The influence of the Scots Irish (ie Ulster Protestants) in the United States has been immense for most of its history.
Part of the modern failure is because the Scots Irish blended so effortlessly into the dominant culture that they often became Americans, without a prefix, and their impact waned, whereas the much later Catholic Irish and Italians felt somewhat on the outside for the better part of a century (from the mid 1800s to mid 1900s) and retained their European identity.
Latterly this has changed markedly and now people of Catholic Irish descent are prominent everywhere, from the US Supreme Court to both the Biden and Trump presidencies.
In living memory there was rarely more than one Catholic at any one time on America’s most powerful court of nine judges. Now they form a majority of the justices.
The phrase Scots Irish was for a long time partly used as a code for saying non Catholic Irish.
While the Ulster influence was large in the early United States, and massively so proportionate to the small population of Ulster itself, it was still under 20% of the population. The influence of German and English Protestants was much greater.
You see this in early Belfast News Letters from the mid 1700s, with ads for some boats sailing from Ulster to America, but reports of far larger numbers of departures from England and northern Europe (see link below about early News Letters).
But the millions of English and Germans were so dominant that they lost most of their European identity and became mainstream Americans. To a significant extent the Scots Irish did too.
Even so, unionist influence in shaping Washington’s view of Northern Ireland ought to be easily as great as that of (pro nationalist) Irish America.
In 2004 I was on a trip to America with a number of journalists from both sides of the Irish border, only two of us from a northern Protestant background. We travelled to Kentucky and met Senator Mitch McConnell, already then one of the most powerful Republican Party politicians in the land (and even more so now, the party’s leader in the US Senate, as he approaches his 80th birthday). He asked us all where we were from, before telling us: “I’m from Banbridge.”
Not only do many of these politicians have such Scots Irish roots, American conservatives generally have seen Britain as a trusted ally of the US for more than a century.
On the other hand, Eire (as it then was) was neutral in the war against Hitler, something that was remembered in the American corridors of power after 1945.
Few such US leaders think about Ireland in that way now, but they are aware that the UK has fought on the same side as America in recent conflicts such as the 1991 Gulf War.
Even Joe Biden, who unionists fear is anti British, strongly backed the UK in the 1982 Falklands War (when an anglophobic strain in Washington was unsympathetic to our the war against Argentina).
The UK and US often side together in the UN security council.
This week the ex Ulster Unionist leader and submarine commander Steve Aiken wrote about the Aukus defence deal between Britain, America and Australia, and how it reflected a US understanding of the UK as a key security partner (see link below).
Yet for all this shared history, unionist influence is negligible compared to Irish America.
Not only have US congressional politicians scolded and threatened London over Brexit and any possible UK deviation from the Northern Ireland Protocol, they have — incredibly — scolded it on the legacy of the NI Troubles too.
A nation that has been phobic about terror post September 11 2001 is lecturing the UK for supposedly covering up its notably mild response to decades of IRA terrorism.
Part of the failure to combat a Sinn Fein version of our past is rooted in a British Foreign Office mindset, that has little sympathy for Ulster Unionism and little inclination to defend it abroad.
Part of the UK reticence in defending itself from American criticism of Brexit’s impact in Northern Ireland is rooted in its own paradoxical approach to the Irish Sea border (both retreating from it and defending it in court).
But much of the problem of unionist invisibility is due to the fact that there is a vast, well connected, strongly motivated Irish American caucus whereas unionism lacks the bandwidth to lobby in Washington.
Recently we ran a letter from the Ireland Israel Alliance on how the Republic is now one of the west’s most anti Israel nations (see link below)..
Why do we not have British diplomats and unionist politicians hammering this home to pro-Israel America at every opportunity?
If a wealthy benefactor was to sponsor even two well-informed, permanent unionist lobbyists, they could make great headway in DC.
One of the first things such lobbyists could do is make connections with the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) lobby group and emphasise Irish hostility to Israel.
There is so much else that unionist lobbyists could work on, above all building bridges with influential American conservatives.
This is lobbying that the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington could never do, being neutral between nationalists and unionists.
Even that natural diplomat, Trevor Ringland, is restricted in his role as a part-time NI envoy to the US.
Unionist lobbyists could, and would have to, go much further.
• Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter acting editor
Other articles by Ben Lowry below, and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the News Letter:
• Ben Lowry September 25: Colum Eastwood is right to say that vaccine passports allow us to open up
• Ben Lowry Sep 25: A sunny autumn day in Co Down banishes some of my equinox gloom
• Ben Lowry Sep 4: Drivers are now well paid ... which reminds me of a job idea
• Ben Lowry Aug 28: Lagan Valley shows the challenges facing both unionism and Alliance
• Ben Lowry Aug 21: Unionists are more vulnerable to the fall of Stormont than republicans
• Ben Lowry Aug 21: Bigwigs should realise that there is no holiday before retirement
• Ben Lowry Aug 14: The collapse of Kabul to the Taliban will be seen as a sign of western weakness
• Ben Lowry Aug 7: Covid has been a bewildering and humbling pandemic
• Ben Lowry Aug 7: Now I understand those older people who want cooler summer weather
• Ben Lowry Aug 2: Three points to keep in mind when arguing against the NI Protocol
• Ben Lowry July 31: The last NI housing boom was disaster, and we need to beware a repeat
• Ben Lowry July 24: Hot weather ought to be welcome in NI but this is extreme
• Ben Lowry July 17: UK has tipped into an amnesty after a long approach to IRA that lacked bite
• Ben Lowry July 15: We should be honest as to how we have arrived at a Troubles amnesty
• Ben Lowry July 10: We will find soon if UK is for once going to criticise Ireland
• Ben Lowry July 10: I once always wanted England to lose, now I want them to win
• Ben Lowry July 3: The mild DUP response to the protocol will cause Boris little concern
• Ben Lowry June 26: Neither Dublin nor IRA have been put under any pressure on legacy
• Ben Lowry June 26: A slight sense of sadness as the days again begin to shorten
• Ben Lowry June 19: Somehow the appeasement of Sinn Fein got worse
• Ben Lowry May 22: Instead of ‘moving on’ from IRA funeral, we still need proper answers
• Ben Lowry May 22: If Joel Keys, 19, wants to help unionism he should get a law degree
• Ben Lowry May 15: Edwin Poots and Doug Beattie will offer two distinct shades of unionism
• Ben Lowry May 8: Formal UK ideas for an amnesty are almost exactly 20 years old
• Ben Lowry May 8: Let us hope that the brilliant Eoghan Harris keeps on writing
• Ben Lowry May 1: Unionism can’t just be about managing long-term defeat
• Ben Lowry April 17: DUP still has to choose between managing this disaster or total rejection of it
• Ben Lowry April 10: His enduring marriage to the Queen was key to our understanding of Prince Philip
• Ben Lowry Mar 20: We have made it through the worst of the dark, dreaded winter lockdown
• Ben Lowry Mar 20: MLAs lost control of abortion by rejecting modest law reform
• Ben Lowry Mar 13: Scotland tunnel isn’t fantasy, but something kids of today might see
• Ben Lowry Mar 6: The cost of victims’ pension has ballooned without explanation as to why
• Ben Lowry Feb 20: We still lack answers as to why IRA funeral got special treatment at Roselawn
• Ben Lowry Feb 13: Peter Robinson has long experience of what is and is not politically feasible
• Ben Lowry Jan 30: At last, clear reason for UK and unionists to stop being weak towards Ireland/EU
• Ben Lowry Jan 16: The Irish Sea border was imposed because UK knew unionists would take it
• Ben Lowry in 2020: Last night unionists celebrated a move towards Irish unity
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.