A tale of two constituencies, leadership & acceptance of our competing narratives

Brian Walker has picked up on articles from Dan Keenan and Steven McCaffrey which reflected a sentiment noted by others on Twitter and elsewhere: namely, why is it that Derry seems to have moved past the mid-summer street confrontations that used to be the norm there and which still define a summer in Belfast?

Firstly, let us establish one incontrovertible fact: The ability of thousands of loyalists to march unchallenged through the centre of the overwhelmingly nationalist city of Derry stands as the single most significant gesture of tolerance towards the expression of the Other’s political and cultural identity in the north of Ireland today.

(NB I’d dearly wish we could set our sights much higher as a society in years to come, but as things stand, Derry’s feat stands apart.)

It is, quite simply, without parallel. The very idea of Lisburn or Bangor reciprocating through hosting a republican parade of similar size is simply inconceivable, not least when one considers how unionist politicians effectively abandoned their defence of Loyal Order parading as a right in their haste to demand the banning of a republican parade in majority nationalist Castlederg and of an anti-internment parade along Belfast’s Royal Avenue.

Derry is different from Belfast, not to mention Lisburn, Bangor or Larne.  As Brian points out, there are clear differences between the demographic profile of the two largest cities here, as well as their sectarian geography.

But it is not enough to argue that the clear and natural lines separating protestants from catholics in the city have effectively directly led to the calming of tensions in the city. That has certainly helped. But on its own that does not explain how the atmosphere in Derry has been transformed in the past decade.

Ironically, Derry is strikingly similar in terms of its clear lines of demarcation between the resident communities to east Belfast, where the treatment of the minority community has been a rather different tale over the same period of time.

The minority catholic community of the Short Strand has faced an unrelenting series of attacks in recent years, bearing the brunt of sectarian aggression from an angry loyalism intent on lashing out at the nearest possible location where the Other are permanently gathered.

In June 2011, loyalists launched an unprovoked and clearly co-ordinated assault on the besieged catholic community. Rather than strongly condemning those involved and calling for their arrest, Peter Robinson invited the loyalist leaders to Stormont for a meeting. Only a few weeks later, he supported an Orange Order demand made to the Parades Commission that loyalist bands be allowed to play hymns whilst passing St Matthew’s Catholic Church, long a target for loyalists incensed with the catholic presence in ‘their’ east Belfast. This all within weeks of the UVF assault on the catholic enclave.

The bands won the day, and rewarded the Parades Commission by playing The Sash, suggesting they were merely playing Psalm 23, a cynical move which provoked Belfast Telegraph correspondent, Liam Clarke, to depict the Order’s move as befitting of ‘corner boys.’

In 2012, a major loyalist parade past the Short Strand interface provoked a public outcry when a loyalist bandsman urinated on the church gates as successive bands ignored the Parades Commission determination to not play loyalist tunes.

In 2013, the loyalist flags protest led directly to a ratcheting up of the sectarian campaign targeting the catholic Short Strand enclave, with up to 15 illegal marches proceeding past the area on a weekly basis for months, with the PSNI being forced to publicly apologise to the beleaguered residents of the catholic district when loyalists launched an attack on persons and homes in the area upon their return from flag protests at Belfast City Hall.

Fast forward to the 2013 Twelfth, when loyalists once again attacked homes in the Short Strand area upon returning from the Field. The response, again, from political unionism was to deny the attacks occurred, blame the PSNI and locals, ignoring clear video evidence of loyalist violence as bands stopped at the interface to taunt locals and the PSNI.

The one consistent thread running through these incidents has been the absence of strong unionist political leadership, not least from the most senior unionist politician in that part of Belfast for the past thirty years: Peter Robinson.

Now, let’s compare and contrast Robinson’s approach to that of his fellow OFMDFM office-holder, Martin McGuinness.

I haven’t the year at hand but I vividly recall television and newspaper reports of a mainstream republican protest at a loyalist parade along the walls of Derry in the past 20 years in which it appeared that McGuinness seemed to have encouraged protestors to turn their backs on the marchers, with many also giving offensive finger gesture as the bands marched by.

Where are we now in Derry?

Well, as Brian rightly points out, the city appears at peace with competing narratives in existence, with Loyal Orders regularly marching unopposed in the city centre, in spite of the presence of loyalist bands at many of these major parades clearly aligned through their names and banners with loyalist organisations. (Were nationalists so inclined, they could point to these bands’ participation, link the organisations cited with specific killings, claim retraumatisation as the basis for reviving parade confrontation in the city. They don’t.)

Sectarianism has not disappeared, and nor is it confined to one community in either east Belfast or Derry. Fountain loyalists have been involved in a number of sectarian incidents in recent months and the sickening sectarian attack on Paul McAuley remains a dreadful reminder of the poisonous legacy of sectarian hatred in the city and throughout the north of Ireland.

