Two coffees and a Highland wedding

To my nationalist and republican friends… I think you should reconsider your opposition to the Union, and here’s why…

A friend of mine recently threw out a question which stopped me in my tracks.

“Do you think there will ever be a united Ireland?” She asked.

She knew I was a member of a unionist party and most who do see no point in asking me such a question, but ask she did. Her voice suggested she was asking the question on our collective behalf rather than hers, as if it were something she desired not just for her, but for me, her friend – too. As she broke eye contact to add milk to our coffees I still hadn’t answered.

There are several things I won’t do during this discussion. I won’t belittle or mock our debate opponents (those who aspire to a 32 county Irish republic), such negativity is not only fruitless in terms of projecting one’s argument, but harmful. Slinging insults or name-calling is surely the sign of a weak argument from the off. I won’t simply lay out a list of everything I dislike about the goal of Irish Nationalism, my belief in the union is such that it can and shall be my sole focus. I won’t cite our country’s violent past as an argument either way. As awful as it was, it need not impede the future, there is nothing negative about what our union can be. I won’t refer to our debate opponents as enemy’s or any other negative term, if a unionist claims to want Northern Ireland to move post-conflict, as this one does, then the language of our argument(s) must reflect that. My unionism is based not on what the Union has or has not been, but what it can be. I am left feeling unsatisfied by victories brought about by circle the wagons politics. I want to champion the union, not merely defend it.

My background… I’m not a unionist convert, I have always been one. I grew up in East Belfast finding it bizarre that when on holiday in Blackpool the land-ladies of guest houses referred to us as the nice Irish family. London was my capital; the Union Jack was my flag. It was the one on the little plastic stick I was bought on the 1st of July as the bands came down the Newtownards Road. I would watch them, perched on my dad’s shoulders. I get that the Loyalist culture – which I love – is not everyone’s cup of tea. I also get that there are often sharp & real reasons for that. But I appeal at this stage to Irish nationalist readers to please park any negativity that this may evoke, at least until the end of this blog. I thank you in advance for this courtesy.

The Union Kingdom is an umbrella for many peoples of different cultures, ethnicities, religious faiths, political viewpoints, and national identities. It obliges no-one to abandon their culture, or that of their parents. It conscripts no-one into any political direction or narrow category. If you are an Irish person from Belfast, Camden, Edinburgh, or Cardiff then that is what you are. The British Identity is there for you to embrace as much or as little as you please.

As mentioned above, I enjoy the Loyalist culture, but the Union does not oblige you to. It doesn’t even oblige you to like it. Tolerance is only democratic & proper of course but one can be a unionist without becoming involved in any culture you find unappealing. The multiple peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have between them so many cultures, and sub-cultures and so much of that fascinating life-story is shared that it would be ludicrous to suggest that anyone might be obliged into any assimilation as a consequence of their support for a broad sovereign partnership. The union belongs to us all, it can be what it must be to each of us. It can play as large, or as small a role in our cultural psyche as we each choose. The clue is in the title. United Kingdom. We can’t be United if we are all the same.

Later this year, I shall attend my sister’s wedding in the Highlands of Scotland. Having moved to Inverness to study nursing with our National Health Service she’s now quite the wee Scots lassie – morphing accent included. The wedding will be attended by my cousins from Birmingham, her husband’s family too shall be a summoned from across the UK. Isn’t it not only natural, but warm that such a family of ancient nations should have a constitutional acknowledgement of this union? I’m quite unaware of any family in our street who does not share the hugs and laughter of meeting up with their kin from across the water, often at Christmas. Why pretend this is anything other than what it is. Our union. Everyone’s.

The problems the United Kingdom will face, be they economic, criminal, or environmental cannot be realistically challenged as individual states, but as a union. I was a remain voter in the recent EU referendum. As a Unionist, many people would ask me why – assuming remain to be a position more in line with non-unionist opinion. My answer remains quite blunt. I wanted the UK to remain in the EU for all the same reasons I want Northern Ireland to remain in the UK. When different peoples work together they can become more than the sum of their parts. Countries in union will be sat down at tables together more frequently, discussing how to make peace rather than with whom to make war. To level the playing field of opportunity. To forge mutual respect between peoples even where history places obstacles. To guarantee the chosen passage of life for people such as my sister. I accept the EU referendum result because I’m a democrat. But I do hope a good relationship can be salvaged between the EU and the UK.

What a remarkable relationship the UK and Ireland can have, and what an undeniably grand role we in Northern Ireland can play in that potentially greatest of European partnerships. As Ireland’s representative in the UK. As Great Britain’s union-partner on the Emerald Isle. Couldn’t there be a role for the Republic of Ireland in the United Kingdom put on offer? A post Brexit UK-Ireland friendship pact would be a natural answer to many a problem, perhaps a conversation for another day. There is no bad news here. There is no reason for the drawing of swords. There is no reason for the branding of communities as them or us. The future can work if we really want it too. The UK will become what future generations wish it to be. The UK’s friendship with Ireland can be whatever future generations want it to be. No matter what happens, we’re all a decent bunch. It’ll be okay.

