Here’s to you Mr Robinson for keeping Nationalism alive

It was back in 2010, I was working down in Cork on some research for my PhD, like everybody else I was gripped by the arrival of the IMF in Ireland and the ensuing collapse of the government as the Green Party announced that they wanted an election in early 2011. Well, there pushes Irish unity another few years down the road I thought, as with the country under the control of the IMF made the economic case for reunification next to impossible. But, no matter what I thought our problems were economically, I always knew with the DUP in power in Stormont, that Nationalism would always have some signs of life.

Although, that illusion began to be shattered as I listened into Peter Robinson’s conference speech that weekend where he expressed his hope that Southern Ireland would emerge from its difficulties. My reaction was wow, that’s different from a DUP leader, when his party used to make great play on the fact that the Irish Republic was a failed economic state. Could this be the start of a change in attitude?

Fast forward to 2012, I was listening to remarks he made on Good Morning Ulster about Edward Carson in Dublin and this section of his speech stood out for me;

For unionism to prosper in the decades to come it must be inclusive and not exclusive. I want to see a broad and inclusive unionism that can embrace all shades of those who support Northern Ireland’s present constitutional position. Unionism must reach far beyond its traditional base if it is to maximise its potential. That means forming a pro-Union consensus with people from different religious and community backgrounds.

When one reflects on the record of the last one hundred years it is remarkable the extent to which, for the most part, neither side sought to persuade or accommodate the other in a way which would have been in their own best long-term interests. Perhaps in the past circumstances contrived not to allow that, but today I want to see it change.

This quite frankly made me gulp with fear. As a Nationalist, I have never been on the wing that subscribes to the fact that unity is inevitable. The case has to be constantly made, refreshed and re-analysed for why this island should be a unitary state. Nationalism has inherent weakenesses on welfare and economic issues which we have neglected due to our incapacity to move away from a sole focus on grievance politics.

Why I feared Robinson’s remarks was that not since Brookeborough in the 1950’s had a Unionist leader been secure in his position and enjoyed a peaceful environment. Terence O’Neill had tried this approach, but he was so alienated from his base that it never worked. Robinson had organisational and political control of the DUP and running as a liberal he cruised to victory in the 2011 Assembly election.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that for a leader to secure the Union, they need roughly around a quarter to one third of Catholics to become Unionists. Robinson with his new appeoach that he had been articulating had a serious shot of locking in a substantial number of Catholics to the Union forever.

However, what a difference a flag can make. Ever since the decision to take the flag down 365 days a year from Belfast City Hall, we have seen a reversion in his stance. What has happened is that all the old aspects of the DUP that made them such a toxic choice for Catholics and soft Nationalists have been trotted out over the past two years.

When I watch Gregory Campbell mock Irish and see his leader unwilling to punish him for it, I laugh as I think here’s the party I know and love. And I am also comforted by the fact that with every mock they send more people back into the Nationalist camp and keep this project going.

Sadly for Unionism, Peter Robinson had within his grasp the chance to deliver a knock out blow to Nationalism when it was at its weakest. Lacking economic crediblity and a clear path since 2010, Robinson could have really capitalised and made a new case for the Union. Furthermore, he had the strategic insight to draft a credible plan for it. Yet, he has squandered it and ultimately kicked the can down the road for some future leader to attempt a new agenda for Unionism.

But in the meantime, here’s to you Mr Robinson, Nationalism owes you more than you will know.

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  • barnshee

    “Nationalism owes you more than you will know.”

    ER its 50% + 1 -that will do it.

    Robinson needs only that “1” — he thinks that there are enough Catholics tied to the public sector teat to see him over the line before he adds in” pay for” health as opposed to “free” NHS

  • ted hagan

    Was Robinson ever convincing to nationalists? I very much doubt it

  • M McCullagh

    Robinson must have been watching old Brian Faulkner videos

  • Sp12

    ‘Every word spoken by the DUP is like another bullet being fired in the struggle for Irish freedom…..’
    or something.

  • Robin Keogh

    I often worry that the whole thing will fall back into chaos. Unionism has always been and always will be the pilot light that keeps the nationalist flame ignited. But Nationalism has changed, its no longer founded on anti English sentiment, it has evolved into a broader idea of what it means to be Irish and matured into a patient bystander while Unionism does what it does best; destroy itself. The penny dropped with republicans in the mid nineties that Unionism would eventually collapse into itself, the same way a mental patient might find themselves staring out of the window onto a horizon of nothingness. Unionism looks out onto a world that has left them behind with their ancient rituals of hate. The riot free streets of Derry and west Belfast bare testament to the confidence of a nationalism too busy working or educating themselves to bother with the tit for tat pebble dashing up in Stormont. The rapidly shrinking Unionist population struggling to survive in the shadow of their bitter and divided political masters are aware that time is not on their side. Robinson has tried in vain to balance two impossible realities. His politcians are tragic bustards while many of his people are quite the opposite. But the gift in Unionism that just keeps giving is the mindset of Gregory Campbell and his Ilk, while his brand of Unionism is alive and kicking Nationalism will always survive. On reckoning day we can only hope that the sour smell of sectarianism that forms the crust of Unionist political Ideology doesnt drag us into one last stand.

  • tmitch57

    One could easily express a very similar sentiment in regard to Mr. Adams and Sinn Fein. Or even John Hume and his single transferable speech with its pretense at voluntary union while always attempting to get London as a persuader or coercer. If nationalism wants to appeal to unionists to join a united Ireland it should start with the realization that it isn’t dealing with deluded Irish men, but rather with people from a different ethnic group who would be voluntarily giving up membership in what they regard as their own state for membership in what they regard as a foreign country. So in that case one needs to make a pretty persuasive case–one which the vast majority of nationalists have no idea how to make or even any real desire to make.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that for a leader to secure the Union, they need roughly around a quarter to one third of Catholics to become Unionists”

    Indeed David.

    For all the chat of ‘smash SF’ or ‘no surrender’ or whatever it seems obvious that the single most devastating blow that unionism could land on SF or nationalism in general is by making NI more appealing to its citizens from a nationalist background (i.e. the soon to be majority population).

