Alex Kane on how Unionism can learn from Sinn Féin

Are we seeing more signposts to the future of unionism today? The Newsletter’s Alex Kane has a piece out on “Unionism can learn from Sinn Féin” while it appears to suggest that, in reality, it is currently trying to learn from Fianna Fáil.

Kane trots out the same line about ‘cultural war’ that was raised at the field on the Twelfth  by the Orange Order. Somewhat diminishing the point, the BBC usefully led this story with Edwin Stevenson’s comments at the Orange demonstration in Derry. This ‘cultural wars’ ploy has also recently been promoted on Slugger by David McCann (of Fianna Fáil, although in FF’s dog without a collar mode on Slugger). Kane largely reduces matters to competing publicity and propaganda, bemoaning how, in his opinion, Sinn Féin are brilliant at this (mimicking another Fianna Fáil meme) and how:

Unionism used to be brilliant at propaganda and organisation. If you don’t believe me then read Alan Parkinson’s ‘Friends in High Places’, a superb account of how we resisted Irish Home Rule. There’ll you’ll see how all the strands of the pro-Union family agreed on a strategy and then promoted that strategy.

He goes to state that:

Symbols, emblems, ceremonies and mantras are important to unionism and, given our history, we are right to remember and celebrate our past. But I sometimes think that we remain too focused on the past and on the victories of long ago. So much so, in fact, that we neglect the ideology, strategy and planning required for the future.

Nowhere is it apparent that Kane comprehends two key points. The first is why some people might take offence at the litany of actual behaviours evidenced around the Twelfth (see the summary Chris put together), such as that finale of the Woodvale parade where Belfast No 2 District and the Pride of Ardoyne band sang the Famine Song to finally demolish the weak pleading offered last year. The closest he gets is in referencing the “Symbols, emblems, ceremonies and mantras” of unionism/Orangeism without specifying what he is referring to.

Secondly, there is a significant difference between the delivery of a message and the substance behind it. Lauding “how we resisted Irish Home Rule” doesn’t stand up to any awkward historical scrutiny if it is taken that that ‘resistance’ was not merely in some form of media competition. Resisting Home Rule included what most contemporaries referred to as a pogrom against Catholics in Belfast from 1920-22 (with a briefer attempt in Derry and occasional violence elsewhere) which the local media did its best to dismiss. It wasn’t that a pogrom didn’t happen, simply that the Newsletter, Belfast Telegraph and Northern Whig did their best to cover it up and explain it away. There is a parallel here to deflecting objections to ‘symbols, emblems, ceremonies and mantras‘ that elsewhere would be deemed to represent hate speech (in that awful Orwellian phrase). Nor is this some recent phenomenon. The first violence on the 12th July in Belfast was in 1813 in North Street and the history of the city is (literally) littered with deaths and destruction associated with what is euphemistically referred to as the Orange demonstrations. So it is not like violence and the Orange Order has only a brief history.

Symbollically, Kane’s use of the phrase unionism/Orangeism underscores his limited vision here (“Unionism/Orangeism needs to become more sophisticated in its thinking and more subtle in its strategies“). Once you remove that slash, it seems to present an existential crisis for Unionism and Orangeism as there seems little point to the existence of one without the other. Given the shared phraseology, the coalescing of unionist/Orange and Fianna Fáil interests in opposing Sinn Féin are becoming as obvious as ever. The disconnect between reality and Fianna Fáil, the Grand Lodge and DUP dreaming of ‘cultural wars’ was being underscored by the likes of the peaceful accommodation of the ‘Orange demonstrations’ in Derry or Sinn Féin minister, Carál Ní Chuilín discussing the possibility of public funding for band uniforms. Nor is Fianna Fáil, with it’s comic ‘the republican party’ sidebar, snuggling up to unionism/Orangeism either particularly new or in any way subtle (e.g. David McCann’s insistence that ‘support for reunification is falling in Northern Ireland‘ when the electoral evidence clearly suggests the reverse).

Helping shuffle each others’ deckchairs around their own private political Titanics may seem mutually advantageous, but the reality for people in Belfast and other areas of the north (and south) are very different. With Fianna Fáil grasping to regain the necessary political control to once again reward its client-base, it’s interventions in the north are clearly dictated solely by electoral desires south of the border. Oddly too, unionism/Orangeism’s worry isn’t really Sinn Féin: it is those in the deprived working class loyalist areas that it relies upon to threaten violence in the name of unionism/Orangeism often to no apparent advantage to those areas. Thus both Fianna Fáil and the leaders of unionism/Orangeism invoke a phoney ‘cultural war’ hoping to evoke a sufficient reaction to protect their own narrow interests. It is not unionism/Orangeism that needs to learn, it is those in the disadvantaged loyalist areas that have no leadership that need to learn and that is what unionism/Orangeism fears the most.

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  • Niccolo

    “the fact is that Sinn Fein is brilliant at propaganda”….this, of course, depends upon one’s comparison….in this case it’s Unionism. The more interesting point for me in Alex Kane’s article was the last line. “About a decade ago I asked a senior Sinn Fein strategist how they persuaded their grassroots that being in government in Northern Ireland represented a victory for them. “Ah,” he replied, “we can always rely on unionist disarray or paranoia to help us out.” He may have been half-joking, but I half-agreed with him.” I wonder how Sinn Fein would react to their Unionist opponents finally ‘catching on’?

