What does the future hold for the UUP?

Craig Harrison writes for us about his views of the UUP conference and its future

Anyone who was near the recent UUP conference will have gotten the distinct impression that this is a party in a confident mood.

This confidence has its roots in the perceived vindication brought with the independent assessment of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland, and a renewed self-assurance that leaving the Stormont Executive was the right thing to do.

If the buzz around the room wasn’t a subtle enough hint of this, UUP chairman Reg Empey articulated it outright in his speech, predicting that the next elections would witness the best UUP performance for some time.

This is a prediction shared, to some extent, by those beyond the party membership, with some political commentators speculating that if there was an election soon, the UUP would make notable gains.

It is more than a little odd, to say the least, that this newly invigorated UUP would emerge almost as a direct result of a horrid few months in Northern Irish politics. But regardless of how we’ve gotten here, the UUP is moving ahead with its chest puffed out.

Particularly, Mike Nesbitt is enjoying perhaps some of the most thorough backing of his time at the helm. During the conference, local polling company Lucid Talk surveyed a sample of the party’s membership, the results of which were published in the Belfast Telegraph. This showed that 90% of those polled rated Nesbitt’s leadership with the highest score available, while an even greater majority stated their belief that going into opposition was the right thing to do.

So the UUP is undoubtedly on a high, but the important question is whether this can be transferred into genuine electoral and political gain.

Many may find it hard to disagree with the predication that, if an election were held next week, the UUP would make some ground on the DUP. The fact is, however, that DUP Ministers returning permanently to office has made it appear less likely that we’re heading toward an early election.

Issues over welfare reform are of course still outstanding, but Peter Robinson putting his Ministers back behind their desks has added a degree of solidity to the political climate that many – but perhaps not the UUP – will be grateful for.

As long as the DUP Ministers remained absent, the UUP could continue to berate them for what most of the Assembly had labelled dereliction of duty. But with DUP Ministers back in post, their unionist counterparts now face the prospect of a degree of normalization returning in the run up to May 2016, during which public opinion will – to some extent at least – lose focus on the DUP’s perceived failings.

It’s a very old cliché, but a week is a long time in politics, and a few months even longer still. The extreme degree of unpredictability scare this commentator away from trying to make any firm guesses for what the future holds. All we can be certain of now is that the UUP are riding on a wave of backing, and the party will do its best to ensure that this is turned into electoral results, whenever the time may be.

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  • Robin Keogh

    Mike Nesbitt has given the notion of Unionist Unity a severe beating, he has pretty much lined up beside the sectarian TUV but at the same time opened up discussion within the party on issues such as marraige equality and the irish language. He has been quite clever in fairness and rightly feels on top form. He saw a crack in the DUP and lost no time taking advantage of it.

  • Zig70

    If you read into the 90% figure supporting leaving power sharing then they have moved into a busy tribal corner. The Irish stuff will dismissed out of hand by the 90% as oh so clever politics and remain as a soundbite. Another year will bring more incidents like flegs and joint statements with loyalists. Mike is a populist and as such will try to please everyone which will make him easy to trip up for the dup. I say little will change, nothing to see here.

  • submariner

    Robin ,the thing is come the election the DUP know what makes the Unionist electorate tick. They will be screaming Themmuns from the rooftops and the Unionist voters will row in behind them to stop a Taig being the first minister. It really is that simple.

  • Zeno

    Those tactics didn’t work for Gerry Kelly in North Belfast when he called for sectarian voting. Maybe the electorate are getting smarter

  • Lord Coleraine

    I don’t even know why he mentioned marriage equality. I’d say around 10% of the party, if not less, is in favour. Why even bother bringing it up?

  • Nevin

    Robin, Unionist Unity and Nationalist Unity operate in limited contexts. For example, SF gets a regular kicking in the Dáil from other nationalist parties yet when Mike asked whether or not there were PAC members taking part in the current Stormont exchanges he was rebuffed by Charlie Flanagan as well as by Theresa Villiers. Back in 1996, at the time of the Athboy conspiracy, the Irish government played the green card.

  • Granni Trixie

    He wants to have it all ways. Bit like ‘reaching out’ yet having large flag on the conference platform? Or talk of ‘reconciliation’ yet opting for sectarian pacts. The conundrum is that it can pay off in electoral terms…..or not.