My chum’s question blind-sided me not because it was unexpected- although it was. It was because it was delivered with such de-politicised sincerity that whilst it didn’t make me a republican, it helped me understand why others are. The positivity which charged her sentiment however, can be summoned in droves for the exciting concept of union. In Inverness, no person – blood relation or otherwise – will feel foreign to me. My unionism is such that no person ever will. In Dublin, where my wife and I recently visited friends there was no feeling that constitutional politics infringed upon our friendship, there was no feeling of enforced dis-unity of any kind. The United Kingdom is something I want to work for everyone. I know it can, and I believe it will.

My argument may not have the hard, economic punches delivered by that of some unionists, or the deafening historic grandeur of others. But it’s my unionism. It’s how I feel. I’d love you to give it a try.

William Ennis

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  • Pang

    Good blog William. We need to hear more of this voice of unionism and less of the tribalism that passes for unionism (or nationalism) to often. I don’t call the feeling Britishness, but I also value that united feeling we share with the people of Great Britain, who to be honest, are not foreign to us on this island. I have similar feelings when I visit N America and some European countries, but mostly it is the Scots, English & Welsh. I sometimes wish history had left us a collective name. I’d be happy with a beefed-up council of the isles. Maybe that could take some of the edge off brexit.

  • Mike the First

    Hmm. I’d be surprised if Dublin wasn’t “richer” than, say, Tyrone at that time.

  • Trasna

    I’m intrigued. How does any of the above differ from British rule in reverse.

  • Trasna

    In 20 years time, no southern Irish will have any interest.

  • Pang

    Karl. I hope whenever it happens nationalism will be marked by extraordinary generosity & magnanimity.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Have you ever thought why it was such an agrarian economy? Who owned the land? Who made the money from the vast exports of meat and crops? What were the circumstances that led to monoculture for the natives? How did this give the British economy a competitive advantage?

  • John Collins

    Only last week an article by David McWilliams made the point that 80% of all industrial activity on the island took place in what is now NI in 1921. As he said at that the Southern economy was built around drink, biscuits and ag products
    I could have worded that better, but it was no wonder we took so long to build up the country.

  • runnymede

    Just like it always has been, eh?

  • runnymede

    Funny how that argument had precisely zero traction among Ulster protestants, isn’t it? I can’t imagine why.

  • runnymede

    Sure –

    1. Ireland would have been economically much better off in the 1920s-1980s if the damaging inward-looking policies of the Republic were avoided.

    2. There would have been far less emigration (see 1.) with all the social damage that caused.

    3. The people of the Republic would have been spared the theocratic, backward social polices that resulted from the Catholic establishment becoming so dominant. And the dreadful human suffering that came from that.

  • John Collins

    There would be far less emigration??
    Really. even though Belfast was thriving there almost 60,000 people leaving this island annually from 1896 to 1901.
    Spared suffering. Well a million people never starved to death in about five years anyway and most of the suffering you mention was going on before 1920 anyway.
    As regards theocratic rule our Head Of State, Taoseach and Finance Minister can be from any religion and we do not have twenty six bishops automatically returned to the Senate.

  • Tochais Siorai

    ‘In a democracy, what difference would it have made if a quarter of the Dail members had been unionist.’

    In a democracy, they may have held the balance of power and probably held government office periodically had they wished. To state that their presence would have had no effect on the influence of the Catholic Church in the state is nonsense. Unfortunately being the reactionaries that they were I doubt the Unionist Party would have wanted to make Ireland a more liberal place but the more urban nature of the north might have allowed both a more effective Labour movement to gain a foothold and perhaps the southern unionists might have been able to create an alternative liberal unionist leaning movement with like minded northerners.

  • Muiris

    Why were you surprised that the landlady thought that your family was nice?

  • file

    Do you know why the Blackpool landladies called, and still would call you, an Irish family? Do you know that they would call a family from Glasgow “that bickering Scottish family” and a family from Cardiff “that non-descript Welsh family”? You do realise that Blackpool landladies call a spade a spade, whether or not the spade thinks it is a shovel? They have been welcoming families on holiday for hundreds of years; a relatively recent (and transient) political division of the island to their immediate west is not going to bring about a redefinition of provenance in their terms. If you yourself feel yourself to be so UKish, have you ever wondered why when you “go foreign” on holiday, everyone else thinks you are Irish?

  • file

    hohoho!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    So, the northern unionists had enough power to make the British Empire accept partition but somehow would have been powerless to stop the new Irish government from support the Vatican?

    And how would the new state have enforced this exactly? This is the critical part of the hypothesis which is never answered.

  • Reader

    Karl: When they started getting arsey they were bought off with a talking shop. The already have their own nhs, legal and education system.
    NOW yer talkin’

  • Skibo

    MU the North’s economy had to be supported from 1938 on. Hardly a sign of an economy that had to stand on it’s own. The Southern economy had to stand on it’s own. It took fifty years to turn the economy round and it is going from strength to strength.
    The Northern economy would not have to go through the same fifty years as the template is there now but the bond with GB has to be broken for us to learn to provide for ourselves.
    I question the complete blame of changes in the global economy and more the changes in UK economy. Assistance for business in the North will not yield any seats for either the Tory or Labour parties and we are the forgotten area.

  • Michael Dowds

    The point is that the UK can’t claim exclusive rights to the ‘open identity’ label, so what’s the point in using it to built a positive picture of the UK for NI nationalists? You could use the same argument to agitate for us becoming a province of Canada, non?

    The best argument for the UK is that the Brits (as in the ones in London) keep the free money rolling in. Sadly however, that argument doesn’t work if your not overly keen on large scale welfarism .