  • Niccolo

    From Slugger circa 30th May 2006, “asked to explain exactly what Sinn Féin had achieved for its supporters, media-disaster Mitchel (McLaughlin) spluttered for a moment before blurting out: “The degree of uncertainty and the lack of confidence in the unionist community!””.

  • I think that Kane is spot on. There is an old British army song about the Prince of Wales who marched up a hill and then down again, commemorating some pointless maneuver during the early Napoleonic wars. The OO is the same way.

    Unionism needs to rethink its mythology. Political myths are supposed to explain what a group’s values are to its members. Unionism has two main political myths: the Siege of Derry of 1688 and the Signing of the Covenant and Ulster Division of 1912-16. The Siege myth is all about looking for Lundies and keeping the Catholics locked safely outside the gates. The Covenant myth is about defying outside pressure for change and loyalty to the Empire, which London needs to repay.

    Unionism needs to look at the history of Ulster and find some incident or period in which the two communities cooperated and celebrate that. It could be the cooperation between the Ulster Division and the other Irish divisions at the Somme in 1916. Or it could be about the Lemass-O’Neill cooperation in the 1965-68 period (but good luck with that with the DUP in power). Or it could be from some forgotten incident from the 19th century. The UUP and DUP should get their in-house historians searching for such an incident that can serve to create a new mythology for the future.

  • Mick Fealty

    dog without a collar John? The truth is more that I don’t force people to confess allegiance (yourself included). The reader is more than able to judge each contribution on their innate merits.

    Ball not man, remember…

  • michael-mcivor

    The orange order is like the family dog-

    If you allow it to go where they want to they would only play with the traffic and do itself a injury-far better for all concerned for it to be kept on a leash-

    And throw them a few scrap’s the odd time-they will love you for it in the long run-

  • redstar2011

    With all due respect to Alex his anti SF stance is legendary, at times bordering on the psychotic.

    Respected, talented without a doubt but at times his heart is worn on his sleeve when it comes to his hatred for the Shinners- to keep with previous canine analogies on this thread hes like a well behaved dog until he sees a ( SF) car to chase- then his persona and thinking seem to change entirely.

    Not being an SF type myself I report my observations as an outsider- but it is obvious and at times amusing.

  • Neil

    Alex Kane: Unionism’s problem is it’s paranoia, but them evil devious shinners are under my bed.

    They ‘keep on’ with their border campaign (I mean, really!), their devious ‘outreach’ and they should accept 100% Unionist symbolism as NI is in the UK – just as Unionism would uncritically accept the removal of every Unionist symbol should NI be in a UI (as you can’t have symbolism from a foreign state regardless of the demographics, right?)

    Don’t assume you’ve won yet Alex, the border poll hasn’t happened yet. Keep that paranoia bubbling away, we await Unionism’s next huge PR disaster. Though when it does it may be attributed to some hoods from Divis doing an impersonation or some such.

  • “the coalescing of unionist/Orange and Fianna Fáil interests in opposing Sinn Féin are becoming as obvious as ever”

    John, are we supposed to feel sorry for the Shinners? Unionists and FFers to the right of them; dissidents to the left of them; and Stoops failing to stand alongside them in the SpAd business.

  • Ruarai

    I think John is onto something important in this respect: does the unionist political class really believe there is/was no substance problem?

    One of the most stand-out moments of foreboding for the prospects of the peace process was, in my view, the evening Trimble erected himself in front of the TV cameras on Derry’s walls to point and look down (in every sense) at the Bogside and claim – to paraphrase – “This Agreement is about these people accepting the legitimacy of NI…”

    Not only was the motive for Nationalists in supporting the Agreement hardly that, it was what he didn’t say that struck me. Here was a man who had just achieved an historic agreement and instead of selling it, at least in part, as that, as an agreement – with all the optimistic changes in tone and implications of some degree of mutual recognition of the place the other was coming from – Davy T fixated on a “victory”.

    He went on during that campaign to laugh and scoff at the idea of a transformed RUC, of McGuinness in government, etc, etc.

    As each of these inevitabilities unfolded, the unionist community felt that they’d been sold a bum deal and so on. Terrible leadership/salesmanship.

    And it’s precisely that lack of a leader in the UUP or DUP who can come and say – “ya know, we were running a little more than a cold house” and, more importantly, in terms of the present and the future: “we would never even want – never mind try – to get back to the politics of exclusion, etc” that indicates the unionist political class will forever be living with a nervous sense of atrophying power and the need to oppose all that is Nationalist.

    If Basil and co are better and represent grown-up politics, Nesbitt is surely the barrel’s bottom. Here’s a man “leading” a party on the basis of restoring former “glory”.

    This is where portrayals of the DUP as the extremist party is too simplistic. No UUP leader has ever come within one of John Taylor’s barge poles of what Robinson has achieved:

    a) An amicable, grown-up, somewhat productive working relationship with a Nationalist. Or

    b) A serious attempt to sell the Union not as an ethnic “right” but as a political preference that is open to anyone.