    Interesting that gay marriage element of his speech attracted more attention than others but not sure if he intended this to be at the expense of reporting his ‘big’ ideas (I jest,of course).

  • Lord Coleraine

    It really just looks to me like he makes things up as he goes along. Either that, or he doesn’t think of the consequences of saying certain things. I feel the majority of people on either side of the gay marriage debate are growing tired of it now.

    I noticed the flag too. As long as the UUP’s logo is a Northern Ireland map with a Union Flag in it, it can’t really claim to be either cross-community or liberal. Also, I doubt there’ll be many pacts from here on in (well maybe in 2020).

    I think my own constituency can be a microcosm for the future of the UUP. Have they done enough to retake the seat they lost in 2011?

  • peepoday

    There is no real substance to the UUP stance.They like the DUP would share power with the IRA army council if they were elected.They cannot build on their recent success, because they are the unionist party that abandoned their principles to go into the original government with sinn feinn.

  • Robin Keogh

    It might be an effort to shift the party onto a more progressive footing and scoop up votes from non homophobic unionists

  • Lord Coleraine

    It could well be, although that would be a real uphill struggle. I’d say not a single UUP MLA will vote in favour of the marriage equality motion on 2nd November. Doesn’t make them look very progressive.

  • mac tire

    What does the future hold for the UUP? Perhaps a lot of confusion.

    “…to those of us who cannot bring ourselves to support same sex marriage, I
    say this – we are on the wrong side of history. There is a new
    generation coming and they simply do not understand why there is a
    problem.”

    Yesterday Mike confirmed, despite ‘challenging himself’, that he was still willing to be on the wrong side of history. Is he suggesting that he is a man of modern ideas but unwilling to push them through?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The UUP didn’t abandon principles, they did the right thing and chose to show trust in a party across the divide – only to have that thrown back in their face. The lesson for unionism from showing trust and ‘jumping first’ was a stark one: SF didn’t mean it about reconciliation or fair dealing and really just wanted to shaft unionists. No wonder the DUP was then seen as the more natural party for unionists to turn to in the aftermath of that bit of political theatre.

    The whole of politics is still damaged by SF’s cynical, self-serving failure to meet Trimble’s challenge of trust. Trimble’s political career was effectively ended by it, but it’s SF that carries the bad karma to this day. Its cynicism has poisoned NI politics. But Trimble and the UUP can hold their heads up.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Nesbitt deserves a lot of credit just now. He made the right call over the latest SF scandal – the right call because it reflects how the wider public feel about it.

    Those who condemned Nesbitt for opportunism missed a fairly basic point. With other party leaders refusing to take action as scandal engulfed SF, seeking business as usual when the public out there wanted answers and action, someone in the political beltway had to do something. Well done him for at least trying.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    is that really what you think makes unionist voters tick – just sectarianism? Really? We may disapprove of people voting for SF and the DUP and we can criticise them for it, but if doesn’t mean sectarianism is what makes them tick. Not even for SF. But of course people are affected by what the ‘other side’ does, on both sides; it’s a symbiotic relationship. No point just blaming one side for the bad feeling.

  • Robin Keogh

    Lets see how it pans out

  • Lord Coleraine

    Indeed. Not hopeful though.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am not sure u are accurate regarding public opinion. Commentary on the streets as broadcast by UTV and BBC seemed to suggest that people wanted their politicians at their desks sorting out the issues.

  • Robin Keogh

    SF have made some bad moves on the reconciliation path i accept that. But, it takes both sides to move in that direction and if we are being fair about it we should accept that unionism has not exactly trumphed on the Cathokic outreach front.

  • Robin Keogh

    I think Gavin Robinsobs attack on naomi long when she lost east belfast and the unionist leaflet campaign added to stubborness on the Irish Language issue and refusal to make room for the tricolour allows some to conclude that sectarianism is very much at the heart of Unionist political ideology.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’m not so sure that he wouldn’t still be facing accusations of oportunism if the Paramilitary Monitoring Panel’s report hadn’t fallen into his lap. He neither foresaw it nor commissioned it after all.
    I’m also not sure that “scandal” ever “engulfs” Sinn Fein either.

  • Granni Trixie

    I so agree with this. If every time there is a serious problem parties walked away to make a point we would never get to grips with it. So whilst I welcome anyone trying to do anything to sort out paramilitary criminality (across the board,ofcourse) walking away was the wrong thing to do.