    Your examples of non-brit Brits are interesting. Seems to me (but I could be wrong) that they are all celebrities of one kind or another. None of them challenged the social/ cultural mores of their time, apart from Ghandi, but he subsequently dropped the Brit title.

    Would the UK be so readily accepting of a foreign born individual railing against them? Like all (most?) other countries, I’d suspect not.

    The pro-union stance is a genuinely nice try, but it’s predicated on British (English?) exceptionalism, ‘I don’t have an accent, YOU have an accent’. The British have a shared national myth. They are like every other people in the world in that regard. To claim otherwise is just plain silly and unwittingly patronizing IMHO.

    Just my rambly thoughts.

  • Skibo

    MU I too have no problem with anyone making a positive case but he doesn’t have to kill anyone for his dream, he is living it, That dream came about by the threat of violence in 1914 which forced the British Government to consider the requirement of two parliaments to ensure a Protestant majority in one.
    For years Unionism has been telling us that reunification was looking through rose coloured glasses.
    Now it turns out that the Union gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Could I suggest when reunification takes place start drinking hot chocolate, it will give you the same effect.

  • Donal O’Hanlon

    Good to have this particular aspect of the great debate scrutinised at last. The issue of cultural identity is simple: I couldn’t be more culturally Irish than I am at the moment and a United Ireland wouldn’t make me any more so; William, I suspect the same is true for you and therefore a United Ireland wouldn’t necessarily make you less British. Do we feel less culturally Irish or British during foreign holidays? We have to de-sentimentalise our concept of citizenship. Basically a government is only a service provider like those for our internet and power: we pay them money and expect services in return. I have, since the Good Friday Agreement, been reasonably content with my UK service provider. All is now changed. When we view the terms of Brexit I might well consider the Republic and the EU a better provider and decide, in a future border poll, to change. I simply don’t know at the moment but I will be guided by those practicalities as neither option will change my cultural identity. I think Republicaninname has missed the point regarding my favourite solution – a Confederation of the British Isles. If Scotland go independent then join the confederation; if Ireland north & south join as separate entities keeping their assemblies then it is not an Act of Union with the regions on the hind tit to the south of England. It is a mini EU with the veto for each constituent. HQ in the Isle of Man?
    Keep your culture strong and immutable but we should all ease off on the citizenship – that’s the millstone around our necks.

  • Factorygirl

    You attach too much significance to the fact that there’s no religious bar to holding high office in the South as if it was one big interdenominational love-in. In reality it wasn’t. Only one Catholic member of the cabinet agreed to enter St Patrick’s Cathedral for Douglas Hyde’s funeral- that was Dr Noel Browne- and he was hung out to dry for being continually ‘off message’ re the Catholic hierarchy. Northern unionists were well aware of the discrepancy between rhetoric and reality, yet the term green statelet never gained currency. Why? Well, that would have required a sizeable and vocal Protestant minority in the South.

  • Factorygirl

    “And how would the new state have enforced this exactly?”

    The vast majority of the population, the government and the various institutions that made up civic society, were all predominately Roman Catholic. Education and healthcare were directly run by the Church. The question from my perspective is how could unionists have prevented it?

  • Factorygirl

    May have, might have, could have! Why risk it? Safer to hold what you have and remain in the union rather than risk everything in the hope that some benefit might result from it. I understand why nationalists wanted Home Rule- according to one poll around 1907 a sizable number of Presbyterians were in favour of it (this changed- see Agnus McCann Ne Temere)- can you not empathise with the unionist position, especially in the decades following partition, and understand their antipathy to independence?

  • Alan N/Ards

    You’re not alone.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Hold what you have? I think that’s the problem essentially. The potential lies outside that hold. The NI economy is stagnant, stifled with an ingrained dependency culture. Surely there’s better out there.

    I can empathise with Unionists Britishness and hope that it will be respected far more in an all Ireland constitutional scenario than it ever was in Northern Ireland for those whose primary identity was/ is Irish. I can’t empathise with partition – it has been a huge hindrance to the country achieving its potential. It allowed for far too long an Orange hegemony in NI and a Catholic one in the IFS / Republic and the boundary across the island has created barriers which were improved with the Single Market but which which will now get worse in the years to come.

    Whether we like it or not however, I think outside forces will probably be the catalyst for change in the coming years / decades. Brexit, Scotland, England will all make significant contributions to our future before we will.

    And by the time we get a say, there may not be many choices.

  • Alan N/Ards

    “This performativity of Britishness can also be seen among Protestant communities in Northern Ireland, another part of the UK where British identity is not stabilised or guaranteed but which is only achieved through daily performance. From Ballymena to the Shankill, Northern Irish Protestant communities engage in an elaborate performance of Britishness, from hanging portraits of the queen above family fireplaces, to decking homes in Unionist Jack bunting and ending community events with rousing renditions of God Save The Queen.”

    You obviously haven’t been in to many unionist homes recently. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen portraits of the Queen hanging in a unionist home. I can remember seeing a few in the 70’s, but that nonsense is long gone. The same with the portraits of the pope or JFK that used to hang in many nationalist homes. It was a working class phenomenon that is long gone. Of course I could be wrong.