Brian rightly lists the appalling sectarian attacks on the Apprentice Boys Hall and St Columb’s Cathedral, as well as on houses and persons in the loyalist Fountain estate.

Similarly, sectarian attacks on the protestant Cluan Place community and other neighbouring protestant areas adjoining Short Strand blight the lives of ordinary residents there just as much as those attacks in the opposite direction at the east Belfast interface.

But where a tangible difference is evident is in the reaction of the two leaders not only to the sectarian attacks on the respective minority communities in their bailiwicks, but also to their broader approach to reconciling the majority to the minority.

Imagine were Peter Robinson to develop a strong personal relationship with the parish priest of St Matthews, inviting him to speak at a DUP Conference, but not before introducing the priest by noting his right to refer to the ‘north of Ireland’ instead of Northern Ireland, thereby challenging his own political and electoral base to accept the political and not simply religious differences that exist through our competing narratives and visions?

Imagine were Robinson to ensure that his voice was very loudly heard when the Short Strand came under attack from loyalists, speaking in an unequivocal manner instead of indulging the myths peddled by loyalism’s local, ahem, ‘community workers’?

Imagine were Peter Robinson to lobby for funding for St Matthews, speak regularly of the Church and its parishioners’ status as equal members of the east Belfast community and make the symbolic gesture of attending a service in the church?

Imagine were Peter Robinson to wish republican parade supporters well ahead of their parades, tweet their banners, attend a play on the life of a republican bandsman and publicly hail the wisdom of their local leaders- all in a month defined by republican street violence and rancorous exchanges between our political elites?

As you’ve probably guessed, substitute loyalist for republican, change St Matthews and its priest for St Columbs and Rev Latimer, and you have the words and actions of Martin McGuinness.

The strong, unequivocal leadership of McGuinness and others in Derry has been such a success that the city’s dissidents do not even bother to organize protests anymore, a sign that the positive message promoting respect and tolerance in the city has succeeded in outmaneouvring them, denying them an opportunity to annually confront loyalism and seek to grow their numbers through such encounters- as is obviously the agenda of those behind the loyalist Twaddell Camp in north Belfast today, which receives regular support through personal appearance and press and twitter statements from DUP politicians.

Of course, it helps that Derry has practiced power-sharing at council level for a generation, with the current Deputy Mayor being a DUP councillor. Again, the importance of embracing the Other’s status within the community contrasts to the attitude of unionist politicians in Robinson’s fiefdom of Castlereagh, where even Alliance are excluded from any meaningful role in the vain pursuit to prolong the dominance of unionism’s narrative across the north of Ireland.

Derry is different. In one sense, the fact that its historical status and significance to unionists asks more of nationalists has helped the latter appreciate the need to come to terms with the existence of a unionist narrative.

But it also provides a stark challenge to unionists to reciprocate, and the overwhelming evidence from the words and actions of unionist political leaders and their rudderless base can only lead to the conclusion that the leadership is not yet at peace with its obligations in that regard. It starts with accepting the legitimacy of the Other’s existence, narrative and visions for the future, and recognising that the shared future which promises stability, prosperity and enduring peace is not possible without that acceptance.

  • Morpheus

    You should be a carpenter Chris – nail on the head yet again

  • Drumlins Rock

    Usual SF spin from Chris, where he manages to ignore and twist reality much of the time. Sneaking in an attack on the Fountain Loyalist who are often under nightly attack from republicans, determined to finish off the ethnic cleansing and remove the last tiny protestant enclave on the west bank.
    I parade the 6 mile route round Londonderry every August, it is entirely within commercial and Loyalist areas, less than two miles on the city side and much of that is within the fountain.
    Might I suggest the real reason for the difference? There were voices of reason on the nationalist side who worked with their unionist neighbours and resolved situations when Sinn Fein & fellow terrorist associates tried to stir things up.
    In Ardoyne & Short Strand they are unchallenged and free to play their political games and street by street close of the city to unionist tradition.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “but not before introducing the priest by noting his right to refer to the ‘north of Ireland’ instead of Northern Ireland, thereby challenging his own political and electoral base to accept the political and not simply religious differences that exist through our competing narratives and visions?”

    It’s insulting.
    Yes, you have the right to be insulting, I have the right to be insulted.

    I preach constantly against the acts of the ‘loyalist’ bands and their pig-headed attitude and take the subsequent counter attacks on the chin, so don’t use their insulting behaviour and foolish antics as a parry for this one.

    You say ‘North of Ireland’ or such like whenever Northern Ireland (rightly or wrongly) is recognised as existing then I reserve the right to be obstreperous and pedantic: “oh, so you mean Donegal too eh? How confusing!”

    When they changed QEII playing fields in Magherafelt to ‘Meadowbank’ I accepted the change and didn’t adopt the ‘flegtard’ stance of the time (and indeed present) which was/is to ignore the change.