    Regardless of how well you believe Robbo has done A or B, can you identify any UUP type who’s ever come within a lambeg’s roar of even trying to shape new politics in this way?

    John is right: Unionists do not need better PR, they need an honest conversation among themselves as to why not only Catholics and Nationalists but also so many non-political Protestants find so much about their politics juvenile, macho, destructive and redneckish.

  • John Ó Néill

    Mick, I think you coined the dog with no collar line. I don’t see quoting his party membership as man-playing since it is relevant. FF isn’t proscribed (yet).

  • Mick Fealty

    I think you know what I meant John…

  • Gopher

    I would have to disagree with Alex I would hope unionist nor any other parties for that matter should emulate nothing with regards SF. Mono cognitive repetitive monolithic boredom without any perspective only appeals to a certain type of person. Far from emulating SF unionists should stop it and stop it at once. I would not be the most informed person in the world but Alex gets NI21 wrong, SF will not be defeated in the Verdun’s that they create in a time and space of their choosing for unionism or the SDLP and who ever else is mug enough to fall for them but in appealing to people that have a modicum of personality and wit to see beyond the pantomime. Just keep calling the sheep and donkeys what they are whether they are unionist sheep or Nationalist donkeys. Ann Travers and JIm showed the monolith to be truly average and unattractive on a time and space of their choosing and let’s not forget Alex Maskeys legendary ineptitude on Nolan.

  • aquifer

    “a pogrom against Catholics in Belfast from 1920-22 ”

    Never let history get in the way of the selective narrative John.

    Was there some stuff going on in the island then including a war of independence? I heard a story, albeit third hand but from someone who seemed convinced enough, about young militant IRA agents dispatched direct from Dublin to board in middle class nationalist houses to foment disorder by sniping at trams etc, the local IRA being viewed as a bit soft.

    Northern Nationalists have often ended up as the meat in the burger, but it was not always the Prods winding the grinder.

    Collins was content to tolerate IRA subversion of the young NI state despite signing treaties that ruled this out. Haughey backed the Provo altar boys gone wrong over the socialist Officials. And the Provos were backed by the Boston Irish and Omar Ghadaffi. No, really.

    Trouble with all this dishonesty is that it makes Irish separatists rotten negotiating partners, hence Sinn Fein are going to have to serve their time as honest Ulstermen.

    Learning from the intellectual wing of Unionism should not detain them long though, having perfected their own brand of spiky chauvinism long since.

  • The first violence on the 12th July in Belfast was in 1813 in North Street and the history of the city is (literally) littered with deaths and destruction associated with what is euphemistically referred to as the Orange demonstrations. So it is not like violence and the Orange Order has only a brief history.”

    John, I found the following footnote in an online copy of George Benn’s History of Belfast (1823):

    It may not be unnecessary to observe, that on the 12th of July 1813, a very unfortunate party riot took place here, in which two persons were shot by the Orangemen in North Street, and some others wounded on both sides. The criminals were tried, and punished by imprisonment at the ensuing assizes. Previous to this affair the return of this anniversary had always been marked by very serious disturbances, but no great disorder has since occurred.

    Similar party encounters litter the history of Co Armagh and many pre-date the 1795 formation of the OO.

  • John Ó Néill

    @Nevin – I’m quoting Catherine Hirst in Religion, Politics and Violence in 19th-Century Belfast (it’s linked in the original post, too). She reports 1813 as first year riots were documented in Belfast (am not sure whether Benn is referring to Belfast or more generally).

    @aquifer – take a cue from Nevin and quote an actual source?

  • paulG

    Aquifer

    ““a pogrom against Catholics in Belfast from 1920-22 ””

    “Never let history get in the way of the selective narrative John.”

    And then you present a third hand rumour as the “history” part, – seriously?

    Maybe just see how many Catholics were murdered during that time compared to the number of Protestants. Should give a good clue as to whether or not it was a pogram.

  • qwerty12345

    Nevermind that paulG – I’m still trying to work out who Aquifers “Omar Ghadaffi” is.

    Surely not Muammar Ghadaffi who died less than two years ago.

    No wonder Aquifer has a problem with the events of 90 years back.

    Pedantry over.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    John

    Interesting post but a few things stick out.

    The first one is just a personal preference, I always see the word ‘pogrom’ as the reserve of Jewish oppression at the hands of Europeans (at least since the Czar had a pop).
    When I read the word I immediately thought “Was that not just in Limerick?”

    Anyhoo, with regards to these pogroms, you really have hammered a ‘star of David’ event through a shamrock shaped hole with that one.

    Home rule was dead in the water by that point, what was alive and well back then was the Civil war, frenzy and paranoia.

    Think of how worked up the Protestant community was at that time, remember that the burning of the Protestant Orphanage in Clifden happened only a few weeks before then and there were still girls stranded there as late as the first week of July (the girls were thought to be in less danger as some of the boys were in danger of being put up against a wall).

    Given that this event received a similar amount of coverage in the South as the ‘pogroms’ did in the North can you imagine what the story sounded like to working class
    Protestants once it was fed through the machinery of Chinese Whispers?

    Certainly enough to force out those who would be seen as potential traitors and insurgents; Catholics and more liberal thinking Protestants (omitted from your post).