  • Granni Trixie

    Or give leadership?

  • Granni Trixie

    Was with you all the way until you reached the last line. A bit of humility about unionist misrule for such a long time wouldn’t go amiss.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    he wasn’t walking away though – as I put it in another post, he wasn’t switching supermarkets, just writing an irate letter to the manager. UUP very much still in the business of trying to make Stormont work, from what I can see. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘reculer pour mieux sauter’ – and that’s what (still) needs to be done. Business as usual is the enemy, when things aren’t going well. Someone had to stand up and say it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    that ended in 1972 though. I have no problem acknowledging it generally, just don’t think it’s so relevant to talking about Trimble in 2003 or Nesbitt in 2015.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    true – it’s been pretty poor. There’s been a retrenchment on both sides since the trust evaporated in the early years after the GFA.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    true, SF never seem engulfed by the scandals they’re in – not because there is no scandal, but because they are shameless.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst of course I thought the GR attack was bad form I find it interesting the extent to which it seems to have struck a negative chord with so many. There are so many other things to complain about,some of which you refer to.

  • Thomas Barber

    Well your right he does deserve credit for acting like most unionist politicians, opportunistic hypocrites who have long ago abandoned the pretense that unionism had principles or that they were honest. Perhaps when we see them practicing what they preach rather than lecturing about not standing shoulder to shoulder against paramilitarism with a political party that insists the IRA no longer exists but then continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with a party that represents loyalist paramilitaries who have murdered 40 people since their so called ceasefires. You couldn’t make it up Its up there with Ken Wilkinson of the PUP who believes those Irishmen and women who fought and died in the 1916 rebellion were traitors. Obviously he knows nothing about his peoples history and their tendency to bite the hand that feeds them especially their king and country or maybe he’s just another unionist politician who can speak out of both sides of his mouth.

  • Robin Keogh

    I was horrified that when tensions were already high after the terror campaign against the APNI that he couldnt find it in his heart to be magnanimous.

  • peepoday

    Both unionist parties have abandoned principles by entering into government with the IRA.

  • Granni Trixie

    I stood in WB once “achieving” but a few hundred votes ( Adams got thousands!) but everybody on the results platform was very polite to each other .- playing the game has a role. Plus there is such a thing as being a good sport.

    I believe that GR made his misjdgement Partly due to exhaustion but mainly because of lack of experience hence not knowing how it would play out.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    “shameless” is attending meetings with, and giving speeches to, loyalist paramilitary front groups and then saying that action needs to be taken against SF.

    While I’m at it, shameless is standing up on a podium and saying that people who oppose gay marriage are in danger of becoming yesterday’s men, and then admitting that you still oppose gay marriage yourself.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The UUP didn’t abandon principles, they did the right thing and chose to show trust in a party across the divide – only to have that thrown back in their face.

    You say that as if Unionism has never thrown anything back in the face of anyone else.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Nesbitt was referring to the 100 year history of the IRA on Nolan the other day, specifically its tendancy over time to return to violent means.

  • Robin Keogh

    No, it was standard vulgarity straight from the DUP manual on how to be antagonistic/offensive/ rude etc.

  • Gaygael

    If you look at lucid poll they did a poll on marriage at the UU conference. 56% of members supported it. Mike is shifting them.

  • Gaygael

    North belfast?

  • Lord Coleraine

    East Derry~Londonderry. I can’t see them gaining a seat in North Belfast.

  • Lord Coleraine

    I didn’t see that actually. Maybe there is some hope! It’s a pretty powerful signal, though, that none of their MLAs will back it.

  • Barneyt

    There is an acceptance of where Republicanism was and where it is now. Agree or not but there is a massive difference. This welcomed delta is not lost on the public and media and it serves to attenuate “scandals” when considered against this past. It matters little if there is an IRA Army Council when they are acknowledged to support political methods and have a reduced mobilisation capability. If the council is pulling the SF strings, this surely offers more assurance, as the perception has been (in some quarters) that SF has controlled their “active” elements and was responsible for encouraging them towards a political approach and relative peace. Despite recent revelations, we remain in goldilocks territory, especially when compared against the past. This is why the “scandal” fails to engulf.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Thing is though Barney, 17 years on now from Good Friday, we have a decision. Do we accept “better than it was before” as good enough and let things trundle on like that, with SF remaining this party that gets to work to a different set of rules from all others, retain links to paramilitaries etc? Or do we say the transitional phase was supposed to have ended years ago and we just want our political parties to be normal now?
    This is the decision we now have.

