Platform for Change panel of politicians fails to inspire about how to overcome political inertia

Platform for Change’s latest – and perhaps last – panel event was hosted last night by Mark Carruthers in the Crescent Arts Centre. Around 40 people attended the session with its bizarrely worded title:

Political Inertia to a Flourishing Society – How?

The six panellists from centre-ground parties made four minute opening statements before the discussion was opened to the floor.

Alasdair McDonnellAlasdair McDonnell (SDLP leader, MP & MLA) had come straight to the venue from the airport. He said there was plenty of talking but not the right kind. He wants “to move towards a place we might call ‘hope’”. People on the margins of society want a bit of respect, dignity, the hope of employment, the hope of a pound in their pocket. But in moving towards change in an entrenched society.

Politics hasn’t matured fast enough or far enough in his opinion. Post-conflict, voters have adopted “safe positions”, in some ways “having their cake and eating it”. We need reconciliation and social justice, but if we don’t have the economic driver of a job and a pound in their pocket, people won’t [shift their votes].

Danny KennedyDanny Kennedy (UUP MLA & DRD Minister) felt that despite the hard work and effort put in, the Assembly and current system needs to change. Too many Assembly members and departments. Politicians need to be more connected with the population.

Clear argument for Assembly structures for a formal opposition, with resources … to avoid parties jumping off a cliff without a parachute. He cited the Scottish referendum and wished for turnouts and engagement at that level in Northern Ireland.

Johnny McCarthyJohnny McCarthy (NI21 councillor) pointed to budgets are being cut across the board, yet we’re spending £1.8billion on conflict. Rather than talk about flags, parades and the past, why not talk about jobs, innovation and the future. Complaining about speaking Irish and cakes are hiding the real issues in Northern Ireland. We need to ask more of our politicians. He quoted ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky …

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

… while also noting another ice hockey quote that he felt was applicable to the electorate:

100% of the shots you don’t take are missed.

Clare BaileyClare Bailey (deputy leader, Green Party) singled out experiences from her childhood and education, as well as experiences as an adult that made her feel different.

She does not expect parties and politicians to step forward to make the changes we need.

Instead she called for louder civic voices to push for change and bring forward different ideas.

Stephen FarryStephen Farry (Alliance MLA & DEL minister) acknowledged that we’ve come a long way over the last 15-20 years. But we are in a difficult and challenging place, complete with speculation about institutional collapse and direct rule.

The current talks themselves won’t create the trust and partnership that need. Reform of institutions is needed. Taking away mutual vetoes. The most fundamental intervention needed is a real commitment to a shared future. Unless people vote differently we won’t break through this deadlock

I don’t really foresee change unless there is a step change in voting patterns.

John McCallisterJohn McCallister (Ind Unionist MLA) said he was a huge believer in opposition, but he was also a “believer in proper government … that has collective responsibility”. We don’t have that and “we’re in permanent peace process mode” – in crisis. We need to create a roadmap to what a new normal society will look like.

The Scottish independence referendum has fundamentally changed the United Kingdom and “we as an Assembly and Executive are not at the races in that debate”. The small things you can do around the edges on tax-varying powers can make a big change. “Stormont either reforms or it will fail.”

The first questioner from the audience asked why the six panellists couldn’t come together to form a single middle-ground party. It was a crazy idealistic question, but it developed a theme that ran through much of the evening.

Another question asked why the parties represented couldn’t run an agreed middle-ground candidate against SF and DUP in Fermanagh & South Tyrone? No one on the panel was keen on pacts in the middle ground (or forming a new party).

“Artificial unity is useless” (Alasdair McDonnell)

Jenny Muir (Green chair) pointed out that three of the parties on the panel are in the Executive and all three either abstained or voted against the budget. Post-public consultation, if they still disagree with the budget, why wouldn’t they use that as a trigger to leave the Executive … rather than waiting for the Secretary of State telling them that it was time to go.

Later questions asked about newcomers, reducing the number of MLAs and departments, sectarian murals.

– – –

Trevor Ringland introducing panelAt times the debate and discussion was depressing. At others it felt pointless. Occasionally there were moments of clarity and fresh thinking that bubbled up before the dialogue lapsed back to inertia and depression.

Our politicians fail to inspire. I’d rate some of those on tonight’s panel in the top quartile of NI elected representatives. But even they lacked sparkle. The middle ground was unappealing.

The two ministers present are trapped in an Executive in which they think they are doing more good by staying in than leaving. Stephen Farry described the autonomy that ministers have to pursue their agenda within the bounds of the Ministerial Code. Yet remaining in the Executive seemed to be preferable to the fear of what Sinn Féin and the DUP would do if left to their own devices with all the departments. I’m not sure the two main parties really want control over all the departments. Is it in their interest to be solely at loggerheads with each other around the Executive table? For every unplanned disaster to give them bad publicity? Collective responsibility across four or five parties spreads the risk and the blame.

Fear isn’t a good enough reason to stay.

Lack of resources and proper opposition structures isn’t really a good enough reason to stay.

Individual departments might be worse off – temporarily – if only two parties reigned. But voters might quickly catch on.

Platform for Change panel - empty chairsPlatform for Change at its inception might have hoped to facilitate the generation of shared policies that multiple parties could pursue and promote. But Platform for Change’s ideals seem long dead. Forty wasn’t a great turnout given the expense of hiring a venue. Forty wasn’t a great use of the panellists’ time.

While I’d love to see more local hustings and an injection of energy into local politics, with regret I don’t think Platform for Change in its current form is a vehicle that will encourage greater interest and participation.

(As an aside that perhaps deserves a full post: the #MakeItWork campaign has good branding, but it too runs the risk of being seen to point the finger at politicians to tell them to “make it work” as opposed to pointing the finger at civil society and saying “make it work in spite of the political structures and failure”.)

How do we overcome political inertia and develop a flourishing society? After tonight I’m still not sure we’ve the first clue how to start …

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  • Ian James Parsley

    Great piece, Alan.

    Worth going through your points.

    1. The “Middle Ground” will get nowhere for as long as it retains that name (and that sense of itself). The “Middle” more or less wants to keep things as they are and will never inspire; or, as Newton Emerson once said, “It’s very difficult to be aggressively moderate“. I categorically do not regard myself as “Middle Ground”, but rather as “Progressive” – seeking to go from where we are now to a different, more integrated, more prosperous, more ambitious place. It is the DUP and Sinn Féin who benefit from the status quo, not me (and not my fellow Progressives)!