    That’s just a sense of perspective, NOT a justification, lest there be a whataboutery headed my way.

    ————————————————–

    With regards to Alex, well, you’re taking him too much at face value.

    You don’t just tell the Unionist community that they should change and they’ve done a lot of bad things. If you do then you’ll end up the way of the Rev Bingham and expelled from the tribe.

    I think, subtley, Alex’s pointing back to the ‘hey day’ of unionist ‘PR’ is quite a good step.

    Why? Well, if it is examined by the Unionist community at large then there is one massive difference between their mentality then and the tribe’s mentality now, namely that back then the Unionist and Protestant community was IRISH (but with a pro-British outlook) as opposed to today where they are quite simply (and illogically) just ‘British’ (as wonderfully highlighted by Ali G).

    Following that train of thought, then that also POTENTIALLY derails Gerry Kelly’s ‘90% British symbols’ mission.

    As I’ve said before, I’d like to see this inventory of the offending 90%.

    I’d be very surprised to see if an Irish regimental flag with “Faugh a Ballagh” isn’t branded ‘British’.

    In my view, it’s Irish, but with a pro-British outlook.

    If you follow that logic then I imagine that this ‘90%’ takes a fair pruning and is brought down to a more manageable and (officially) ‘satisfactory’ figure.

    Which, incidentally (as far as your humble narrator is concerned), is what Unionism should be about;
    Irish people with a Pro-British outlook.
    Not the modern day twisted totem of Rangers shirts, redundant flags, faux religion and paradoxical ‘loyality’ that it has become.

    Again, with the Unionism/Orangism marriage, please remember the gallery that he is playing too.

    I think Alex is on to something here and is smart enough not to say all of what he is thinking as Unionism requires such a massive overhaul that the number of changes that it requires just wouldn’t sit well with those who have been brought up with the trinity of Britishness, Protestantism and Hibernophobia*.

    *Yes I made that word up, couldn’t think of anything else that would fit. Please spare me a lecture on the construction of latin and greek words…Unless you’re SeaanUiNeill, in which case fire at will (but use words me can understand)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ruarai

    “John is right: Unionists do not need better PR, they need an honest conversation among themselves as to why not only Catholics and Nationalists but also so many non-political Protestants find so much about their politics juvenile, macho, destructive and redneckish”

    Would the actual implementation of a decent PR strategy perhaps bring about such a conversation?

    Even at a very basic level, if there was to be some sort of semi-coherent effort across the board e.g. starting with the Belfast bonfires, then surely having to explain to wee Tommy and his mates why X,Y and Z are bad PR and why it matters would lead to questions being asked:

    “You mean that when we say we’re British people think we’re ‘English’?! No way! I hate the English (?) so I do, except at Anfield like”

    Some one, some where knows this as is evidenced by the popping up of murals of figures such as Cuchulain and Finn MacCool.

    I’ve always wondered if (or indeed ‘why not’) there is any communication from above to the band leaders?

    They’d be my first port of call. They usually tend to be smarter than you’re average Prod-bear and have a more alpha male element to them.

    After that, many more would start to ‘toe the line’.

    The problem is, there’s not really any line yet…

  • @Ruarai,

    “Regardless of how well you believe Robbo has done A or B, can you identify any UUP type who’s ever come within a lambeg’s roar of even trying to shape new politics in this way?”

    It should be remembered that Trimble’s co-minister, Seamus Mallon, could never the whole time he was in office bring himself to publicly use the proper name of the jurisdiction in whose government he served as a high official. So if Trimble had some problems, it was not, necessarily, all his fault.

  • Ruarai

    Am Ghobsmacht,

    yeah, I guess. But public relations (I say this as PR pro) are fundamentally about external relations and I think unionism still has a fair bit of intra-communal conversations that need having. Focusing on PR/external relations without really getting into that stuff would be a miss.

    Why, for example, do so many hard-working Prods want nothing to do with all the baggage of political and cultural unionism. And then: why do so many on the rest of the island find Unionists, particularly (i) unionists’ attitudes to all things Gaelic-Irish and (ii) unionists’ uncritical attitudes to all things imperial-British, more than bit off-putting too. (Clue: it’s not because of a desire for a culture war.)

    (Of course, the rest of Ireland has as much soul-searching to do too but that’s not the thread topic so let’s stay on point.)

    When Alex talks about PR I think he actually means marketing – which does little to address ontological questions. Public relations, by contrast, can help develop a ‘know thyself’ approach to charting a sustainable path forward based on self-awareness and environment awareness. These days PR goes way beyond image framing and requires a willingness to actually engage with and listen to one’s target publics. Up until recently, i.e Robbo’s Outreach Campaign (however synthetic), Unionists didn’t ever consider those outside the PUL community a relevant “public”.

    While they’re at it, Unionists may want to reflect on the relative lack of support, empathy and interest they attract from the British in Britain. Not only do Irish Nationalists find that NI’s decoration as a homage center to imperial British history a wee bit off-putting (and very deliberately so) but the Brits across the pond aren’t exactly on the same page with that either narrow and outdated approach to identity and inclusive identity-building either.