    But every move to push for these little accommodations is seen as some sort of attack on unionism or a ‘surrender’.

    If the union survives it will be despite the efforts of political unionism, certainly not because of them.

  • ted hagan

    Different ethnic group? What codswallop

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Codswallop indeed Ted, what tmitch57 is doing is mistaking cultural for racial difference. He should perhaps re-read Heslinga’s “The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide” and note the word “cultural.’

    And this popular article on Irish/British DNA might help him get the issues of race arther more clear in his head.

  • willow

    Ethnicity is cultural,.not racial, you fools.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear Willow, you appear to have done somthing of a “pick and mix” with your concept of “Ethnicity”, Ethnicity is usually defined as containing elements that are both Cultural AND Racial!

    The excellent Wikipedia article offers five sub-groupings within the concept of ethnicity begining with, you got it, race!

    i) ethno-racial group[citation needed] — emphasizing shared physical appearance based on genetic origins.

    ii) ethno-religious group — emphasizing shared affiliation with a particular religion (or denomination, or sect).

    iii) ethno-linguistic group — emphasizing shared language (or dialect, or even use of script).

    iv) ethno-national group[citation needed] — emphasizing a shared polity (cf. national identity).

    v) ethno-regional group[citation needed] — emphasizing distinct local sense of belonging stemming from geographic isolation.


    Ancestoral links are clearly one of those key factors that a people use to define their ethnicity, but perhaps you view kinship itself as something simply cultural?

    The French concept of an “Ethnie”, which my wife has used in her own anthropoligical work, refers primarily to an elective cultural group, but that is not primarily what tmitch57 is flagging with his invocation of a Scottish/English Ethnicity contrasted against an Irish Ethnicity which ques race to me. Another clue is in his use of the term “Foreign country” at the end, which flags certain aspects of all the Wikipedia catagories, but clearly suggests race again, as does his entire tone. With the term “Foreign” he seems to be still regarding the wee six, “their own state”, as swordland still. Please let him put me right himself if I have taken any of this the wrong way. The organ grinder is probably the only person who is actually in any position to correct me on these points.

  • Reader

    That was a long post that basically confirms that tmitch57 and Willow were right. We have ethnicity ii, iii and iv within 200 feet of where I am sitting right now. A few clicks of the mouse will take me to heated discussions on Slugger concerning ethnicity iii and iv, and there’s a poster present on this very topic who recently made a bit of a meal about ethnicity ii (a caste of Protestant jailers).

  • Dan

    Robinson hasn’t been convincing to Unionists either.
    He’s no leader, never has been, nor will he ever be.

  • Dan

    You’re nuts too.
    Only the gullible fell for their tokenism. It was bullshit from the start.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    David, I’m in interested, post GFA, what in your view a positive case for Irish nationalism would look like?

    Noting and agreeing with your comments about Peter Robinson – like many in NI politics a changed man but not as changed as we’d like – does enthusiasm for nationalism now largely derive from how awful unionists are, or appear? (That’s not to say that approach won’t work!)

    A technical question too: after any decision to secede from the UK, does Northern Ireland then lose any future right to self-determination? Or do we retain it? If the former, it’s quite a different scenario from the Scottish case, where the right to self-determination survives in all circumstances – the people there really do have a right to choose their future on an ongoing basis. Irish nationalism is in the less attractive position of offering the people of Northern Ireland a self-determination that self-destructs upon the vote going nationalism’s way. Is that the case? I’m just wondering if a future NI that was part of a new joint country with the Republic would retain the right to decide its own future, including the right to secede from it? If not, it seems we’d be signing up to losing democratic control over our own sovereignty for eternity.

  • Paddy Reilly

    If nationalism wants to appeal to unionists to join a united Ireland

    It doesn’t. The idea that we won’t have a United Ireland until the Unionists agree to it is on a par with the one about “We should postpone implementing decimalisation until all the old people have died off.” One merely expects that when Unionists can’t summon up a majority in the entity they created for themselves, the whole notion of partition will become untenable.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Caste is not ethnicity: it is trade related. Castes are interdependent, because each one requires the product that the other produces. The problem with Unionists pretending that they think the Irish foreigners (and themselves not Irish) is that they are quite happy to interact with them in the capacity of policemen, or other rule-givers.

  • Zig70

    The biggest threat to nationalism is the fixation on a socialist republican state. The inability to see unity as a goal in itself without dragging a century old ideology with it.

  • delphindelphin

    Sometimes reading Slugger is a bit like reading Lewis Carroll –
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
    (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

    However the OED says

    ”in respect of membership of a group regarded as ultimately of common descent, or having a common national or cultural tradition; ethnic character”

  • Paddy Reilly

    My learned friend perhaps overstates his point. But you (Red Lion) are,
    I think, biased: clearly no significant portion of the electorate were persuaded by NI21. As such, I don’t even think they got the gullible vote in any quantity.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    It was all bubbling up nicely earlier in the year. Arlene was creating job headlines week to week and was a shoe in for leadership within the DUP with Sammy sitting behind the throne pulling the strings. Then all change with Poots getting knifed and Robbo stabilising his power base. If he’s so bad/wrong, as the piece suggests, when will we see the back of him? Hopefully Gerry follows him down the road also…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well put AG – that’s it in a nutshell. Liberal, moderate unionism has always been the most effective.

    It now feels like unionism without unionist parties would be actually stronger than unionism with them. And ultimately unionism doesn’t actually need overtly unionist parties, just ones happy enough with NI being in the UK.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it’s beyond serious debate that the differences between the 2 main peoples on the island can be described as ethnic differences. I’m not sure you understand what ‘ethnicity’ means – it’s not about being of a different colour necessarily. National allegiance, religious tradition, loyalties, origin myths (and realities), cultural practices etc all feed into it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    an inspiring vision for a new, better Ireland there

  • WindsorRocker

    The reality is there is a difference between unionism in general amongst the electorate and the cultural unionism that the parties feel compelled to campaign on. One is a subset of the other. Those in nationalism know what buttons to push to bring the cultural element of unionism to the fore and it suits them for it to be at the fore whilst liberal unionism facepalms at what it’s “fellow” unionists get sucked into getting up to.

