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.