    Nationalists are quite right to want to take the whole Rule Britannia thing down a few notches: it’s gauch, exclusive, lacking in any sense of self-reflection and just generally really over the top.

    It’s frankly solipsistic and immature to consider requests for a more inclusive set of symbols (whether through augmentation or subtraction) as evidence of one’s culture being attacked.

    If the culture you’re celebrating is premised on and represented by, at least in large part, a series of historic attacks on your neighbours and the rest of the former British Empire then of course people will fail to see themselves in it and want to bring something of themselves to the table. Unionists need to stop treating symbolism in NI as though its their own birthday cake: everyone is compelled to attend the party but only they shall scoff down the cake. It’s a farce.

    tmitch57,

    re: your Mallon comment. Not sure the relevance – and again with the whataboutery that derailed the PSNI thread. But since you bring it up at least remember, Mallon may have been one of the last Nationalists to use North of Ireland all the time – but only because he was arguably the first to transition into at least sometimes using Northern Ireland; a transition that brought a lot of Nats with him. That its so commonly used today is in part because he started using it. Most Nats I know still use various terms – to only ever say Northern Ireland is as daft and reality-denying as refusing to ever say it, I think.

  • Framer

    The notion that unionists and loyalists are regarded by the rest of the British as ghastly imperial leftovers – one much touted by nationalists – and believed to a man by liberal Protestants, is belied by the fact that despite 40 years of Troubles, the ‘Troops Out Movement’ and its like never got off the ground. Even the Guardian was only half hearted in support for withdrawal while the BBC at worst just expressed unending bafflement.

    In fact there is a sneaking regard for them and the Orange parades and was for Paisley.

    The fact is that the British are nationalists, despite believing otherwise, and are as rampant in that department as Dublin and Sinn Fein. The Falklands War, for one example, released not just patriotism but centuries-old anti-Spanish sentiment, to the astonishment of many on the left, but not all.

  • John Ó Néill

    Am Ghobsmacht – thirty people were killed in violence in Belfast in June 1922, in the last week of that month the Civil War started and the Clifden orphanage was burnt (and it was the building that was burnt, there were injuries, let alone fatalities, in the fire). June was considered the last month of what was being called a ‘pogrom’ (which contemporaries were using to compare it to state organised anti-Jewish violence in Czarist Russia – some also mention the Armenian massacres of the Turks, although I doubt they realised the scale of Armenian tragedy). After June, there were about 30 more deaths until October, by which time 490 or so had died since June 1920, two years before the Civil War or the burning of Clifden Castle.

    So, you probably need to rethink how you managed to got to the point where you managed to reverse the historical order of events to justify them. The more traditional approach is to claim the killing of DI Swanzy in Lisburn by the IRA triggered the ‘pogrom’ (although it was 2 months after it started, too). This is kind of my point about Alex’s yearning for the golden age – the reality certainly was not golden and the propaganda he is praising is largely how unionism hid itself from it’s violent origin.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m not sure what anyone can learn from their opponents other than finding their weak spots and then looking for a way to exploit them.

    Exploiting SF’s weakness is what Jim Allister was able to accomplish with the targeting of a tiny class of public appointed and highly paid ex prisoners.

    Rule 1 in the Alistair CAMPBELL book of disruptive politics: “make trouble for your opponents”. That’s incredibly difficult if you are tied to them umbilically by OFMdFM…

    As for strategy, it’s terribly easy to say you have a strategy, it’s rather more challenging to demonstrate you actually have one. SF is now a tripartite entity: 

    – northern SF, continuity SDLP; 

    – southern SF, continuity Workers Party, with some minority options on the FF franchise; 

    – and an extra parliamentary “leadership”, ie, the continuity Provisional movement.

    The leadership is the only group that matters re strategy, the other two are merely following tactical orders from above. At the moment the northern segment is inert, with most of the enterprise and political capital being earned in the south.

    By burying the leadership off stage where it is invulnerable to democratic from within or without the leadership, SF can think in long term cycles in way that no other wholly democratic party can. 

    So other than finding political ways to make this tripartite system work against itself, I’d love hear what people think other parties can learn from SF?

  • Delphin

    “It is not unionism/Orangeism that needs to learn, it is those in the disadvantaged loyalist areas that have no leadership that need to learn and that is what unionism/Orangeism fears the most”

    Would agree with that John. The Unionist cause has used working class loyalists as its shock troops for generations. They wind them up with fear and loathing then point them in the general direction of the fenians.
    You have to admire them – how they got working class people to vote for an upper class old tosser like Basil Brooke is beyond me.
    Now they are spoiling the party for everyone else – can you blame them?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    First of all John, I stipulated quite clearly that it was NOT a justification. Let me plain about that.

    OK, I made a memory boo-boo and got the dates mixed up in my sozzled head, however, my overall point still remains that the paranoia running through the tribe must have been at fever pitch.

    I stand corrected that it was not the Civil War but indeed the War of Independence (or whatever it’s called) that was going on (for the first part anyway), which, if you don’t mind my saying so, is not likely to be any more soothing to the mind of paranoid unionist who believes that his community is on the brink of facing their worst nightmare come true: “It’s OK, it’s not a war where Republicans are killing each other, rather it’s a war where they’re targeting the British and the supporters of the British regime…”.