  • WindsorRocker

    I’d say that both ideologies sustain each other in their current forms. Until nationalism was a serious threat in the late 1800s there was no specific unionist brand but then the Liberal party in Ireland split on those lines. It’s natural that a movement based on retaining the status quo will always be a reaction to those who wish to change the status quo.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    ‘foreigners’ is too strong – not foreign, just of a different ethnic background.

    But really, it’s Northern Ireland 101 to observe there are two broad groups here. If this were just a political squabble between people with the same national identity, cultural identity, cultural symbols, myths and historical narratives, it would be a somewhat different squabble, would it not?

    To assert “Irish” is one single homogenous ethnicity and there are no others on the island is to live in quite a different Ireland than the real one. Perhaps it’s that fantasy island Republicans seem to inhabit 😉 I preferred Ricardo Montalban’s, frankly.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You’ve just described with apparent satisfaction the ill health, as you see it, of the other tribe. And you’re accusing *them* of “sectarianism” and “tit for tat pebble dashing”? Judging by your own words – phrases like “the gift that just keeps giving” – there’s more than one ideology of the past which looks bankrupt right now.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Very good point. As long as there is a Jamie Bryson on the periphery then unionism isn’t safe.

  • WindsorRocker

    I can’t disagree with some of the facts put down here about the evolution of the last few years of Robinson’s leadership but as a unionist I clearly don’t share the excited conclusion!
    When unionism looks back to 2012, Robinson was strong enough to reach out as he did, and when we look at some of the seminal national events of 2012 such as the London Olympics and the Jubilee, Northern Ireland played its part in those and our place in the UK looked normal for once.
    David is quite right to say that all changed with the events of late 2012 but it wasn’t just flags, one can remember the parades issue reignited there in regards to the events on Donegall Street that just happened to be captured by a prospective SF councillor. The move to change the flag days at City Hall was a move that based on City Hall arithmetic could have been done at any time over the preceding 15 years. Nationalism knew it could push buttons that would once again drag enough of Unionism back to the communal gutter that the leadership of unionism would feel obliged to follow in an act of self preservation.
    Robinson doesn’t want to be a Trimble, he doesn’t want to leave people behind the way Trimble did and in that sense he has left any change in the liberal/cultural balance within unionism to somebody else as he doesn’t want to be seen as a failed Lundy by the right wing. He is entirely a prisoner to the likes of Campbell and has simply adopted an attitude of protecting the core.
    The issue for the DUP is that their “core” isn’t as simple as it was in the mid 1990s. The growth in the party from 1998 was due not to a large move of people who didn’t “want a Fenian about the place”, it was due to a large number of middle class unionists who felt that the transition from terror to democracy of unionism’s main prospective government partners was going too slow and that the criteria for participation in government was too low. It’s fair to say that that is largely sorted and those middle class unionists surely can’t be relied upon to keep supporting a party that competes with the hard right of the TUV and PUP for unionist votes on the cultural issues.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thanks MU

    The most frustrating attribute of this mentality is that none of the ‘anti-Norn-Iron’ unionists ever have the stones to admit why they’re so anti NI (as in recognising that NI is not a mono-religious state).

    As soon as you question them on it they disappear from Slugger’s screens.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Some interesting points WR
    But, as much as Robo may not want to be a Trimble the truth is that Trimble paved the way for the unthinkable; catholic unionists (or pro-status-quo voters).
    He achieved more with his kamikaze spree than any of the other ‘loyal’ sort.
    Very good post BTW.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The two main peoples on the island are Irish and Poles. Then come Chinese.

  • WindsorRocker

    The PUP may talk a good talk in terms of socialism on certain issues but they are just as focused if not more focused on the flags and parades strategy as any of the other unionist parties.

  • Robin Keogh

    The other tribe as u put it are in good health as citizens nut their political masters are very sickly indeed.

  • Robin Keogh

    The desire to make the argument is thwarted more because the listeners are somewhat deaf. Most unionist cannot would not and could not countenance the notion of a UI. The 50+1 requirement is a reflection of that.

  • Paddy Reilly

    We are not fooled: when Unionists are on top they are quite happy to assert their right to legislate for all others, as if they were the same: ethnicity and separate status are only raised when it appears Unionists will be forced into a non-dominant position. So it’s just another argument to prevent majority rule.

  • Robin Keogh

    The socialist fixation survives in word only, the realities of political and economic integration have seen to that. Socialist ideals in SF have evolved along with its growth into the mainstream

  • Robin Keogh

    If i may – i would imagine a vote for a UI would probably include the right for NI to hold onto to its powersharing autonomous structures. It may be possible to even enhance those powers assuming that transition would be peaceful. If NI can exist as a region in the UK i dont see why it couldnt continue to exist as a region in a UI. It wouldthen be quite possible for the North to vote on opting out and becoming a fully fledged independent state. However, this is an unlikely outcome given the continued decline in Unionist numbers who would be more likey to support such a measure. Its not impossible though.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I sort of agree with your original contribution Robin. And in fact the “other tribe” are not in good health – poor educational attainment and job opportunities. They’re being badly let down, but that has always been the case.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Yup. And I think the impact of nationalism has been blunted by reforms that were made (in the teeth of unionist opposition) to making NI more neutral. This almost certainly was a contributing factor to the end of the IRA’s armed campaign. When people see corrupt employers being brought before the courts for discrimination, or see their sons and daughters obtaining degrees and landing good jobs, naturally they will start to ask why it is so important to change everything.

    Nationalism has, at the moment, an even bigger problem than unionism – there is a chunk of Catholics that it can’t rely on to support a UI, and that chunk is probably not shrinking, even though it may well continue to vote for the SDLP or SF.

    Unionism is the single biggest threat to itself, but this is fundamentally a problem with the frightened unionist electorate who are just too easy to scare with warnings of a sellout and an imminent UI.