    2. The first question was the right one. What was the answer? It’s funny, because the “Middle Ground” is often the first to demand compromise, yet its representatives can’t even compromise among themselves to form a united front against DUP/SF incompetence! Part of this is to do with innate sectarianism (the comfort blanket of one’s own “side”), but a lot of it is to do with a lack of real vision. Aside from peace, what is it the “Middle Ground” really wants?! (See 1. above!)

    3. An attendee at the SDLP Conference told me he thought he’d been transferred back to the 1980s, and I fear Platform events leave me with the same impression. “Let’s have a panel and some questions” is plain boring! What about an interactive survey of the audience on certain issues? What about using that to ask not just for their views but for their priorities? You may just be surprised what people raise.

    4a. “Opposition” (formally) isn’t going to happen because the whole point is to ensure Sinn Féin is in government. This has always been a Platform problem too – there are certain realities of our post-conflict political culture that we just need to deal with.

    4b. If the Alliance Party left the Executive there would be no Executive because Alliance is necessary to provide the Justice Minister. This is a similar Platform problem – discussing options without recognising the inevitable practical consequences.

    5. For all that, there is no practical reason the Ulster Unionists and SDLP couldn’t voluntarily go into Opposition, thus presenting a long-term democratic challenge to 4a and a problem for the Alliance Party because of 4b. There is a theoretical reason, however (and back we go to 1.) – what precisely would they be opposing? With regards to the future in 2014, how does the UUP’s and SDLP’s vision differ from the DUP’s and SF’s? What alternative to populist gridlock do they actually offer?

    These panels all ultimately fail because they focus on immediate issues of little consequence in the general scheme of things. They ask about the Living Wage rather than how to sort the issue of low pay; they ask about Corporation Tax rather than how to boost business; they talk about welfare reform rather than how to tackle poverty… and, in this case, they drift into technical debates about “Opposition” or “symbols” without asking about an overall vision for this place and how that really differs from the two parties currently occupying 67/108 seats at Stormont.

    As Wayne Gretzky never said: There’s no point in working out the technicalities of how to use the SatNav if you don’t know the destination you’re going to put into it…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Thinking beyond the immediate, anyone seriously considered a new mega-party of the middle (comprising Alliance, moderate wing of UUP, moderate wing of SDLP, NI21, Greens and Labour)? In theory, could become by far the biggest party, provide both FM and DFM and relegate DUP and SF to junior partners in a rainbow coalition. Just a thought!

    John McCallister made the fundamental diagnosis of the problem / where we find ourselves: “We’re in permanent peace process mode”. It’s like a more benign form of the near-permanent “state of emergency” we often found ourselves in in the last century – nervy, defensive, sticking plaster government, short term fixes and the eschewing of normal political life.

    The communities still acts as blocks and feel angry with each other because petty cultural attacks on each other have continued on an ethnic / cultural basis – when we all agreed in the GFA not just to respect the other culture to our own but ACCEPT it. SF’s twin-track approach of soft-focus Troubles revisionism and attacking Ulster Protestant culture has had the desired effect of largely preventing reconciliation. Desired, because the ultimate disaster for SF has always been for people to be happy with Northern Ireland – and their strategy is to make it as uncomfortable as possible for everyone until they can get NI secession from the UK somehow. In the meantime, we have permanent crisis and politics in limbo.

    Once again, this group of ideologically-driven ultra-nationalist nutters are holding back the rest of society from normal life, hope and progress. The DUP play into their hands at times – and have no shortage of sectarian voices for their part – but make no mistake, “permanent peace process mode” is very much SF’s strategy; it plays to their interests and no one else’s. Without sectarian strife, they fade away.

    The rest of us – at the very least those in the broad middle here – need to grab the baton and take charge. I wasn’t at this event but Alan’s description of it suggests there is a real lack of energy and purpose in the middle ground. Maybe the scale of the crisis hasn’t hit home, or it’s just overwhelmed people into despair. But there is a choice – come together in the centre ground or let politics be forever a mud-slinging match between the self-appointed keepers of the flame on either side. Even if it’s not a single party but a looser of association of parties, say ‘Moderate Progressives’, it would still mean something on the ticket. Then candidates could be Alliance, UUP, SDLP etc within that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    There is a destination for the “middle ground” and it’s being the only people who can actually focus on the right things (i.e. not ethnic one-upmanship):
    1. politics based on real everyday issues, not the spectre of border change or cultural annihilation.
    2. more ambitiously, daring to have big ambitions for NI socially and economically. Preparing NI – and its people – to not just cope in this century but be an economic and social success story.

    These might sound vague but they are signally not what the DUP and SF can offer. The centre ground can afford to be a broad tent in NI because the extremes are so extreme. They have lots of issues and values people relate to and want, that they can own: tolerance and equal respect; focus on long term planning economically and socially; being on-side with business, who are very keen to project a more positive image of Northern Ireland; valuing Northern Ireland workers and skills development and so on. How much more credible would be a clearly positioned centrist party on these longer term issues than the parties who spend their time and energy whipping up protest about parades or denying climate change?

    That won’t be a party political thing, that will be something everyone could sign up to – more and smarter business here, more tech-led start-ups that can compete nationally and globally (our geographic isolation matters less and less – it’s not an excuse any more).

    Might sound vague – but I think coming together as one people to achieve economic and social progress, with a vision to be beacon to other regions around Europe on what is possible economically and socially. There is no reason why Northern Ireland can’t be like a Denmark or a Finland. But SF and the DUP don’t have the vision to get us there. They need to look at the polls: the younger the generation is, the more people want a progressive, non-aligned middle way in Northern Ireland

  • Ian James Parsley

    You and I think very similarly, yet here’s the thing: I’d ignore number 1 above. I don’t care what kind of “politics” I have, I care what kind of society I live in.

    And there’s the thing. The DUP and Sinn Féin are social movements, as well as political parties. Indeed, the whole issue of this week’s Spotlight programme was that the wider “social movements” gain from those parties’ rent arrangements. That is the reason, for all the uproar, they will be electorally untouched.

    I have long advocated a “Progressive Movement”. One of the reasons is it would give the “moderates” you speak of cover to join forces. At the moment, they see the big socio-political monoliths on either side and get tempted by them.

  • “4b. If the Alliance Party left the Executive there would be no Executive because Alliance is necessary to provide the Justice Minister. This is a similar Platform problem – discussing options without recognising the inevitable practical consequences.”