    Do republican communities not do the Tricolour bunting and renditions of the Soldiers Song. Genuine question.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Well, the last (only) time I was in NI, about five years ago, there were lots of union jacks and red, white and blue kerbstones – painted kerbstones not something I’d ever come across before. I was never in any homes.And if the Republicans do similar, then more fool them.

  • Factorygirl

    It’s not just about population density; providing a decent standard of living depends on a range of things. Sicily isn’t a great example to give btw. It depends heavily on subsidies from central government- just like Northern Ireland- as well as EU grants -just like the Republic of Ireland. Nationalists claim that by uniting these two loss making entities, the savings made would end the need for financial aid. Unionists have been accused over the years of failing to accept certain realities, but surely the misty-eyed hope of nationalism is boundless.

  • Trasna

    You attach little significance to fact that a considerable number of UK citizens are excluded from high office in the UK in 2017.

    Those who in the past have no future. You have to go back 60 years to make a political point just proves that. You say northern unionists are well aware of the discrepancy between rhetoric and reality. No doubt you’re oblivious to the irony of that statement.

    No idea what your last two sentences are supposed to mean.

  • Jim Bennett

    Hi MU. I was being generous about the article. It was full of banal, trite platitudes that wouldn’t convince a 5 year old child in a nationalist family to embrace the UK. The article had no intellectual rigour and contained not one single point which could sway a nationalist.
    The article purported to convince nationalists that they should change their minds. In order to change opposing minds effectively, one has to think into the opposition’s head. The author, with his motherhood and apple pie unionism, was more or less saying: “Why can’t you just be like me.” No pretence of attempt to understand why a nationalist is actually a nationalist. Just a bewildered plea to be British.
    Vacuous, self-serving, banal nonsense that would convince no-one.

  • Jim Bennett

    But, as a Scot, the reason I want out of the UK is primarily about foreign policy. I wouldn’t want a confederation where there was a possibility of another Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. All of which happened during a period you were content with the UK as an ISP!

  • Donal O’Hanlon

    True for you. I hadn’t felt the responsibility as I consider myself basically Irish, but like you I paid for that war. However, In a confederation I don’t see Ireland or Scotland sanctioning any major foreign interventions.

  • Jim Bennett

    Then I’m happy to join your confederation! I like the bit about vetoes for constituent elements.

  • Sara McNamara

    ‘Catholics in the south’ does everyone just forget about Donegal in these coversations? Leaving politics and religion aside, from a purely geographical point of view, the most northerly point on the island of Ireland isn’t even in NI, it’s in Donegal.

  • Factorygirl

    You really can’t stop yourself, can you?!

    Tony Blair was a Roman Catholic in all but name while still in office- it wasn’t a problem! The British monarch is the governor of England’s established church, so that’s why she/he has to be Protestant.

    Let it go! It’s not an issue for anyone except you. You’re like a Jack Russell with a bone, but only it’s not a real bone, not one with real meat on it. It’s more a squeaky toy that gets increasingly annoying the more you hear it.

    Here’s a contemporary reference:
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/27/doctor-resigns-dublin-hospital-nuns-sisters-of-charity-dr-peter-boylan

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Fine. But he did at least show unionism means something positive to people.

  • Tochais Siorai

    A much more relevant difference is that the ANC represented the bulk of the South African population whereas SF don’t come remotely close to that in Ireland.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Yes but that was nearly 70 years ago, at a time when Catholics and many Protestants did not enter each other’s churches. The salient point is that his religious background did not affect his appointment to being head of state (in fact he wasn’t really political either, certainly not much of a nationalist).

    To be honest, I’m not sure it overly matters anyway. Many of the DUP main players refuse to enter a Catholic Church for theological reasons, even for funerals. If this doesn’t affect their political interactions with Catholics – no big deal. They can offer their condolences elsewhere.

  • Tochais Siorai
  • John Collins

    As late about 2000, when Cathal Daly died, DUP representatives went to Cardinal old residence to convey their sympathies, but did not attend the mass. Even Unionist Politicians did not into the church for Ronald Kerr’s funeral mass, despite that he was a murdered PSNI Officer. It was good to see Arlene Foster, and other Unionist reps attend Martin McGuinness’s funeral, as it reflected modern thinking

  • John Collins

    No. Wrong again. The Monarch be any religion, but not a Roman Catholic.

  • John Collins

    The article you quote said ‘one of the worst’ not the ‘worst’ as you so erroneously said.
    You must have not read the the article in any depth as Browne said he did not actually blame the Church for the debacle and Dev outwitted McQuaid and brought in another version of the scheme. on his return to office, a few years later.
    McQuaid came from a family replete with medical doctors and that greedy profession also played a big part in stopping this scheme. The medical profession showed their animus for Browne for decades after and did their level best, with a few honourable exceptions, to stop his advancement in the profession thereafter, a fact well documented in his autobiography

  • Factorygirl

    I had seen this. I have to say it’s little wonder that the Church had a free run over the years given the complete lack of critical thinking amongst its flock.
    Do you think this article is proof that the South is now a modern, secular state? The move to end the nuns’ involvement with the hospital didn’t come from the state; it came from the sisters of Charity themselves. Why? Because they were attracting unwelcome attention and they still owe millions in compensation to abuse victims. To see this as anything other than a damage limitation exercise by the Church is extremely naive. God bless!

  • Factorygirl

    Can you reference that claim, please?

