“NI will remain in the UK for the foreseeable future, yet Unionism needs to up its game.”

Political Unionism is strange creature. It has spent sonmuch of its long life (about forty years longer than partition) in a defensive posture, that becoming future positive may feel painfully like growing a new limb. Leave advocate Alex Kane argues that Brexit has complicated matters, and suggests that it could be fatal for its own long term interests if Unionism doesn’t rise to the challenges of creating a multi identity Northern Ireland…

I’m not sure that unionism has grasped that reality. I voted Leave, but I acknowledged during the campaign that a victory for Brexit would change everything. It has.

So unionism has to rise to the challenge. What will it mean to be a unionist in Northern Ireland in 2021, when the United Kingdom is out of the European Union and a whopping majority of the English will probably not give a toss about Celtic unionism?

What message will Arlene Foster – assuming she remains leader of the DUP – have for soft unionists and Catholic unionists? Which big beasts, if any, of pan-United Kingdom unionism will be flying to Northern Ireland to make the case with her?Unionism doesn’t have a single identity. Beyond a belief in the union it does not even have a single message. So this is now becoming an existentialist debate for unionism.

Yes, many, many unionists will vote for the union come hell or high water, but increasing numbers will take a more measured, nuanced position. They will want solid answers to some very difficult questions, and the leaders of unionism will need to have those answers. Worryingly, they don’t seem to have them at the moment.

That, it seems to me, is the issue Brexit all over. Like the bottom of Pandora’s box, when all else has flown, there’s hope. As we noted back in 2003, the parity referendum is the only rule of thumb for serious minded constitutional Unionists and Republicans by which to measure their own political progress.

  • Like England? I don’t see how that contradicts what is being said. The Unionists are ebbing away to be replaced by Nationalists.

  • AntrimGael

    Two siblings moved South 15/20 years ago. Both living, working and raising families there now. While they still come home regularly there’s no way they would move back here. Yes they know it’s expensive in the South but they don’t miss the sectarianism here and divided society. Also my brother in law works for a large Protestant owned business in the South, religion hasn’t stopped many Irish Protestants doing well there, just ask Guinness.

  • ted hagan

    Yea, well I’m not disputing that. i’m discussing costs and the pros and cons.

  • jag race

    Please explain what you mean by not taking a cession. Voting against a UI?

    For the rest, I don’t hugely disagree. But my point is mainly directed at northern nationalists, to wit:

    If northern nationalists and unionists are fighting like cats in a bag, the south will refuse to get into the bag. To avoid that, it behoves nationalists to be very magnanimous in pitching a UI. They need to persuade moderate unionism that a UI will be ok, as moderate unionism has influence on the loyalist hotheads that nobody else has. A triumphalist approach will unify the unionist community against it, the ROI won’t want to get involved in the strife and will vote against a UI.

    Hence my original suggestions about making a UI as friendly to unionism as possible.

  • Devil Éire

    http://hdr.undp.org/en/cont… . this is from the United Nations website. Gini is the best way we have of measuring inequality. There are of course other ways and there are flaws with any measurement, but this is generally considered to be the best measurement we have.

    And by that measure (the best we have, according to you), the United Kingdom is still a more unequal place than Ireland.

    So to answer your question:

    Why would we vote ourselves into greater inequality?

    You would actually be voting yourself into greater equality.

  • Devil Éire

    Clerical influence may be on the wane but the structural mindsets continue as preconceived notions pass from generation to generation via the mother’s milk – in a manner of speaking.

    Are there any pre-conceived notions passed “via the mother’s milk” amongst the non-Catholic Christians of Northern Ireland? And if so, how does this occur without the “structural mindsets” you attribute to Catholics?

  • Nevin

    DÉ, the piece you quote applies to all the sects.

  • Devil Éire

    Thanks for the clarification, Nevin.

  • Nevin

    Have a little look at primus inter pares. I reckon Presbyterians are the awkward squad! When clergy apply for a vacancy they’re best to seek a unanimous call – otherwise they can be sure of trouble down the line.

  • Roger

    Yes. Voting against a UI is what I meant. The magnanimous pitch is the Belfast Agreement. What’s unfriendly about Ireland anyway?

  • jag race

    Indeed there’s nothing at all unfriendly about it. But often unionism seems to imagine the ROI as SF writ large.

    And naturally SF don’t do much to correct that impression. But somebody ought.