    The fact is that it is no longer Queen Elizabeth playing fields, it is Meadowbank. Case closed.

    I’ll even address the McCreesh play park as such, but I’ll be reminded of the contempt of the local council there.

    I accept that the Ulster flag is not the flag of Northern Ireland anymore and get dogs abuse for telling people this.

    But fact is fact.

    So I find it hard to take you seriously when you can’t even make that small sacrifice.

    And the tolerance of Derry’s residents to the loyal orders has not bought you personally any seats on the moral high ground.


    You call it a different narrative I call it ignoring plain and simple fact.

    If you don’t want people to go off topic so quick then be a bit more sensitive with your wording.

  • Mick Fealty

    Hoping to have a guest post on GK’s mention of ‘two narratives” (http://goo.gl/4VPFvO) soonish…

    It’s an intriguing subject about how two parties working together at the only level of regional government that matters come to two such profoundly different stories…

    As for Derry, my thoughts here (a case of eating another man’s bread there Chris, methinks ;-)): http://goo.gl/f23st5

  • ayeYerMa

    The reason being that Republicans believe that most of the ethnic cleansing work in Derry has already been done, with McGuinness boasting last month of the “proud and honourable struggle” that “turned this City into a republican stronghold”.

    Belfast is very much a work-in-progress.

  • Dec

    ‘ “oh, so you mean Donegal too eh? How confusing!”’

    That line would work equally following mention of Northern Ireland. Like I’ve said before, I’ll treat Unionists compalints about the use of North of Ireland’ (insulting and all that) when I see them take equal umbrage with usage of the words ‘Ulster’ or ‘the Province’. Until then, I’ll mark it down as whining.

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Am Ghobsmacht
    And all you took from that was ‘the north of Ireland / Northern Ireland’??


    Wood….trees….complete the rest.

    Nationalists are secure in themselves, their traditions and the right to exercise them in Derry. They are not dependent on putting another group down. They are embracing the positive aspects of their culture and encouraging the ‘other side’ to do so too. End result – a good week, no riots, increased tourism, opportunity shared, everyone a winner.

    This is the mirror opposite of unionists in Belfast.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    You mean you’ll just ignore a legitimate complaint.

    Referring to Northern Ireland as Ulster is an old habit, that is dying hard, but is dying nonetheless.

    There are numerous societies that bear its name, true, but less and less.

    Most people who talk about Ulster as Northern Ireland are the types that LAD mark out on their blog.

    I know very few people who talk about going home ‘to Ulster’.

    I hear cries for equality all the time on this site and here I am asking for a very simple measure of respect (bearing in mind I do happily get stuck into people about the lack of respect from Loyalists) and I’m told that it’s nothing more than whining.

    Parity of esteem and all that I suppose…

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I read the whole thing and as usual got irked at something petty.

    I’m not asking a lot.

    It’s very simple and you’ll buy yourself (well, whomever) a lot of credibility by manning up on that front.

    With regards to ’embracing the positive side of ones culture’:

    Choir. Preaching to. You complete the rest.




    (Sorry Mick, it was either that or go on an EPIC rant)

  • Morpheus

    I agree with you Am Ghobsmacht, it’s there is black and white in the GFA that NI is part of the UK – to not use Northern Ireland is a tad disrespectful in my opinion but his choice of words is his own. There is a whole post there to comment on.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    There is the whole post Morph, you’re quite right (and level headed) and I’ll comment on it later once I tippex out the offending part of the screen and can read it through again properly.

    Yes, I tippex my screen.

  • Morpheus

    I wouldn’t worry AG – I once walked in on my dad trying to shove paper into the dvd-drive in a laptop so he could print a letter off

  • Son of Strongbow

    Funnily enough nationalists seem to lose their geographic pedantic streak when it comes to the Lost 26 referring to itself as ‘Ireland’.

    Of course it may be that as the Dublin administration appears to have a 26-mindset perhaps those down south actually believe that ‘Ireland’ does really stop at the border.

    Back to the main piece. So Shinners think that Shinners should be congratulated for crying crocodile tears over attacks on Protestants? Yet in Shinnerburgh-on-the-Foyle the attacks continue.

    What could be the reason? Perhaps those listening are simply fully aware that the mouthings are for the optics alone and business can carry on as usual regardless.

    As for the “narratives” being in ‘competition’? Well perhaps in the minds of some nationalists they are. It at least explains the seemingly all pervasive imperative to attempt to revision the past.

    Unionists in my ken don’t, and won’t, buy into Shinner history, nor are they foolish enough to waste their time to attempt knapping off flecks from the MOPE monolith.

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Obstensibly a good news story and a possible model for future engagement and unionist commentators are falling over themselves to pick out geographical naming semantics.

    Their politicians obviously dont pick it up off the ground.

