I am proud of my British heritage but unionism should admit past failings

Our parliamentary system has stood the test of tyranny, but it is na�ve to believe in golden age

I read with interest a piece in your paper by Brian Spencer (‘We must push back on those who repeatedly misrepresent Northern Ireland as a contrived sectarian statelet,’ March 1).

I consider myself a unionist. There is much, I believe, to be proud of in my British heritage.

Letter to the editor

A letter such as this will never be long enough to discuss them all but our Parliamentary system springs most readily to mind.

Our parliamentary system has stood the test of tyranny, both domestic and foreign, and there is a reason Westminster is referred to as the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ across the world much as throughout history the Roman Republic has been held up by many as a golden age.

However it is only the naïve or the dishonest who believe in golden ages.

Mr Spencer’s article paints a rosy picture of the early days of Northern Ireland and raises an important question for unionists to answer.

When will unionism have the courage to acknowledge the huge failings of the early leaders of this state?

More importantly when will unionism have the courage to admit these failings without immediately invoking the failures of the leaders of Irish nationalism?

The United Kingdom has the potential to be an, inclusive, outward looking and compassionate country. This is the UK that I, and many unionists like me who were raised in the Catholic faith, can not only support but feel proud of.

However there is an absolute unwillingness within unionism to honestly and bravely acknowledge the mistakes of the past. The simple fact that there was widespread discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland appears to be too much for some to admit.

In 2010 David Cameron stood in the House of Commons and apologised for the actions of the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday.

I have never been so proud of being British as I was in that moment, watching him display a courage and compassion that is too often lacking in the Union’s most ardent defenders on this side of the Irish Sea.

I am not suggesting that Mr Spencer or any of my fellow unionists spend the rest of their lives apologising for the actions of our forefathers, nor do I ask that they abandon their pride in Northern Ireland, in fact I share it.

I simply say this; as Northern Ireland’s centenary approaches, there is much to be proud of in the history of the Union and of Northern Ireland but there is also much that we should learn from if we are to reach our potential in the future.

A willingness to admit that mistakes were made does not make you any less loyal, it does not diminish your Britishness.

The argument for the Union will be won when its supporters make a case for it as inclusive, positive and outward looking, but it will be poorly served if they argue against the weight of history and insist that it has always been.

Jason Ashford, Lisburn

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