The speech made by Rt Hon Arlene Foster MLA at a significant conference on unionism in London recently, organised by the Think Tank Policy Exchange, predictably came in for criticism by Sinn Fein.
Behind her speech lay the publication ‘The State of the Union’ by renowned Arthur Aughey, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Ulster University and former Leverhulme Senior Fellow.
Foster’s call for unionism to reclaim the rights agenda is absolutely correct. The last 20 years (or longer) have seen unionism run down as some form of apartheid ideology. Sinn Fein of course, being Marxist in their outlook (although that is debatable), hate all things British. Britain, or the United Kingdom, is to blame for everything that has gone wrong in the world since the fall of man.
Prof Aughey’s publication is based on the ideals of civic unionism, a case he made in his book Under Siege: Ulster Unionism and the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Blackstaff Press, 1989). Mrs Foster’s remarks, of course, highlight these ideals.
Unionism has been boxed into being identified as a form of nationalism. This is not the case. Rather, it is a civic identity, uniting all strands of opinion regardless of class or creed. That is its strength. To be accepted as a form of nationalism is easy for the purposes of comparison.
Until the end of ‘the Troubles’ unionism held the moral high ground, despite its critics who now find themselves in positions of authority. Terrorism and murder were unjustifiable, then and still are today (despite what many may think). However, the IRA campaign of terror against the Ulster/British people of this Province has come to be justified through various narratives and accepted by the upper echelons of government as a price for ‘peace’.
As Prof Aughey argues: “If the Union was as fragile, inauthentic, anachronistic or contradictory as it has been alleged so many times in the past, its survival has been nothing if not remarkable.” (The State of the Union, 2018; 6)
Therefore, despite the frequent calls for a ‘border poll’, by nationalism, the threats made over Brexit, only 21% would vote for a ‘united Ireland’ after Brexit, according to a recent opinion poll.
What political unionism needs to do is to not think about today, but tomorrow. Unionist leaders need to promote civic unionism over Ulsterism and Foster’s DUP are in the prime position to do so, given their status in Westminster.
Dr Andrew Charles, Belfast BT9