  • Dec


    You’ve slightly missed the point – ‘when I see them take equal umbrage‘.

    Here’s the bottom line, I was born here, I’ll call it what I want. And if that upsets some utterly misplaced patrician sensibility in some Unionists, so be it.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Jesus, this persistent mopery is getting boring. The most serious sectarian attacks in Derry over the past few years have been carried out by Protestants – that’s indisputable.

    With regard to the Fountain: yes, it’s attacked regularly. And that’s despicable. It’s important to note, however, that those involved in the overwhelming majority of such attacks (stone-throwing, for the most part) are kids – usually primary school age. That’s a gross failure on the part of some local parents – and the police also need to be proactive – but let’s not mope and pretend that it’s some sort of orchestrated campaign of ethnic cleansing.

    As I said on another thread, a decade ago two close friends of mine were attacked in broad daylight at the bottom of the Fountain because they happened to be wearing Catholic school uniforms. These attacks are a two-way street, and are directed frequently at Catholics in areas on the outskirts of Derry such as Tullymore and New Buildings: so don’t insult our intelligence by pretending otherwise.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well then let us be clear.

    They’ll not take any form of umbrage at the misuse of Ulster for as we all know it’s etched into their mind from time immemorial.

    And seldom have I seen any where on these pages amongst the great list of grievances and injustices of the 50 yr Orange ‘junta’ some one saying how insulting they find it: Impressions of it being silly, archaic or another relic of ‘from my cold dead hands’ unionism – yes. Insulting, no.

    We’re (unionists) always being lectured on how we’re not doing our bit for the GFA and sometimes I stick my boot in too because I believe there’s a LOT we need to do but here’s one rubicon Nationalists would do well to cross in terms of respect and parity of esteem yet the rebuttal of the moment is akin to ‘buck-up cissy-pants’.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    I think the point about the differences in leadership between FM and DFM is a valid one. I think ultimately it boils down to how much respect they have for their constituents/communities.

    When dissidents are up to no good Commander McGuiness is the first to call them traitors to Republicanism. He sees his constituents and grass roots Republicans as people who want to live peaceful lives. And so he criticises dissidents from the middle ground, from the point of view of “ordinary” people. Robbo on the other hand obviously sees the Unionist people as a bunch of sectarian bigots and so instead of condemning rioters and attempted murders (who try to cut cops heads in half with swords) he makes excuses for them and tries his best to articulate their point of view. Instead of leading unionism and trying to maintain the peace (which is in all our interests) he allows the worst elements in the PUL community free rein to indulge their worst instincts because he thinks that’s who the unionist people are. His perceived lack of leadership is not simply weakness on his part it is also a sign of his low estimation of the PUL community.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    It is indeed potentially a good news story, I for one am gutted to have missed the event.

    So why throw in something insulting that is almost guaranteed to sully the point that the topic is trying to get across?

  • Kevsterino

    AG, personally, I try to use ‘Northern Ireland’ when addressing someone I know prefers that term, when I want to keep their ears open for what I’m trying to tell them. If we’re going to disagree, it won’t be over what I call the place, be it the wee six, Northeast Ulster or the Teddy Bear’s Head.

    The points Chris made are cogent and potentially could take the discussion to how to make Northern Ireland a more livable place in the summertime. Is that not worth engagement, or is it the geography and nomenclature that you must prioritise?

  • John Ó Néill

    Nail on the head alright, Chris. I still don’t agree about the ‘lack of leadership’ narrative about unionism. This is what actually passes for leadership amongst unionism, and assessing it against the criteria you are using is to misunderstand the strategic direction unionism plots for itself. It does completely undermine its public claims to subcribe to getalongerism, though. I think unionism needs permanent crisis and fear to permeate and so continually presents itself as drawn along by threatening events outside its control (that is what unionist leadership does). That simultaneously becomes the rationale it uses to reason away any responsibility for anything and allows it to continually scroll through causes of problems until it finds one it believes can stick since, by definition, nothing is their fault and so they need to simply identify whose fault it was.

    I beginning to think political rapprochement with unionists under this mentality is simply pointless.

    For those quibbling about Northern Ireland as a term, Charlie Haughey, of all people, came closest to reality describing it as the Failed Political Entity (or FPE as it sometimes known).

  • I think to refuse to use the term Northern Ireland is insulting and an indication that one refuses to accept reality. Ulster as Northern Ireland is another matter. Because NI as a province encompasses six of the nine counties of the historic Ulster it reflects the majority of the province and hence has a right to bear the name, much as modern Germany has the right to use the name of the country even if it has different borders than the 1871-1939 state. Today’s Germany is known formally as the Federal Republic of Germany to distinguish it from the German Empire, just as Northern Ireland distinguishes the post-1922 Ulster from the Ulster when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.