    With regards to the ‘pogrom’, another way of looking at it (as awful as ‘it’ was):
    “Did they constitute a ‘pogrom’ as some commentators have claimed? The term implies the elimination or large-scale massacre of a minority religious group in a particular area, orchestrated by its central authority[as witnessed in Tsarist Russia in the early 1880s or subsequently in Nazi Germany]. Some of the more obvious features of a pogrom did occur in Belfast during the early 1920s. These included the disproportionately high number of Catholic victims of violence and their displacement from workplace and home. However, there were also many Protestant victims of violence, including hundreds of dead and injured, as well as considerable financial and commercial losses suffered in the wake of the IRA’s bombing campaign. Additionally, the statistics relating to Catholic victims reveal that only a minority of the Catholic community was directly affected by such violence or lasting displacement from home or workplace. Co-ordination of the murder campaign was not executed by the official administration for the region, though the new Northern Ireland Government was culpable for its inactivity and largely lethargic response to the escalating violence, especially that emanating from loyalist groups. Therefore, notwithstanding the essentially sectarian nature of the city’s 1920s’ disturbances, it can not be considered a fully-fledged ‘pogrom’, mainly because suffering was neither one-sided nor the result of a campaign directed by the region’s governing body. No one term adequately catches the multifarious nature of this conflict” Dr Parkinson (as referred to in Alex’s article)

    With regards to your point about Alex: “This is kind of my point about Alex’s yearning for the golden age – the reality certainly was not golden and the propaganda he is praising is largely how unionism hid itself from it’s violent origin.”

    Could you be clear and show me why we are to take the awful backdrop of the 1920’s to be the golden age that he is referring to?

    I genuinely can’t see it on that article, indeed, he mentions Parkinson’s book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Friends-High-Places-Ulsters-Resistance/dp/1908448520), which has the years “1912-1914” in the title NOT 1920-1922.

    Why does the 1920’s seem to be the golden age and not the late 1890’s or 19-noughties?

    You state quite clearly “Resisting Home Rule included what most contemporaries referred to as a pogrom against Catholics in Belfast from 1920-22 ” and Alex nods to the period 1914-16 IF we stick just to the limits of the book that he recommends.
    If we look at the anti-home rule propaganda campaign then we go even further back in time and thus even further from the time of the ‘pogroms’ which you allude to when rubbishing his point.

    So, why did you choose those dates John if they’re not what Alex is referring to specifically?

    Even if the anti-home rule propaganda does include those dreadful dates it’s at the arse end of the episode and hardly what Alex is applauding.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ruarai

    “I think unionism still has a fair bit of intra-communal conversations that need having”

    God, yes!
    We could start by asking why are we all so susceptible to brain washing.
    Then try and examine our actual cultural history. It’s certainly not one that is bedecked in ‘loyalty’.

    “Why, for example, do so many hard-working Prods want nothing to do with all the baggage of political and cultural unionism.”

    That sums it up nicely, we’ve some how managed to mangle the whole thing together.

    When I was a teenager, I remember asking people to show me something that is Catholic, something that is nationalist and something that is Irish.
    Then I would ask them to show me something that is Protestant, unionist then ‘British’.

    For the first group you have clearly definable objects, for the latter it was pretty much all the same (we were teenagers mind), a mangled mass of cultural, religious and political threads.

    Until unionism can split with protestantism and indeed Orangism (or even ‘Britishness’) then we’re left with a very vulgar and offensive mongrel that appeals to few outside of the tribe (and puts off a fair few within it).

    Personally, I’d love to know when the whole self-defacing and amputation of Irish-Protestant culture began.

    I personally think that if they went back to their roots and took up the old ways of celidhs, fiddle playing, Gaelic speaking (sort of) or even shinty then they’d be distressed at how similar it all looks to ‘the other sort’.
    But, I suppose that’s another topic…

  • John Ó Néill

    Kane specifically mentions Parkinson’s book which covers 1912-14 (not 1914-16), which included the Convenant, formation of UVF (who like the Imperial Guards and other loyalist groups were actively involved from 1920 and then afterwards as the Specials), gun-running etc and all the other overt threats of violence by unionists which were made real in 1920-22. That is the immediate backdrop to the ‘pogrom’ which Parkinson deflects rather than addresses in that text you have quoted. To further dent the weak use of statistics – a significant proportion, something like 33% of the Protestants killed were actually killed by the military trying to prevent them attacking Catholic communities. Just like claiming that “…only a minority of the Catholic community was directly affected by such violence or lasting displacement from home or workplace” when the whole purpose of the attacks was to be largely random and indiscriminate (as long as the target was Catholic) and in so doing to terrorise all Catholics.

    Since the political and paramilitary organisations, the issues, the individuals involved and the leaders were largely the same, and the fact that what was threatened in 1912-14 came to pass in 1920-22, there is no reason to separate them other than to avoid addressing the reality of unionisms origin. And, from a working class loyalist perspective, they were the ones who were whipped up by unionist leaders so they would get blood on their hands and do their dirty work in 1920-22 (remember the shipyard clearances also included Protestants who supported labour issues etc). That is a cycle that the Protestant working class has never escaped from – I don’t think the victims of resisting Home Rule are just the Catholic communities left stranded under upper/middle class Protestant misrule, it included many (if not more) working class Protestant communities.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    John

    One was the cause and one was the effect.

