Unionism could make a real difference to life on the island, and could cultivate friendships with people who are just as hostile to Sinn Fein as they are
(See link to the editorial below)
This led to some from a nationalist background who are usually very sympathetic to the cause of unionism to reach for their smelling salts.
Professor Liam Kennedy for example, an admirably outspoken critic of terrorist violence on this island, reacted by saying that those unionists who opposed the unit risked being perceived as “sulking reactionaries with no imagination” (October 28, see link below).
And Eoghan Harris of the Sunday Independent wrote of “a rush of blood [the News Letter] may regret”.
The uncomfortable truth for even moderate nationalists is that the North-South relationship is one that unionists will perhaps never naturally seek to prioritise.
Steve Aiken surely spoke for many when he too rejected Micheál Martin’s shared island unit proposal and instead advocated the creation of a “Shared Islands Unit that enhances relations between Britain and Ireland”.
It might be worth asking however what benefits exactly have accrued to unionism from enhanced relations between Britain and Ireland?
Isn’t that how the reviled Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 came about?
And, much more recently, the Irish Sea border?
So here’s an unorthodox way for unionists to look at the North-South relationship: maybe a healthy and productive North-South relationship could actually bolster unionism.
After all, that East-West relationship has proven to be one where unionists can easily be marginalised and outmanoeuvred?
A unionism confident in its political vision, its identity, and its history in relation to the island of Ireland could make a real difference to life on the island, how the island is perceived abroad, and most crucially, a real difference to unionism’s political fortunes.
Ireland is not just green nationalism.
The story of Ulster, of Northern Ireland, is as much part of the island’s story as the 1916 rising and the Republic.
Unionists like Brian John Spencer and, in his own inimitable way, John Coulter, formerly of this newspaper, have long argued that unionism should enter the cultural and political arena in the Republic, precisely in order to further the unionist political project.
Dublin Orangeman Chris Thackaberry used to organise ‘Dublin Loyal’ walking tours a few years ago, going “behind enemy lines” as he put it, tongue slightly in cheek.
Unionist politicians and cultural figures could take a leaf out of his book.
With the plethora of towns now erecting memorials to Irish soldiers who died in World War I, the ground is fertile, even if the last Irish government’s tribal relapse still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
One of Micheál Martin’s uncles was a British Army P.O.W. in Japan in World War 2.
Like Eoghan Harris, I believe Martin is a pluralist, not a tribalist.
The News Letter editorial referred approvingly to money which might be forthcoming from Dublin for infrastructural projects in Northern Ireland, and that of course would be very welcome.
How much more welcome would be a political relationship in which unionism can act for itself and be itself, and cultivate critical friendship with people on this island who are just as hostile to the bigoted tribalism of Sinn Féin as they are?
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