    Martin McGuinness seems to have taken lessons from the former SF Mayor of Belfast (whose name presently escapes me) who visited the Somme monument at Thiepval and laid a wreath.

  • Neil

    I think to refuse to use the term Northern Ireland is insulting and an indication that one refuses to accept reality.

    Translation: We say your behaviour is insulting, and it is.

    Ulster as Northern Ireland is another matter…from the Ulster when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.

    Translation: You say our behaviour is insulting, and you’re wrong.

  • ayeYerMa

    This is really what I find irritating about Ghobsmacht — most of his points are based on things like semantics over substance, perception over reality, misplaced pedantry, and showing how wonderful he is through stating meaningless and inconsistent pointless gestures rather than on meaningful actions.

    I actually agree with Chris (!!) on this small point. “The north” is a correct geographical description in relation to the island, it was created from 6 post-Tudor-defined counties, and is and will always be Ulster. In common with most British symbolism throughout history our flags are expressed in a de facto manner, rather than in statute like in other countries.

    On Ulster, anyone who thinks that historical boundaries of political geography are fixed, precise, and permanent things needs to study the historical names and boundaries of countries all across Europe (or Scotland, England and Wales) and their modern “misuse”. Irish Nationalists who insist that only the precise “9 counties” redefined in the planning of the Tudor conquest (and from the looks of it, redefined to make the island look like 4 symmetrical compass points) clearly lack a sense of irony, and those who think that this is the only historical definition need to study their history books for a bit longer.

  • ayeYerMa

    “Today’s Germany is known formally as the Federal Republic of Germany to distinguish it from the German Empire, just as Northern Ireland distinguishes the post-1922 Ulster from the Ulster when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.”

    Indeed, the very idea was a “Statutory Ulster”:

  • Son of Strongbow

    The ‘difference’ in approach between Peter and Martin has feck all to do with how much “respect” they have for each of their respective voters. I doubt respect enters into either chaps pup-selling predilections.

    Peter has no political need to challenge loyalist ‘dissidents’ as he knows politically they’re going nowhere and will never be any significant threat to the DUP.

    Martin on the other hand has to recognise his ‘dissidents’ as a political threat and needs to be seen to corral them as best he can.

    As shown in the now competing ‘residents’ groups’ in areas like Ardoyne, and the imperative to maintain the hard-men persona (hence the Sinn Fein orchestrated triumphalist coat trailing in Castlederg) concern rather than respect is what drives the Shinner strategy.

  • Kevsterino

    SoS, you state “Peter has no political need to challenge loyalist ‘dissidents’ as he knows politically they’re going nowhere and will never be any significant threat to the DUP.”

    I think they loyalists who assault policemen, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, set roofs on fire, urinate on church gates, etc. are very much a threat and hindrance to the DUP.

    If he is not seen to call them to account, many decent people will abandon him and his party.

  • Kevsterino

    SoS, you state “Peter has no political need to challenge loyalist ‘dissidents’ as he knows politically they’re going nowhere and will never be any significant threat to the DUP.”

    I think the loyalists who assault policemen, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, set roofs on fire, urinate on church gates, etc. are very much a threat and hindrance to the DUP.

    If he is not seen to call them to account, many decent people will abandon him and his party.

  • Kevsterino

    Sorry for the double posting. I tried to edit after pushing the post button.

  • Brian Walker

    Chris, A neat comparison and contrast. But you have to admit that republicanism was a very different entity than populist unionism. Robinson’s writ barely runs in the lower N’ards road unlike McGuinness’s in the Creggan, even now I suspect, in the less disciplined days of peace.

    Taking over the citadel on benign terms must have entertained Martin hugely after he had bombed the life out of it in the 70s. As I read him, he may have been ruthless but he has an impressive sense of strategy. Realistic IRA aims had reached a limit by the mid 80s and he wanted a deal. A good strategist knows when to stop. He is cooler (in all senses) than Adams. He is I’m pretty sure “sincere” in terms that moralists demand and is less interested in scoring small points than many. At least, that’s how it seems to me. Both parties are run by politburos so one never quite knows. Hidden agendas may exist but face value is better because unlike conspiracy theory it can easily be tested. Boosting cross community cooperation is the best strategy for fulfilling the aspiration, even if you’re betting on a speculative future.

    The DUP have lost if they ever really had control of the grass roots. I have a sense that Sinn Fein are still in touch and can box in the dissidents more effectively than the DUP can the loyalists. That’s the other thing they have to deliver to maintain credibility.

  • Son of Strongbow


    “If he is not seen to call them to account, many decent people will abandon him and his party.”

    I don’t agree. The “many decent people” understand that Robinson has little, if any influence, with these types. He may at times feel the need to indulge them with tea and buns, like the former Irish President has done, but he knows that extreme loyalists have an (impenetrable) agenda all their own.

