I’ve written before what my views as a “small u” unionist (or as I prefer, a “big picture unionist) are on Sinn Fein, and to be honest, the approach I take as a voter is the same for SF as it is for all the parties, there is 1 party I find much more comfort in voting for, because they are more often than not aligned with my stance on issues, but beyond that…it’s purely a “who will serve us best.”
I don’t look at what a party will or will not do if and when a border question arises, that is a question for then, not for now. There are a surplus of people across communities who can’t look past this schism, maybe they make up the majority, maybe they don’t… but ultimately we have one thing in common, wanting the best for ourselves, our friends & family, our communities (however wide of a net you wish to throw over that word…).
When Gerry Adams spoke at the 2015 Ard Fheis about unionism, about people like me, he said:
Republicans have to listen and pay heed to constructive criticism of our alternative. The Unionist parties say they are against Irish unity but will support measures that are to the mutual advantage of both sections of our people.
That’s welcome and sensible. We have to build and hold them to that. Politics in both parts of this island is in flux. Many people now realise that that it makes no sense to have two economies, two education systems, two health systems, two tax codes, two currencies on one small island. The sense of one island, one Ireland can work for everyone.
I believe we need a national conversation on all of this. A conversation about the future.
I believe all genuine progressive social and political forces across this island, including unionists and working class loyalists, should develop a common platform for political progress.
A new Citizens’ Charter, encapsulating fundamental principles could take us towards a citizen-centred, rights-based society. It could be a new departure in Irish politics. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
The people of this island, whether urban or rural, from whatever background or tradition, share a common history and our futures are bound together.
We need reminded again and again that our flag is Orange. I’ll say it again, our flag is orange. Orange as well as green. Orange is part of what we are. That is our potential. And our challenge. To unite Orange and Green in equality and mutual respect.
To embrace the opinion of unionism as leader of Sinn Fein should send a serious warning message to Messrs Robinson & Nesbitt. The strength in divisive politics has always been in polarizing the argument, we hear so much about a parties core voters, Billy Orange from the Cregagh Rd may not be swayed by words of outreach from Adams, but there are those who will be. Is the same outreach coming from the unionist side?
This weekend marked the 600th day since the Twaddell Avenue camp was set up in protest to the Orange Lodges not being permitted to parade down a particular street. Our 2 main unionist party leaders have limited choices here, they can either support the right of the lodges to parade, and alienate any nationalists who believe this is the wrong decision…or they can support the nationalist residents with the principle of “an
englishmans irishmans home is his castle”, there isn’t a plan C, much like the border poll issue, you’re either with us or you’re against us. The Orange Lodges represent that core vote for each party, Robinson & Nesbitt are fearful of reaching out to any nationalist cause for fear of alienating their supporters…of course the voters don’t have a great deal of option on where else to mark their X, but the TUV or another upstart would further divide the unionist encampment. Whereas Adams, McGuinness et al. can reach across the divide all day long, trying to persuade unionist voters that the green side isn’t necessarily the dark side…what a wonderful position to be in, and how frustrating it must be for DUP/UUP.
I don’t doubt that within those parties there are many voices all wanting to do the same, to embrace nationalists and show them that there is a place for them in Northern Ireland & UK, the problem there is as much voter perception as it is time, nationalists have found it hard going to find a place for themselves in this union for some considerable time now, so debates on the irish language, on dual language street signs, on flags, it’s all been done before, it’s recycling rhetoric for the sake of it… whereas Sinn Fein can talk about a united ireland (both for unionists and nationalists) like it’s some sort of Shangri-La, where points win prizes & taxes don’t matter, I don’t imagine Gerry Adams pictures a utopian society a lá Logans Run (with less state mandated euthanisia) where unionist children in replica Linfield shirts play cross code football with little republican children in their Kilkenny colours… but there is no cost to him saying this.
A lot of what Sinn Fein says about a United Ireland is tactically similar to what Lib Dems have been saying for decades… you can write policies of whimsy and delight when you are reasonably confident you won’t have to implement them. With no solid suggestion that a UI is likely in the immediate future, they can promise what they want and seem like the good guys whilst doing it. Some of it will seem like exactly that, a Green santas list of sorts, but every once in a while, they will hit on something that strikes a chord with pro-union voters like me.
When Gerry Adams talks about uniting Orange & Green in equality and mutual respect, hold that up against what Northern Irish unionist leaders say…that the Sinn Fein wish list is akin to Toilet Paper, and the infamous Curry My Yoghurt line… who looks like the bigger person? Who looks like a respectable statesman, a leader to be respected. Imagine a world where Sinn Fein invite a loyalist bands forum to their Ard Fheis or where Martin McGuinness pays his respects to the Queen? You don’t have to, it has happened. What about a world where a “blood & thunder” loyalist band is invited to play at Féile an Phobail by a local MLA? Not exactly a stretch of the imagination. What about on the other side of the wall (so to speak), could you picture Jim Wells taking a public irish language class? Could you picture Edwin Poots attending a 1916 centenery event in Dublin on behalf of the DUP? You wouldn’t get great odds on it thats for sure… This past week Peter Robinson went to an event at the Kennedy Centre in West Belfast and made a huge song and dance about merely going to that area… small steps for sure but I can’t see him taking much bigger ones.
Don’t get me wrong, and before the “HERE BE LUNDYS” shouts come out, I cannot conceive of me ever voting for a United Ireland in a referendum, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t comfortably live with a SF led assembly. The british media have built up a bogey-man persona around Gerry Adams for decades, and he so easily dispels the image by saying the right thing, talking about equality, about womens rights, about shared futures… bogey man? him? the fella saying that our neighbours are gay and we love them for who they are? Who seems more like an enemy of the people…Paul Givan and his conscience clause bill? Edwin Poots/Jim Wells and their irrational loathing of gay blood? Gregory Campbell and his Spicy/Dairy lunch snack? or Gerry Adams…?
This isn’t an outright support piece for Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein, I hope unionist parties eventually learn that if they want to keep the future of the union intact, they need to embrace the green in the same way that SF embrace the orange. I want a unionist party that condemns the atrocities of the past on both sides, that says you can walk and parade on these streets, if you handle that privilege responsibly and conscientiously then you’ll keep that privilege. I want a unionist party that says if you want your street sign to be in Irish, that’s ok. If you want to remember the members of your community that died in the process of getting to where we now are, I want a unionist party that protects that right for all, but that will condemn those who abuse it or those who encroach on others rights. I want a fair unionist party to represent Me, Billy Orange, Padraig O’Poleglass and all in between, it doesn’t exist now…maybe someday.
There are sections of Adams speech that i would greatly enjoy debating with him, the “one island, one Ireland” passages, borders are arbitrary, there is arguably as much sense in combining Northern Ireland & ROI as there is in combining Canada & USA or Spain & Portgual, but that’s ok, because that’s not what we’re talking about….yet.
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.