    Really? Does that not make the point. First chance at the trough and in there. Alliance didn’t ‘have’ to provide the Justice Minister any more than policing and justice ‘had’ to be devolved. Standing back and forcing DUP/SF to face the realities of NI may have served better. Or alternatively using an ‘upper hand’ to gain ‘progress’. But no, snout to the trough. That is why the middle ground is so weak, because at the end of the day it is not so different.

  • Like there aren’t a plethora of posts in quango land filled by figures from the Alliance middle-ground et al. May not be exactly the same in ‘Party’ terms, but hard to tell the difference.

  • Ian James Parsley

    It should be hardly surprising that posts which require the ability to get on with the entirety of the population rather than one “community” are filled by people who have the demonstrable capacity to do just that.

    However, the idea that Quango Land is filled with closet Alliance types is a myth, not least in these days of appointment by devolved Ministers.

    Back to the topic…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well put, Ian

  • sk

    How can you consider yourself to be a moderate when the abridged version of your little treatise there is essentially: “it’s mainly themmuns fault?”

    You do not represent the broad middle. The broad middle, I would assume, have moved beyond the point where they need to attribute blame according to their own narrow tribal affiliations. They do not decry the perennial mud-slinging match that is Northern Irish politics on one hand, while chucking some of the stuff themselves with the other. Flowery language and liberal-sounding catchphrases does not a moderate make, I’m afraid. Your insidious contributions are a pastiche of moderation. You are what hardline people imagine a moderate must sound like.

    Meanwhile, the real moderates have resigned themselves to a state of blissful political ambivalence, fully cognisant of the fact that change ain’t coming, at least not until those generations tainted by the troubles have died out and made way for a more level-headed bunch.

  • Morpheus

    Amen sister

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I do like the idea of a coalition of the middle ground, food for thought

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Now, I thought I’d put this separately so as not to take away from the previous endorsement.

    First of all the tag ‘ultra nationalist nutters’ could easily apply to the elements of unionism that are hell bent on supporting Orange marches regardless of the behaviour of particular lodges or bands in particular areas.

    ‘Culture’ doesn’t come into it at that point, political point scoring (and the ever present need to be seen as NOT surrendering) does.

    If we (those in the unionist community with friends and family who march who even used to march ourselves) spent as much time and effort RESTORING elements of Orange culture as those who are hell-bent on shifting it ever right then the marching issue may not be quite the issue it is today or at the very least a great deal of effort would have to go in to making it the mountainous molehill it is today.

    I imagine though, that relying less on flags, painted kerbstones, offensive lyrics, Rangers tops and (the increasingly monotonous and unvaried) KTP bands and more on fiddle dances, cross roads dances, AOH co-operation and teetotalism is seen by many as a path towards being ‘Irish’ and therefore unacceptable despite this being the bedrock and longer established culture of Ulster (or indeed Irish) working class Protestants (the Anglos tended to have their own thing).

    Also, if Unionists really wanted to nip this marching hoo-hah in the bud then they could have been a bit smarter about it:

    Back in the 90’s there was always an SDLP person nearby when a contentious parade episode started, had the OO dealt with them each and every time (even at the expense of a parade or two) then the SDLP would have been seen as the ‘go to people’ for parading issues, thereby sidelining SF.

    But no, some idiot coined the phrase ‘pan-nationalist front’, so we treated them with equal suspicion and disdain and allowed SF to gallop ahead.

    We are reaping what we have sown and the annoying thing is that we are still sowing it every year.

    And BTW, I believe you’re correct that people ‘liking’ NI is a nightmare for SF.
    That is (partly) why I am pro-NI flag (one that isn’t a loyalist symbol), pro NI anthem (as opposed to GSTQ), pro-code of conduct for parades and more pro-NI than pro-UK.

    I think SF’s biggest nightmare would be for the unionist politicians to wise up.

  • aor26

    Much like SK below I am doubting your moderation myself. This line in particular is troubling for me. ”SF’s twin-track approach of soft-focus Troubles revisionism and attacking Ulster Protestant culture has had the desired effect of largely preventing reconciliation.”

    Effectively you are saying that you agree with the broader Unionist line that Sinn Fein are attempting to rewrite the history of the troubles. I do not agree. Sinn Fein are articulating that many people within what I will call, for absence of a better terminology, the wider Catholic, Nationalist, republican community, have a radically different perspective of the ‘troubles’ than their Unionist neighbours.
    As for attacking ‘Ulster Protestant culture’ I am actually struggling to ascertain what you are referring to. Perhaps the vote to fly the Union flag seventeen days a year as recommended by the Alliance party and agreed to by Sinn Fein. Or perhaps you mean supporting residents in roughly a dozen areas around Northern Ireland who want Orange and loyalist parades banned or rerouted away from their homes.
    Sinn Fein have made some noises about the what I view as the outrageous granting of tax payers money being given to communities to build enormous bon fires every july.
    I know that Loyalists shout very loudly that Sinn Fein about their engagement in a ‘cultural war’ against the Protestant people but I would have thought a moderate like yourself would treat this claim with a massive pinch of salt or even dismiss it out of hand as very ott

  • Morpheus

    “…anyone seriously considered a new mega-party of the middle (comprising Alliance, moderate wing of UUP, moderate wing of SDLP, NI21, Greens and Labour)?

    Alliance, NI21, Greens and Labour fair enough but how does the moderate wings of the UUP and SDLP work? Party breakups?

    Before the implosion I saw the future of NI politics as a coalition between the SDLP, Alliance/Greens and NI21…such a shame.

    Let’s not forget here that Mike Nezbitt has absolutely no qualms jumping to the looney-tunes extremes around election time – take a look at how he handled the infamous ‘Get Alliance’ leaflets, how he ‘handled’ the flag protests, his infamous “we are 80-90% there” when it came to making some much-needed progress in the Haass talks, his party having no qualms showing the draft proposals to Jamie Bryson (seriously, wtf Mike?) etc. He can appear moderate but he can get pulled back into line just as quickly as Peter Robinson often is in the DUP. But it is to be expected when this this charming fellow was leader of the party and is now spokeman for Justice believe it or not.

    Who is in the moderate wing of the SDLP?

    And more importantly, who isn’t and why?

  • Morpheus

    As more and more information comes to light about what all the players got up to during The Troubles in Northern Ireland then obviously the history books will change but I find the whole concept that SF will write what goes in them as nothing short of paranoia. It’s not within their capabilities to do so.

