“You can’t put people in one of two boxes, it is much more complex now”

In the Irish Times Gerry Moriarty talks to five northern “unicorns” – Catholics who believe Northern Ireland is better off in the UK “for economic and cultural reasons”.  From the Irish Times article

If five people from a Catholic background, two of them from nationalist west Belfast – Goss and McKenzie – are so readily prepared to declare their allegiances, there must be more.

These people are far removed from the current tensions over yesterday’s Twelfth parades.

They have no emotional attachment or interest in such flag-waving and parading. They are genuine in their convictions, have thought through their positions and have carefully arrived at the political, economic, social and ideological conclusion that Northern Ireland is better within the union than in a united Ireland.

Of course, despite the choice of title quote, it’s always been much more complex than that…

, , , , , , , , ,

  • Cric

    I can understand some Catholic people wanting to stay in the United Kingdom, but do they have to be Tories? Ugh.

  • Mick Fealty

    Almost certainly not… But they are likely to be the most visibly tip of the unicorn iceberg…

  • Cric

    I used to think they were unicorns because I had never met one … until recently, when our company employed a lad from rural County Down who seems to be pretty pro-Union.

    In saying that he is also really into his GAA, loves a ceile and disses the Orange Order. Unionism, but not as we know it.

  • Sp12

    “I can understand some Catholic people wanting to stay in the United Kingdom, but do they have to be Tories? Ugh.”

    What else would they be?
    The Catholic Unionists I know would be center right in political outlook, Nationalist parties don’t reflect their political beliefs in economic left/right terms. They vote Alliance, or don’t vote at all and send their kids to integrated schools. Although one ‘Catholic’ unionist friend did take his kids out of an integrated school this summer and transferred them to a CCMS school when he compared school results 🙂

    I must admit, I know about 5 times as many ‘Catholics’ in favour of the union as I know ‘Protestants’ in favour of a UI.

  • odd_number

    I believe most culturally Irish people in the north would be happy enough to stay in the uk if we could deal with sectarian marches, stop the constant flag waving and sniping at all things culturally Irish.
    The biggest threat to the union is unionism.

  • If the politicians can’t get their acts together to provide the leadership that is currently lacking, especially the DUP, we will be putting people into one box, a wooden one to be placed 6 feet under.

  • JoeBryce

    Equally there are PUL’s – I’m one of them – who have come to think that a new Ireland is the way ahead. I’m not sure which unicorns graze more widely. From such dissolution of old polarities can grow a future agreeable to all.

  • Cric

    Sp12 I was being a bit tongue in cheek – my own economic views are pretty much right of center and would disagree with both NI Nationalist parties – in saying this they wouldn’t disagree too much with Fianna Fail’s laissez faire economics of the boom years (some of the more disastrous things we live with today are what the state did, rather than what it didn’t do). I’d be (economically) terrified if we achieved a United Ireland and it was Sinn Fein at steering wheel… but I think having almost complete fiscal autonomy from London would be a positive thing – and I might support that if it comes about through NI devolution after Scotland votes no.

    Anyway when talking to Unionists and English people and Knights of the Realm I tend to pretend that I am politically agnostic – if I say I’m pro-United Ireland I’m afraid I may look like I’m a Sinn Feiner, so I say I do not care (and maybe go into economics as I have done above). The truth is if I was in a private election booth and faced with a straight yes or no I think at this present time I’d almost certainly vote yes – the heart and the head both say the same thing.

  • michael-mcivor

    People-Catholic – Protestant – other can support who ever they want to-or support no-one-

    Those Catholics in that interview actually think its some kind of big deal for them to support the union-it aint-

  • cynic2

    I am a capitallist and free marketeer. I believe that at the moment the only way for NI is to remain in the UK as the violence involved in reunification would destroy Ireland. But I spend a l;ot of time in the Republic I like the culture and people and if itscould be achieved peacefuly I might easily be persuaded

  • Master McGrath

    God save us there may be hope yet for the Province!!! – 0_N is spot on in what he say about the fgreatest threat to the union.
    What is most important though is the growing recognition that your background does not dictate your present and future views.
    As a member of a Scottish Regiment I joined in robustly and very loudly singing ‘Scots wha hae’ knowing that those around me were still happy to wear the uniform and do the bidding of the UK Govt..