  • Reader

    Much as I would like to add my ‘rah, rah, rah’ to this strand of the discussion, I disagree with this particular point. Jamie Bryson (and LAD) will do liberal unionism – and therefore the union itself – a lot of good, as he makes it OK to disown fringe unionism.
    It’s the DUP that’s doing damage, as they keep on trying to keep open a link to the lunatic fringe for the purpose of vote-grubbing. Party before country.

  • Reader

    In respect of the NHS argument, I think that SF are doing half of his work for him. A populist party that pushes the notion that taxpayer’s money is free (NHS, Welfare, Water) for short term electoral gain is going to have a hell of a job selling independence and self-reliance to the same electorate in future.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    when are unionists on top? I’m 44. I started following politics while still in primary school but have never known ‘unionist’ rule. The very youngest people who were of voting age in that era turned 60 this year. What you have to understand is that unionists today are at best ambivalent and often extremely critical, as you are, of the unionist leaders of 50 years ago. Using people we disagree with as a stick to beat us with is not very fair.

    There’s another flaw in your point. Whoever is in government has to legislate for all – that’s what government is. Odd thing to criticise the government of the day for doing.

    Finally, when you say “majority rule” I assume you’re referring to the non-existent all-Ireland state you aspire to. It doesn’t exist. Northern Ireland is recognised internationally and by all significant NI parties, including SF, as well as all parties in the Republic, as a valid self-determinative unit. That was agreed beyond doubt in 1998. If you’re going back on it now, you are rejecting the basis of the peace process. That’s a very extreme position.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Robin, I think you could be surprised by the reactions of unionists if a UI comes about. It will, of course, depend on what kind of agreed Ireland it will be. The old guard of FF have gone (thankfully) and they along with FG and Labour know that a UI will look nothing like their fore fathers imagined. SF, on the other hand, are still dreaming of the socialist All Ireland Republic with the tricolour flying over every county.
    For a UI to work, and for all of the people to buy into it then it, there will need to be a bit of creative thinking by everybody on this island. 50%+1 won’t bring unity but, sensible, workable ideas hopefully will. Republicans seem very reluctant to bring forward workable ideas on this new Ireland they keep talking about.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree with CS – I don’t think, looking in from the outside, that they’re in good shape at all.

    Unionist political ‘ideology’ does not really exist – it doesn’t need one, to think it does is to misunderstand what unionism is. But unionism as such no more depends on sectarian attitudes as nationalism does. Indeed, it has most to lose from an unstable province; while nationalist arguments look weaker the better Northern Ireland does. It’s not hard to see why Republicans have been such consistent stirrers of the sectarian pot. They’re not the only sectarians but to somehow suggest sectarianism is mainly a unionist problem is rather odd, for obvious reasons.

    What I think you have to admit is that wanting NI to be in the UK does not require an ounce of sectarianism. Most people who hold that view are perfectly decent, nice people. It’s really not right to throw mud at people purely for their ethnic and national identity.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    parity of esteem … oh yes, we do have it …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    good answer!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the strategy seems to be to try to scapegoat, undermine and demoralise an ethnic group they don’t basically like, so they can ignore and sideline said group in a future united Ireland. They then hope for mass emigration from that people, dull subservience to the dominant culture, or both.

    It’s a quite a “vision” these guys have for us. There’s a whole world of opportunity for us, let’s follow the Irish dream 😉

  • Deke Thornton

    It’s worthwhile looking at O’Neill:

    A very forward looking man who realized the times were changing and it was, as ever, the fearmongers who destroyed his vision.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Spot on, WR

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It was a form of unionism capable of appealing to anyone vaguely progressive. There is still potential for something like this. There’s a big space in the middle which Alliance is only half-owning.

  • Robin Keogh

    I would never suggest for a second that pro union people are sectarian by virtue of the fact that they are pro union. By and large my comments apply almost entirely to political unionism, which could not be more remoned from there clientele if they tried. SF search for social equality and political unity does not make them sectarian. In terms of symbolism at least SF leaders have at least made efforts to reach out, be it attending rememberence events or meeting QE2. There is no tolerence for sectarianism amongst the membership, which is why u dont hear them denigrate the culture of their unionist neighbours.

  • Bryan Magee

    The SDLP have said that if there is a UI then it would be within the strictures and structures of the GFA, which gave NI the right to self determination, whether it’s in the ROI or in the UK: its illogical and untenable to have two different tests of NI will. Hence all rights currently enjoyed would continue in a ROI that included NI..

  • Bryan Magee

    I never understood why its so unthinkable to have catholic unionists especially now that the ROI does not reflect the teachings of the Catholic church so much in its laws (abortion aside). Is there an expectation that Catholic schools would be better protected in ROI?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Maybe I give him too much credit and over rate his influence.
    In which case I am somewhat relieved.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    ” …to scapegoat, undermine and demoralise an ethnic group they don’t basically like..”

    Who are ‘they’?

    Do you mean specifically SF or Joe Sixpack who might well be a nationalist but just plods along in life?

  • sk

    Joe Sixpack, if he votes for SF, has been explicitly described as a morally inferior human being by MU. With that in mind, it’s strange to see him getting upset at the idea of scapegoating a community. He’s all for it usually.

  • ted hagan

    Could people stop using acronyms like UI etc or else we’ll all have start getting in Bletchley Park encryptors. Why not just write united Ireland?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, MainlandUlsterman, what tmitch57 is describing is not “parity of esteem”, which suggests mutual respect (and possibly a polycultural blending through this) but the old “superior claim” (“a Protestant State for a Protestant People’) to the six counties, which is why I said (below) that “With the term “Foreign” he seems to be still regarding the wee six, “their own state”, as swordland still.”

    These two terms “Foreign” about the other tradition and “their own state” describing a purely Unionist Northern Ireland are hard to equate with parity of esteem demands.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, Reader, long posts are my trademark! Never really a sound bite man, me, as reality needs quite a lot of unpacking.

    “That was a long post that basically confirms that tmitch57 and Willow were right.”