    Personally, I don’t think political parties should have paramilitary wings. I also think there were fair rules laid out back in the late 90s on this, in the form of the Mitchell Principles, which made the same point even back then.

    SF have to face reality now: a bit of constructive ambiguity may have been useful for a temporary transitional period to get the violence stopped. But it’s long since rotted into something toxic. If SF, or anyone, thinks mutual respect and trust between the two communities is served by SF retaining close IRA links – even a for now ‘peaceful’ IRA – they are simply deluding themselves. Paramilitaries need to be gone, yesterday.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it may well be those things too. But you’d agree SF is shameless over its IRA links?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no, I don’t. Question is, was the UUP right then? Hard to not give Trimble credit for jumping first. Huge political risk but he showed amazing political courage and imagination – and he called SF’s bluff. Fair play to him.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not even a UUP supporter these days, I’m generally Labour – but no one’s saying all history is out of bounds for political discussion in Northern Ireland, I’m just saying keep it relevant. My point to GT was that surely it’s OK to praise the UUP now for something it does well without necessarily having to reference the pre-72 governments, as a matter of discussion etiquette. Not referencing them does not mean you massively approve of their record, surely? And I don’t.

    There is also a wider point about the use of ’50 years of unionist misrule’ by some as a diversionary tactic to stifle debate about late 20th Century and early 21st Century politics. The last UUP government ended in 1972 and their serial failings have since been dwarfed by the terrorism and terror apologism of Republicanism and Loyalism. They are an odd target for ire in this day and age.

  • Granni Trixie

    You sound as if you accept that there was a legitimate grievance which mobilised people pre 72
    (And before you say it I do not consider that grievance justified physical force).

    However since 1972 Time and time again we see unionists deny the state of affairs during Unionist rule, that’s why it’s relevant now.
    For example, didn’t unionists produce a paper to challenge the idea that ther was lack of fair employment practices? Competing narratives lives on!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My Lord, you’re aware that Jeff Dudgeon is a UUP councillor doing some excellent work at present. I’d hope he is offered the chance of a seat up on the hill next straw count.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think there was a need for change and in particular a need to give nationalists more of a stake in politics, yes. But I don’t think things were spectacularly bad and much of the differential in outcomes for the two communities wasn’t really the government’s fault but down to deep-seated structural issues around how the two communities had developed and inter-related. The big failing of the unionist governments were in not doing enough about it, and slightly exacerbating it in some areas, but I don’t think they actually caused the bulk of the problem – any government would have had to deal with similar issues.

    The reality is that the 1921-72 governments weren’t great but nowhere near as bad, or as malicious in their intent, as is sometimes asserted. The received wisdom of unremitting UUP awfulness in all areas during that period is wrong in several key areas, which historians have pointed out (e.g. housing – read Henry Patterson on that). And the idea that NI functioned as a kind of Hibernian South Africa, which many nationalists now have come to believe, is utter nonsense.

    The public image issue for unionists these days is whether it’s worth pointing out where the criticisms were exaggerated – and come across as somehow not accepting their failures – or just for the sake of PR, writing the whole period off. The answer to that depends on whether you’re primarily interested in the actual truth, or in image management. Personally, I think it’s quite possible to be critical about the UUP in power pre-72 while also being critical of many of the critics – particularly where they indulged (as many did) in half-truth, untruth and exaggeration and themselves clung to failed sectarian models of how to improve Northern Irish society.

    So be brutally honest about unionist failures yes, but look at others too and in particular look at the context in which unionism operated at that time. We can do worse than just read the leading historians of the period such as Alvin Jackson, Paul Bew, Paul Arthur, Henry Patterson and so on. None of those are cheerleaders for the UUP, most quite the opposite; and they’ll give you a more rounded and informed view than we really get from many on these pages.

  • Lord Coleraine

    I am aware of Cllr Dudgeon and a sexy man he is too. I agree he would make an excellent MLA and probably would have more of a chance than that fellow who looks like a ventriloquist’s doll.

