Sunday, 5 May 2019

Unionism at the crossroads

There are many lessons to be learned by Ulster Unionism arising from the council elections, many internal issues need to be resolved but there is one lesson that all of unionism needs to learn, based on this election the Union is at a real and tangible risk of being brought to an end.

Before anyone suggests that this is an attempt to lump the Alliance party or its electorate into a pan-nationalist front let me assure them it is not. Recent attacks on the Alliance party for its voting record were atrocious and self-defeating, though the defeats did not fall on those making the statements.

This is simply an assessment of the implications of the social change we are witnessing in Northern Ireland. As we move further from the history of conflict the definition of what passes for “normal” is changing and with it peoples aspirations. The vote for the Alliance party reflects that.

So why does this put the union at risk.

The DUP do not have veto on when a referendum will be called, voting for them will not stop it happening. After Brexit no government will call such a referendum and work out what it means after the result is known, instead in this case there will be, probably, years of negotiation covering every conceivable issue, pensions, welfare, citizenship, health, social care and all the rest. What people will vote on will be an agreement far more detailed and complex than anything produced for Brexit. And do not believe that the British Government will not contribute for many years to subsidise a United Ireland. Of course they will.

Within that agreement will be the vision of a new society, which will appeal to many not bound by the binary choice of the past. Unionism simply saying no will not save the union, wrapping the flag more tightly around our shoulders will not save the union.

To defend the union we must first define the union, not as it exists now but as an inclusive majority will want it to exist in the future. We must present an alternative to the United Ireland vision and we must recognise that the next generations have different priorities. Many of the social issues where people want change are part of Irish society, they are also part of British society yet ironically by remaining in the UK that change is denied to them in our wee country.

Having power in the short term and defining unionism in narrow terms across all aspects of people’s lives will eventually lead to the end of the union. An open unionism, embracing all faiths and aspirations, defining civil and religious liberty in its broadest terms, committed to delivering the new society that people want and guaranteeing that being British means being an equal citizen within the UK represents the best chance of maintaining the union. Ulster once stood at the crossroads, unionism stands there now.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Learning the Sinn Fein script, Irish parties re-write history

The Irish Government’s programme of events to commemorate the Easter Rising is being defined by the actions of Sinn Fein. In fear of being found on the “wrong” side of the Republican movement the Government has abandoned all thought of rational analysis of the events of 100 years ago and instead opted for the Sinn Fein narrative.
The decision to offer the family of Thomas Kent a full state funeral for the removal of his remains from Cork prison and re-committal in a family plot in Castlelyons is an example of the Irish Governments decision to re-write history to a Sinn Fein script.
Thomas Kent was sentenced to death and executed for the murder of Head Constable William Rowe RIC who had been sent to the Kent home to arrest suspects after the start of the Easter Rising.
William Rowe left behind a widow and five children. What is missing in the Irish Governments narrative is the fact that William Rowe was also an Irishman going about his lawful duty as a Constable. What makes Thomas Kent any more worthy of a state funeral than William Rowe or any of the 10’s of thousands of Irishmen who fought and died on battlefields such as the Somme or Gallipoli. The truth is he isn’t unless this act is part of the re-writing of Ireland’s historical narrative.
While politicians in the Republic clamber to be associated with acts of violence or the perpetrators of past terrorist activities such as O’Donovan Rossa on the basis there are no local implications things will become more difficult over the next few years.