  • Roger

    I wouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of UKNI Unionists. By and large, they know Ireland is a modern EU state. A place built on low corpo tax. Not a socialist command economy. It is the state outside the UK that is most like the UK. Gaelic revival failed. Unionists know they aren’t facing a Zimbabwe. That doesn’t make it palatable. I always hear Nationalists bang on about Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth for example. Ireland was in the Commonwealth. Unionists didn’t regard cession as any more palatable then either. Nothing could endear the concept to Unionists.

  • Steven Denny

    Eamon, we have tried every other option apart from a UI… why would and should a UI aspiration constantly be sidelined at the behest of all others… even when this option is the most moral and politically defensible one on an all-Ireland basis. We need to remember that our country was forcibly partitioned against the democratic wishes of its People. This is an uncomfortable 100+yr old fact that will not go away…?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Numbers in PUL community broadly are actually quite stable.

    Both unionist and nationalist political parties account for much lower percentages of their communities than in previous times. This is the new reality.

  • Steven Denny

    MU, projecting demographics fwd, what do you think an all-Ireland would/should and could look like? And from a democratic perspective, how would/should and could this be supported from the PUL population?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    We left in 1972 but we were bottom of the North Circular off Antrim Rd. IRA bombed a policeman’s house on our road.

  • jag race

    That’s very black and white. Unionists know it’s ok in many ways, but none of those ways count for anything.

    That suggests unionist opinion is utterly monolithic. Is it?

  • Donal

    The End Game for the current political entity of Northern Ireland has already commenced. Unity with the rest of the Island is a certainty for all or at least 70% of Northern Ireland’s land mass.

  • Donal

    Consider world history: If we look at Colonies: Spain and Portugal colonised South America circa 1500 but by 1850’s they were gone. England established colonies within North America in 1607, but by 1778 they were ousted.

    Nearer to home the Normans colonised Co. Down around 1240, but by 1430 the Gaelic families (O’Neills and Magennis’) had taken back their lands. Hence everything happens in cycles.
    The Cromwellian settlement and Ulster plantation method of 1600s methods are now running their course. The Normans (and Vikings before them, became more Irish than the Irish themselves). After nearly 400 years is it not time those whose ancestors arrived here from Scotland or Cumberland realised who they now are!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’d be open to some small adjustments to the border, but I think a United Ireland would be a tragedy and a disaster. What would it look like? I fear a return to large scale paramilitary violence.
    What should the PUL community do? I think swallow their pride and help the new state’s police and army as much as possible in seeking to save as many lives as possible, assuming things do kick off. We know how Republicans acted in the reverse situation and how awful it was. We should resist the temptation to seek revenge or put national pride before humanity, as they did.

    Then I think see how we are treated in the new state and how nationalist-biased or not it aims to be. One thing I’d be keen to see would be to agree with the rest of the UK and the Republic a continuing role for the UK in Northern Ireland, through a continuation of GFA-style pan-British Isles arrangements. Ideally I’d like to see the UK having a long term say in the new Ireland as a guarantor of the rights of British people, some kind of formal role.
    But look it’s like asking how you want to die, strangulation or drowning. It’s just so awful it’s painful to even imagine it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Newtownabbey in our case.

  • Roger

    It is monolithic as regards the question in topic: acceptability of cession.

  • jag race

    Will unionism be monolithic in its reaction to a 50%+1 vote for a UI? i.e. will all unionists act honourably or will all repudiate the GFA?

    If somewhere in between, then unionist opinion isn’t monolithic.

  • Df M

    The unionist parties could attract votes in the ROI in the event of a UI. The DUP’s stance on moral issues appeals to many conservative Catholics. There used to be a Protestant party in Donegal with unionist leanings. The UUP could probably also attract votes in the Republic’s border counties. FF, FG and Labour would also attract votes across the spectrum in the NI. Politics would become more interesting in an All-Ireland context with the unionists holding the balance of power perhaps.

  • Steven Denny

    MU, I worked in Dublin over the last 5 years, and have just recently have taken a role in the UK 6 months ago and am now commuting back and forth to home etc… The bottom-line is that Joe Public from both, don’t give a flying f@ck about us or what happens in Belfast. The GFA was about containment and damage limitation/management… and in that strategy, we are all expendable and collateral damage re. Dublin and London.

    I would consider myself pretty much middle of the road, mixed marriage and I’m from the CNR side of the fence, but what is more important to me… is the money in my pocket and not who collects my taxes. What I have found frustrating over the last 10 yrs is that our economy has pretty much stagnated, while all others have pushed on, and in fact accelerated original economic projections ie. Dublin.

    We are all the loosers here in NI and we need to get a grip on reality pretty quick.

