The unionist approach to Northern Ireland’s centenary has been a pathetic concession to the Irish nationalist narrative

A letter from J. Davidson:

Saturday, 30th October 2021, 9:04 am
Updated Saturday, 30th October 2021, 9:16 am
(left to right) First Minister of NI Paul Givan, NI Secretary Brandon Lewis and Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Armagh centenary service. It was a damp quib. The organisers appear to have been more concerned to avoid offending nationalists than to offer anything positive

How refreshing it was to read Ben Lowry’s critique of the centenary service in Armagh and the wider programme of events — a rare articulation of a unionist perspective on the subject (‘Centenary service should have celebrated Northern Ireland, ’ October 23, see link below).

What a damp squib the centenary has been as the organisers appear to have been more concerned to avoid offending nationalists than to offer anything bold or positive.

Of course it was never going to be possible to avoid offending nationalism, which likes nothing better than an opportunity to wallow in historical grievances and has seized on the centenary as an opportunity to tell us all about the ‘great wrong’ of ‘partition’ and how it is the source of all our problems.

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Letter to the editor

This response was predictable but the unionist approach to the centenary has been a pathetic concession to the nationalist narrative. Does unionism today really lack the confidence publicly to defend, never mind celebrate Northern Ireland and to challenge the nationalist view?

Why hasn’t the centenary been used to remind people that ‘partition’ was not an imposition on nationalists by unionists, but a compromise between nationalism and unionism?

One hundred years ago there were two equally valid and equally determined assertions of self-determination: granting independence to nationalist-majority Ireland and allowing unionist-majority Ireland to remain in the UK was the obvious and most reasonable solution that satisfied a majority of both peoples.

The nationalists’ ‘solution’ was for their self-determination entirely to override that of unionists: a victory rather than a compromise. That would have been the great wrong. Where is the unionist articulation of this narrative?

Where is the appreciation that Northern Ireland facilitated generations of British people on this island to remain as citizens of the United Kingdom, and to continue to play a role and contribute to the life of the UK, not least in our contribution to the war against Nazism?

Where is the reminder that — until the 1990s (seventy of the past hundred years) — people in Northern Ireland enjoyed higher living standards than those in the Republic, greater access to secondary and tertiary education, better public services, and were spared the oppressive censorship and social conservatism of the South?

Where is the celebration of the successful determination of a proud people to retain their membership of the UK and withstand the attempt to coerce them into another state against their clear will?

J. Davidson, Belfast BT8

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