  • Tochais Siorai

    The move to end the nuns involvement came from good old fashioned people power. If the nuns hadn’t backed down then the powers that be would have been forced to. ‘The South’ has still a bit to go to being a completely secular state but it’s definitely moving in that direction.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Interesting to note – thanks Karl.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think the expectation that the hard wing of nationalism would not so behave is why many in the softer wing won’t actually vote for it any time soon.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    To be fair unionists won the argument on the AIA and it was ditched.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t either – nationalities are morally neutral things.

  • Michael Dowds

    Perhaps, but their origin myths are not.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    There is a better argument for the UK which is that, as a bigger and more diverse country, it serves as a better container for the ethnically divided peoples of N Ireland than a UI would. Westminster is better able to be neutral between our squabbling tribes than Dublin is – as the Irish government is much closer emotionally to Catholics in N Ireland, and more partisan over their interests, than the British government is to Protestants. Should a United Ireland happen, we would have a new government responsible for N Ireland that is very closely associated with one tribe and not the other. A new problem …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Haha! Love these predictions, keep them coming. Have a look at what the bookies are offering, they seem to see it differently.

  • Factorygirl

    Again you miss the point. It shouldn’t have taken a public outcry. For a republic, especially, the Irish State is still influenced too much by the Church. Moreover, the state was either unwilling or unable to do anything, therefore “the powers that be” showed themselves to be totally impotent on this matter. Before this latest development- the nuns withdrawal- would you have found the Church’s involvement acceptable? If so, I respectfully suggest that your deference was sheep-like. If you were opposed to it then you were relying on the Church, not the State, to stop it. Not good enough! Not really sure that the South has changed sufficiently to convince non- nationalists that unity would be worthwhile. Yes, there are aspects of life in NI that I’m not happy with and would like to see changed. However, the case for unity would have to be really convincing in order to attract unionist support. For the reasons I’ve given that day seems a long, long way of.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    People we knew just didn’t do the Twelfth. First time I went was when I had a French exchange student over, just to show him some local colour. To be fair it was more fun than what they look me to in France.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But is part of the reason unionists come across as intransigent to you that you’re assuming your own position is the “normal” one – classic “observer effect”? Nationalists no more budge on their red lines than unionists do, surely.

  • Michael Dowds

    I don’t personally agree that its clear that the British ‘Establishment’ is neutral with regards to NI, nor that the Irish ‘Establishment’ would automatically be aligned with northern nationalism.

    I think the latter is particularly true if northern nationalism continues to be represented by Sinn Fien given that a combination of northern and southern SF could provide a real challenge to FF&FG.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Usually good to have new voices in these parts but until you get to know people a bit better, go easy on the assumptions. Never a good idea to answer for anyone and I certainly have no interest in being cast as a sheep-like apologist for the Catholic Church in order to conform to your stereotypes and give you a platform to have a rant.

  • Factorygirl

    I take your point but I didn’t assume anything. Anyone who sees the Church’s role in state affairs ,such as the one discussed, as acceptable is, I believe, subservient. I’m aware that you are opposed to it and therefore that wouldn’t apply to you. However, any Irish citizen opposed to the Church’s role in this matter can’t rely on their government to do anything about it. Not ideal!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The UK state isn’t completely neutral of course but it’s gone as far as any state reasonably could to try and avoid taking sides for the last 50 odd years, maybe more. Certainly unionists haven’t felt very supported for several decades, and have had to watch SDLP then SF have an apparent inside track on the two main initiatives of my lifetime, the AIA and the Peace Process. We’ve had to struggle to be heard by UK governments, such has been governments’ tendency to see the natural centre of gravity in NI in the SDLP position rather than Alliance. Nationalist parties are used to being politically indulged, hence the level of outrage and shock now something has not gone their way.

    I think it will be very, very hard for the Irish government to establish any kind of credibility as a fair arbiter in NI when its historic role has been so unashamedly partisan towards their own. It shows the basic flaw in the concept of the UI state – it’s just innately an unstable proposition. Why we’d want to swap the current community balance in N Ireland for a new imbalance, I know not.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Where have you been during the last decades, MU? Have you encountered “revisionism” perhaps? The Ireland you’re describing where “the Irish government is much closer emotionally to Catholics in N Ireland” is a pretty anachronistic take…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “I think it will be very, very hard for the Irish government to establish any kind of credibility as a fair arbiter in NI when its historic role has been so unashamedly partisan towards their own.” But does this not apply just as fully to Westminster historically, at least since the 1920s? And at this very moment May’s Conservatives might be seen as being rather more openly and aggressively “Unionist” than any ROI party (other than SF) might be seen as re-unification oriented.

  • SeaanUiNeill
  • SeaanUiNeill

    As my late father in law used to say (about what he saw in the 1930s in Germany) “Mass hysteria”…….

    Tell people often enough that they will be driven from their jobs and perhaps even pogrommed and the sensible arguments simply don’t touch them…..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You are being anachronistic, projecting the aftermath of a violent attempt at secession back unto the far more likely development of Ireland, under Home Rule and the IPP, into a British Dominion within the Empire, with all the trade advantages that offered. The situation of the Free State was created by partition and the decline of even northern business and wealth when its economic hinterland was sundered from Belfast by the border.

    Incidently the Republic only came into being in 1949…..