    I would say, though, that Cllr Dudgeon is only one voice in the UUP. As far as I’m aware, there is no UUP LGBT wing, no presence at Pride, no participation by anyone from the UUP at debates on LGBT issues etc. That’s before we get onto their continued tribalistic jingoism, their role in the flag protests and their cosying up to paramilitaries when it suits them. They certainly have a long way to go before they become what NI21 was trying to be.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d agree, my Lord, that the UUP are hardly beginning to set up a LGBT wing to compete for youth membership with the Green Party, but they still field a few decent people who can offer quite a different approach to the DUP consensus from their (seemingly) early Victorian check list. Just check out Danny Kinahan for one:

    But yes, quite a few not so “nice people” still vote UUP also. But the party has always been a rather broad church, even, for those who take the trouble to look, from its very early days, with quite a few surprises, some pleasant (like Danny and Jeff) some, admittedly, rather less so. But I’d still believe they’d make better speed on the steeper uphill gradients than the DUP could ever hope to do.

  • Lord Coleraine

    I agree. They might even take over from the DUP as the main unionist party some day, but it’ll be a long way off I think. Mike still looks to me like he’s flip flopping a lot.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I agree too, still not exactly a party of heroes yet, and, after all, audentes fortuna iuvat……….

  • Sharpie

    I think you make some interesting points. Many Nationalists regard the 1922 to 1972 years as kind of lost. The mis rule was the sand in the eyes on top of having their nation taken from them. They were ready to enjoy nation building across the whole island and when it was just in reach it was violently taken away. This act of oppression seemed to leave them brow beaten and cowed, something that only got to be challenged when education through the welfare state created aspirational social mobility. Most of that Catholic generation of the 30’s and 40’s emigrated – those that stayed kept their head down, read the Irish Press and went to mass where they could find some kind of common expression.

    As for getting rounded opinions on these pages – you are having a laugh. This is all about announce and defend. The stronger your point is opposed the more you dig in the heels. Thran. We have that in common at least.

  • Reader

    Barneyt: It matters little if there is an IRA Army Council when they are acknowledged to support political methods and have a reduced mobilisation capability. If the council is pulling the SF strings, this surely offers more assurance…
    So, do you think SF should stop lying about this sort of stuff?

  • Robin Keogh

    No, he had clearly practised and rehearsed his speech. Plenty of time for an intellegent individual to think twice on his choice of words. He chose to shove Naomi’s face in the mud and laugh while he was doing it. Shameful

  • Robin Keogh

    Or because the so-called scandals are manufactured and engineered to get good people to believe good lies.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am a shinner nua ( modern Sinn Fein ) i think i have an empathetical view as to why partition occured, why unionism felt the need to discriminate, why the IRA came into being, why Loyalists slaughtered innocent civilians and why the state colluded. however, the future is far more important in my view than anything of the past.

  • Robin Keogh

    If it wasnt for the bravery of David Trimble, God knows where we would be now!!

  • Robin Keogh

    But u have to at least prove some of that, no? Reports from security services north and south disagree with your assesment entirely.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    As a long suffering Belfast Linfield Supporter. I like the quote Seaan – Fortune Favours the Brave !

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey, ten points for sussing me out! Although I’m seldom called on them, I certainly dot my postings with what my wife (an anthropologist) tells me are “hidden transcripts”:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Domination-Arts-Resistance-Hidden-Transcripts/dp/0300056699

    “Confrontations between the powerless and the powerful are laden with deception – the powerless feign deference and the powerful subtly assert their mastery. Peasants, serfs, untouchables, slaves, labourers, and prisoners are not free to speak their minds in the presence of power. These subordinate groups instead create a secret discourse that represents a critique of power spoken behind the backs of the dominant.”

    While there’s little a “helot” such as myself can ever change myself here, I can at least have a little malicious fun at the expense of my “betters”. I wonder just how many Linfield supporters were listening to Mike Nesbitt’s homilies?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well the 20th October report suggested strongly, in the form of intelligence gathered on PIRA thinking, that the IRA Army Council not only retains links to SF but that SF actually answers to it.

    Proof is of course very hard given the omerta of the Republican Movement and its supporters. The vast majority of Troubles murders claimed by PIRA, for example, have still not generated enough evidence for prosecutions. So, we can deny that these things have happened because we can’t prove it in court – but that is effectively saying that criminality has to be ignored unless criminals are caught red-handed. That view allows the Republican wall of silence to win the day over the public interest in transparency. These issues aren’t going away as long as the IRA exists and SF remains connected to it.