  • Reader

    Ian James Parsley: 4b. If the Alliance Party left the Executive there would be no Executive because Alliance is necessary to provide the Justice Minister. This is a similar Platform problem – discussing options without recognising the inevitable practical consequences.
    Keep that ministry, but not the executive seat. I don’t expect Ford is on the Executive inner council anyway, and that’s where the decisions are made. Walk away from the other ministry entirely. I doubt DUP and SF would refuse to accommodate that approach – as you have nearly pointed out, they are the ones with most to lose.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s not the history books so much as the ‘received wisdom’, the ‘history’ of the Troubles prevalent in the media and which people new to it pick up. Ah the old ‘paranoia’ canard again … but it’s very real what is happening, hence the emergence of Arkiv. Clearly I’m not the only one that’s noticed it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Excellent post AG. I agree with almost all of it and especially on the NI flag and anthem – we need new ones. Agree also on your comments on the self-defeating crap we get from the OO a lot of the time. They have rarely played smart.
    What I would say, echoing Arthur Aughey, is that Ulster Protestant culture is really not very much about the OO and marching bands; that mistakes what is distinctive about our culture with what exemplifies it.
    The Shinners’ nightmare – and to extent the DUP’s – is a middle ground that stands up for itself. For example, the GFA negotiations were a nightmare for them – and they got shafted – because for once we had a turbo-charged centre of reasonable, clever and able people (I’m including Clinton, Blair, Mitchell and teams here, whatever you think of their records elsewhere). To quote one participant, with the serious heavyweight players involved, SF were “in the dunce’s corner”. That is where they belong. The DUP of course weren’t even in the room, which also helped hugely. This is how you get progress – build a broad consensus in the middle, set the pace there and let the extremists come in if they want, or be sidelined if they don’t. Where things went wrong was when the outside big hitters went too far to bring the extremes into the tent *on their own terms* and left the centrists dangling. We’ve never really recovered.

  • Morpheus

    “It is unfortunate in the respect that now many in the nationalist community seem to be buying into this fantasy past and giving retrospective support to their ‘warriors’.”

    And what is that bombshell based on?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Perhaps I’m being kind to the wider ‘nationalist’ politicians and writers by blaming Republicans. There’s a hilarious bit from O’Docherty’s The Trouble With Guns when he quotes a Hume attempt to retell the start of the Troubles. It’s riddled with anachronisms, events in the wrong order, plain factual errors. But I tend to focus on Republicans because they are the worst examples of it. Many non-Republican nationalists have a perfectly accurate and correct understanding of the Troubles in my experience, that I might only differ with slightly in terms of emphasis on particular events. At least, we’re not miles apart and we’re not in the bizarre fantasist world SF inhabit, in which it’s hard to even have a conversation.

    Irish Republicanism’s attack on Protestant culture is long-standing, massive and deep. To deny it seems bizarre. (On other threads I’ve quoted a lot of chapter and verse on it which I’m not doing here.) It has never been about parades for me, its much wider. It’s about a worldview which regards British identity and symbols as innately alien to Ireland and somehow offensive. And the way they tell the story of the Troubles is so important here: we can’t help noticing, these people who systematically killed us for 30 years are now spinning a narrative that effectively blames us for our own victimhood. Then they try and pick the low hanging fruit of Ulster Protestant culture – the parades – and seek to make hay by taking offence wherever possible. Even the poppy is regarded as an imperialist insult to the Irish people. So yes people feel under attack.

    I think at the root of your comment is that you think moderate means being easy-going towards any old sh**. I am absolutely not. Other people of a centrist bent may prefer gentle inclusive words towards the f***wits on the extremes, that’s their choice; but it’s equally valid to be blunt about why you reject the extremes and say exactly what you think of people on the extremes. And you don’t get any more extreme than SF. We can have the “DUP” are as bad debate if you like, but it’s boring by this stage. Suffice to say, while I find them very annoying also, I don’t regard their failings as remotely in the same moral universe as a party founded, built and run by terrorists. I don’t see why anyone would want to mince their words about such a party. And only in Northern Ireland (and now the Republic) could a party like this be regarded as socially acceptable.

    As for me, I’m a Lib Dem / Labour swing voter; recently joined Labour. I regard the current Tories as unacceptably non-centrist and I spend much of my time having a go at them, let alone UKIP. But when I look at my home province, it seems a lot of people, even smart people, have just been flattened and ground down into accepting the bizarre and unacceptable (e.g. SF to a massive degree, DUP to a limited degree) as somehow normal. Sometimes being moderate involves attacking the extremists, so I make no apology for doing that.

  • Morpheus

    That is just waffle. Are we to believe that SF have sufficient control over the media – a media that is throwing the kitchen sink at them at the minute and has been for some time – that they can manipulate it to do their bidding? Hardly

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Party break ups yes – I’d see a progressive wing of both the SDLP and UUP breaking off and the traditionalist UUP wing making common cause with the DUP. Who’s in it, I don’t know, to be honest, I couldn’t name names. I think Nesbitt though has his heart on the moderate progressive side. I’m not denying he’s drawn out from that at times – which I would like to see less of.

  • Morpheus

    Where? Where is this “narrative that effectively blames us for our own victimhood”? Where can I read or hear about it? The BBC? UTV? Belfast Telegraph? Irish News? Radio Ulster? Where?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Thanks for the ad hominem attack … so, let me get this right: you’re saying I can’t be in the middle, because I criticise a party with a well-known terrorist past that it still tries to justify? And that I refuse to let terrorists blame non-terrorists for the Troubles?

    You’re going to need to explain that. I’m really struggling to see why it’s un-centrist to be against ultra-nationalist extremists with 2,000 murders to their name.

    I don’t believe in the centre being about abandoning ethnic identity or even ‘tribal affiliation’ if you call it that. That seems illiberal and absurd. There is nothing wrong with people being unionist or nationalist, British or Irish or anything else. I’m very confident in my own Ulster British identity and think it’s perfectly normal to be both that and politically moderate. To suggest otherwise is a bit odd, isn’t it? It’s almost like saying to be moderate you need to share an SDLP worldview. There are moderate unionists too, you know.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, I am a Labour / Lib Dem swing voter, recently joined Labour and Alliance is probably the closest party to my views in NI. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let SF off for their ongoing attempts to wriggle off the hook for the Troubles. If we want to strengthen the centre, surely we shouldn’t spare the extremists? Why should we?

  • Morpheus

    Funny how the times when he is drawn out seem to be about election times eh?