    Its the Nelson McCausland or the Gerry Adams attitude that would seek to eternally define your future by location of your background.
    Life and people are too complex and complicated for simplistic notions of identity to be allowed to dictate the present and future for all.
    The UK is waking up to this ‘problem’ in respect of Asian and most especially Muslim groups – and there are still some sensible voices saying that we need to adopt grown-up responses to a problem whose parameters have yet to be properly defined.

  • LOL,
    Mick! There’s a squirrel, its over there, somewhere……….

  • Los Lobos

    I wonder did any of those interviewed ever hear the old saying “its manners to wait until you are asked”? Who in their right mind in the South of Ireland will be up for encouraging the British to ‘off-load’ Northern Ireland to them? FFs, they can’t even divvy up a couple of quid for the bridge into Co Louth, even though the EU are paying for most of it! Time for a reality check for everyone on the Island, and time to look at issues that really matter. Issues that would improve the quality of life for most people, not dumb surveys with loaded questions.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The unicorns all live East of the Bann in the Greater Belfast area. Can’t imagine many in Tyrone or Fermanagh. I personally dont know one from Tyrone and if anything, I should probably fit the bill. There is a large section of Northern Ireland that never travel south of the border and just swallow this nonsense about being better off in the UK. I met quite a few of them as an undergraduate in QUB Law.

    The thing is that we have had 100 years of this and I don’t see much evidence being politically, socially or economically better off. Its easy to blame it all on the troubles but when that becomes a distant memory, people will feel every bit as neglected as those in the North of England but without the same attachment.

  • Harry Flashman

    “The unicorns all live East of the Bann in the Greater Belfast area.”

    You’d be surprised how many you’d find in Derry Lionel.

  • DC

    Lionel, if Ireland is so good why not move to within its jurisdiction?

    Free movement of people and all that, it’s handy for people who think like you, it’s so you don’t have to suffer another month let alone a year of anything that you don’t want to have to put up with here in the UK.

    at the moment, the doors are open right across europe and you can move to any EU country you want – isn’t that great.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I have lived in the Republic. But why would I need to move. I live in my country and I’m a Tyrone man at the end of the day. Its in the blood. I don’t see the Republic as the Ireland that I want to join. I live in Ireland and would like to see both parts reunited. After 100 years of decline under the UK, I think that we couldn’t do much worse.

    Sure the Government down there has shown that you can mess it up but they’ve also shown that you can do well. In Northern Ireland in UK, all we are destined to live with in political terms is a farce where we are to pretend that town council politics is a real democracy when the real power players dont even stand for election here whilst in economic terms we are to live on stabilizers. Our economy forgotten (but for the odd fig leaf) whilst the priority is creating good conditions for the SE England so that they can subsidize the rest.

    Unionism’s best argument, as we see in Scotland, is appealing to one’s sense of inadequacy. That you can’t do it on your own. The positive argument will win in the end.

    But DC, am I wrong in my earlier comment. Are we not akin to the North of England. Troubles or no troubles, would we not have faced a similar grimness with recent regeneration based on public sector jobs to provide services to the rest of the UK. Is it wrong?

  • redstar2011

    Always good fun to dig out these one off types- there were blacks who helped uphold apartheid.

    But its all pretty meaningless as if there were any significant amount of these types it would be reflected in voting patterns. I dont see Unionist councillors topping the poll in Ballymurphy just yet!!! But good entertainment anyway

  • Henry94

    If you are Catholic and believe in the Union and vote accordingly then sorry but you are not a unicorn. There have always been such people. The unicorn is the person who votes Sinn Fein or SDLP but would not vote for a united Ireland. They are the ones we never meet but who show up in the opinion polls.