    There is an easy answer – all they have to do is tell the full truth and we can then start to move on. Can you give one good reason why both SF and the IRA should not throw their doors open and encourage all their members to talk openly to the public about their activities and their links? If it’s all just blameless political activity, surely they have nothing to fear.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    do you really believe the IRA campaign was manufactured by others to blacken the name of Republicanism? They did that all by themselves I’m afraid.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    can’t help noticing in your summary there that the Republican Movement, who carried out most of the Troubles, seem something of a bit-part-player. Whatever happened to the IRA’s “Armed Struggle”?

    There was a time when Republicans talked openly about IRA violence being desirable, a positive force that was going to drive out the Brits and bring a united Ireland and bring deliverance for the Irish people. Now it seems they’re saying it was just a defensive reaction, or part of some fight for social justice within the UK (for working class Catholics only presumably; Protestants all driving Volvos and living in Cultra). Observation though: if you kill twice as many as anyone else on a consistent basis over 30 years, you’re not the ones defending, you’re attacking.

    Republicans need to stop playing the victim over the IRA’s disastrous campaign – it was Republicans’ choice to try and force a united Ireland through a campaign of violence. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined by it. The Republican Movement needs at some point to take proper responsibility for it, for its own self-interest quite apart from the fact it’s the right thing to do.

  • Robin Keogh

    I agree with a lot of that and i think (certainly hope) the day will come when republicans, unionists loyalists and the security forces will put their hands up and say – lets take it on.

  • Robin Keogh

    Now you know fine well i am talking about the recent manufactured crises.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But surely you have to stop seeing the existence of Northern Ireland as an “act of oppression” – isn’t that wrong perception a big part of the problem?

    I say ‘wrong’ without fear of contradiction here, because in the Good Friday Agreement, all of nationalism accepted that Northern Ireland was there because of the wishes of its people, not through any act of oppression. It was voted for in Northern Ireland and approved by a massive majority in the Republic. Yet the self-comforting old narrative about the ‘wrong’ of partition seems to be creeping back into nationalist discourse. A sign that nationalism is a bit lost? Vacillating? Or perhaps it’s just taking a long time to shake off a myth it clung to for so long? Old habits die hard and all that. Time to get with the programme though now.

  • Robin Keogh

    Republicans did offer to throw their doors open in the haas talks. Rejected by unionists and the British.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    ‘manufactured’ though? Are the dead bodies manufactured? Real events triggered the latest crisis.
    And in terms of the political reaction, it’s not manufactured either – there is genuine frustration that paramilitarism is still something we need to deal with. This goes for all groups, not just SF. But SF being in government and with their longstanding close links to the IRA, they need to reassure people they have severed those ties completely. We are beyond the point, in 2015, of them just needing more time to wind down. They were supposed to be off the scene and they clearly aren’t. This is a crisis of the Republican Movement’s making I’m afraid – not ‘manufactured’ by anyone else. Wishing it away won’t work.

    On the bright side, no one is asking for anything difficult or unreasonable. SF should be able to make the necessary reassurance easily enough. But they do need to move fully into life without the IRA now. We’re really sick of the masked men by this stage.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Really? Can you explain more, that is news to me

  • Sharpie

    I agree that the GFA was the watershed that marked the Nationalist community’s acceptance of the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland state. That was a leap – as witnessed by the deletion of articles 2 and 3 in Ireland’s constitution.

    That fact doesn’t change how the birth of the state happened. I think rather than denial on nationalists part it is a denial on the part of unionists that this is how it was experienced.

    There was no democratic sign up to the creation of the state – in fact there was a civil war to try to prevent that split. The state as it happened had never been asked for before, no-one had ever mobilised for the creation of a six county entity. it was reactionary expediency of its time.

    You are right that that event is now history but it is the aftermath that we are living with and that is why it is still relevant. I suppose acknowledging that the other side sees it from a different viewpoint is what is important and to make peace with that insight.

  • Robin Keogh

    Sinn Fein accepted the Haas proposals on dealing with the past. Unionists and the British government rejected them. Google haas proposals.

  • Robin Keogh

    There is no ligit IRA. Sinn Fein have said that a bizillion tines. The only IRA recognised by the party is the organisation which stood down ten years ago. all the security services have confirmed that Sinn Fein are committed to peace and democracy,not involved in criminality and do not support those who are.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it is still relevant, you’re right. I think it’s important nationalism takes another look at it. I can see how disappointing it must have been for northern nationalists hoping for Dublin rule at that time. But surely they should also have seen that having their way would have placed that same fate in reverse upon an even larger number of people.

