Ireland’s Future-Changing Narratives and Changing Language

Gerry Carlile is the CEO of Ireland’s Future 

The labelling of people ‘Green’ and ‘Orange’ to describe their political outlook is becoming increasingly dated.

In fact, the laziness inherent in those labels are patronising and offensive. The peace process signalled an end to such broad sweeping and blunt labels to describe an increasingly complex and nuanced spectrum of political views across the north.

Even a cursory analysis of those who use these descriptors reveal a certain brand of intellectual and political snobbery. An arrogance that implicitly cries out ‘my view is superior and more sophisticated than yours’.

But there is something more pernicious behind the persistence of these labels. They are almost exclusively used by those who are both opposed to constitutional change and who have a vested interest in using divisive terms to keep communities apart. Especially those who tend to struggle to present a confident analysis of their own constitutional position.

New language must be developed so that people are not pigeon-holed and so that people are engaged in terms of the issues that affect them, rather than using labels which suggests that they move as one homogenous group. Mature and accurate descriptions are especially essential when discussing the constitutional question.

Nationalism is too narrow a term to describe the full and wide scope of our people who want to see a new Ireland. To merely label all these people Green is incorrect also.

Things are changing and they’re changing fast. Our terminology also needs to change, so that it is welcoming and embracing.

The recent Ireland’s Future online event, ‘New Ireland – A Warm House For All’ offered something completely different from what has gone before. It was new and fresh and has attracted over 35,000 online views.

It did not fit the narrative of those who believe that constitutional change is simply a matter for those who are green or orange. Rather, it sought to engage people and provide them with a voice in terms of how the country will be shaped over the coming years. It provoked thought and asked: ‘What type of society do I want to live in? What is best for me and my family? What is best for the future?’

How do you describe a former British soldier and Orangeman brought up on the Shankill Road who is now up for a conversation about Irish unity because he believes it will improve the life chances of his grandchildren?

Or the Baptist Minister who thinks we need an immediate all island Citizens’ Assembly in order to plan and prepare for the future of the island?

Or the former Chair of the Alliance Party who was raised in an Orange family but who believes the Irish government need to put a plan on the table in advance of a referendum on a new Ireland?

None of the above, like many of the rest of us, are singularly Green or Orange, they are a combination of the two…and probably even more than that.

The conversation about a new Ireland has evolved to an entirely new space in the very recent past.

We are on a trajectory towards referendums being held on both parts of this island, so the notion of constitutional change isn’t something for just Ballymurphy or the Bogside, it is as much an issue for Dundonald and Dromore and it is also an issue for Killarney and Kinsale.

The fact that the unofficial campaigns have begun before the referendum date has been announced is a very healthy sign.

We should not lose sight of the huge benefits that a properly planned New Ireland can deliver. The goodwill already being demonstrated by the world’s largest economies is significant. They appreciate the potential of an English speaking country on the doorstep to Europe and with growing ties to the US economy. They welcome the repeated commitments from the Biden administration and the European Union that Ireland’s interests will be protected and will escape the ravages of Brexit. All of these economic and financial advantages will play a crucial part in delivering the big societal prize, and that is the ending of sectarianism once and for all.

The Ireland’s Future online event is clear proof that we are all throwing off the shackles of simplistic labels. No one is merely ‘Green’ or ‘Orange’. There is a growing realisation, in the absence of political violence, that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

The participants in the recent Ireland’s Future conversation dispelled the Green and Orange narrative, they have extended themselves and displayed great generosity, thought and courage. Those who advocate for unity must consistently challenge themselves to do the same. Building towards a new Ireland means we must extend ourselves on a regular and consistent basis and we must do it for the right reasons.

The pro United Ireland family is no longer just nationalist and republican. It is growing and developing into a colourful coalition of citizens from many different backgrounds, traditions and identities. Going forward to describe it as simply ‘Green’ is incorrect, inaccurate and unacceptable.