    Catholic unionists are may not be as common as horses but they are certainly no more remarkable than donkeys.

  • Dec

    So Gerry rang the tories and NI21 asking whether there were any left footers he could chat to and now we’re told Nationalists are the unicorns. Joke.

  • DC

    That you can’t do it on your own.

    What countries are doing it on their own nowadays, Ireland is deeply embedded in the other Union, the European Union.

    Northern Ireland is apart of the British Union and indeed the European Union too.

    I’m afraid to say Lionel, it’s the world, the world in union, a new age has begun!

  • cynic2

    ” people will feel every bit as neglected as those in the North of England but without the same attachment.”

    ….or perhaps Donegal. Southerners regard us all – Prods and Catholics – as bigoted culchies – and they are probably right!

  • cynic2

    ” I dont see Unionist councillors topping the poll in Ballymurphy just yet!!!”

    Voting against a UI and voting DUP are two different things. But carry on in your reverie.

  • redstar2011


    My point is if these ghost voters dont vote ( for any unionist DUP or otherwise) they matter not a jot.

    Makes entertaining reading though

  • Lionel Hutz[5.04] I wouldn’t be surprised if Salmond encouraged unionist politicians to join the debate in Scotland in the run up to the poll knowing this would harm the UK campaign, as when the DUP or UUP talk up the benefits of NI staying in the union, it’s with the argument that we get the subsidy which keeps NI above water. How pathetic a begging bowl mentality and how cynical to encourage leeching of taxpayers mainly in England, to argue for the Union.

  • Son of Strongbow

    I’m not a Catholic Unicorn, although as a unionist I obviously share with them support for the union with GB. I also share their (alleged on this thread) avoidance of voting.

    However, and it is the most important ‘however’ in relation to a UI vote, should a border poll be called I’ll be joining the Unicorns in voting to retain the link with the rest of the UK.

    For me nationalism is such a 19th Century idea (I of course retain a particular loathing for the ‘Irish’ bastardised version with its all too ready predilections for visiting violence on fellow Irish people). Someone has already referenced Scotland. For a country trying to ‘go it alone’ funnily enough one of the top items on the Salmond’s agenda is retaining/joining the EU, with all the surrendering of ‘national’ sovereignty that entails.

    We live in an increasingly interconnected world. The days of ‘ourselves alone’ are gone.

    Finally the old chestnut of the central government funding allocated to NI. Is this a different arrangement to the many international models of moving revenue internally around a country?

    Is, for example, County Donegal self sufficient from the Dublin exchequer? Does the county’s tax receipts fund its roads, healthcare, policing etc, etc?

    Perhaps Ballymun runs itself, or Limerick, or wherever?

    What is the model being hinted at? Medieval City States? Leave the country peasantry to wallow in relative poverty? A ’32 County Socialist Republic’ with the Champagne Socialists living it up in juiciest bits if the country and keeping the dosh in their own local areas?

  • @son of strongbow,

    As an outside observer I don’t find the idea of nationalism per se as passe. I do find, however, the particular Irish application of it with its geographic determinism that rules that Northern Ireland must be part of the Republic in spite of the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants to be passe. We are told that this is an artificial statelet–as if states were creations of nature that sprang up naturally from the environment. As an Alliance supporter and believer in a state as being the state of all of its citizens I believe that it is Northern Ireland’s responsibility to make itself accommodating for the Catholic minority and not to be simply the Protestant twin to De Valera’s Catholic Gaelic nation state.

  • Dec

    A reference to ‘De Valera’s Catholic Gaelic nation state’ – now there’s passé.

  • Sweetcheeks

    NI21 won’t get more than 3 or 4% of the vote across Northern Ireland.