    I remember having a few drinks at a friend’s house in Cork post 2007 crash and how this would impact NI… everybody thought not so much. I was and still not so sure for a couple of reasons 1) Westminster will strangle the block funding as affordability becomes an issue and then 2) the biggest threat to the current status quo is not the Provisionals, but the loyalist paramilitaries. SF has won its main aim of political representation and can see this strategy working both in Stormont and the Dail. The same can not be said for their counterparts ie. DUP and loyalism, and when this starts to loose its grip, words will become actions. As a section, they has never really engaged in Power sharing in its truest sense. Maybe generational trickle down will help assuage some of the stauncher elements… but also maybe not.

    One thing for sure though… we have a lot more in common and a lot more at stake here and together… than with Dublin and London…!!!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree on your last para, if only people could see that

  • Pasty2012

    around 38% of the people in the UK have some health insurance as the NHS is not working and is nothing to be shouting about. Waits for up to 48hours on a trolley in the corridor of AE Departments is not unknown these days and it’s a myth that you don’t pay for health in the UK, what do you think the National Insurance from your wages pays for?

  • ted hagan

    Of course people pay through national insurance, as they do in the Republic, where they also have to pay many extra charges. Forty per cent of people in the Republic have private health insurance, substantially down from what it was five years ago because of the crash. Waiting lists for some emergency treatments and CT scans are the worst in Europe. The National Rehabilitation Centre, the only one in the country for those with spinal injuries has a one year waiting lists; The health service in the Republic is ranked 21st in Europe compared to mid-teens for NHS countries. You will be pay quite a bit of money for a visit to A&E if you don’t have a referral. You will also pay for hospital stays per night. And I could go on.
    The standard of care in the South is excellent but it does not have the breadth or depth of service as the NHS. Something you would discover if you had to become a carer.
    I know, I’ve lived there, and as I have said before would like to there again, but I am aware of bothe downsides and upsides..

  • Skibo

    You could have a point there Mick, Irish can be British as there is British rule in Ireland but can British make you Irish. I don’t think so.

  • Skibo

    MU a number of them don’t even answer censuses. You’re one to be talking about surveys. I continue to mention the Lucid Talk survey taken in December and you keep rejecting it.

  • Skibo

    Had they come out and it no been so close, they would no for another decade. The closeness of the result will bring out more. Unionist have had their bounce after the Fleg issue. Not sure there is many more to come. Any attempt by the DUP to try and force the issue of a single Unionist party will result in a lower overall Unionist vote.

  • Skibo

    Your problem is you associate anything Irish with opposing British. The Irish National flag is an accommodation between Protestant and Catholic.
    As for the National Anthem,
    “Soldiers are we,
    whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
    Some have come
    from a land beyond the wave,
    Sworn to be free,
    no more our ancient sireland,
    Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
    Tonight we man the “bearna baoil”,[fn 4]
    In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal,
    ’Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal,
    We’ll chant a soldier’s song”
    People who come from a land beyond the wave? Could that be Scotland?
    God Save the Queen mentions the Scots also!
    “And like a torrent rush,
    Rebellious Scots to crush,
    God save the King.”

  • Skibo

    John as I have repeated here, the world has changed. Any violent reaction will be associated with ISIS and the Taliban. Is that what Loyalism would want? Is that what Unionism could stand?
    We have entered a different era.

  • mickfealty

    It’s that lack of ambiguity which is problematic for making actual conversions on scale. It feels hostile even to people who are Nat curious.

    The long addiction to the demographic arguments don’t help either since they ‘other’ people’s extended families in a similar way that some of the smaller and more extreme evangelical sects do.

  • Skibo

    Rodger you are being pedantic. the vote on both sides of the border would be asking the same question.
    Reunification of Ireland, yes or no!

  • Skibo

    Mark, as I thought, 60/40 for Brexit in the UUP. Shows how in touch Nike was with his electorate. I am not sure that Robin Swan’s policy would differ that much from Mike.
    Which is the more important, how Unionism voted or how the voters of NI voted?
    In a border poll, will we be interested in the overall result or mainly in the Unionist breakdown?

  • Skibo

    Are you now saying that the fact that the Unionist community grew much slower than the nationalist community is ethnic cleansing?
    The majority of what you call ethnic cleansing is more to do with people moving to areas they believed were safe. nationalists moved to stronger Nationalist areas while Unionists moved to more stronger Unionist areas.
    I guess how Unionist areas become more Nationalist has more to do with Nationalism having better access in the jobs market and being able to buy houses being sold by Unionists who are moving to North Down.