    On the wider issue then I would love for what you say to happen but I don’t see anyone even close to be being strong enough to lead such a charge.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You think the media tells the Troubles story the Ulster Protestant way? Really?
    I’ll quote media studies academic Brian McIlroy – it’s from 1998 but still true now I think: “The prevailing visualisation of the Troubles in drama and documentary … is dominated by Irish nationalist and Republican ideology.” We could pick out examples of this from mainstream tv and film drama and documentary all day, but you think immediately of films like Hunger or going back further the work of Neil Jordan, Thaddeus O’Sullivan and so on. Newspapers aren’t so bad – at least you know their affiliations. It’s the histories of the Troubles that start with discrimination then Bombay Street, then Bloody Sunday and on from there – pretty typical these days – that are the problem. I was shocked to see it even in Peter Taylor’s recent ‘Who Won The War’ documentary for the BBC. His potted Troubles history at the start was very misleading.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It doesn’t work like that, as well you know

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I couldn’t agree more

  • aor26

    ” And you don’t get any more extreme than SF. We can have the “DUP” are as bad debate if you like, but it’s boring by this stage.”

    Indeed it is boring. And nor do I agree. I think the D.U.P are worse. And I make no apology for saying so either and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the British state and many of their Unionists allies were up to their necks in murder just like the IRA were.
    But alas so many self styled ‘moderates’ want to believe that violence and terrorism were unique to republicanism. I find this a truely bizarre mindset. There is an enormous body of evidence to show otherwise. If you want to dismiss this evidence so that you can feel more comfortable believing that only the IRA were perpetrators during the troubles then so be it. Most unionists do this and it is a fundamental reason why we are still such a divided society. The unionists believe they did nothing wrong – even the moderate unionists like yourself believe this
    And you mention below about the film industry being more sympathetic to nationalism/republicanism and you are correct in this. A major reason for this is because the liberal types that tend to gravitate toward film making simply do not relate to the Unionist narrative that Northern Ireland was a great little country until the IRA came along and started murdering.

  • aor26

    Morpheus does not say that ”the media media tells the Troubles story the Ulster Protestant way”
    I do not think you are actually reading what he is typing.

    What he does do, like myself, is question the idea of Sinn Fein trying to rewrite history. He is suggesting that the media is not particularly sympathetic to Sinn Fein’s world view and that republicans have a very different perspective on history from Unionists.
    All of these points are rather reasonable and do not make us extremists. Although you will presumably desire to believe we are.

  • Morpheus


    How does it work then?

  • Morpheus

    Nothing BE25? Shocking.

    Therein lies the problem with ‘play the man’ – it is acceptable to attack an entire community as supporters of death and destruction but pull someone up on it and we get whinges of ad homineum as demonstrated below

  • aor26

    Meanwhile, the real moderates have resigned themselves to a state of blissful political ambivalence, fully cognisant of the fact that change ain’t coming, at least not until those generations tainted by the troubles have died out and made way for a more level-headed bunch.

    This is a brilliant point. I think we are still in peace process mode and basically we need to ensure this generation does not return to violence. Thereafter our children will not be tainted with the memories and bitterness of the troubles and they can build a truely normal society. It’s frustrating for everybody. I understand John McAllister’s frustration but he is someone from North Down and well it was not exactly the most dangerous area of Northern Ireland during the troubles. He did not grow up around people utterly traumatised by their experiences. (I grew up in a republican area so according to the D.U.P there are no victims here only perpetrators)

  • Morpheus

    Therein lies your problem. Why does it have to be the Ulster Protestant way? What about the Ulster Catholic way? What about the Ulster Atheist way?

    Are you seriously trying to suggest that those with an “Irish nationalist and Republican ideology” have somehow infiltrated the UK film, newspaper and TV documentary industries so they can put their own unique slant on what happened?

    Have you actually got any real life examples of this “narrative that effectively blames us for our own victimhood”?

    PS. I think lectures from you on potted Troubles history are…misplaced shall we say

  • aor26

    I think SF’s biggest nightmare would be for the unionist politicians to wise up.

    You are probably right but if unionist politicians did wise up they would be removed by the Unionist electorate for being lundies

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I have to say that I’m very disappointed by Nesbitt, I thought he would have had the clout to steer the UUP away from the current ‘race to the bottom’.

    As for Elliot’s comments, simply gob smacking (yes, I said ‘it’), Brown’s nephew was in my class at that time, I remember those days very well on account of what was happening in Mid Ulster at that time.

    To say that Mr Brown wasn’t a victim on account of having 6 bullets lodged in his head by someone of a proscribed organisation OTHER than the IRA is beneath contempt.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “, is that Ulster Protestant culture is really not very much about the OO and marching bands; that mistakes what is distinctive about our culture with what exemplifies it”


    In fact, during the course of my historical bin hoking I’ve found that it’s pretty much just ‘Irish’ culture; dances, jigs, fiddling styles and wot-not were differentiated on a county by county (or even a townland by townland) basis, not a ‘themuns and ursuns’ basis (which is pretty much what it is now).

    Between the Gaelic League and their modern day opposite number (the Boord a Ulster Scots) they (and others too, pedants) have done a tidy job of creating divisions where none need to be .

    I despair.

  • Alan N/Ards

    AG, Well said! Are you sure you don’t want to be a politician?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I hate to go ad hominem but after umpteen posts like this Morpheus, can I suggest that responding to this with incredulity and requests for ‘evidence’ is decreasingly credible? I’m taking you at your word that you are genuinely interested in exploring the discourse on this. If so, you could do worse than read the contributions on Slugger when it comes to discussing the IRA’s campaign … we seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about the actions of the security forces trying to stop them. And there’s precious little appreciation of the utter inexcusability of the IRA’s decision to prosecute their campaign to start with – and then continue with it year after year as the death toll mounted up. Any time I remind people the Troubles were overwhelmingly paramilitary terrorism – which is incontrovertible – the response is a desperate attempt to magnify the wrongs of the security forces. Rather than being met with outrage, the attempts to portray the Troubles as a 50/50 struggle generally get up voted and attempts to draw attention to the figures that show the relative balance of killing and bombing generally written off as some kind of simplistic “it was themmuns fault” analysis.

    Not persuasive I’m afraid.