    Really? Willow claims that “Ethnicity is cultural,.not racial, you fools.” Not racial? Race is a major component part of ethnicity, although not the only part as I’m attempting to show, but part it is and I’m pretty certain that tmitch57 is thinking of all five catagories, with no little empasis on the “great divide” of race in his thinking! So “confirms that tmitch57 and Willow were right” is simplifying the complex interplay of potentially shared culture and ancestoral inheritance that actually makes up the concept of Ethnicity. As I said, although you may not have read down far enough to see it, the French idea of an “Ethnie” or a purely cultural grouping is what may be used when making statements about cultural affiliations without any racial element. But not Ethnicity as it should be properly defined.

    Back to the main theme. Rather provocatively Heslinga’s “The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide” suggests that EVERYONE in the wee six are pretty similar culturally and rather different to the Big Twenty-Six, but this has been hotly debated since the book first appeared in 1962!

    And the rather cavalier use of Heslinga’s work by political “Two Nations” theorists usually ignores this similaraties Heslinga believed existed amongst both northern communities.

    “Two Nations”:

  • Alan N/Ards

    LoL Will do!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Why not just write united Ireland?

    It takes longer to write and becomes more tedious to read.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Oh dear, SeaanUiNeill, I was replying to Paddy Reilly’s silly post. I actually up-voted tmitch57’s post.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    ‘they’ in that post were the more unthinking kind of Irish nationalists – typified by SF

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s libellous SK and not what I said. I differentiate between the person and the act of voting. The act of voting SF is deeply immoral by any standards; and the person who votes for unrepentant terrorists in that way has to take the full flack for the consequences of that. However, it’s not the only thing they’ll ever do in their life and much of the rest of their lives may be entirely blameless. So I’m not scapegoating a community. I’m merely making the observation – which I would have thought everyone could easily agree with – that voting for people unrepentant about a record of murder on a huge scale is an immoral act. I’d be interested in how you could argue otherwise? But that doesn’t make someone a morally inferior human being, just someone who has done something terrible. They can always change.

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill : Willow claims that “Ethnicity is cultural,.not racial, you fools.” Not racial? Race is a major component part of ethnicity, although not the only part as I’m attempting to show, but part it is and I’m pretty certain that tmitch57 is thinking of all five catagories, with no little empasis on the “great divide” of race in his thinking!
    Only tmitch57 can possibly respond fully to your surprising suggestion that, with 5 meanings of Ethnicity to choose from, he actually meant the only one that doesn’t apply here!
    Now, where does his actual quote “giving up membership in what they regard as their own state for membership in what they regard as a foreign country” fit in the list you kindly provided? Isn’t it ethnicity (iv), and not ethnicity (i) ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, Reader, you are getting confused about the purpose of my mentioning the whole range of ideas (pretty much starting with race), that come into play with the word “ethnicity”. With your words about my “surprising suggestion that, with 5 meanings of Ethnicity to choose from, he actually meant the only one that doesn’t apply here!” I see that you seem to think that I’m reducing the complexity of ethnicity to one thing, but what I’ve actually said (and you quote!) is “I’m pretty certain that tmitch57 is thinking of all five catagories” !!!!

    Unfortunately like Willow, you seemingly are pinpointing just one aspect to the exclusion of the others in yet another exercise of pick and mix! I’d mentioned the pick and mix aspect of Willow’s reductionism as, myself, an historian viewing the anthropological concept of ethnicity. From this perspective ethnicity (iv) only exists because of ethnicity (i). The notion of a Scots Ulster Presbyterian state that he tmitch57 appears to be invoking as a living entity is a concept that only exists because of the plantation of the seventeenth century. The “ethnicity” he is claiming would not exist without this event and current perception of a seperate cultural difference that is rooted in it.

    And yes, tmitch57 is the only person who can tell us exactly what he meant. I’d said this above: “The organ grinder is probably the only person who is actually in any position to correct me on these points.”

    There are many other problems with his sentence “giving up membership in what they regard as their own state for membership in what they regard as a foreign country”. “Their own State” is not simply their own state for a start. It is actually shared with others with other cultural values that at their very root pre-date the plantation, which is why I’d noted that he seemed to be thinking of his “own State” as “swordland” still, in laying full claim to it for his ethnie. But the crux of the matter is the notion of “foreign.” I do not think he was thinking precisely in making the comment, so perhaps he had a vague notion of Scottishness, Britishness, and uniqueness of cultural difference rooted in a racial divide that modern work with DNA shows us does not exist. What he is invoking is in fact a quite recent, and mostly political, invention. Not that there is anything wrong with tradition being invented. Hobsbawm and Ranger’s concept of the “invention of tradition” is much misused to denegrate the process of cultural creation, and all traditions are, after all, always invented by some persons somewhere. None just grow themselves like Topsy. What I feel to be the real problem is that tmitch57 is speaking as if the ethnicity he employs to claim a right to intransigence is something much stronger than a recent invention. This seemingly flags the percieved (but rather inaccurate) racial divide of plantation times, that has been inherited by the modern self-proclamed Ulster Scot.

    But only he can put us right on this, something I await. And I should perhaps add that in my first reply, the one you took umbridge to, I was saying for all those who would quite automatically put pride of Scottish race into his claim of a distinct ethnicity that this was codswallop.

    And Willow was certainly misunderstanding the very concept of ethnicity when he limited its meaning to cultural aspects. Wrong, not right!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And, MU, I was answering your “word”, yes, but also your and tmitch57s comments above!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Although, Reader, I’d suggest you read my earlier answer first, I’d decided to not simply rely on my memories of Anthony D.Smith on Ethnicity (“begins with Kinship” ie: race) and walked over to my workspace to check out the “Shorter Oxford English Dictionary” on my reference shelves. I note one definition on page 685 that may be pertinant to what tmitch57 is actually saying:

    “Ethnic, pertaining to nations not Christian or Jewish; Gentile, Heathen, Pagan.”

    Seriously though, in the SOED ethnology is defined as “The science that treats of races and peoples, their relations, their distinctive characteristics, etc.”