  • Factorygirl

    What article are you referring to that you think I’m quoting from? I’ve read various accounts of the Mother & Child debacle in the past and, although I’m quoting from memory, I’m certain that in the immediate post-war years Eire had the HIGHEST child mortality rates in western Europe. The figures were improved thanks to help and advice (mainly on improved standards of hygiene) from the British medical profession.

    Yes, the Irish Medical Association was against any form of socialised healthcare just as their counterparts in the UK had been opposed to the NHS. However, unlike Britain, the RC hierarchy in Ireland successfully managed to scupper it. The reason why Browne wasn’t more critical of the Church at the time was because he felt his colleagues in government shouldn’t have buckled so easily and therefore he saw their spinelessness as more reprehensible than the actions of the Church who were essentially doing what you would expect them to do- protecting their vested interest. And in any case, he had already committed political suicide, being a social outcast wouldn’t have helped. So his reluctance to openly criticise the Church was more to do with the fact that they were all-powerful rather than because they weren’t culpable.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Can you explain? You see some national origin myths as carrying moral import?

  • Trasna

    Tony Blair could only convert to Catholicism once he left office but don’t let historical fact get in the way of your mental gymnastics.

    You accuse me if being like a dog with a bone when your the one who can’t let go of the past. Dev, McQuaid et all. Listen up, they are dead.

    Get over it and move on. It will improve your mental health.

  • Trasna

    In 1950, Scotland had a population of 5.2 million. Today, it’s 5.4. At partition, NI had a population of 1.2, today it’s 1.8. The Rep in 1911, population 2.8, today 4.8. London has been draining the life out of Scotland and NI for a century and will continue to do so.

    The sooner the CTA ends the better.

  • Michael Dowds

    I see ALL national origin myths as being morally loaded.

    I’ll play the role of speculative pop-psychologist …

    All group identities are based on the sense that the group is in someway ‘other’ than those not in the group.

    The parameter of that otherness has been determined sufficiently important (that’s the moral bit) to justify exclusivity of membership.

    Race is an example of an origin myth. Variability in height, eye colour, shoe size etc. are determined to be less important than an equally variable parameter, skin colour. There’s a moral loading to the choice of parameter.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But all peoples of the world – nations, races, ethnicities – are equal, no? And should be treated as such?

  • Michael Dowds

    I, of course, agree that everyone should be treated equally. Being a bleeding heart liberal snowflake how could I do otherwise. In fact, I go further and would advocate for equalization (as far as practical).

    However, my approach is a conceit. Its no more based on facts than any other political philosophy.

    Short people cant reach the top shelf without a ladder. They’re not equal to tall people.

    People will low muscle mass can’t lift heavy things. They’re not equal to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    People with brain damage CAN have diminished cognitive abilities compared with their non-injured selves. They’re not equal.

    If you mean equal in basic human dignity. That’s fine, but what’s dignity? Is that a religious thing?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think the key thing for me is about respecting other cultures and their identities as being morally neutral things – there is nothing morally better about one nationality or ethnic group versus any other.

    It comes up in the N Ireland context a lot because we do get a lot of “being Irish is better than being British / vice versa”, often hidden under several layers of butter-wouldn’t-melt liberal verbiage.

  • Clanky

    Like you say much of it is about perception, and that is where nationalism and SF in particular run rings around unionism and the DUP in particular. They manage to be as intransigent as unionists but generally leave everyone outside of unionism with the impression that the DUP are the ones who won’t give an inch, and the DUP play into their hands every time.

    There is a lot more that nationalists could do to reach out as well, but in terms of the original post about asking catholics / nationalists to embrace the union it will only happen if the union is seen to be more attractive and only unionists can do that. I think the British government have done a lot to reach out to the nationalist community, but nationalists need to know that if the continue to live within the union that they will not only be treated fairly by the government, but not have to be “kept in their place” by the extremist elements of unionism / loyalism.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Fair points – though I don’t think SF actually runs rings around the more intelligent unionists, quite the opposite. But outside NI, the assumptions of the less informed, that is most people, about “Ireland” means nationalists have it artificially easy – they do the political equivalent of lobbing semi-funny jokes at a pissed audience who will laugh at anything resembling a joke emanating from the stage. Unionists walk on stage to a hungover audience who only came in for a free coffee and are waiting for the next act. Some like the DUP don’t help themselves by panicking a descending to the political equivalent of toilet humour. But have some sympathy – ill-informed prejudice about N Ireland outside N Ireland makes it hard to get a fair wind. If that isn’t toilet humour. Definitely pushed the stand-up comedy analogy too far there.

  • Sean Danaher

    Still on Mull so sorry for late reply
    Predicting is always fun and one almost certainly gets things wrong more than right but in the spirit of making a total idiot of myself
    1 The Torys will win the GE
    2 There will be no Brexit deal
    – a car crash Brexit but at least the air bags will fire
    3 there will be a hard border between the Republic and NI
    4 The UK economy will tank
    5 Scotland will leave the U.K.
    6 Bad as things are in England they are far worse in NI
    7 The Republic does very well out of Brexit with many firms from both the mainland UK and NI relocating there.

    In this context there is a 51-49% vote in favour of a United Ireland in 5 years

    Of course none of this may happen – even the first which seemed certain a few weeks ago may not happen

  • MainlandUlsterman

    To get to 51 per cent though, you’re going to need a lot of non-Irish-Catholic votes for a UI. The Irish Catholic percentage of the population is about 41 per cent. So you need every Irish Catholic plus quite a few of the rest (Protestants plus the “Protestants in disguise” within the “No Religion” cohort, which is about another 12 per cent by my estimate – and I would be in that group myself if I were in NI).

    Demographic trends are against you as well, contrary to popular belief (fuelled by wishful thinking on one side and addiction to doom-mongering on the other). Take a gander if you have the time at what’s happening with younger people and children here: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=northern+ireland+demographics&oq=northern&aqs=chrome.3.69i59j69i60j69i57j35i39j69i59j69i61.3148j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 One of the many interesting things, when you look at the supposed inevitable rise of the Catholic population translating into pro-UI sentiment, is that it looks rather different when you realise the vast majority of the growth in Catholic numbers in recent years is of people from non-Irish Catholic countries like Poland, Lithuania, Philippines etc. And the interesting thing about them is, they are not identifying as ‘Irish’ in great numbers, only about 1 in 10 of them does. They are much more likely to see themselves as in the UK and/or Northern Ireland, or just as Polish, Lithuanian etc. They behave as quite a different cohort of people, or several cohorts really. Irish Catholic population growth is a non-event and has been for about 20 years.

    I hate to bring things down to ethnicity but it is unavoidable in N Ireland – our divide is an ethnic divide between broadly Irish Catholic and Ulster Protestant. Nationalism in N Ireland has always been largely an Irish Catholic thing, with a few exceptions, and the “united Ireland soon” version of nationalism even more so. I just can’t see where the votes are going to come from for a border poll, not just in the short term but in the medium and longer term.

  • John Collins

    So you are now portraying Noel Browne, of all people, as been utterly supine.

  • Sean Danaher

    I have never lived in NI and only visit sporadically though I was there at Easter
    I live in Northumberland and visit Dublin frequently
    I am totally agnostic about a United Ireland and indeed most Dubliners I know hope it is later rather than sooner, they don’t like SF and the DUP even less though the younger generation is more forgiving of SF

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think that sounds about right for Dubliners, having lived there briefly myself. Would like a united Ireland ideally but not really sure they want to throw away the nice little country they have going to get it. Fair enough. The more people think about it, the worse an idea it becomes, is the general rule. I think about 90 per cent of people outside these islands probably think it should just happen. But they don’t have to live in N Ireland. Nor do I for that matter! But a big bit of my heart is there.

  • Factorygirl

    It’s not completely incorrect.

    According to 2016 figures:

    26% of Ireland’s exports are to the USA, while 13% go to the UK. The figure for Belgium, just under 13%, is misleading as Belgium acts as a drop off point for Irish goods destined for other EU states, making the UK Ireland’s 2nd largest export market.
    Most of Ireland’s imports (24%) come from the UK.
    17% are from the USA, and 13% from France.

    So the UK is Ireland’s 2nd largest export market and the largest provider of Ireland’s imports. When you factor in foreign investment the UK is by far the most important country to Ireland in economic terms.
    Irish economist John McGrane, states:

    “We’re so joined at the economic hip that,
    when the UK economy grows by 1 per cent, we grow by 0.3 per cent as a
    result. But the reverse is unfortunately true as well”

    Here’s the article:

    http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/why-brexit-would-be-bad-for-trade-between-britain-and-ireland-1.2693469

    Stats source:
    https://tradingeconomics.com/ireland/imports-by-country

  • Factorygirl

    I think you’ll find that Arlene Foster’s doubts about attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral were due to the fact that he was a Provo, not because he was a Catholic.

  • John Collins

    Well Cathal Daly must have done a very job at hiding the fact that he was a terrorist.

  • Madra Uisce

    Given Arlene is quite happy to be photographed with the leader of the still active terrorist North Down UDA (see last Sundays murder inBangor) id say you are wide of the mark

  • Factorygirl

    She might argue that being photographed with someone is not the same as attending their funeral. My post was a reply to a previous comment in which it was suggested that Arlene Foster had been reluctant to attend a Catholic funeral. I simply pointed out that her reluctance may have had something to do with the fact McGuinness’s organisation had tried to murder her- on her school bus- and her father in separate attacks. The implication of the first post was that Protestant= sectarian bigot. I felt that this was unfair and lacked context.

  • Sean Danaher

    Hi MainlandUlsterman
    well back to my 2Mbaud land-line in Northumberland and again sorry for the late reply.
    As I’ve said before I’m from the Republic and I’ve known many Nationalists from my time at UCD but didn’t meet any unionists till my time at CERN (watching NI in the ’82 world cup and celebrating the 12th July in Geneva) but there are a few points

    1) It is a given that I identify as Irish, but for a complete neutral given the choice would they identify as Irish or British given the choice? Certainly the time I spent at the Harvard Smithsonian in the US while doing my PhD would indicate the former, and my dealings with many European Colleagues fairly neutral until recently – Brexit changes everything. I have no certainty that neutral people in NI would choose the Union.

    2) Predicting the future is a mug’s game but I expect the economic impact of Brexit to be highly negative. However it is the reputational impact I wish to address here.There is an almost universal agreement in the International circles in which I move (as Emeritus Professor) that the UK has taken leave of its senses and may well be on its way to becoming a pariah state. I do not have any certainty that any neutral sane person would want to identify as British in 5 years time

    3) Given the likelihood that Scotland will leave the UK within 5 years, I’m not sure what impact this will have. I understand that many Unionists have a greater affinity to Scotland rather than England but here I am uncertain. I really have no clear idea what Scottish Independence will do

  • SeaanUiNeill

    There is an even better argument for the EU which is that, as a bigger and more diverse community, it serves as a better container for the ethnically divided peoples of N Ireland than an isolated and increasingly rightist UK would. The problem with arguing for the union as some “absolute” in itself is that the conditions upon which NI is involved in the union are in flux. Ireland is connected to Europe, while only yesterday Teresa’s own spokeswoman spoke of becoming simply a “tax haven”:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/theresa-may-threatens-eu-with-tax-haven-hard-brexit-plan-ready-to-do-so-if-eu-blocks-trade-migration-deal_uk_587cbbdae4b04a8bfe6af15b

    This bodes very ill for anyone in the UK looking to have a career and a home and not simply looking to stash away large sums of cash. Such thinking clearly hints that there are far better ways available to future governments at Westminster to subsist than actually growing a real economy which might benefit people lower down the money ladder. With the UK already boasting nine of the ten poorest areas in Europe, things can hardly get better with such elitist thinking at the rudder of state. As with the passport issue already, we may find a considerable raft of conversions to a re-unified Ireland from the most unlikely people in the north as this particular political trajectory plays out.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    1) I suspect the identities of people in your working world of international science and academia are fairly untypical of the Northern Ireland population. A digested form of the Census statistics on national identity in N Ireland is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_Northern_Ireland. There is a big question over who is ‘neutral’ in N Ireland or what that means – whether people claiming to be neutral actually have deeper cultural assumptions and tastes that favour one nation over another for the province. All we can do is ask people themselves and when we do, we find there is always a big majority for staying in the UK. It’s been 60 per cent plus in most surveys for decades. The reality is few people in N Ireland approach the question with a blank piece of paper. Identity is a lot more ‘right brain’ than ‘left brain’ ultimately, to use the shorthand – it isn’t really so much about the evaluation of practical benefits as about positive associations with family, friends and places; also, the lens you are looking through; as well as self-projection of course.

    2) I also expect the impact of Brexit to be negative and think the vote last year was the UK taking leave of its senses. In N Ireland, it does damage the case for the Union for those people who are genuinely open to changing their minds. But I also think a lot of perfectly sane, rational people who saw NI’s only real viable future as inside the UK will not necessarily have changed their minds. Quite apart from the bulk of pro-Union people who will always be pro-Union no matter what, even supposedly soft pro-Union people look at 32-county nationalism say, “anything but that.” Britain having some difficult diplomatic issues and a fragile economy pales into insignificance in N Ireland compared to the age-old local ethnic squabble, which has ploughed through world wars virtually unchanged – I don’t think Brexit is enough to really change the topography that much. And remember, most ‘neutrals’ in NI such as they are are big supporters of the Good Friday Agreement or something like it – that is, they see both sides working together within N Ireland as the real priority and they are wary of ‘solutions’ that favour one side over the other. The United Ireland solution effectively hands ‘victory’ to one side – so jars with the neutral’s idea of what is likely to work sustainably. Keeping the peace in a fairly evenly divided society is about keeping the balance – and you don’t have to be unionist to get that core proposition.

    3) Scottish independence may happen or may not – like you I don’t know but must say at the moment the prospects seem to be receding somewhat. Let’s see what 8th June throws up. If surveys are anything to go by though the issue does not seem to affect support for the Union in NI. I think that reflects the truism that in N Ireland people are thinking about N Ireland when asked about its future, and what is going on in mainland UK is only a secondary concern. Yes we have strong cultural links with Scotland, but unionism in N Ireland is a free-standing thing – something I suspect a lot of non-unionists don’t quite grasp. How it affect less committed pro-Union people I don’t know, but I think the same calculation applies as before – that is, that a United Ireland seems a plunge into the dark, and it could get very dark – better the devil you know.

  • Factorygirl

    So, you find nothing wrong with the fact that De Valera, the democratically elected head of government, had to run his domestic policies past the Vatican for its approval. Some independence that is!

  • John Collins

    Only to a point. After is there not a religious influence in the opposition to abortion and SSM in the DUP up to this very day.

  • Factorygirl

    The term ‘orange statelet’ was used by northern nationalists to describe unionist hegemony in the North. That same nationalist population grew from 33% in the 1920s to around 45% today, while the southern unionist population was virtually eradicated. Therefore, there was a growing and vocal nationalist community in the North who were able to draw attention to injustice in NI by characterising it as an orange statelet. There was no equivalent minority left in the South to highlight the injustices committed against unionists by the southern ‘green statelet’. That’s what my last two sentences mean. Understand?

  • Jane

    I’m a very southern English person, so my view of the Union is different, I went to university in London, and almost everyone I met there was a bit Irish, except me. Even my children when they were born! Though strangely I rarely met anyone from NI, until I went to Scotland.

    When in Scotland I told them my grandmother was from Liverpool and was one of eleven children, and they laughed and said of course she had some Irish in her. She did have auburn hair and very fair skin, and married an Italian catholic, so it sort of makes sense. But she never said anything, whereas everyone I met as a student was extremely proud of their Irishness, no matter how small.

    So anyway, yeah, Ireland and the UK are really really really separate and different countries, aren t they! Nothing in common, no shared interests, no similar genes, nothing, nothing at all…………..