  • Alan N/Ards

    aor26, As far as I know, John is from Rathfriland in south Down. I personally know a couple of people who were traumatised when they had a family member murdered by the Provo’s not far from there. I’m sure John (who lives there ) would have known a lot more.
    If anyone from the DUP believes that there were no victims in republican areas, then they are morons. I would love to know which moron actually said it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not attacking an entire community, only those who support the Republican “one side as bad as the other” narrative of the Troubles. Here’s a comparison: in the early 20s Troubles, the death statistics were the other way around – about two thirds / one third. Republicans describe this as a “pogrom” …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The process is more like: reporters and newcomers (like film-makers, documentary makers) to Northern Ireland go to available sources, and tend to recycle and summarise based on what has gone before. The soft nationalist take on Irish history has long beguiled the British Left which has in turn influenced ‘mainstream’ journalists and writers in mainland Britain. This is for reasons to do with flaws in the Left’s analysis of colonialism in the Irish context – read Dr. Stephen Howe’s excellent and nuanced “Ireland and Empire” on that. He’s no friend of unionists but he buries for good a lot of traditional nationalist “colonial” analysis of the situation in Northern Ireland (which we all know as Ulster people is b******s anyway).

    And when a curious newcomer converses with the average commentator from south of the border to better understand “the Irish problem”, they also often get a pro-nationalist description of events, which colours their understanding. Often, the newcomer has no idea their interlocutor is spinning a partisan line, itself the remnant of old anti-British political attitudes. Only a few who specifically seek out a unionist point of view hear our take on things; and even then, documentary-makers tend to be more interested in voices from the OO or militant Loyalism than mainstream unionist opinion. As a small u unionist, I can tell you this has been a bugbear for as long as I can remember.

    The situation with academic history is radically different though – there, there is now a massive body of work from many, many historians which tell the story we recognise. Unfortunately, it barely filters through to the media and film-makers, who prefer the comfortable nostrums about NI they have become familiar with.

    Surely you’re not arguing that the unionist perspective dominates the British and international media’s portrayal of the Troubles? I’m not going to ask for evidence as it’s a bit absurd in this medium, but it does beggar belief a little. Also, I thought everyone agreed unionists are very bad at PR and Republicans (and even softer Nationalists) rather skilled at it. Not so?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I did read it in fact and was responding to it – he was questioning the prevalence of Irish nationalist explanations of the Troubles in the media. I then flipped it over to say in that case, he must think Ulster Protestants are positively represented in the media. Just to explain my approach there.

    I think Ulster Prods are much better represented in local media, by the way, than in national and international media. I should have clarified, I’m mainly talking about the latter. But these media approaches do also have local relevance, because they are picked up on locally and reinforce strident nationalists in their slef-confidence about their analysis being right. Unfortunately for them, it’s all built on the sand of debunked theories, statistical illiteracy and sloppy research. The comfort they draw is false comfort. And it’s important for those seduced by the nationalist narrative to realise that, because unionists are not so seduced and we form a big section of the NI population. I don’t expect them to change their minds in a hurry but a basic appreciation that there is another way of looking at the Troubles, which is at least worthy of not being dismissed as ‘paranoia’, would be a modest step forward. We can then get onto the more difficult stuff when they’re ready. It’s going to be a long process but we’re not going away so it’s going to have to happen.

  • Morpheus

    Oh for goodness sake, come into the real world man, it’s 2014! Believe it or not but there aren’t really nationalist/republican bogeymen around every corner and to suggest they have somehow infiltrated the mass media to promote a nationalist and republican agenda really is tinfoil hat wearing stuff. For someone who is Oxford educated it amazes me that you spew the same guff that we regularly hear from Willie Frazer and that other halfwit.

    What makes you think you are in a position to know what goes on in conversations between ‘curious newcomers’ and ‘the average commentator from south of the border’? Where do these conversations take place? Radio? TV? Internet? Coffee shops? Obviously you can point me in the right direction, right? Something? Anything which brings your argument from X Files to the real world?

    Anyway, here’s a revolutionary idea – could it be that in 2014 a more balanced version is seeping out rather than the usual ‘it’s all themuns fault so it tiz’?

    Where did I even come close to arguing that the “unionist perspective dominates the British and international media’s portrayal of the Troubles”? It was you who made out that the media is dominated by Irish nationalist and Republican ideology and from where I am standing it simply has no basis in reality.

  • Morpheus

    Where can I go to experience this nationalist/republican media phenomenon today? Do I tune in to BBC? UTV? Channel 4? Radio Ulster? Sky? RTE? Where can I go to experience these levels of anti-Ulster Protestantism you talk about?

    Are we talking subliminal messaging or is it blatant in-your-face republicanism?

    Or do I need to whip out my IRA starter pack, issued to all Catholics on their First Holy Communion, which of course includes Michael Collins and Bloody Sunday?

  • Morpheus

    Don’t you worry about my credibility – worry about your own.

    I am extremely interested in exploring this discourse but I am not willing to put on a tinfoil hat and entertain the idea that the UK/international media are somehow involved in some fantastical conspiracy to push the republican ideology to the masses…the same media in fact who wouldn’t even let elected SF officials near the airwaves until 1994 and attacks them on a monotonous, daily basis. Believing that SF can go from some guy paid to do voiceovers to control of the mass media and being able to set a republican agenda is…well, it’s weird.

    I have yet to see a single person even try to argue that the militant republican body count is not disgustingly, repulsively high. What I do see however are contributors like you who try to push the bizarre narrative that everything was just dandy until themuns started being violent without provocation back in 1969. From where I stand you have no interest in examining the Troubles through a wide lens to see if there are lessons to be learned for future generations, “it was themumns fault and that’s it” seems to be the order of the day for you.

  • Morpheus

    Not attacking an entire community eh? Kinda flies in the face of “I couldn’t agree more”, no?

  • aor26

    Hello Alan

    Apologies I thought John was a North Down native. My comment about the D.U.P was meant as tongue in cheek. Obviously they do not literally believe that there were no victims from republican areas. However they do believe in a hierarchy of victims which comes across virtually every time a member speaks to the media about the past. It is more often what they do not say which conveys these beliefs. Obviously they do not literally believe that nobody from west belfast or Derry’s bogside was shot or murdered or badly beaten. They do however believe that such victims are of less significance that someone from Lisburn or Rathfriland murdered by the IRA.

    When was the last time you heard a member of the DUP raise the horror inflicted on the Catholic population in North and West Belfast by the Shankill Butchers? Now how often do they bring up La Mon or the Shankill Bomb?? Their selective moral outrage speaks volumes. I understand others are guilty of selective moral outrage but i’m focusing on the D.U.P for now. They claim to be concerned about all the innocent victims of the troubles yet only ever talk about innocent victims murdered by the IRA.

    When that commemoration for the two IRA bombers who died when their bomb exploded prematurely was organised in Castlederg (just for the record I do not think people should organise parades like this) Martin McGuinness made the point that the D.U.P demand the Castlederg parade be banned but remain silent when loyalist band parades adorn themselves with U.V.F Paraphernalia and parade through North Belfast where the UVF murdered scores of people. The D.U.P position is that parades such as this should have no restrictions on them.