    Willow, also, please note, ethnicity usually defines culture that has some formal relationship to the concept of race. It has been used more loosly since the 1950s, as a sort of translation of the French concept of “Ethnie” into English, but claiming that there is no component of race in the concept remains highly misleading!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah Robin, the word ‘evolved’ in this context brings me unwanted visions of the very last pages of “Animal farm”!!! It’s all those Armani suits worn with M&S ties.

    As Oscar Wilde once said, being really up to date in anything can mean that you suddenly seem very old fashioned without noticing it. Simply rushing to the perceived “centre” at the behest of international finance is not so much policy as political herd instinct.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good for you Alan, CS may tell us it “takes longer to write and becomes more tedious to read” but using entire words has the advantage that we are a little further away from the NewSpeak (NS) world of Initialisms and Acronyms with all the temptation to the de-humanisation of concepts that that offers!

  • mickfealty

    I think the point has already been well made that all Unionism needs is 50+1. So I am not sure how you they need “roughly around a quarter to one third of Catholics to become Unionists”.

    I’m genuinely interested, because to me this is not an even struggle. Looking at the figures whilst I think the reverse is true, I don’t think unionism needs to win over catholics. Indeed, if there’s peace over a sustained period then unionism does not need to remain unionism per se.

    I also think we only see half the picture if we keep viewing these two in isolation from one another. Focusing on unionism to exclusion of nationalisms part and reactions does not tell us much that is useful or reliable about the reality of the situation.

  • mickfealty

    Try flipping the problem and ask how does nationalism go about detaching NI from the UK? In that context significant support from ‘de udder side’ becomes necessary in the proportions David suggests.

    We’ve seen from Scotland (where, thanks to wee Eck’s gradualist approach, it is much less of a cultural problem than in NI) that ‘getting out’ is not as easy as it might look.

    Dropping Protestant numbers is a misleading way to interpret census figures if you don’t also account for: 1, a slowing rise in Catholics; a big jump in ‘others’.

    The latter are escapees from the Stormont categories.

    Their rise also indicates a willingness to play with category busting politics that no one in Stormont (bar the Greens and, even if only fitfully, the Alliance Party) seems willing/able to cater for.

  • Sharpie

    If a United Ireland could be a prospect then the sensible thing to do would be to co-design it. As there is no prospect of it right now any detail of what it might look like is pure nonsense. It could be a million things – depending on who you ask.

    Its shape and form won;t be known or understood until ex-Unionists (by then probably called Protestants) and nationalists sit down with the Irish Government etc and design it according to what is possible and desirable from among that bunch. To do it any differently would be madness on the part of those who didn’t participate – much like the DUP has had to suck up the agreements made in the GFA that they have to live with mostly because they chose not to participate.

  • Sharpie

    Some might see the long term record of successive British Governments as being exactly as you describe: “people unrepentant about a record of murder on a huge scale”. This goes back throughout 800 years of Irish history and in the last 150 years, global history – inventing concentration camps in the Boer War, killing millions of “natives in growing the empire, putting those economies in mercantile penury.

    More recently here we know that the British Government were active participants in the dirty war and had to enter it off the back of decades of institutionalised sectarian abuses by the ruling party.

    Your points raise the debate about who is to blame, who feels remorse, and why that issue is the real stumbling block to people getting on with the reality of living together peacefully in good grace.

    I don’t vote SF (but I know people who do). It is nonsensical to say voting for SF is an immoral act.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Nonsensical, hmmm … so, are you therefore separating the world of moral reasoning from the world of political choice? You seem to be suggesting there is no relationship between the two at all. Do you regard voting BNP with the same equanimity? Voting Nazi?

    I think your eliding of a partial 19th Century history with our previous discussion of the Troubles is a bit weird to be honest and I don’t really understand your point. `I mean, who knows what Benjamin Disraeli would have done as PM in 1975? But it’s a bit of a hypothetical point, I’d have said …

    You imply that as “active participants in the dirty war’, the governments of the day were as guilty as the terrorists. But you don’t explain why. Surely any government has no choice but to get involved in some kind of “dirty war” if a terrorist organisation sticks around as long as the IRA did and does enough damage? What would you have them do? It has a duty to get into espionage, infiltration and undermining of terrorist structures. If that is supposed to put any government tackling terrorism on a par with terrorists, well, how convenient that would be for the terrorists … but you don’t explain why they are the same. I can see why you would want them to be if you take the view you do of Britain – you seem to really hate my country. But weren’t UK governments, whatever they got wrong, at the end of the day trying to stop terrorism – and the terrorists trying to carry it out? It may not always go as smoothly as that but stopping terrorism is, I’m sure you’ll agree, something we should all support the state in doing.

    It’s fine to be critical when the state is doing it badly, makes mistakes or where an agent crosses the line; but it would be odd indeed to combine that criticism with a defence of voting for the terrorists. It would lead some people to suspect the criticism of the security forces wasn’t entirely unclouded by the anti-British animus you display in your post.

  • Sharpie

    It is nonsensical to say it just as it would be nonsensical to say voting for the Conservatives is immoral. It is immoral from your viewpoint.

    Everyone’s viewpoint is their own and the spectrum through which they see the world is different to everyone else’s.

    I can acknowledge your viewpoint and learn from it, but it can never be my point of view. I hear you that you are angry or aggrieved at the troubles. I am too but I don;t hear you wanting to hear that.

    I have no animus towards the British – I am a happy citizen of the UK but what I wanted to show was your own myopia in choosing righteousness inside your political viewpoint. I am saying hat this is the core of the problem we all have here. Each of us believes ourselves to be on the side of right and our community as a victim with the perpetrators being the other community or the State. We all right. Why can;t we acknowledge that rather than judge the other side. We have to acknowledge the hurt and damage our sides visited on the other and to accept that the other side was as much a victim as our own side.

    On another point I believe that States are very much capable of “terrorism”. in fact the UK is kept in a continual state of terror by its own Governance – including IT Spying, public appeals to look out for bombs on the streets, draconian legislation with absolutist powers etc. The concept of terrorism is very moveable and there are very few modern democracies that weren’t created from terrorism – after the time called freedom fighters but at that particular moment described as terrorists.

