Last week (‘It is not just nationalism that is seeking truth, rights and equality,’ February 27) over 100 people, self-identifying as ‘civic unionists’, put their name to an open letter calling for a “transparent and inclusive debate concerning rights, truth, equality and civil liberties”.
Ironically, for a statement aimed at inclusivity, the signatories’ appeal is addressed primarily to ‘civic nationalism’.
While many in the establishment, including Sinn Fein, have greeted the letter with enthusiasm, it would behove wider unionism to probe the content of the letter to uncover the intent and implications of what has been written.
The signatories of the letter begin by lamenting the fact that they have been ‘rendered invisible’ in many of the current public debates around ‘rights and responsibilities’, which, they continue, has “reduced our capacity to be heard and undermines the power of reconciliation to shift society away from the stale and limiting notions of identity”.
What ingrate arrogance! To characterise unionist identity as in any way ‘stale’ or ‘limiting’ singularly fails to acknowledge its ability to support what is perhaps the largest folk-culture in Western Europe.
In a single sentence, ‘civic unionism’, of the type exemplified by the content of this letter, has openly distanced itself from the wider unionist community, who still cherish and value the culture and identity of their forefathers.
Small wonder, then, that the signatories have been ‘rendered invisible’.
In contrast, the overwhelming majority of grassroots unionism has demonstrated a more accurate understanding of the political situation than the myriad professional commentators, namely: that a process of reconciliation which requires one community to sacrifice its identity is not reconciliation at all.
As such, grassroots unionism has clearly grasped what the signatories of this letter seem determined to ignore: opposition to what Sinn Fein calls ‘rights issues’, such as an Irish language act, is not just a legislative quibble, but a question of fundamental import for the future character of our beloved country.
Well do we remember Gerry Adams’ ‘Trojan Horse of equality’.
While the frustration at the current state of devolution is real, and generally felt, it is clear that (at least some of) the signatories of this letter are scrabbling for relevance by appealing to that sense of frustration.
Nevertheless, it is utterly incredible, at a time when ‘civic nationalism’ is increasingly falling into step with Sinn Fein, that a section of unionism should so publicly distance itself from the wider community.
As the result of the last Westminster election has shown, we are moving inexorably to a two-party system in Northern Ireland.
Unionism is united in its determination that Sinn Fein’s anti-democratic attempt to circumvent local power-sharing should not be rewarded.
In this context, the contents of this letter amounts to a dangerous policy of appeasement.
The veil has been rent and we are living under a new dispensation. Unionist unity is no longer an empty aspiration, but is resolving itself into a concrete fact with every passing election.
Let every unionist question his or her own role lest they be found on the wrong side of history.
Philip Lynn, Gracehill, Co Antrim