    Arlene Foster was asked to respond. In her typical terse tone Foster dismissed McGuinness as trying to divert attention from the real matter in Castlederg. This speaks volumes. It is imperative that victims of IRA violence are protected from offensive displays. Protecting victims of UVF violence from offensive displays is not important.

    Recently Gregory Campbell was on the Nolan Show saying the Protestant people faced ethnic cleansing which did not happen to the Catholic population.
    When I hear the term ethnic cleansing it conjures up memories of the Balkans wars. Nothing that bad happened here. Only Gregory knows what makes Gregory tick but basically he thinks that the suffering of the Unionist/protestant population was so great that the suffering of the catholic population is insignificant by comparison.

    Also, their long time leader was stirring the cauldron of hate for decades which has been well documented. According to the D.U.P they were consistently opposed to violence. Go figure

    The D.U.P believe in a hierarchy of victims.

    It is thus: All those killed by the IRA
    catholics killed by loyalists
    IRA dead. (who deserved to die)

    Obviously they do not implicitly state it as such because they are too political astute to make such a public relations cock-up.

  • aor26

    ”I then flipped it over to say in that case, he must think Ulster Protestants are positively represented in the media.”

    Well he does not necessarily think so. It need not be so black and white – there are many shades of grey. It is quite possible for a medium to portray a nationalist perspective in a bad light one day and a Unionist perspective in a bad light the very next day. It happens quite a lot actually. Have you the read the Belfast Telegraph ?

    Anyway I can only speak for myself on these matters although I can offer an opinion on what nationalists more generally may think and feel.

    I am a nationalist. I do not see all my opinions as being the right analysis. My opinions are also not so rigid. They are fluid and have changed over the years. What is right can be in the eye of the beholder and I am comfortable that there are those with radically different perspectives on the past in Northern Ireland. I am reminded of it every other day. I do know that my opinions on the past are based on some very sound research and I have no difficulty understanding statistics (judging by the exemplary GCSE and A-Level results produced year in year out for decades by Catholic schools in Northern Ireland I would suggest that many of my fellow nationalists are also not plagued by statistical illiteracy as you suggest)

    Do nationalists hold a monopoly on sloppy research ? That is an extraordinary suggestion. Have you ever heard of Jamie Bryson ?

    You were describing the many nationalists you have met who have an ‘accurate and correct” understanding of the past. (presumably you mean recent past ie ’69 onwards) Who determines what is accurate and correct ? Are these nationalists you find acceptable not expressing their own personal opinion rather than expressing an accurate & correct (am i to read factual?) account of the past, I have met many Catholics in my life who are vehemently anti-republican. It goes without saying that they are entitled to be so but for some of them (who I count as friends) their understanding of the past is either limited or non-existent. Is such a nationalist deemed by you to have a more accurate and correct view of the past the a republican political anarak who has read hundreds of books on Irish politics/history

    . There are other perspectives on the past that do not sit well with unionists that deserve better than to be dismissed as conspiracy theories. Many are based on sound research by intelligent people and real life experiences that show the British state in a most negative light. Continuing to deny will not make it go away. In fact if unionists continue to deny that they were ever at fault then nationalists will shout louder about said faults. Indeed it will take some time for true reconciliation in our country.

    Your final paragraph is fascinating. it sums up quite well how I feel about Unionists with some exceptions. Unionists are not obligated to think more like me. You seem to have convinced yourself that I am a sort of green equivalent of Jamie Bryson instead of a progressive fairly moderate guy. Is it because I said there was wrong done by many and not soley the IRA? what’s so bad about that? That’s actually a neat summary of all i’ve been saying all along. Not that big a deal really

    you say

    ” I don’t expect them to change their minds in a hurry ”

    does this mean nationalists have to change their minds to a more unionist perspective at some point ??? apparently nationalists MUST change – is there such an urgency for unionists to change or should we be happy you elected Gregory ‘prince of whataboutery’ Campbell ??


    ‘but a basic appreciation that there is another way of looking at the Troubles’

    Is it unionists or nationalists you are talking about here – or society in general ?? there are certainly a lot of unionists who struggle with nationalists having different perspectives

    ‘We can then get onto the more difficult stuff when they’re ready.’ It was the Unionists and the Alliance party who rejected the Hass proposals after 6 re-drafts. Is it Unionists or nationalists who need to get ready for the more difficult stuff??

    finally you say

    ” It’s going to be a long process but we’re not going away so it’s going to have to happen.” I agree

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Hi Alan

    Quite sure.

    When I come home I certainly intend to ‘get involved’ wrt changing things but more at a grass roots cultural level rather than at a political level.

    “I have a cunning plan….”

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The lundy factor is a big problem.

    I imagine if the DUP ‘softened’ (read “wised up”) then the TUV would benefit.

    And then if they softened then there’d be somebody waiting in the wings to catch those that fly that particular red, white and blue nest.

    The question is though, are the younger generations gonna follow them?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Unfortunately not. It is actually Alliance who argued in the first place that the Justice Minister would have to be a full minister, not some sort of half-way house cobbled together by the DUP and SF.

    And some sort of trickery involving being a minister but not being on the executive would rightly be seen by the public as some sort of fence sitting action to try to feign a protest (much like the way back in the first executive the DUP said they wouldn’t participate in executive ministers and would regularly rotate their ministers).

    No, Alliance are kind of stuck there until things markedly change. And that involves taking stick for keeping the DUP and SF in power. You have to take the rough with the smooth. This still stands in contrast to most of our politicians who won’t act unless they see no downsides (which is why it’s taking the UUP and SDLP so long to back up their talk of opposition with anything concrete).

  • aor26

    Are the younger generations going to follow them? It is inconceivable that the younger generations will not learn some things from the mistakes of their ancestors. Yet is it hard to predict what a younger generation of the D.U.P will do when the current leadership retire and pass on. Most likely as time goes on and ‘the troubles’ becomes a history topic for younger generations, then younger leaders within the D.U.P will be more moderate than their predecessors.

    Likewise one does envisage a similar pattern on the Sinn Fein side of Stormont as the old IRA men/women retire and pass on.

    But the elephant in the room will still be there. Sinn Fein will still want to secede from the Union and the D.U.P priority will still be maintenance of the Union.