The anniversaries of events during the Irish Civil War will be more difficult to re-write into a narrative which shows Ireland standing alone, united against the Brits. There will be many William Rowe’s who served Ireland in different uniforms and who deserve to be remembered despite Sinn Fein’s narrative.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


Today, Easter Sunday, in this week of the 98th anniversary of the Easter Rising I travelled to Dublin. Not to celebrate the Easter Rising nor to commemorate it, but to remember those soldiers who died for King and Country on the streets of Dublin 98 years ago. Men of the Sherwood Foresters, men from the South Staffordshire Regiment, as well as Lancers, Royal Irish and other units were amongst those who having signed up for King and Country to fight a war in Europe were to die on the streets of Dublin. Trained for a different conflict their orders were simple, as the sound of the whistle they were to rise from their position and move towards the enemy. Challenging on Flanders Fields, on Dublin’s streets and bridges against an enemy in easily defended buildings it was a futile action. Every twenty minutes the whistles blew, they rose from their positions and they died. Trying to cross one bridge defended by just over a dozen insurgents cost the army 240 casualties killed or injured. Today as thousands paraded and stood outside the GPO to remember the Rising I walked quietly amongst the gravestones in Grangegorman Military Cemetery recognising those who fell in Dublin by the name of their regiment and the date of their death. Much has been made of whether or not a member of the Royal family and a Government representative should attend the events planned for 2016 in Dublin, the centenary of the Rising. As I stood amongst the rows of gravestones I was convinced that not only should they consider being in Dublin at Easter 2016 it is essential that they be there. Not to celebrate the Easter Rising nor commemorate it but to remember the soldiers who died in the Rising. They did not choose the time or place of their death, they did choose the uniform they wore and the standard they followed. Whether they died on the fields of Flanders or the streets of Dublin their sacrifice was the same, our remembrance must also be the same. Too often when we accuse Republicans of rewriting history it is because we do not know enough to challenge them. In the next few years unionists will learn much of what happened on the first of July 1916 on the Somme, the challenge is to learn as much about the sacrifices of other British troops in April of the same year in Dublin. Many will recognise the words of Binyons poem for The Fallen, it begins: With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. And continues with the recognisable lines: At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. As we approach the anniversaries of many battles and the loss of many sons who died for our freedom let us commit ourselves to extending that line spoken so often in remembrance: We will remember them all.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Haass Process

As Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan work to bring this current process to a conclusion it is clear that there will be no surprises. Many years ago the republican movement ceased to believe in the rapid achievement of its objectives by political or military means and settled instead for a process of progressive realisation. As a consequence that which is considered an agreement by other participants, whether Belfast Agreement, St Andrew’s Agreement or this latest attempt by Haass is considered to be a mere step in a process by republicans. Therein lies the source of unionist frustration in that republicans are always pressing for more where unionists are placed immediately on the defensive, having formerly tried to reach that final elusive agreement which allows us all to move on. That final agreement will not come, while Haass may resolve some issues unionists will know that whatever republicans fail to achieve this time will form the basis of future negotiations, future demands for concessions and again unionists will be presented as the intransigent partners. Unionist frustration will be intensified not only by the words and commitments as they appear in any Haass proposal but by the extensive reinterpretation of their meanings by republicans. One example to be released by those involved in the negotiations was the early call by Haass for the introduction of a Bill of Rights as agreed in the Belfast Agreement. That is a republican interpretation of the consideration of whether rights supplementary to the existing legislation, to take account of the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, was required. The subsequent process resulted in the development of, what some advocates considered to be, the most expansive Human Rights demands in the world. So what of this process which cannot give justice, cannot give truth, cannot solve the parades issue and may only provide for the flying of the Union Flag in limited circumstances. At best the victims of the conflict will have access to a support service worthy of the name, some victims may get some answers, both honourable objectives. At worst, hundreds of thousands of former soldiers and policemen will spend the rest of their lives waiting on a call to appear before a panel to be quizzed on where they were and who they were with 20, 30 or 40 years ago knowing that the only answer acceptable to republicans will be the rewriting of history. It was George Orwell’s narrative on the authoritarian government in his novel 1984 which stated “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ The mantra, the objective and the authoritarian control are the same in fiction as in real life republican politics in Northern Ireland. Where now for unionists? Whatever the results of this process it is not the end there will be more negotiations. It is time for unionists to determine what it is they really want, what will get them on the front foot, what will put pressure on republicans or governments. Too many times we have entered the process on the defensive it is time to change the rules of the game.