    The “many decent people” expect the police to attend to law breakers and whilst they may wish Peter to have a magic wand to make the loyalist ‘micro groups’ disappear they accept that in that regard he is, unfortunately, a Squib.

  • New Yorker

    For some reason, in considering the atmosphere of tolerance in Derry the contribution by the SDLP is not mentioned. Tolerance takes a good deal of time to develop, it was largely nurtured by the SDLP.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “AG, personally, I try to use ‘Northern Ireland’ when addressing someone I know prefers that term, when I want to keep their ears open for what I’m trying to tell them. ”

    Exactly Kev, a small price to pay for putting a point across.

    Hats off

  • son of sam

    Good comment above by New Yorker.Lest one forget, the dominant party on Derry City Council is the S D L P and there are 3 S D L P M L A s to the Shinners 2.Guess who did the heavy lifting over the years when Martins party was still protesting !Much as Chris would like to believe that tolerance in Derry is down to his party alone, the truth is rather different.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    As for the rest of ye:

    Chris just casually slipped in: “noting his right to refer to the ‘north of Ireland’ instead of Northern Ireland”

    So, a nice dish served up with this bitter pill stuffed inside and one I nearly choked on.

    To relegate this as a mere ‘quibble’ or pedantry is arrogantly dismissive.

    It hollows out all the praise of tolerance and respect.

    I can’t do much about about the long list of Loyalist blunders and Unionist intransigence other than take some people to task now and again on these pages.

    But, you guys who are asking for ‘respect and equality’ e.g. a ‘no flag/two flags’ scenario can put your money where your mouth is if not by at least referring to the damnable place by its name or initials but at the very least by not serving up suggestions along the lines of “look, just respect our right to irritate ye and it’ll be OK”.


    Yes, Loyalist bands may do something similar, but it doesn’t fly with AG when they upset their fellow NI citizens either, so keep that whataboutery for some one else, not ole’ Pontius here.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    So, you personally refer to ‘The North’ instead of Northern Ireland do ye? I am surprised….

    Misplaced pedantry? Sometimes true – But I won’t be lectured on the topic by some one who brings out the ‘Tudor definitions’ routine every time Ulster is mentioned.

    How wonderful I am? Hmmm, you’ve had a few go’s at pop psychology with me. This is another testament to what your vocational strengths AREN’T.

    As for perception, yes, you’re right, I for one think it’s very important:

    Many Unionists PERCEIVE the GAA to be sectarian even though strictly speaking it isn’t. End result – very few Protestants join it.

    Nationalists may sometimes perceive a Sunday Somme memorial parade as offensive – hence a potential marching problem.

    So, perception, imHo is important.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Mate, you do understand that tmitch isn’t Irish?

    So your hypocrisy jab at him doesn’t really work as he’s an informed outsider, not a member of one of the tribes

    If an outsider can grasp the sentiment then maybe it’s not a mere quibble and perhaps could be dealt with in a more constructive manner as opposed to being palmed off?

    (I have that right tmitch? If not, then disregard statement…)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    It’s been pointed out to me that referring to you solely as ‘count’ could be interpreted as containing some insulting innuendo.

    Please be aware that this is not the case, I’m merely too lazy to type Count Eric Bisto von Granules.

    Hurrah for the ctrl + C shortcut.

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    It never even crossed my mind. I did not go looking for offense where none was intended and the tone of your posts didnt convey any malice. My dafault setting is positive and to people I dont know I always give the benefit of the doubt until they disabuse me of my notions.
    I’m not really one for titles despite the name, so feel free to call me Eric.

  • Clanky


    While I agree with much of what you say, surely you have missed the main point of what Chris was saying.

    Rather than getting bogged down in the rights and wrongs of Northern Ireland / the north of Ireland / Ulster / Norn iron etc. surely the point is that Martin was prepared to stand up in front of a bunch of Republicans, introduce a Protestant minister and tell them that if he wanted to call it Northern ireland then he had the right to do so, as opposed to the idea of Peter standing up in front of a DUP conference, introducing a Catholic priest and referring to his right to use the term the North of Ireland.

    In terms of the reasoning behind the different approaches, I think both Brian and SoS above have nailed it in that there is no need for nationalists to be intransigent as the political momentum is swinging their way so they can afford to be seen to be magnanimous knowing that doing so will not cost them anything.

    The unionist leadership are caught between a rock and a hard place in that they know they are losing and that there is actually little they can do to stem the tide, if they stand back and do nothing they appear weak and will loose votes to the TUV et al, whereas if they try to appear to stand firm then they risk looking like fools as they have done all summer.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Glad to hear it, just thought I’d clear that up lest there be an interpretation of some malice.

    Jolly good.

    Carry on.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Not at all, as I said before I hear his point loud and clear (albiet rather cryptically, “a nice dish served up with this bitter pill stuffed inside”) and if I weren’t bogged down with this insulting set back I would agree with most of it.