  • Bryan Magee

    He he. Though I think “ethnic” means culture and not race.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    This all sounds good liberal stuff – the problem is, it’s actually vacuous, and that moral vacuum you foster has malign consequences – perhaps not intended by you, but they happen. So victims are told they are equally to blame as their tormentors; good people trying to help the public are treated as the equivalent of the criminals they try to stop; and so on. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say it’s all opinion.

    In philosophy circles, I gather moral relativism is, after some years of post-modern fashionability, really no longer regarded as having any coherence. There are some cultural issues about when to impose agreed standards – but ultimately you need to decide whether you think female genital mutilation is acceptable or not. To say it’s in the eye of the beholder is to condemn a whole lot of girls to something we should be doing everything we can to stop.

    You talk of my “myopia in choosing righteousness inside your political viewpoint.” Two problems with that:
    (1) I’m only excluding the very most extreme views from the arena of political acceptability – racism, support for terror groups, support for crimes against women etc. I realise I run the risk of being misconstrued as morally grandstanding here. But the alternative is worse – the apparent neutral stance isn’t neutral at all, it is also taking a moral position, one that says ‘anything goes for a political party’, we must suspend moral judgements about them. where this leads standards in public life is a question to be answered. Which leads onto …
    (2) as I’ve argued elsewhere on Slugger, the idea that morality exists somewhere outside the human sphere doesn’t really bear serious scrutiny, as Michael Sandel and others have so brilliantly argued in recent years. So morality is relevant in the regulation of markets; in choices around taxation; ultimately in pretty much all our political choices. I know it’s unusual – or used to be – to talk in overtly moral terms about political issues. But I think Sandel is dead right – moral issues are suffused throughout the choices people make in the public realm. People are making moral choices even when they don’t realise they are doing so. In applying a clear moral judgment to voting for a party so intimately connected to the death squads of the Troubles, I am making a point not just against SF but against the idea of politics in a moral vacuum. We have values as a society – they are shared values, more than we may think at times – but we need to stand up for them. If we let SF get away with their continuing evasions about their past, we aren’t being neutral, we are giving up society to ethnic chauvinism, cruelty and brutality. I think we can aspire to something better but we have to stand up for it.

    So in short, it’s no casual rant against the Shinners – it’s a consistent and evenly applied point from the middle about how we should regard support for such an extremist party. It seems to me there is a danger of them being normalised. But if we regard what they think as normal, we make the deep scars of the Troubles worse. The ‘let it go’ response is tempting and seems virtuous – but it’s doing long term damage to Northern Ireland’s trauma can only be worked through with hard truths. One of those hard truths is that SF are unrepentant apologists for terror. A vote for them is by no stretch of the imagination an act without moral repercussions.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The best way to look at the relative sizes of the ‘communities’, I think, is relative parity. That’s likely to be the case for decades, but who knows what demographic changes might occur – change hasn’t been in a straight line over the years.

    Mick’s right to point out the falling ‘Protestant’ numbers, while definitely there, may not be quite as dramatic as it at first appears; and may not change the unionist/nationalist equation that much in reality. (The highest proportions of ‘non-aligned’ people live in some of the most Protestant parts of NI (Carrick, North Down, N’ards), for example.) But the overall picture is clear, we’re as near parity as anything. That doesn’t mean a UI is close. Ipsos MORI’s 2013 poll had support for a united Ireland at 17 per cent:
    The highest I’ve seen it in a recent poll is 26 per cent. Hardly banging on the door.

    Nationalist expectancy of a united Ireland being close seems to be based purely on a religiously-based headcount, as the polls give nationalism very little succour on sovereignty.

    It seems a lot of Ulster Catholics vote for nationalist parties so they are represented by ‘their own’, people will look after their interests, which is understandable given how divided a society we are these days. But it also seems very large numbers of Catholic voters don’t actually want a change of sovereignty any time soon. It does suggest quite strongly that NI being in the UK hasn’t been quite the nightmare for Ulster Catholics that Republican politicians portray. If the Republican narrative were actually true, you’d expect a much, much higher percentage running for the exit door. But that’s not happening.

    So why the big SF vote? Among many other factors, I sense it’s about enjoying being assertive as a community after a long time of feeling this wasn’t possible; and perceived payback against unionists, whom they (rightly or wrongly) associate with exacerbating Catholic disadvantage. I suspect that outside the hardcore of traditional ‘armed force’ Republicans, it hasn’t got a lot to do with relishing the horror of the IRA campaign; the problem with that raft of SF voter is rather that they too glibly dismiss its horror, scale and needlessness and parrot the IRA’s crap excuses rather uncritically.

  • And you wonder why the Unionsits always kick back against a United Ireland. You have just managed to denigrate a million people, calling them self-destructive and ill-educated. Then you use loaded language talking about a “rapidly shrinking population”. This is simply not the truth. No rioting in West Belfast or Derry due to largely homogenous populations. Where there is rioting, it takes place at interface areas and requires two to tango. The Catholic population is relatively stagnant as birth rates converging with Protestant birth rates.
    If reckoning day ever comes, we lowly Unionists can but hope that we won’t be living under the administration of people with your mindset, where you’d rather have us die out than share in the fruits of your 32 county Promised Land.

  • Robin Keogh

    I have made it perfectly clear that i am referring to political unionism and not unionists in general.

  • sk

    Libelous you say?

    You see the trouble with sites like this, MU, is that people are free to scroll back through your comments and confront you with your own bullshit.

    Of Sinn Fein voters, you said that they have “left decent
    society” and “cannot call themselves decent human beings”.

    Again: “cannot call themselves decent human beings”.

    You did not differentiate between “the act of voting” and
    the person themselves. Yes, you subsequently made some mealy-mouthed attempts to temper your sectarian remarks (must protect the “moderate” shtick, after all) butI’m afraid the horse had already bolted by then.

    Mainland Ulsterman declared that Sinn Fein voters are lesser human beings than he. He then cried “Libel!!” when somebody had the temerity to remind him of this fact. The latest in a long list of insufferable comments by everyone’s favourite “moderate”.