    Perhaps a younger generation will soon emerge who will have little care for the sovereignty issue. It will not be an issue. Thereafter, Northern Ireland will become a regular part of the United Kingdom, not noticeably different from Wales. Relations with the Republic of Ireland will be cordial. They will also be limited and no more significant than relations between any two countries sharing a land border under the umbrella of the European Union – much like Belgium & Holland for example.

    People will eventually vote along more common ideological lines like elsewhere in Europe – left-right divide on the economy, conservative-liberal distinctions on social issues. Society will become more secular & mixed marriages and relationships will become the norm. Sinn Fein and the D.U.P will fail to adapt and will gradually lose their dominance at Stormont. The likes of Tom Elliot will grow old and pass on – the likes of John McAllister will re-emerge within the U.U.P and turn it into a centre-right party, attracting a solid vote of economically conservative middle-classes. The s.d.l.p will finally campaign on a social democratic programme as it always desired to be deep down. The unionists will be centre-right aligned with the Conservative party and the children of the old nationalists will be aligned with their centre left cousins in Labour at Westminster. The silly abstentionism of Sinn Fein will be dismissed by these non-practising Catholics. All will be content contributing to and benefiting from the rich diversity of the pluralist United Kingdom.

    The wet dream of the chattering classes will come into fruition…..perhaps.

    Some recent opinion polls showed only a minority of Catholics wanted a border poll. This is Sinn Fein’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately there has been little decent analysis in our local media of why this could be. The most glaringly obvious reason why so few Catholics seem to want a border poll is not often mentioned as our local media repeat these survey results conducted by 1500 short interviews ad nauseam. That reason is the economic problems of the Republic of Ireland over the last five years with the financial crisis, the I.M.F loans and the introduction of an extremely tough austerity program. But what if the economy across the border stabilises? what if a great recovery takes off ? What if in 10 or 20 years the economic future looks just as bright in the Republic as it does in the Union?? What if it were to look brighter??

    Unionists of all ages are seemingly unaware that this could be possible. (”sure they only got a bit of money in the first place because the E.U was giving it to them”)

    Unionists today should be in no doubt that virtually no Catholics feel the same sense of loyalty & the same sort of emotional attachment to the United Kingdom that many Protestants feel. Provided the economic conditions are stable the vast majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland would vote for a United Ireland.
    We know what way the demographics are shifting. The D.U.P must attract significant numbers of Catholics in order to maintain the Union long term and they must do this while not alienating a significant number of Protestants. They need to radically change the entire image and raison d’etre of Unionism to achieve these Catholic supporters for the Union. They also need to start immediately or they will not succeed. Unionism needs very capable, intelligent and charismatic politicians to achieve this.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I haven’t said things were dandy pre-1969 at all. I don’t think you can point to anywhere where I’ve said that.

    And again the ‘themmuns’ comment. But you’re still not able to accept that Irish Republicanism bears the bulk of the guilt for the Troubles. Do you genuinely not think it does or are you just being a bit jejune here?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It could be shades of grey in theory – but generally the tenor of the portrayal of Ulster Protestants in the media follows a remarkably consistent pattern. As John Bew put it once, to paraphrase, you rarely see an Ulster Protestant in a drama out of uniform. If they are they’re probably in a balaclava or saying something sectarian. Some of it’s fun knock-about stuff but it’s the same stereotype. I’ve just been watching the 1st series of Peaky Blinders – the Sam Neill character is a classic example. Though he’s actually quite a sympathetic character compared to most from my background (!!). The problem is, people come to believe that’s what we’re actually like, then when they see it, they don’t even register that it’s stereotyping. It just looks ‘true’. It becomes a self-reinforcing story for Irish nationalists to excuse their own side’s excesses because, after all, who wouldn’t kick off having to put up with those unreasonable Protestant ogres?

    I wasn’t saying all or even most nationalists are statistically illiterate or crap at research. Far from it. I just think there’s a blind spot, as we all have, when it comes to looking at their own role in the development of Northern Irish society and, above all, in the Troubles. We all have blind spots around ourselves and I’m no exception. In the nationalist case though I think there’s a real lack of standing back from individual incidents in the Troubles to look at the whole. The failure to engage with the ‘big picture’ questions of the Troubles, such as who did what overall, where fault lies relatively overall, how was the terrorism conceived and pursued, are continuing and glaring omissions. We need more than just saying republicans were wrong, because it’s usually followed by ‘and everyone else was just as bad.’ That’s simply not true and until people stop saying it, we’ll be mired in a fudgy moral relativism that let’s the b******s who did the bad stuff off the hook and which blames the innocent.

    The nationalists I’m talking about having a good grasp on it are a mix of people, some are academics who work on it. Some know way, way more than I do. As I say, I don’t think moderate voices on either side are that far apart and I think a more or less agreed narrative IS possible. Just not one that SF or the DUP will ever want to swallow, I fear. Neither will come out well.

    On the Haass stuff, from what I saw: it seemed to have an inordinate focus on the actions of the state and there was very little constructive about paramilitaries engaging with a truth process. Agreeing something that just repeats the current anti-unionist bias in public Troubles story-telling wasn’t going to work. But I do think we can find some mechanism and it is important to do so.

  • aor26

    An agreed narrative is not necessary but more importantly it is impossible. An ‘agreed narrative’ by self designated moderates (I have in mind the S.D.L.P and Alliance at this point but it’s not exclusively them) will inevitably have something in it that one person finds utterly deplorable and offensive and probably for good reason and therefore what is the rest of society going to say to this person??

    A friend of mine from a nationalist background who was convinced she was the epitome of moderation and tolerance once said some grossly offensive things about a family friends of ours, who yes did suffer extremities at the hands of the British. Quite frankly this particular self-appointed moderator of what is and is not right and moderate proved herself to be extremely cold-hearted in her quest to show how tolerant she was. The point of telling you that is if two nationalists cannot come to an agreed narrative then searching for an agreed narrative that is accurate and correct and which all in Northern Ireland can buy into, Unionist & nationalist, loyalist and republican, is a pipe dream.

    We are not going to unite every man and woman in Northern Ireland on an agreed narrative of the troubles. What we can do though is allow different narratives a chance to be heard. To varying degrees all of us are probably prone to ‘switching off’ when we hear something we do not like said or read about the past. Perhaps we need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves ‘is this really that outrageous that it cannot even be expressed?

    As regards the media being unsympathetic to Unionism I have also noticed this. Of the films made about ‘the troubles’ the majority would be more sympathetic to Nationalists than Unionists.

    If this bothers Unionists a lot then they will need to explore for themselves why this is. Hopefully they will be able to come up with some answers that do more than criticise nationalists.