Union will only survive if UK is truly inclusive

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Jason Ashford’s thoughtful and eloquent letter (‘I am proud of my British heritage but unionism should admit past failings,’ March 2), reinforced many of my own views in relation to the current ‘State of the Union’.

As someone who was born and bred in Great Britain, and a strong advocate of the Union, I have nonetheless been deeply ashamed of the acts of violence and discrimination perpetrated by agencies of this state against its own citizens.

I appreciate that, as Jason says, a brief letter can never capture the nuances, but it is utterly unacceptable, in any circumstances, for people to be refused housing, employment or, most importantly, the right to life, simply because of the community from which they come, the culture they represent or the sporting team they choose to support.

Tremendous progress has been made in the past 20 years, with a view to producing a truly inclusive society, where people from all persuasions work side by side in an endeavour to achieve the best outcomes for their peers, whether in the civil service, our hospitals or, most notably, the police.

However, we have now reached a stage where much of that progress is being jeopardised, with potentially fatal consequences for the Union.

While I appreciate that the ‘respect agenda’ has possibly been hijacked for political ends, the changing demographics of Northern Ireland mean that the Union will only survive if the individuals and organisations that believe in it make this United Kingdom a truly inclusive place in which people from all backgrounds are able to achieve their full potential.

In order for this to happen, compromise is essential, as the consequence of failing to truly represent the views of everyone in Northern Ireland will be the creation of an environment in which many people from traditionally nationalist communities, who may until recently have been willing to accept the status quo, are more likely to conclude that their goals can only be achieved in a united Ireland.

Two obvious examples are Brexit and the Irish language.

During the Brexit debate, the then UUP Finance spokesman, Philip Smith, adduced logical arguments for why the UK’s departure from the EU was likely to threaten the Union.

The failure of the wider unionist community to take on board the concerns of many rational nationalist voices has led to substantial numbers, particularly in border areas, concluding that they are only being represented by the Irish government and parties within Northern Ireland who are antipathetic towards the Union.

I certainly don’t advocate compromising to the extent of allowing a border down the Irish Sea, as this would be detrimental to everyone on this island, but if we’re not prepared to give anything we may quickly find ourselves back in the EU, as part of a united Ireland.

With regard to language, the type of act that exists in Wales would clearly be problematic, creating the potential for ‘reverse-discrimination’, but if unionists are not prepared to concede even the limited provisions that are reputed to have recently been on the table, this is likely to further reinforce the view amongst many moderate nationalists that there is nothing in the Union for them.

I truly hope that recent events will be the wake-up call we all need to strengthen the Union, not by reactionary negativity, but by means of creating a genuinely inclusive Northern Ireland that allows people to enjoy the benefits of the United Kingdom while not being ashamed of their Irish heritage.

Benjamin Neesham, Isle of Lewis, Scotland