    What he said was unnecessary: “accept our right to insult you and everything’ll be lovely” is how I read it.

    As for the rest of it, I can’t fault most of what he is saying.

    Particularly about the Unionist leaders not condemning violence in Loyalist quarters. As said before, it probably would fall on deaf ears, but it would be the right thing to do.

    “Imagine were Robinson to ensure that his voice was very loudly heard when the Short Strand came under attack from loyalists”

    Yes indeedy.

  • Clanky

    For me it is not insulting for nationalists to use the term north of Ireland, it would only start to be insulting if they insist that everyone do so.

    This for me is one of the core differences between the nationalist and unionist approaches at present in that nationalists are asking for the right to be Irish while Unionists continue to be British, unionists are asking for the right to be British while at the same time trying to deny nationalists the right to be Irish at every turn.

  • Greenflag

    Good post Chris and on the nail generally .

    As for the Northern Ireland /North of Ireland /Ulster /Six Counties/NI /the North / Gobshiteland /whatever name – I guess it says much in itself that people can get ‘upset ‘ over what I would term trivialities .

    Perhaps a leaf can be taken from an example set by others around the globe who have ‘country naming ‘problems ‘

    The Finns are no wimps ( WW1 /WW2 ) but can be said as a people to have a largely non confrontational nature, a trait alas which could not be ascribed to the opposing ‘name ‘ camps in NI .

    They call their country Suomi . Nobody else does . They call it Finland A couple of thousand years ago when Finns introduced themselves to their neighbours the conversation would have gone something like this ‘

    “Welcome stranger what land do you hail from ‘?


    ‘Oh really ? Hey honey this guy says he’s from a place called Finland ”

    ‘No” the Finn says . ‘It’s not called Finland my country is called Suomi ‘

    ‘Yeah whatever -You’re from Finland me bucko’

    It says a lot about the Finnish people that they don’t try to force the world to use Suomi . Why fuss over such a petty issue .It’s just a name .

    I’m imagining ( it’s Friday) a similar conversation in London 500 years ago ‘

    ‘Welcome stranger what land do you hail from ‘

    ‘Fear Manach ‘

    Oh really ? Hey dearie this chappie says he’s from Ireland no idea where but it sounds like Farmsomething or other or maybe he’s a farmer and thats what they call themselves but he’s Irish without a doubt ‘

    I guess if everyone calls you Count Bisto von Granules then maybe you should just call yourself Count Bisto Von Granules even though your real name is Eric 😉 . And if you’re name is Robert and people call you Bob would you be as upset say as if your name was Richard and people called you Dick ;)?

    Dick ain’t popular anymore .Perhaps there was an oversupply at one time ?

    Which reminds me of an Irish language teacher I had many moons ago whose name was Dick and all I can remember is that he lived up to the name entirely in it’s pejorative sense . Put it like this if this guy had been teaching English the class would have spoken Irish just to make a point 😉

    For what it’s worth I usually refer to the FPE (failed political entity ) as Northern Ireland on slugger as thats it’s proper official title .But then we Irish have a long track record in dishing out ‘titular ‘ abuse sometimes intended but often not and it can be misperceived by those of a titular black and white mindset . Not for us the ‘Herr Doktor Professor Count Bisto Von Granules ‘ -it’s more likely to be shortened to something that could be construed sometimes as a status reduction 😉

    In day to day speech I’ll refer to it as the North /Up there / those f*****ers” / but then only to non NI people . I’ve noted that even English folk quickly pick up on the nuances .

    And the moral of the Friday ‘sermon ‘ is that people from Ireland and England usually have no issue with where they’re from ditto for Scotland or Wales or Germany or Israel . It’s only in Northern Ireland and in the Balkans that people can get hysterical over a ‘name ‘ .

    As the American tourist or was it a German I can’t recall which told the French hotel receptionist in Marseille ‘
    ‘Listen here you asshole . if you want to talk to me -you talk to me in English ‘

    To conclude

    If you are from Ireland you are Irish .If you are from Northern Ireland you are Irish (including the subset Northern Irish if you fell stronlgy regionalist and/or provinicial ) . Stating that you’re Britsh just confuses and politicises what doesn’t in 99 time s out a hundred need to be politicised .

    That doesn’t mean you are any less British personally in your political loyalties etc it just means that you don’t get regarded as a weirdo by that vast throng of humanity that continues to maintain that people from Ireland are Irish even if nowadays a large number are from elsewhere as in country of origin.

  • Greenflag

    @ Am Ghobsmacht

    For what it’s worth you may have overeacted to the ‘north of Ireland ‘ renark in Chris’s piece .Your comment re the rest of his post is commendable .

    The official name of the republic is Eire -it’s on the stamps . If I got upset at people using Ireland or Republic when they should be using Eire I would spend 99.9999% of my time upset .

