Last week demonstrated diversity is Nationalism’s strength, not its weakness.

A bird can’t fly on its right wing

I have been watching over the past number of days the debate around the Armagh Church Service with great interest. On The View on Thursday night, there was a variety of different perspectives within Nationalism on show from Claire Hanna, Jim O’Callaghan and Pearse Doherty.

If last week proved anything about the New Ireland movement it’s that we don’t all think alike. Partition evokes many emotions, if you want unification, those emotions will tend to be negative. I love my history and try to be somebody who recognises that we need to work the current Northern Ireland structures for the benefit of the entire community. Yet, being honest I struggle with this moment and find it difficult to pretend that I think of it as anything other than a massive mistake. My Unionist friends see this completely differently and I respect that. They want to boast of its achievements and show their pride in this place. I believe in giving them the space to do those things, but equally I want the space to politely opt out and not take part  in something that I honestly don’t feel comfortable with. No, this doesn’t make me knuckle dragger or some bitter separatist. It makes me somebody who wants reconciliation, but who believes that basing this upon marking divisive events is misguided.

When Unionism tells me, they are not interested in conversations about a New Ireland, I respect that view, not because I don’t want to hear their arguments, but because I understand their Britishness isn’t something they are prepared to contemplate changing before a referendum outcome. It’s my respect for their identity that gets me to that position, not my ignorance. Respect is often about recognising your friends no go zones, as much as it is bringing them along with you.

“Respect” That word is so abused in Northern Ireland political discourse. So often what it really means is “what’s yours is negotiable and what’s mine is a red line”. Agree with me and my narrative is not a basis for reconciliation. One of the galling things about last week was seeing so many people who ran 100 miles away from the 2016 centenary, now demand others run to them in 2021. That isn’t respect, nor should contentious events be our litmus test for our commitments toward reconciliation. A united community is about what you do everyday, not just every few years.

This brings me to another issue around respect that is within Nationalism. I watched with despair as I saw politicians like Claire Hanna and Colum Eastwood be hauled over the coals online for no other reason than they dared to depart from this view. Their nationality, sincerity and commitment to the New Ireland project torn to shreds and for no other reason, than they took a different view on whether to go or not. That’s not ok.

Nationalism is a broad movement, there are a thousand different ways to be a nationalist. Some people choose to express that by joining a party and others do it from a distance. Diversity within Nationalism is good, it is healthy that we have senior representatives taking different views and promoting the idea that not everybody who wants unity approaches this issue in the same way. Our history has demonstrated this, as socialists, conservatives and liberals formed the independence movement at the start of the last century.

We don’t need to “Lundy” those who take a different point of view, rather we should be honest about where we do things differently and why, but then recognise that all of us have a role to play. And by the way in a New Ireland, you will never be required to follow along with the crowd. Our diversity is our strength, watching The View you can see that we are fortunate to have politicians who can speak about this issue with such passion.

So the next time you try to shout them down, remember their voice is connecting with somebody whose values are not yours. Plus, contrary to what some might argue, this movement is for the many and not the few.