    Alex was alluding to the propaganda at a certain time, not the carnage that followed years later.

    You’ve just taken the weakest link possible to trail it into the 1920’s and cover in the blood of those that were murdered then.

    How then, would some one be able to applaud a PR/propaganda machine of a certain era without being stained by the blood that may have come from it’s workings years later (aided by a war)?

    Is it possible? Are there no merits to be had at all? Rather they are all null and void due to the events that followed at a later date?

    Alex is quite clearly talking about the days of the Anti-Home rule propaganda.

    You’re talking about the bloody consequences of such propaganda.

    They’re not the same thing John.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “And, from a working class loyalist perspective, they were the ones who were whipped up by unionist leaders so they would get blood on their hands and do their dirty work in 1920-22 (remember the shipyard clearances also included Protestants who supported labour issues etc). That is a cycle that the Protestant working class has never escaped from – I don’t think the victims of resisting Home Rule are just the Catholic communities left stranded under upper/middle class Protestant misrule, it included many (if not more) working class Protestant communities.”

    I would agree with that bit entirely.

    It’s like a tragic groundhog day…

  • “SF is now a tripartite entity”

    There is something in what you say, Mick, but you seem to be ruling out an overlap between the three entities. From a distance, there may be some similarities between SF and the SDLP but IMO to label northern SF as ‘continuity SDLP’ is unacceptable. We’re not to know what pressure some SDLP elected representatives may be under when they support SF motions.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nev,

    There is a critical vertical relationship between 1 and 3, and between 2 and 3.. There are strong comradely horizontal human relations between 1 & 2, but politically 3 predominates north and south…

    It’s an old model tried and tested by the exegeses of war…

  • Framer

    I wonder did the Jews in the real Russian pogroms kill as many gentiles as the IRA did Protestants in 1920-22?
    Indeed did they manage to take out big numbers of Tsarist police or Black Hundreds as the IRA did in those three years – 92 dead RUC/RIC/USC in the six counties.
    If not, there was nothing approaching a pogrom in Belfast or the north.
    However after the truce in 1922, the IRA massacred 13 Protestants in Dunmanway in Co Cork. The Bloody Sunday of its time.
    Never heard of it? Thought not.

  • Jack2

    Does Unionism need to learn from SF?
    SF are mealy mouthed and next to useless on actual policy. Only able to mouth platitudes to the masses in the hope of gaining their votes.
    SF in any other country would be deemed extreme left wing.
    Relatively easy to defeat the extreme left wing, just remember:
    “For someone to not work and get paid, someone else must work and not get paid”.

    Unionism should stop the tactics from decades ago of triumphant victories and ramming symbols,signs & traditions down peoples throats.
    It should start a complete overhaul of its long term strategy.

    Sell Unionism to the entire population.
    Sell the centre right political policies (an easier sell than the Marxist SF ones).
    Sell the benefits of remaining within the UK.
    Sell the culture and history.
    Sell the story of NI to the rest of the world.

    The world has moved on from ramming things down throats.
    Its a hearts and minds job now and Unionism is off to an awful start.

  • michael-mcivor

    Framer-

    ” The IRA massacared 13 protestants in Dunmanway in Co cork ”

    Just before those shootings the IRA captured 3 british intelligence officers ( LT Hendy-Dove and Henderson ) and going be the documents they had on them and what they told the IRA those 13 were associates with the Murragh ‘ Loyalist Action Group ‘ hardly innocents-

  • Son of Strongbow

    Two of those murdered (during a time of ‘truce’) were children, sixteen year olds Alexander McKinley and Robert Nagle (Nagle murdered as a stand-in victim for his father who was absent when the Ra came a-calling).

    Obviously seasoned Loyalists (16 years experience each of being a Prod).

    The murders did however achieve their primary objective and the exodus of Protestants from County Cork began.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I personally believe that the greatest piece of Sinn Fein propaganda has been in portraying themselves as great at propaganda and strategic thinking. Even when Sinn Fein make blunders, many still believe that they are being clever.

    The other reason why Sinn Fein can play this game is because the ball is not in their court. The ball is in Unionism’s court and has been for a century now. I don’t think that Unionism can lean from Sinn Fein or its own “glory days” for that matter. This is the politics of the outsider, the protest. Fundamentally, protesting for what you already have is not a winning strategy, imho.

  • PeterBrown

    Michael

    in addition to the very valid points raised by SoS I have just returned from a weeklong holiday not far from Dunmanway (and Kilmichael and Beal na Blath for that matter) and thought I would do some online research on the murders which I was only vaguely aware of. That is possibly the most skewed and one sided partisan justification for something even mainstream Anti Treaty military leaders condemned at the time I have seen or read so far. It was the equivalent of the UDR shooting Sinn Fein voters and using that sole fact as a justification and no amount of 20-20 republican hindsight can change that fact….

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Lionel Hutz

    “Even when Sinn Fein make blunders, many still believe that they are being clever.”