    It’s not a big deal and what Chris stated I quote hereunder is a fair point

    ‘but not before introducing the priest by noting his right to refer to the ‘north of Ireland’ instead of Northern Ireland, thereby challenging his own political and electoral base to accept the political and not simply religious differences that exist through our competing narratives and visions? ‘

    In the final analysis or as the NI cliche has it ‘at the end of the day ‘ (I think thats sometime in 22nd century ) the political differences are mire important than the religious as NI and the Republic become increasingly more secular societies .

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Your unusual approach to diplomacy is not without merit I have to say.
    It raised a chuckle and extracted some sympathy for some European members of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family (Hungary – Magyarország? go figure)

    I can’t help but think Chris was subtly trying to to tell us that even though some of us get irked/insulted by calling it the North of Ireland that we should not only get used to it but give it up as an issue at all.

    People here call it the NoI all the time and the worst I just get out my ‘green-light’ canceling spectacles and change the condition board in my cellar to “MOPECOM 1”

    Fair enough, but this was taking it too far, I’m not going to give someone the blessing to do something that pisses me off in a hypothetical public meeting such as the one he describes (as noble as the underlying sentiment is).

    “I acknowledge your right Father to sit there and make wee farty noises with your arm pit whilst I’m speechifying…”.


    Anyway, it appears to be me and only a handful of others that are irked by this casual face-palm so let us consider the matter dropped and concentrate on Chris’s post.

  • Charles_Gould

    It is certainly an interesting question as to why parades seem to be working better in many areas (and its not just Londonderry) but not in Belfast, but what is encouraging is that this is happening. Very encouraging. I hope that parades can work better in Belfast soon. I have a very good and positive feeling about it all, going forward.

  • Barnshee

    “Where are we now in Derry?”

    With the prod removed and dispersed elsewhere and their property “re allocated” to “more acceptable” ownership-the occasional trip in by “the apprentice boys” can be “tolerated”

    An entire city- which owes its existence to the British Welfare State “tolerates” the British visitors.

  • Greenflag

    @ Am Ghobsmacht,

    Fair enough . What seized me about Chris’ s post was not the NOI bit but trying to imagine an RC priest at a DUP conference . For a brief few seconds I was trying to imagine such a scene and then it went blank . Full marks to Chris for his imagining that scenario but if it ever happened I’m sure that any RC speaker -priest or otherwise would stick to the official nomenklature protocol .

    As to

    ‘It raised a chuckle and extracted some sympathy for some European members of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family (Hungary – Magyarország? go figure)”

    Never sympathise for the Hungarians 😉 Ask any Slovak, Czech , Slovenian , Ruthenian , Bosnian , Croat , Romanian or any of the other ethnic groups which once were part of the Austro Hungarian Empire . They were number 2 on the feeding trough social and political power and economic pyramid after the Austrians and used their number 2 slot to keep the others in their place i.e below the Hungarians . Not only that but they had considerable autonomy in Budapest and according to one historian McMeekin in ‘July 1913 ” they were the prime slowpokes in delaying the Austro Hungarian Empire’s armies from mounting a brief incursion into Serbia following the assassination of the Grand Duke . It’s generally agreed now that such a brief sally would have prevented the outbreak of WW1 or perhaps postponed it to a later date .

    Be that as it may these Hungarians (for whom I personally have the highest regard ) were also the ne’er do wells who refused to stop those East Germans who were regular holiday makers at Lake Balaton from crossing into Austria from Hungary and thus escape from the then Utopian East Germany to West Germany . So hats off to the undisciplined -humane Hungarian border police who sensibly decided that borders are just lines on a map and they should’nt come between people, apart from administrative purposes of passport control and customs etc.

    Back to lighter mode the Hungarians , Finns and the Basques are the only peoples in Europe who speak a non Indo European language . Much work has been done in trying to find the common roots that are between Finnish and Hungarian but according to linguists they are not too numerous . This could because the languages started to separate some 10 ,000 years ago on the steppes of Central Asia .

    Be that as it may the Hungarians a ready witted people have a simple explanation which describes the difference between the Finns and themselves which when one thinks of current Finnish achievements in raising their educational standard to world class number one or two -is scarcely credible .
    Anyway the Huns say that back then as the nomadic ancestors of the later Finns and Hungarians were crowding into where the current borders of Russia meet up with the Ukraine that they pushed west until they came to a signpost which pointed in two directions one north east and the other south west . The words on the south sign in very ancient Finno Ugric stated simply To Sun & Warmth .The north east sign promised ‘Snow and Ice ‘

    According to modern Hungarians their ancestors knew how to read 😉

    As to the Basque language now that is another story and linguists surmise that it could be as old as 30,000 years and found a refuge in that part of France and Spain which became a refuge from the earliest Europeans who had to retreat south to escape the advancing ice age glaciers .