In this newspaper, Danny Kennedy cites problems with Sinn Fein’s determined use of the phrase ‘the north’ instead of Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist former minister strikes a reasonable tone in his plea to republicans to move towards the use of the more accurate name of the political entity that was created almost a century ago, and the existence of which was enshrined in the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Such a tone is fitting, given that Sinn Fein moved a considerable distance in 1998 when it accepted the reality of partition.
The party has edged forward since then. There was a notable change in atmosphere when the Northern Ireland football team pulled off its remarkable Euro 16 qualifying triumph, beating Greece and finishing top of its group. Nationalist politicians, including two senior members of Sinn Fein, recognised the victory (perhaps in the latter case because they had to, given their roles), and were careful to balance it with equal praise for the Republic. But they did issue such statements, and there might even have been a sense of warmth. Few people in Northern Ireland would now want the national side to lose, even if they would prefer an all-island team. That is progress.
But the singular use of the term ‘the north’ when referring to Northern Ireland, which is also the practice of some SDLP politicians, is ultimately a petty denial of reality, one which Mr Kennedy teases out in his question about soccer funding.
Much of the Dublin media also insists on using ‘the north’.
It has echoes of the obsessive nationalist insistence on referring to Derry. Many Protestants in the Northwest use that term but casually, as opposed to a pointed (and absurd) bid to remove any reference to that great city, London (admired around the world), that gave Derry its charter.
It would be a major signal that nationalists had moved beyond a grievance culture if they could drop their never-ending bid to change that name, and accept that Derry is widely used but Londonderry is the legal name. Likewise if they could all utter the phrase ‘Northern Ireland’, even if only occasionally.