    Good point.

    Indeed, I’ve found myself numerous times looking at a SF blunder and thinking “the clever bastards, the old double double tripple bluff eh? Such cunning!”

    Perhaps Alex is using the SF PR topic as a way provoking a wider conversation within unionism?

    As Ruarai pointed out it’s very necessary.

    If Unionism seeks to package itself in a positive way, then the first thing to do is tackle those less palatable parts of unionism, e.g. the negative imagery of the 11th night bonfires or the confusing array of flags that one may see clustered together: a redundant Ulster flag, alongside an independence flag, beside a Union flag, beside a Lion rampant and sometimes with a Star of David for good measure..

    As pointed out earlier, trying to disentangle religion from it too, but, a bit of a mammoth task to say the least.

    One thing that has to go is the fear mongering by the leaders, but as we all know it’s a bit of a vote winner for short term thinking politicians.

    I liked what Jack2 said about it being a ‘hearts and minds job’.

    A botched job so far…

  • Gopher

    One problem in kicking SF is their ability to coalesce the whole nationalist, Catholic, Irish psyche around them when a unionist passes any comment at all or on any given subject. The mugs line up to defend them. Have little time for the insecurity that SF feed on and leech votes from their fellow nationalists (sic). Attacks on SF are always transmuted into sectarian attacks on Ireland and the Republic, its hilarious and pathetic. Likewise SF have the ability to declare anything sectarian British or Orange without fear of contradiction from Irish parties.
    It really shows the immaturity of Irish politics that SF can always count on.

    That is why I believe that NI21 will eventually be a success because they tap into the latent strength of the union rather that doing canvassing for SF like the traditional unionist parties manage. The penny should drop eventually.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    As far as Unionism is concerned:

    What exactly is ‘THE PLAN’?

  • @Ruarai,

    “But since you bring it up at least remember, Mallon may have been one of the last Nationalists to use North of Ireland all the time – but only because he was arguably the first to transition into at least sometimes using Northern Ireland;”

    This doesn’t make any sense–either he used one term exclusively or he used different terms interchangeably. I never saw a film clip in which he used the term Northern Ireland; he always used the North of Ireland. This amounted to a verbal denial of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland’s existence as a sovereign unit separate from the Republic of Ireland. If he used them interchangeably I wouldn’t have a problem, just as I don’t have a problem with Protestants who use the terms Northern Ireland and Ulster interchangeably. My point is that Trimble wasn’t the only one who wasn’t reaching out sufficiently. Robbo can afford to be more forthcoming because Paisely’s ethnic outbidding–in which he was complicit–was able to destroy the UUP’s support base as did Sinn Fein’s for the SDLP. The extremists who started The Troubles emerged in power together after the period was over.

  • Ruarai

    Your point about Mallon is offpoint, i.e. off thread and I ran with it with that caveat. Regardless…

    “This doesn’t make any sense–either he used one term exclusively or he used different terms interchangeably.”

    No. Look, ice is ice – until it melts. Mallon, as I said, lead the Nationalist melt in terms not so much of NI’s legitimacy but certainly of its reality. By leading the way from only ever talking of the North exclusively, to moving, in his later years, starting with one particularly night on UTV’s Gerry Kelly show (since you ask), to using the terms interchangeably, Mallon lead a thaw.

    Key word is transition. Key mistake is claiming it was either or.

  • @Ruarai,

    So when (what year) was this transition? I was in NI in the summer of 1998 after the signing of the GFA, and again in the summer of 2001. If it occurred it must have been after then.

  • Ruarai

    The year? I’ll pinpoint the very evening.

    Mallon and Trimble had been elected as DFM-DM and were appearing jointly on the Gerry Kelly Show on UTV, sitting together on his sofa as comfortably as a foot and a fungal infection share a sports sock.

    Kelly felt that the most natural line of questioning in the world was his based on his bafflement that Mallon talked about The North, rather than Northern Ireland. (He actually did seem baffled though to his credit, even then, he showed more depth than his UTV counterpart Nesbitt.)

    Mallon answered with a rather suspect – come off it Seamus – claim that it was in part easier to roll The North off the tongue but that he could understand why unionists too annoyance at the avoidance of NI – and thereafter started to use it interchangeably.

    PS- Here’s a clip from the show.

  • michael-mcivor

    Your man was some read in the Belfast Telegraph-the PUPs spokesman has now put their begging bowl out and asked-nay-begged Sinn Fein to allow the orange order and their hangers on to march past Ardoyne and resolve the march impasse because if they don’t it will only mock Sinn Feins reconciliation project-

    This is despite Sinn Fein being the ones calling for more talks- besides there are a lot of protestants who also oppose the orange order’s need to walk over Catholics-those are the ones Sinn Fein can talk with-if the orangies
    only want to walk-

  • @Ruarai,

    The link is from Rory McIlroy golfing as a kid on a talk show. Just give me the month and year.

  • Reader

    Am Ghobsmacht: As far as Unionism is concerned: What exactly is ‘THE PLAN’?
    I think you’ve sussed there is no plan, though individuals will do their own thing. For instance, my own plan is to disrupt the mope, to keep calm and to carry on.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Sensible Reader, sensible.