  • Skibo

    I know you are not. The UUP have in indefensible position regarding Brexit. They stated they are for Remain but a number of high profile UUP members campaigned openly for Brexit and in the end their two reps voted in Westminster for Brexit even though they knew it would make no difference.

  • Skibo

    Ted that is one reason that the Health Service has to be addressed before reunification or discuss an all island service where they two services work closer together now.

  • ted hagan

    And that would make sense.

  • Skibo

    From 1916 to 1918, the Republican plan for independence went from a fringe movement to 75% representation. I would call that quick.
    Change has a habit of taking on a momentum all of its own.

  • North Down dup

    A lot of Belfast which was mostly unionist or very much loyalist is now republican.
    You say nationalism had better access to job market and being able to buy houses , I thought catholics were the second class citizens

  • Skibo

    Mick why is it always Nationalism that has to make the moves towards accommodation? What are Unionism doing to have a coming together?

  • Skibo

    ND yes that was correct, Nationalists were second class citizens and had problems getting jobs.
    That is less of a position now. Have a look at the employment figures and you will see that things have changed because legislation with teeth has changed it.
    That is a further reason why there has to be an Irish language Act. Legislation on it’s own will not change anything but anyway, I digress.
    Nationalism has been squeezed into areas for years and not allowed to expand. Well the cat is out of the bag and it is not going back in again.

  • Skibo

    Mick looks looks we may have two elections now, Stormont and Westminster. Pity we couldn’t have had the changes in the constituencies before it happened.

  • Mark Petticrew

    It goes without saying that 50 plus 1 will be the standard of a future border poll, but I think it’s just interesting to explore the attitudes of the unionist electorate when it comes to the big issues; should that be an Irish Language Act, same-sex marriage, or – as in this case – Brexit.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think you’re confusing what nationalists in their dreams want the tricolour to represent with what it actually represents to people in reality. I accept there is an official use to the flag in the Republic one has to respect, as the union flag has to be respected in NI in its official capacity. But used in other contexts the flags can also have a tribal rather than unifying significance. The tricolour’s secondary meaning is as a specifically C/N/R symbol. And please don’t tell me the Soldier Song is as British as it is Irish …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, I keep correcting mis-descriptions of what it found.

  • Skibo

    Pray tell. Surely a 55.4% vote for remaining within the UK and a 44.4% vote for reunification of Ireland. Simple.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The question was asked in terms of what people might like to see in the future, not now. It might seem splitting hairs, but these things make quite a lot of difference in polling – especially on wishes towards big changes that potentially have big risks. In answering the “future” question people tend to answer in a hypothetical way, discounting negative feelings somewhat. You need to ask people what they want *now* to get a more realistic read of the true situation. It shows some potential for growth for the UI idea up into the 40s, but that’s not where it is now. There is a big gap between that maximum figure and the real figure of how many people want it in the real world.

  • Skibo

    MU i think you are confused about what the Tricolour does actually stand for. The fact that the IRA claimed it means you will always see it as a Republican emblem but that was not what it was designed for.
    You could say that the Irish are represented with the Union flag but I can assure you that no self respecting Republican would see it as anything else that a Butchers Apron.
    As for the Soldier’s Song it does actually state that some have come from a land beyond the sea.

  • Skibo

    MU you are well aware that the question is asked in reference to the position of the UK following Brexit. That is a significant point in time. It was asked in December when Theresa May said Brexit means Brexit. There may have been some thought that she didn’t mean it.
    They know now that she does and if she cannot get a soft border, that 44.4% will increase.
    In the end the only poll that matters is the ballot box but Unionism seem loathed to take the chance.

  • Skibo

    Do you think Robin will stand on a Remain ticket in the up coming election particularly when at least Tom Eliot has shown himself to be in the Brexit camp?

  • Smithborough

    Because the alternative is worse…

  • Mark Petticrew

    Virtually all remainer unionists seem to have jumped aboard the team Brexit bandwagon. To argue against it and barter for some sort of special status for the north would be to differentiate themselves from the ‘mainland’, and fuel the perception of the wee six as being a place apart; this of course being incompatible with the unionist view of the northern state as an integral part of the UK.

    Indeed, Reg Empey characterised the unionist perspective to all this when Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party suggested some sort of special arrangement for the north is required post-Brexit, saying: “That’s Gerry Adams-speak”. I suspect Robin Swann would rather be accused of speaking like Theresa May than that of Gerry Adams.

