The core thrust of the letter was that nationalists in Northern Ireland are currently experiencing the deprivation of ‘rights’ and ‘full citizenship’ that nationalists claim existed under the ‘Stormont regime’ – the so-called ‘nationalist nightmare’ to which northern nationalists consider they were abandoned by successive southern governments after 1920.
Unionists responded on February 27 with a letter signed by 105 self-designated ‘civic unionists’ – whatever that expression is supposed to mean.
The unionist letter was a misguided exercise that failed to challenge the propaganda lie of a ‘nationalist nightmare’ in Northern Ireland after 1920 embedded in the letter to Varadkar, and central to the claims of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement.
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Nationalists from the mid-1960s presented Northern Ireland as a ‘pariah state’ on a moral par with South Africa or Nazi Germany.
The language and imagery of the US civil rights movement was used by the civil rights agitators to give the appearance of substance to the entirely false claim of a ‘nationalist nightmare’ in Northern Ireland.
The propaganda identification of Northern Ireland with oppression in the US and apartheid South Africa was directed to undermine the political and moral case for Partition.
The core politics of People’s Democracy was that ‘civil rights’ could only be achieved within the context of an all-Ireland ‘socialist republic’ and not without violence.
Eamonn McCann in ‘War and an Irish Town’ says the “conscious if unspoken strategy was to provoke the police into over-reaction, and thus spark off mass reaction against the authorities”.
The strategy was more than successful – the civil rights movement was the catalyst for the emergence of the Provisional IRA and 30 years of terrorist onslaught against the citizens of Northern Ireland.
The failure of the unionist signatories to challenge the ‘most oppressed people ever’ mentality of the letter to Varadkar is inexcusable.
The situation of the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland never remotely approximated any instance of oppression.
Northern Ireland was a “parliamentary democracy” – to quote the eminent historian A.T.Q. Stewart in ‘The Narrow Ground’.
The failure to challenge is compounded by the statement in the unionist letter that “civic unionism and other identities are not resistant to claims of equality and full citizenship”.
This statement gives credibility to the current nationalist projection of Northern Ireland as a society in which nationalists are deprived of ‘equality’ and ‘full citizenship’.
Nationalists in Northern Ireland are not deprived of ‘equality’ and ‘full citizenship’ with respect to incontestable fundamental democratic rights such as electoral rights and freedom of expression and rights to political activism – fully protected by law.
But the demands that are central to the Sinn Fein collapse of the Executive (same-sex marriage, abortion, and an Irish Language Act) are morally (the first two) and politically (the third) legitimately contested claims.
They are legitimately contested claims for the simple reason that citizens in their capacity as citizens in a democratic state have no inherent or human right to the actual substance of these claims.
For example, it makes no pragmatic sense to claim a human right to legislation to establish Gaelic as an official language in Northern Ireland when the language is spoken by less than 2% of the inhabitants of the island and by virtually none of the elected members of Sinn Fein who are demanding the legislation.
The fact that these claims are currently legitimately contested in Northern Ireland does not mean that citizens in Northern Ireland are being deprived of their democratic rights as citizens.
The situation simply means that those who currently advocate these demands will have to work to persuade a majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland or the relevant political parties within the Assembly to agree with them – that is the very essence of democracy.
But that is precisely what Sinn Fein have failed to do – instead they collapsed the structures of government and the proper political forum within which the relevant political debates should take place as part of a strategy to advance the nationalist fixation on ‘Irish unity’.
The unfortunate import of the letter from the self-appointed 105 ‘civic unionists’ is that the letter gives credibility to the denigration of Northern Ireland as a place where nationalists are deprived by unionists of ‘full citizenship’ and ‘equality’ and at the same time the letter is blind to the strategic thinking that drove the Sinn Fein collapse of the structures of government in January 2017.
• Patrick J. Roche was a Lagan Valley MLA, 1998-2003. He was elected as a member of the UK Unionist Party. From January 1999 remained in the seat as a member of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.