With all this regressive hyperbole about NI’s past, is it time for a new sustainable narrative?

Good piece from Tom Kelly in the Irish News this morning, which subtly identifies the problem with the exaggerated claims of recent stories in the media. At a time when voter registration is falling right across the board, it’s an impoverished narrative to be offering voters who are already switching off from Stormont in droves.

He tops out his analysis with a reference to the enormously useful pre publicity Gerry Kelly’s been getting on the 1983 break out from the Maze prison, but more specifically Anne Cadwallader’s book on collusion between state forces and loyalist paramilitaries:

During the period covered by the book the IRA claimed more than a thousand lives. The usual lineup of sympathetic suspects lined up to hail the collusion revelations as the most shocking of the past 30 years.

IRA apologists may appear to be candid about the past but they also want no judicial consequences to fall from that candour. Hypocritically, they want equal candour from other military protagonists but with judicial consequences and penalty to follow.

By necessity the price of peace has allowed many, whether in the security forces, republican or loyalist paramilitaries, unionists or successive British and Irish governments to walk away from the consequences of their actions or inactions .

That narrative is not edifying or best selling .

Well, quite.

Like too many of SF’s talking points, this single track narrative is aimed more at short term avoidance than building for the future. For instance Conor Murphy’s famous difficulties over using ‘Northern Ireland’ in his official role as minister in the Northern Ireland Executive later leads to utter confusion in the party’s own voting base. Own goal all round.

Stronger narratives enable parties to acquire greater power to get stuff done, and accordingly exercise their mandate to the greatest effect. Hume’s single transferable speech about an agreed Ireland may have grated by the end, but it proved to be hugely long lasting, defining and resilient.

We’re surely long overdue a new one?

Gerry’s book is not available in the Slugger bookstore yet, but Anne Cadwallader’s is.

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  • @Nevin,

    There was a British or American historian, I believe with the surname of Wright, who wrote a history of NI in the 1960s in which he analyzed NI as a frontier area comparable to the Serb areas in Croatia in which there is an overlap between two competing nationalities. He made comparisons between the aggressive nationalism of the Serbs and that of the Ulster unionists. He was also the historian that compared NI with the American South because both were part of larger democracies and this was the basis of the NICRA’s strategy for its civil rights campaign in the late 1960s.

  • @Nevin,

    The book is “Northern Ireland: a Comparative Analysis” by Frank Wright. He also compares NI with French Algeria and with the German borderlands.

  • tmitch57, I met Frank on numerous occasions at Corrymeela; he used art as therapy for many folks who were adversely affected by the Troubles. Corrymeela and the area around Ballycastle was very much a special place for Frank. My interest in genealogy, history and politics began shortly before Frank’s early death; he was afflicted by diabetes.

  • Republic of Connaught


    “Scotland isn’t sovereign but a part of the UK, so does this mean that all those who consider themselves to be primarily Scottish and secondarily British are deluded? Or only those who don’t support the Scottish National Party?”

    The usual spurious comparison between Scotland; a country and nation which was independent from the middle ages until the 18th century and a hastily devised 6 county statelet in Ireland carved out on sectarian faultlines in 1921 without the consent of a large proportion of the people trapped inside the statelet.

    The UK state itself declares Scotland and England to be countries while Northern Ireland is but a province. Is Ulsterman a national identity in anything but people’s dreams or fairytales?

    Is Northern Ireland ever going to have an independence referendum like Scotland? No, because Northern Ireland isn’t a country and has never, and will never, be independent. It is six Irish counties of 32 which remain under London rule, and will eventually pass to Dublin rule.

    Hence the nationality of the people there will always be Irish, British or both. Though of course in the interests of the peace process, they can call themselves cuddly Pandas if the want. As long as when they leave the province they remember to bring a British or Irish passport abroad with them…. out in the real world.

  • ThomasPaine


    thomas paine – my point is what is your point?

    Sorry, I didn’t think my point was all that complex. Put in even simpler terms, there is no narrative, only facts. These facts I listed and are indisputable. Problem being a large portion of unionists and a small portion of republicans don’t want to admit them.

    And what went on in mainland Europe and elsewhere around the world over the same period – which you keep bringing up – is completely irrelevant to establishing the “sustainable narrative” mentioned in the thread title.

  • FuturePhysicist

    The narrative of the past that will be forgotten is the one about the situation that involves discussing the narrative. History can be written by some losers but very rarely or not at all by the historical analysts.