot about Irishness, Ulster identity, etc but steers clear, apart from this one mention, of saying Northern Irish. In this he’s light years behind a great deal of the unionist population, and the people of Northern Ireland at large, for whom the identity Northern Irish comes easily and naturally.

    Robinson seems to avoid, consciously or unconsciously, using the term Northern Irish, even though he can point out people’s identification with Northern Ireland:

    “I consider myself an Ulster or Northern Ireland unionist not an Irish Unionist. The same would be true of the vast majority of unionists in Northern Ireland.”

    “That identity continues to evolve in complex and fascinating ways. It is probably the case that most unionists will identify their homeland as ‘Northern Ireland’ rather than using any other term.”

    “Whereas Carson would have regarded himself as Irish and British I believe that most unionists today regard their identity as being from Northern Ireland and British.”

    That last sentence in particular would have read much more sensibly by ending “Northern Irish and British”. Why is Robinson determined to avoid this aspect to so many people’s identity? The one time he does use it, it’s in the context of “Northern Irish unionism” being a term that to him seems a little outré, and a minority pursuit.

    Ironically, I would imagine his colleague at the head of OFMDFM would also prefer that identity was buried too.

    I would say they’re both in for a shock when the census results on the national identity question come in.

  • At the risk of diverting this discussion down a siding, I find the maps in GF’s linked census PDF illuminating, particularly nos. 2,3,4 and 12. There seems to be a demographic catastrophe under way in the north west, centred on Sligo.

  • Mike the First

    PS:

    I hope no-one willfully misreads this bit…

    “In this he’s light years behind a great deal of the unionist population, and the people of Northern Ireland at large, for whom the identity Northern Irish comes easily and naturally.”

    ….I realise I’ve left it open to misinterpretation, read the “great deal of” in conjunction with both the unionist population and the people of NI at large.

  • ayeYerMa

    An excellent point GoldenFleece. Another thing I would add that contributes to Ulster’s identity is that the link to Scotland has existed for long before the plantation. In fact, the most Unionist parts of Ulster were not officially planted. This unique identity is something rarely understood or appreciated by those south of the border (most “nationalist” comment on this site seems to be from the south).

  • ayeYerMa

    ardmajel55, perhaps you ought to educate yourself on the “treatment of Catholics” based on actual facts and figures, rather than basing your beliefs on hearsay and mendacious propaganda?:
    http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/discrimination/gudgin99.htm

  • Reader

    ardmajel55: The UUP ran the place for 50 years but i don’t suppose Nesbitt or McCallister would deign to apologise for any of their party’s past ‘mistakes’ between ’22 and ’72.
    I don’t think either of them were members at the time, though Cameron did apologise for Bloody Sunday.
    Actually, I think either Nesbitt or McCallister would quite possibly apologise for a bit of mis-government during that era, and I think they probably should. But I also think that would not go nearly far enough for you, and might do more harm than good.

  • AYM,

    Yes, it is a grave mistake to view the “PUL community” as a homogeneous block. There are two discernable main strands to it: Ulster-Scots-Presbyterian and planter-Anglican (although there are others too). Censuses and surveys tend to be blind to such nuances, and historically they have not always been politically close. I would love to see NILT (and their ilk) perform a more detailed correlation between identity and religion, to see if there is any variance within “PUL” on the question of Irish identity. My gut and my experience tells me that Irishness is more accepted amongst the Anglican tradition, but I have no numbers to back it up.

  • ayeYerMa

    Andrew Gallagher, it’s also a mistake to assume that those relating “Ulster Scot” elements of identity are also Protestant and non-Gaelic. Just talk to people in The Glens (those who have lived their for generations, not the recent residents from West Belfast that is).

  • SDLP supporter

    As a social democrat and a democratic Irish nationalist, I would challenge some of Peter Robinson’s points:

