He makes a couple of points which I think are related. Firstly he says - “Let’s be frank, the vast majority of nationalists in Northern Ireland never found their ‘space’ here” and secondly he says unionism “is more than the chance to watch Orange marches and retain a passport which says British citizen. It’s also about promoting and protecting your identity; not as some distant memory, but as a living, breathing reality.”
I would suggest that the second assertion has a bearing on the first.
From a northern nationalist point of view, unionism’s “promoting and protecting” of its identity has oftentimes negatively impacted on the
minority community in the state.
I would boldly go further and say that unionism, by it’s very nature, is sectarian in outlook because it feels it needs to maintain a narrow and exclusive position in order to promote and protect itself.
This is why, as Alex admits, northern nationalists never found their ‘space’ here.
Of-course it didn’t have to be thus.
The Times newspaper in its obituary of Lord Brookeborough stated “his political sense was seriously found wanting by the intransigence with which he excluded the Roman Catholic minority from responsibility and participation”.
Brookeborough’s successor Captain Terence O’Neill was usurped for daring to attempt such reforms. Stormont subsequently fell as a consequence of ‘the Troubles’ and any attempt at a fair deal to restore it, such as Sunningdale, was snuffed out by ‘traditional unionism’ through strikes, intimidation and violence.
It took many years before an exasperated British Government finally presented unionism with ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – power- sharing or joint authority.
If those elected to positions of leadership in the unionist community had acted much sooner to ditch its myopic rearguard approach to political life and adopt an expansive, inclusive and pluralist outlook then we may have had some prospect of forging a common Ulster identity.
Sadly, the opportunity was lost.
It’s in all our interests that we live and prosper on this small island in mutual respect. For unionism to “up its game” it needs to address it essential sectarianism.
It could begin by granting official recognition to the Irish language through an Irish language Act. The Gaelic language has been granted official recognition in devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales so what’s the problem here?
The unionist community already has their language broadly accepted and spoken throughout the island of Ireland – it’s called English.
To say that northern nationalists and unionists have “separate and mutually contradictory identities” is fundamentally wrong. We are all Ulster people and therefore all Irish people – we may have different affiliations but these can be accommodated if there is a genuine will to do so.
A new kind of society here is possible but losing the age old siege mentality has to happen first.
Paul Shore, Tyrrelstown, Dublin 15