Civic unionist to Mary Lou McDonald: ‘We listened to you with respect, yet the banner episode has undermined trust’

An open letter to Mary Lou McDonald TD, Uachtaran, Sinn Fein

Thursday, 21st March 2019, 2:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st March 2019, 3:06 pm
Mary Lou McDonald, president of Sinn Fein, speaks at a civic unionist event at the Peter Froggatt at Queen's University, Belfast in February. "She was listened to with respect and courtesy when urging unionists to engage with republicans, yet later chose to walk with an offensive banner in New York"

A Chara Mary Lou,

I was one of a number of civic unionists who welcomed you to Queen’s University in Belfast where you were afforded the opportunity to present your views as to the future of Ireland. You will agree that you were heard with respect and courtesy. As an inclusive and civic unionist, it is what I endorse and seek to promote. If we are to address our many problems it is the least that we can ask of each other.

In the course of your talk you referred to the need for unionism, which is not exclusively but largely representative of individuals from Anglo and Ulster/ Scotch Irish backgrounds, to engage with nationalists and republicans to build a ‘new Ireland ‘where unionists could feel included and confident that their rights and rich mosaic of identity, culture and heritage will be afforded respect and recognition.

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Mary Lou McDonald stands behind the controversial St Patrick's Day banner in New York

Your recent political actions in New York where you chose to walk with an offensive banner calling for ‘England to get out of Ireland’ lends to the view that your presence and association with the sentiment expressed was either misjudged and misguided or your presentation at QUB is best seen as expedient rhetoric designed to mask strategic and political intentions that are worrying in their implications.

You will understand the clear contradictions as viewed from the side-lines and the injury that results.

Within the audience at Queen’s University were gathered individuals, like me, who are genetically and culturally from Ulster/Scots-Irish or Anglo- Irish background. In regard to the latter they are the embodiment of a culture and heritage which you seem to see as unwelcome. You would do well to remember that there is historically, a thin line between ‘England out’ and ‘English out.’

The history of de-Anglicisation in Ireland is peppered with the legacy of the deliberate targeting of the Anglo-Irish community and identity well beyond the ‘Big House’ and the Ascendancy. More recent history evidences similar traits especially in Northern Ireland where Englishness was subsumed under an umbrella of ‘Britishness.’

Letter to the editor

To embrace a mantra of exclusivity which implies that this is worthy of support undermines trust and renders problematic any attempt at the reconciliation which civic unionism promotes. It is hard to shake hands with a closed fist.

As informed by extensive discussion with other civic unionists, I believe that they are committed to and will continue to work towards building an inclusive community for everyone regardless of identity, culture, gender, faith and heritage. I can envisage no situation wherein civic unionists would denigrate an individual’s identity or call for anyone to leave their home and get out of Ireland, North or South.

I am disappointed to find that Sinn Fein under your leadership is not at the same point.

Yours sincerely,

Terry Wright, Londonderry