    That view that it was a less legitimate solution than an all-island one didn’t help nationalists come to terms with the new dispensation. That anti-partitionist narrative fed resentment that also coloured unionist attitudes towards nationalists as being a threat to the very existence of the state (not to excuse some of the worst examples). Nationalist opposition post 1921 to the very idea of Northern Ireland, and determination to bring it down – and some downright violent opposition, let’s not forget – was a big part of why defensiveness and mistrust of nationalists became so central to unionist politics in that era, after some initial attempts at a bright new dawn etc. Unionists went too far and indulged in unfairness in the process – but what’s often left out of this account is that nationalist opposition to the state required a unionist defence of it. It meant that those unionist politicians least inclined to generosity towards nationalists had much more relevance and credibility than they otherwise would have. Nationalism may have seemed more of a threat than it really was; but that’s easy to say with hindsight. At the time in the 1920s, arrangements looked fragile and nationalism had achieved big victories elsewhere on the island, was heavily armed, well organised and prepared to violently press its case. There was a strong logic towards the kind of hyper-alert defensiveness that developed within unionism.

    One would wish unionist politicians had retained and developed their early generosity of spirit; but nationalism helped make it a hard atmosphere for that to flourish. Though it was perhaps inevitable, as expecting a lot of generosity from nationalists towards the unionist govt in NI in the early 20s was probably a big ask. But still, we’d all have been better off if both sides had been more understanding of the other’s predicament.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    so SF has no connections with the PIRA Army Council described in the 20th October report?

  • submariner

    All those paragraphs just to say it was all themmuns fault.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you may need to point to where in Haass SF agreed to throw its and the IRA’s doors open and come clean on all Republican Troubles crimes. I’ve had a look but can’t find any wording of that nature.

    There were flaws with Haass of course. But it was good that the document acknowledged the blame for the violence is not equally shared across society. “A minority sought to advance agendas through means outside the law, while the overwhelming majority adhered to it. The burden of the past rests most heavily on those, whether paramilitary or state actors, who acted outside the rule of law.”

    As SF is the political wing of the main such actor, it will always get special scrutiny. And when Republicanism talks about the Troubles, humility towards the law-abiding is, as Haass suggests, very much in order.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Slugger bingo

  • Robin Keogh

    The bottom line here is that if you want to invite an outsider independent assesor to bridge the gap between groups who hold very different interpretations of the past. Then you need to at least work with the recommendations. Republicans signed up, others refused. Need to try again.

  • Robin Keogh

    Connections? U mean family members, ex colleagues, friends, neighbours or?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I mean the kind of relationship where leading members consult each other, listen to each other, follow each other’s advice – or as PIRA members seem to think, where one (SF) is ultimately answerable to the other (PIRA Army Council). I’m assuming they have ended the practice of having SF leaders actually on the Army Council at the same time, though that went on for a long time, as we know. But are there now different conduits, go-betweens, what?
    What do they discuss?
    At what level?
    What happens as a result?

    Senior Shinners like Kelly and Murphy come across as speaking with authority about IRA matters and seem to expect to be believed. So, how come?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It was a positive sign Robin – but if he wasn’t able to reflect where the different sides were at, what was the point? Unionists, and Alliance, weren’t happy with where the document ended up so there was no actual agreement. Just a facilitator who went too far on one side, evidently. We can do better and will need to – this needs to carry goodwill on all sides, it can’t be imposed. And I say that for both sides – it won’t work for unionists if nationalists don’t buy into it either.

  • Robin Keogh

    Ok well as i said earlier. There is no army council as far as Sinn Fein are concerned. They stepped down ten years ago.

    The group the report alludes to could be any collection of people who are styling themselves as IRA I honestly dont know.

    I suspect however that assuming the people who once made up the PAC have not evaporated they probably still hang out together after being colleagues for so long, similar to a retired board of a local football club say.

    I dont live in a republican community, never have done but i would imagine those that do like GK and are ex members of the RA would most likely know at least some of the retired PAC, therefore able to confirm they are inop.

    But tbh, its guesswork, i have no way of knowing one way or another unless someone were to be arrested, charged and found guilty in a court of law after due process.