“You were right. Home Rule became Rome Rule.”
The president of Sinn Fein has put it on historical record that those who signed the Ulster Covenant and opposed Home Rule were right.
Mary Lou McDonald made the admission during a keynote speech to the Mayor of Belfast’s installation dinner.
This represents an astonishing stand-down from an Irish republican. It blows a hole through centuries of Irish republican activism.
This admission should not be taken lightly.
The unionist opposition to a Dublin parliament was mocked at every turn.
It was “Ulsteria”, “drunken ulsterics”, “froth and bluster”, “emotionalism”, “rabid zealotry” and “bad judgement”.
Over a hundred years after dismissing opposition to Home Rule as bigotry, Mary Lou has vindicated it as good sense.
My forebears signed the Covenant in 1912, not just for fear of religious intolerance, but to preserve and maintain the economic marvel that Belfast and the north east of Ireland represented, thanks to its place in the Union.
Belfast claimed the largest shipyard, the largest linen-mill, and the largest tobacco, rope and mineral-water factories in the world.
As someone put it, Belfast was “the Chicago of Ireland, and its industrial record constitutes one of the greatest and most inspiring achievements in the history of commerce”.
How seeking to remain an integral part of a social, cultural, economic and legislative Union that represented one of the most progressive and dynamic states of all time was represented as madness is in itself mad.
In this time when the Union of European nations and their social and economic welfare is so cherished, it’s incredible how the social and economic concerns of those who sought to uphold another social and economic Union was so roundly mocked and discarded as bigotry and prejudice.
This demonisation of unionism has been a tactic for many years, and continues to this day.
James Stephens said in 1916: “It is too generally conceived among Nationalists that the attitude of Ulster towards Ireland is rooted in ignorance and bigotry.”
John Hume said in 1964: “The fact that a man wishes Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom does not necessarily make him a bigot.”
Pete Shirlow said in 2017: “The idea that being pro-union is inherently sectarian is not only wrong it is inherently sectarian.”
In this age we take our liberties and luxuries for granted.
That to this day Great Britain is projected as the Great Satan by Irish Republicans is quite astonishing, and it must be met with a strong rebuttal and clear correction.
Brian John Spencer, Belfast