    Can I expect an email from your solicitors?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Wow, that’s quite a string of vitriol there. I’ll try and respond in as measured a way as I can.

    Firstly, I used to practise as a solicitor! So I’m not talking in a completely loose way about libel. You should be very careful about ad hominem comments on here or any other site.

    i absolutely stand by my comments about voting for SF and I think it’s a view shared by many: it is a disgrace. Nothing mealy-mouthed about my views on that. Opposing all terrorist apologist parties is not sectarian and that’s what I take exception to. SF is by far the biggest of those and they are in power and affect politics here massively, hence they get the most attention. But it is libellous to call me sectarian, as I think you probably know.

    Your evidence is flimsy – that I said people who vote for such a party cannot call themselves decent human beings, have left decent society etc. That isn’t being sectarian. It’s implicit in that – and I later made it explicit – that I’m criticising people for voting in that way, they are at liberty not to vote that way and I am urging them to do so. It’s your assumption and not mine that once someone votes SF they are damned for life. Of course they aren’t – they can change and I hope many do, if they come to appreciate the hurt and damage they are doing by their support of such an organisation. That isn’t being sectarian, I say the same about people voting for people unapologetic about carrying out Loyalist violence. It simply isn’t sectarian to regard what the terrorists did in the Troubles as appalling and to regard people who support them now as having massively let themselves and everyone else here down. I’ve put it in blunt terms but I think many people would see it as “harsh but fair.”

    You also think you can’t both be moderate and be tough on extremists – that somehow using excoriating language about terrorist apologism is immoderate. I don’t see the contradiction – and I’ve explained many times on here I actively believe in the centre being prepared to stand up in blunt terms. I think it really bothers you not to be able to write off critics of SF as extremists and you’re not used to someone from the centre of politics being blunt about they think of parties like SF – we’re supposed to talk moderately too. I don’t see why we should. You can be in the centre and talk plainly too – they are not opposites.

    I clearly get under your skin, which isn’t the intention. I’m just putting my take on things forward, just like you are. Try not to get abusive and personal please.

  • sk

    A long-winded exercise in obfuscation there.

    Ad hominem attacks? Vitriol? What would you call questioning someone’s status as a human being simply because they happen to vote for a party you dislike?

    As for the exchange above, I suggest you re-read it, because it’s there in black and white: you accused me of “libel’ because i pointed out that you consider Sinn Fein voters to be morally inferior.

    That accusation was utterly debunked by a five minute scroll through your previous contributions, so now you’re finding something else to scream “libel” about.

    The boy who cried libel. MU, you’re worse than a DUP assemblyman the day after a spotlight documentary.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Again you fail to answer the point. You can’t just call people sectarian for pointing out that voting for extremist parties reflects negatively morally on those so doing. That applies to the Austrian Freedom Party, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Front National in France, BNP and so on. But SF’s record of intimidation and murder of its opponents puts all those in the shade. My point is that they are not just in the class of political parties you disagree with – their record of murder places them in a category all of their own. They are not a normal political party – and people voting for that kind of outfit do so with their eyes open and should be prepared to take flack for it. They need to understand how other people feel about it – their moral Walter Mitty act affects all of us.

    So it was and is libellous. But of course I wouldn’t dream of prosecuting, have you any idea what it costs? Not to mention the hassle.

    ‘Ad hominem’ doesn’t mean talking about people generally, SK, it means talking about one particular person, in this context the writer. It’s what you’re not meant to do on Slugger, it’s supposed to be a place for conversation about the issues, not personal attacks.

  • sk

    My initial comment: “if he votes for SF, has been explicitly described as a morally inferior human being by MU.”

    Your response: “That’s libellous SK and not what I said”

    Problem is, it very much is what you said:

    “[SF voters} have left decent Society.”

    “[SF Voters] cannot call themselves decent human beings”

    Goodnight Matlock.

  • MainlandUlsterman


  • MainlandUlsterman

    Wonderful except I didn’t say, did I, they were “morally inferior human beings” – that is an absurd statement I would never say. I’m not even sure what a “morally inferior human being” would be. It’s meaningless. It’s surely quite fair to say if you vote for a terrorist apologist party you have left decent society / can’t call yourself a decent human being – but that doesn’t make you a “morally inferior human being”, whatever that is. That phrase goes much further than I did, as it seems to suggest some kind of generalised inability to think morally. But that would be absurd and I didn’t say anything like that.

    I’m sure most SF voters, like many voters for extremists, may live fairly blameless lives in other ways. But it’s important they understand that any sympathy with terrorists is incompatible with basic human decency. I don’t think they necessarily mean to do something harmful – I suspect many sleepwalk into it, just preferring to not think about what SF are and what they did. But really, given what we all know about SF and its history and personnel, there is no excuse for voting for them.

    So yes they have left decent society by voting for unrepentant terrorists and you can’t call yourself a decent human being, can you, if you do that. They should be judged for doing that. But it’s not forever – and that’s the mistake you made in interpreting my words. A SF voter can become an SDLP voter or an Alliance voter, just as many people who voted Nazi in the early 30s later voted CDU or SPD in the 50s. They couldn’t call themselves decent human beings while voting Nazi, but in the 50s they were mainly capable of leading moral lives. I hold out the same hope for people who have been seduced by our own violent extreme nationalist organisations on both sides. But they do need to stop voting for them first. They can and should be morally judged until they come to their senses and change their behaviour.

  • Morpheus

    Repulsive. A flegger with a degree, nothing more

  • sk

    They’re not decent human beings, but that’s not to say they are morally inferior human beings. The former is a meaningful description but the latter isn’t. Or something.

    As I said. Insufferable.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    arf arf!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    sticking with the ad hominem approach then Morpheus? You’ve enjoyed great success with that.

  • Morpheus

    I see nothing wrong with ad homineum against a person with a repulsive, bigoted view on fellow human beings, thousands and thousands of people you don’t even know. Your outlook belongs in a forgotten time and you should be ashamed.