  • Sure if a member of the Dublin media establishment wanted to interview a “Catholic Unionist” couldn’t he just sit down in front of a mirror and interview himself? Or failing that take a trip up to the RTÉ canteen in Donnybrook? 😉

    I have three friends who are “Protestant Unicorns”. One from Antrim, one from Down and one from Fermanagh. I fully expect never to see them being interviewed in the Irish Times or any other national newspaper. That of course would not suit the agreed narrative. Ho-hum…

  • antamadan

    Lionel gave a very old fashioned unionist dig, that nationalists could move south if they thought it was so great.
    The statistics show (I posted them a year ago on another thread), that twice as many born in the north live in the south, than the other way round.

  • Reader

    Dec: A reference to ‘De Valera’s Catholic Gaelic nation state’ – now there’s passé.
    Yeah, because we never talk about the past here…

  • Republic of Connaught

    Son of Strongbow:

    “Finally the old chestnut of the central government funding allocated to NI. Is this a different arrangement to the many international models of moving revenue internally around a country?”

    Neither Bavaria nor Lombardy nor Galicia have their own international football teams a la NI, Scotland and Wales. Western Australia or Queensland don’t compete under their own flags in the Commonwealth games a la NI, Scotland and Wales, do they? So the UK isn’t the same as ‘normal’ countries and never was. It was four countries and four nations under one political jurisdiction – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Indeed it was like a prototype European Union trying to socially engineer a combined national identity out of different nations. Built and maintained by English money so they could control both islands entirely and not just England itself, which never had the geographical size to satisfy their ambitions.

    If all of Ireland was still part of the UK and needed to be bailed out every year by the English taxpayer like Northern Ireland, then the cry for independence would be deafening from all self respecting Irishmen. Clearly the ‘UK’ wouldn’t be working if a begging bowl to England every year is the sole hope of prosperity. When was the last time NI broke even?

    Of course many Unionists in NI would prefer to be England’s perpetual beggars than try to create a successful independent 32co Ireland. That’s very sad for them, and sad for the rest of Ireland too. Because it means the pride of Ulster is gone and what’s up there now is the Jeremy Kyle generation.

  • aquifer

    “I can understand some Catholic people wanting to stay in the United Kingdom, but do they have to be Tories? Ugh.”

    No they can just get second hand policies from Labour via Westminster. The big industrial cities in Britain may be a better guarantor of social policy than the gombeen speculators and sectarian impresarios who strut around here.

    The Eurozone no longer looks so benign, so Stirling is a perfectly reasonable currency to have in reserve.

  • Red Lion

    This article reminds us that Northern Ireland is so much more than the polarities, at this depressing time.

    I have hardly commented on any of the other threads about at the moment, they are too depressing. I commented a lot on the flag protests and I currently don’t have the motivation to compose similar posts again.

    Except for when NI21 get a mention, somehow my motivation and hope returns.

    Most people I know in the 2 historic communities here at the very least dislike DUP and SF. And its not disliking one and loving the other, they dislike them both together and the dynamic they mutually feed off.

    I only see NI21 challenging this, and they are only getting going.

  • terence patrick hewett

    UK and Ireland plan visa-free common travel area to boost growth: so says the FT.

    “The objective is to create the equivalent of a mini-Schengen zone between Ireland and the UK which will enable all visitors to travel freely between both North and South and the two islands,” an Irish government spokesman said.

    “The project is part of wider UK and Irish plans for closer economic co-operation in the fields of energy, agribusiness, finance and research and development. The joint economic strategy aims to boost bilateral trade, currently worth almost €50bn a year, and may lead to joint UK and Irish trade missions in some sectors.”

    Do I detect a plot? dirty work at the cross-roads? or is it just my old fashioned paranoia.


  • I had not heard of the word “unicorn” until reading this article. I presume that as well as being associated with a mythical beast, the name is also an abbreviation of “Unionist – catholic origin” or something similar. That was inspired thinking by whoever invented the name.