    1.Carson was no democrat and the reaction of the Ulster Unionists from 1912 on was highly undemocratic. They had no regard for the sovereignty and authority of the ‘King in Parliament’ and, indeed, were happy to peddle semi-fascistic nonsense like that there was a ‘higher’ power than parliament. Indeed, as the late Andrew Boyd often pointed out, they were prepared to ‘kick the Crown into the Boyne’. Everything they did, from the Covenant to the Larne gun-running to fomenting the Curragh mutiny of elements of the British Army, was calculated to introduce force and the threat of it back into Irish politics. Carson and his associates truly brought the gun into Irish politics and we have been paying for it ever since. As Professor Laffan has pointed out, the leaders of 1916 and their extra-constitutional actions took their cue from Carson.
    2.“He wanted to keep Ireland united and within the Union and he repeatedly sought accommodation with his nationalist fellow-countrymen.” Carson, undoubtedly a tremendous advocate that he was, simply didn’t recognise that the majority of the people of the island of Ireland had the right to alter their status within the UK: that was the extent of his ‘inclusiveness’. As a unionist, he was not prepared to deal with the rest of the people of Ireland on the basis of equality, or to recognise that nationalists had legitimate differing aspirations that they could aspire to. His attitude could be compared to that, say, of the typical colon in pre-independence Algeria.
    3.The measure of Home Rule being proposed in 1886, 1892 and 1914 was very limited indeed and, despite what PR says, there was no inevitability that it would have led (eventually) to full independence. What the Home Rulers wanted to do was to repeal the 1801 Act of Union and the abolition of an Irish Parliament but within a new relationship. As King George V said (and he was something an admirer of Parnell and visited his grave in Glasnevin incognito): “Gentleman, we should have listened to Mr. Gladstone.” As Robert Kee said, if there had been any real statecraft at the time, the disasters of the awful decade from 1912 could have been avoided with a limited form of autonomy given to the north eastern counties within a Home Rule context. But, by the time negotiations came about, all sides were locked into their own intransigences.
    4.Hard it might be for some to appreciate, many Irish Party leaders had no problem with the concept of remaining within the ‘Empire’ and even if Home Rule had been given, Irish MPs would have continued to sit at Westminster. Indeed, the arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, having been assured on this point, gave a £10,000 donation to Parnell (which the latter appeared to have trousered for his own benefit). Echoes of today!
    5.Peter Robinson is blathering when he talks about Carson being a ‘giant figure…on the national stage…remarkably one of a handful of non-monarchs to have received a state funeral’ etc. Yes, he got a state funeral but it was only in Belfast and to say that he had the same status as Nelson, Wellington and Churchill is nonsense. As a cabinet minister (First Lord of the Admiralty) he was quite incompetent.
    6.Towards the end of his life Carson put it on record that he had been used and abused for their own ends by a remarkably reactionary and anti-democratic bunch of Conservatives like Bonar Law and Birkenhead.
    7.In fairness, Carson appeared to have no religious prejudice, indeed he may have had no great interest in religion at all. He had no difficulty in attending John Redmond’s Funeral Mass and he would never have tied himself in knots over matters like this as unionist leaders did for decades after Carson. I have no doubt that his comments of 4 February 1921 about fair play to nationalists were entirely sincere. The reality of the outcome was entirely different and those who lost out to the greatest extent in twentieth century Ireland were northern democratic nationalists.
    8.“Even as recently as the 1950s unionist Prime Ministers were comfortable describing themselves as Irish”. Hmm, Basil Brooke? I would love to see the reference and my recollection from seeing the quote somewhere is that he prefixed it with “I suppose”

  • ayeyerma. You mean on selected facts and figures taken out of context to suit your state of denial? No thanks.

  • Progressive Unionist

    That was an absolutely excellent speech. (and even the most stalwart UUP supporter should admit it!)

    “At last unionism has a vision thing” says David McKittrick over on Eamonn Mallie’s blogsite.

    Very true. Unionism still needs democratic accountability though – which means a vigorous, pro-active, pro-Agreement opposition in Stormont. For that, we need John McCallister tomorrow!

  • Zig70

    I thought it was fairly dull and repetitive. Often you see people twist their message for the audience and at least Peter didn’t. I’d have preferred more about Carson instead of more guff about Catholic unionists. Makes me start to think he is repeating it too often. What is he afraid off? Maybe if unionism has no bogey men then the DUP will be as relevent to Ulster politics as the UUP is, so it needs to capture the non tribal voter. It’s all about the brand.

  • BluesJazz

    The toxic ‘Paisley’ brand has certainly been carved out. Not one mention of the old bigoted thug who added 20 years to the troubles with his hatred.
    A pithy speech will not eradicate all the bile and rabble rousing. Just because you get old and fearful cannot conceal the factual history.
    Robinson and McGuinness are trying to build a narrative that absolves their real history. The timid media follow because they’re fearful of rocking the boat.
    That , unfortunately, to a
    lesser extent includes this website.

  • HeinzGuderian

    BJ…..time to move on,huh ? 😉

  • HeinzGuderian

    ayeyerma. You mean on selected facts and figures taken out of context to suit your state of denial? No thanks.

    Never interfere with a man and his perceived grievances.

  • andnowwhat

    On the money Bluejazz.

    We have a group that is actually using bombs against their own community, that is meant to be within the peace pantomime, and yet it gets so little coverage.

    I’d rather that Peter told us all if his party was left, right or central on the political/economic spectrum than this grandstanding.

    I’m too afraid of the governments cuts and how they are changing our present and our future (pensions and length we have to work etc) without a proper mandate, than whether Edward Carson used a Gilette or a Wilkinson.

    One thing this whole island has in common is that it is governed by slight of hand and distraction.