Brian O’Neill’s contribution on Sunday, suggesting reaching out to senior citizens of our two political communities to chair a reunification proposal committee, was very interesting and challenging.
While it can be strongly argued that Brian’s proposal is at least premature, it can also be argued that his logic held up well, given the ambiguities that vacation fighters exploited in 2016.
In the time before a future border survey, of course, extensive discussions would have to be held about what would theoretically be voted on. We’re just not at that point.
Brian’s contribution, however, was the last in a series of similar proposals recently, and all must take due account of their merits. Most of them, contrary to Brian’s more radical approach, focused on how unionists must sell the union in order to save it.
The ball was started by an article by Peter Robinson in News Letter. It’s good that Robinson has reappeared as a columnist. Always a pragmatic, intelligent politician who, alongside Martin McGuinness, created the circumstances under which Northern Ireland for the first time had the appearance of a stable government based on real power-sharing and the aim of improving everyday life here.
If he speaks, his words should at least have the respect of a fair, uninterrupted hearing and examination.
Robinson’s article first looked at the NI Protocol, about which he wrote:
“All in all, the Protocol does not directly or immediately endanger the Union, but it is easy to see that addressing a key issue for Northern Ireland in a different way from Britain and in line with the Republic of Ireland is contributing to an ongoing constitutional metamorphosis for the long term impact of this newest element is still difficult to pinpoint. “
His conclusion is:
“The most valuable benefit of our time is making the most of the hand that has been given to us rather than thinking about the result after the whistle. Don’t waste time changing the past. work hard to change the future. We need to make Northern Ireland function as well as possible while gaining support for the means to strengthen and maintain the Union. “
This was followed by the announcement of the creation of We Make NI, “a new civil society group celebrating Northern Ireland and countering the campaign for Irish unity”. According to the opening story on Irish news, the group is made up of so-called “small” trade unionists, most of whom have no political affiliations, although the two main union parties welcomed the initiative. Alan Meban of We Make NI said:
“The challenge for any civic group is to come up with new ideas and hear new voices without making the work of the political parties they support or lying in bed with these parties ……… .but with organizations like Ireland bourgeois unionism be present in these debates and create your own narratives of the aspirations for an improved union at a time when the “U” in Great Britain is increasingly in distress. “
Then came the announcement from Uniting UK, whose spokesman former UUP MLA Philip Smith said:
“Our focus is on people who feel left behind by traditional unionism such as young people, liberals and minorities. The Union is a one-way street and we need to encourage Northern Ireland’s contribution to the Union in Britain. The future direction of Great Britain can be decided in Scotland or England as well as on the island of Ireland. ‘NI IN’ is our key message and our aim is to educate, communicate, research and promote the Union for the Union’s growth and to prepare for a future referendum. “
That message is closer to Brian’s position and the view that Robinson controversially held shortly after he left office.
It is not uncommon for the trade union movement to launch two very similar initiatives at the same time. This has been an important issue since at least 1968. But at least the need for internal debate and self-assessment is recognized. Something to build from.
While some projects from the Robinson article recognize the value of these initiatives, they are resonating and should be fully considered when starting this process:
“Isn’t it remarkable how those who demand respect, tolerance and acceptance of their identity and culture shamelessly withhold these values from others?”
Robinson is right in referring to much of the current political discourse about the union and about unionists themselves. In a growing segment of nationalism, there is a growing trend that demographics care about the border and that the views and concerns of unionism need not be taken into account.
This is the absolute double of the attitude that nationalists (often correctly) ascribe to political unionism for much of the past century. It is an attitude that would likely hinder and disturb any public intra-union debate.
There is also a very real feeling that many young, socially adaptable people who are still fundamentally union friendly are unwilling to lift their heads over the parapet for fear of being demonized. The same goes for the union-friendly business leaders.
The same goes for trade unionists in the public and voluntary sectors. The same applies to trade unionists within the LGBT community, the feminist movement and the trade unions. The result is the very narrow and generally unrepresentative range of pro-union voices available to the media.
These voices, in turn, serve to misrepresent the community they are trying to speak for and play into the hands of those whose aim it is to stigmatize union voices and have them ignore, shouted down or ridiculed.
These are the people whose voices must be heard with clarity and confidence. Until we hear them, we won’t know where a huge part of our society is and what it feels like. But they are clearly unwilling to speak publicly.
While the debate must take place, it must first take place in an arena that is open to open debate and free from fear of ridicule. It must also be kept away from the gaze of the media or those who oppose trade unionism. Avoid being led or influenced by skilled speakers and debaters from the parties or the loyal orders.
Or the usual overexposed and aloof voices from academia talking about or about union-friendly people instead of talking to them. It also needs to hear the voices of those who are really wavering about the union or are unsure of its benefits, as if the union society does not listen to the wavers and take their concerns seriously. It cannot answer or overcome these concerns.
In short, unionists and non-conformist union-friendly people need time, space and privacy to sit down for extended periods of time and completely reevaluate themselves and what they have to offer. Once this process is completed, he can speak sincerely, openly, and confidently to nationalism and the republic about how the future might play out.
Ian Clarke spent 36 years in newspaper sales and marketing in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland – including Belfast Telegraph, Wolverhampton Express & Star, Northern Echo and The Herald (Glasgow), after graduating from QUB with a degree in Political Science. Glentoran Pendant.