Away from the maelstrom of street politics, there’s been a couple of interesting outputs on the Unionist side of the camps. First, John McCallister speaking at the weekend, gave the kind of speech that might have come better from his own party leader. But it is a direct challenge to the sheep and goats discourse happening elsewhere:
It is striking that when those aged 18-24 in Northern Ireland are asked about their identity .. The greatest number define themselves as ‘Northern Irish’.
Here, then, is an opportunity to promote a shared identity. An identity shared between those who also have a British identity or an Irish identity.
To be Northern Irish threatens neither of these . But it does give a sense of a shared community to both unionist and nationalist and to the increasing numbers who define themselves as neither.
Above all, it nails the lie of tribalism. That unionist and nationalist can live apart, with no sense of the common good or a truly shared future.
A Northern Irish identity is the beating heart of a shared future. It reminds us that beyond the policy prescriptions and the politics, a shared future needs emotional and cultural expression.
When dissident republicans murder a prison officer. Or when dissident loyalists threaten a Catholic Church. A Northern Ireland identity tell us that such events are not happening to ‘them’, ‘the others’.
They are happening to us, a shared community with a shared identity.
In a piece for the Belfast Telegraph Basil McCrea explained his reasons for not supporting his party in Stormont. The point he’s making is more confined and precise, but does explain an important problem with the current set of politics, ie, the narrative:
I will however be opposing a DUP amendment which seeks to remove the reference to the Belfast agreement. I suspect that I will be the only Unionist to do so.
The UUP indicated during the debate that they were happy to accept the DUP amendment. I am not. The Belfast agreement was the crowning achievement of the Ulster Unionist party in the modern era.
That the DUP should introduce their amendment was entirely predictable. Their rise to political prominence was based on a strategy of undermining the Belfast Agreement, of destabilising the UUP and of vicious personal attacks on the UUP leadership. Tactics they maintain to this day.
In their quest for political power they sought to convince the electorate that the Belfast Agreement had sold them down the river. They squandered the opportunity presented by the Belfast Agreement and today, and over the last six weeks we have all paid the price for this strategy.
You cannot continually tell the people that they have been sold down the river and not expect a reaction. You cannot refuse to challenge destructive narratives and expect things to improve and you cannot tell people only what they want to hear and expect them to accept the outcome of the democratic process without complaint.
In his opening remarks Mike Nesbitt declared that he was “puzzled” about the opposition to the DUP amendment and later that “he/we would not die in a ditch” for the part of his motion that called on all parties to support the spirit of the Belfast Agreement.
I cannot support this position. I will not accept that the Belfast Agreement can be so easily discarded and I refuse to accept that the DUP amendment is anything other than an attack on the Belfast Agreement.
It’s a useful invocation of memory in a political arena where deliberate and self serving mis-remembrance of the past is a commonplace. Meanwhile the counting of sheep and goats meme will put in another week without too much further probing of what OFMdFM has done, or hasn’t done…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty