[Having thrown their toys out of the pram two years ago… – Ed] ANYhoo… In the Irish Times, Gerry Moriarty reports from the nationalist “gurn-fest” in Belfast at the weekend. From the Irish Times report
Essentially this was nationalism speaking to nationalism although there were few people in the hall from a unionist or Protestant background. Unionist politicians weren’t invited but they will have heard the message nonetheless, and will have been alarmed by it.
Southern politicians including Minister for Education Joe McHugh and Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary, who spoke at the conference, will have detected the irate and sullen tones of some of the nationalist speakers, and they too will have had messages to bring back to Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin: a message saying that a significant element of Northern nationalism is deeply unhappy and will need pacifying and placating.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, who also spoke, was delighted with the message and surely feels that the day reinforced her repeated call for a Border poll on a united Ireland and the speedy convening of a forum to begin planning for Irish unity.
Not everyone from a Northern nationalist background was enamoured of the occasion. Tom Kelly, a Northern Ireland businessman and leading Remainer campaigner, refused to attend because he saw it as a nationalist “gurn-fest” – Northern Ireland for moan-fest.
The Belfast-based journalist Eamonn Mallie was listed to speak on the programme but he pulled out because he was unhappy that the speakers did not reflect Northern Ireland society. He had requested there be a more balanced panel of speakers.
In terms of Northern voices therefore it was left to SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to try to lower the temperature a little. This wasn’t 1968 and nationalists weren’t second-class citizens, he reminded the audience.
“Those who have deliberately inflamed the narrative that unionism as a whole is unchanging, don’t believe in rights, and can’t be worked with – those people are wrong,” he said in challenging what appeared to be the dominant thought of the day.
“We all have a duty to tell our unionist neighbours: ‘You belong to this place every bit as much as I do – therefore you have the very same right to shape the future of this island,’” he added.
That includes the right to shape the future of what one of the organisers, Belfast solicitor Niall Murphy, referred to on the day as the “micro-jurisdiction” of Northern Ireland.
[It would be a good place to start… – Ed] Indeed.