  • Skibo

    Mark that is what I think is happening too. If there is not a Unionist party to give a voice for that 40% who voted for remain, they may move to Alliance or perhaps they will see that Unionism as a policy puts the Union above the good of the people.
    They need to see past the fact that Remain is supported by a majority of the Nationalist and Republican parties. PBP and some far out Republican parties would be on the leave ticket.

  • john millar

    “We have entered a different era.”
    hardly

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-10866072

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/republican-terror-gang-orders-belfast-girl-14-out-of-northern-ireland-35485795.html

    We are simply at a lull in the proceedings The inevitable major “incident” or “success” by the so called dissidents will put even more pressure on the GFA —t will eventually unravel

  • Skibo

    John, we were discussing Loyalist violence and you could have chosen multitudes of news examples of that violence but yet again to only equate violence with that of Republicans.
    But I take on board what you say but would you care to comment on how much support the group that you referred to have? How many representatives have they got elected?
    We are not at a lull.
    I refer you back to the Omagh bomb. A terrible incident. It cemented the position of SF within the peace process and ensured that the IRA could not return to bombing.

  • john millar

    “I refer you back to the Omagh bomb. A terrible incident. It cemented the position of SF within the peace process and ensured that the IRA could not return to bombing.”

    I don`t see “Omagh ” in the same light A predominately Roman Catholic town bombed with serious loss of life simply put more pressure on the republican movement (in the way that the attack on protestants in Enniskillen did not)

    “But I take on board what you say but would you care to comment on how much support the group that you referred to have? How many representatives have they got elected?
    We are not at a lull.”

    How many representatives did the IRA have ?

    “John, we were discussing Loyalist violence and you could have chosen multitudes of news examples of that violence but yet again to only equate violence with that of Republicans.”

    Protestant violence has its roots in their antipathy to inclusion in “Ireland” There is a lull here as well . In my opinion violence amongst the majority in NI was “parked” pending the outworking of the GFA.. The GFA now appears to be at best limping at worst damage irreparably.

    (With the calling of the election in the UK we are going -in effect to get a border poll with the reinforcing of the sectariand divide)

  • Skibo

    So not only do you equate terrorist violence with Loyalists, you do not equate loss of life in Nationalist towns with lives lost in Loyalist towns, interesting!
    That is the thing, other that Bobby Sands to Westminster and Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew, all other Republican elected representatives were SF representatives.
    The majority of SF representatives were elected post ceasefires. There were some before this but SF did not achieve their present position till the gun was put away.
    AS for the Loyalist violence being an antipathy to inclusion in Ireland, while the North is controlled politically by Westminster, it will never change from being part of Ireland.
    What about the bombing campaign of the UVF in the 1960s?
    The incoming election is not a border poll. It could however help lead to one. If the Nationalist vote achieves parity with the Unionist vote, should the SOS not consider calling one?

  • john millar

    “So throughout the entirety of the existence of the northern state, everyone had the right to vote in free and fair elections? This happened?”

    1 The vote in elections to the UK parliament was and is universal
    2 There were property qualifications for votes in council elections (The father of the former president of Ireland ( Mc Aleese) held such vote)

  • john millar

    “Demographic change, Demographic change, Demographic change, Demographic change, Demographic change, Demographic change, Demographic change.”
    Or less politely bunging more and more pressures on Health Housing Education and social services. whilst expecting some one else to pick up the costs

  • john millar

    “What about the bombing campaign of the UVF in the 1960s?
    The incoming election is not a border poll. It could however help lead to one. If the Nationalist vote achieves parity with the Unionist vote, should the SOS not consider calling one?”

    1 The Election will become a border poll Arlene & Co will make it one
    2 I welcome a border poll at any time

  • Skibo

    Arlene is merely one party leader. If we do not allow her to come with her negative electioneering, she will not be able to control it.
    I want a border poll also but on the eve of Brexit, once we know what the deal is.
    Let the people decide then.

  • john millar

    “Arlene is merely one party leader. If we do not allow her to come with her negative electioneering, she will not be able to control it.”

    She cannot be prevented from making the border an issue the UUP will fall into line or lose even more votes

    Alliance will get squezzed

  • Skibo

    If you are wrong about Alliance, will you come back and apologise?

  • john millar

    “If you are wrong about Alliance, will you come back and apologise?”

    I think Alliance will lose votes Happy to be wrong

  • john millar

    “A good question to ask yourself is Do you want to be 30% of a small Country with the European Union with a dynamic relatively healthy economy with a strongly proportional representative parliament?”

    Do you want to be part of a society that condoned/supported/celebrated
    Omagh
    Enniskillen
    Tebane
    Darkley
    Shankill
    etc
    etc

    It’s a simple choice really.