“Merely reflecting this majority view is the easiest form of leadership….”

So for those of you itching for a blog which takes Peter Robinson to task for poor leadership, here’s Warren Little with a usefully proportionate analysis of a missed opportunity:

So here we have a golden, gilt-edged, how-could-it-possibly-go-wrong opportunity for the unionist leadership to step beyond the traditional tribal boundary. God knows they don’t get many, because most other calls for them to ‘reach out’ present genuine ideological barriers: Unionists can’t support an Irish tricolour at the City Hall because that would undermine the constitutional position; Unionists can’t support an amnesty for OTRs because that undermines the rule of law; Unionists can’t accept outright bans on Orange parades because that undermines the freedom of expression. There are exceptions and examples of hypocrisy of course, but generally speaking concessions on those issues presents too large a leap for unionists’ deep-running political raison d’être.

In contrast, a Papal visit presents no genuine ideological concerns whatsoever. If unionism is to appeal outside its Protestant base it has to do so by strength of policy and confident pluralism, rather than the backs-to-the-wall reactions of a closed and depleting old circle. Surely, then, it could muster a little warmth towards an idea that would mean so much to half the population?

Not just because it’s the right thing to do. Not just because it would actually help shore up Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. But also because the majority of the existing unionist base would welcome an invitation to the Pope, as an empathetic symbol to the Catholics they mix with every day. Merely reflecting this majority view is the easiest form of leadership.


  • Morpheus

    It wasn’t a missed opportunity. Had PR said he would meet the Pope – if he did decide to come – not an eyebrow should have been raised because it is standard procedure for a someone in his position. Bog standard. He somehow managed to even balls that up and come out of it looking even more of a bitter bigoted idiot. That takes some doing

  • “In contrast, a Papal visit presents no genuine ideological concerns whatsoever.”

    Perhaps Warren is unaware of the Vatican support for the anti-unionist ‘stepping stones’ proposals:

    MV, here’s a T P Coogan summary: “The proclamation of 1916 expressed a distillation of the traditions and hopes of Catholic Ireland, leavened by Connolly’s socialism, and asserted independence from England, equality of opportunity, and sovereignty over the whole country.” Fr Alec Reid’s “Stepping Stones” proposals were developed for PIRA by the Redemptorists and prominent figures in the Southern establishment and promoted by Cardinal O Fiach and the Vatican Curia’s Archbishop Rigali. .. SOT 2 Feb 2011

    Rigali’s involvement is mentioned by Ed Moloney in his ‘Secret History of the IRA’. The wider public would probably know little of this Vatican political involvement but, presumably, our various political leaderships would have had some insights into such political manoeuvrings.

  • Charles_Gould

    David Trimble met the Pope in 1999 when he visited Rome.

  • ayeYerMa

    A point that I think many miss frequently in these types of discussionsis that the Conservative/Unionist and Marxist/Nationalist brains seem to be wired entirely differently. The neurotic damage in the limbic system of latter type of brain seems to place value on meaningless empty emotion-filled gestures, whereas the former type of brain sees nothing virtuous or noble in not being straight talking and keeping to one’s own principles, or playing silly games discussing something out of the remit of the group on discussion.

    And if you are a principled Protestant, why would you want to meet the Pope anyway? Many, particularly southern Irish who only understand Anglicans, forget that there is no such religion as “Protestant”, rather thousands of independent denominations who value that freedom of expression.

  • Cric

    ayeYerMa you made that one up all by yourself didn’t you?

    On current evidence that damage in the limbic system seems to benefit Nationalist children in terms of education and social mobility. If your definition of Marxism is an innate sense of fairness and putting fairness pragmatically over dogma (as in the case of every single Nationalist MLA supporting gay marriage, which went against Catholic dogma) then you might be on to something.

  • Reader

    Cric: …then you might be on to something.
    Well, it seems as though you may be on to something. If a Catholic upbringing is making people more liberal and secular that will come as one hell of a shock to the Church.
    The other issue is that voting for the motion on gay-marriage is probably cost free to the MLAs as the assembly arithmetic meant it was always going to be one of those “meaningless empty emotion-filled gestures” that AyeYerMa mentioned. If there’s a chance next time that the motion could pass we could watch the MLAs really start to sweat.

  • Cric

    Reader, you mix up Catholic upbringing with Nationalist upbringing – for whatever reason Northern Irish Nats do seem as a collective more liberal than Unionists (which is surprising, as Classical Liberalism was very much a Protestant thing…) My own favoured theory is that the Nationalist population is young, while Unionist is top heavy with the over 50’s, who are naturally more conservative.

    Anyway I doubt Nationalist MLAs only voted for gay marriage as token because they knew it wouldn’t pass – more likely they were representing the genuine views of their younger constituents.

  • Greenflag

    Reader ,

    “If a Catholic upbringing is making people more liberal and secular that will come as one hell of a shock to the Church.”

    Go into any Church in suburban Dublin on Sunday mornings and see the empty pews . It’s become a gathering for geriatrics and mostly old women . The Church is no longer shocked by it’s disappearing congregants .It’s just hanging on to the elderly and an ever smaller number of remaining zealots .

    The young are gone . They’ve had enough and have presumably better things to do with their time .