25 – “Unionism and Unionist Politics”
Monday, 28 April 1997
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Dr. Feargal Cochrane (Research Officer, Centre for the Study of Conflict, University of Ulster; author of Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement)
Dr. Norman Porter (Member of UUP; author of Rethinking Unionism)
Roy Garland (Member of UUP; Co-Chair, Guild of Uriel, Louth)
Chaired by Henry Mount Charles, Earl of Slane
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
Henry Mount Charles (guest chair): “Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to be able to fill in tonight. I admire the Meath Peace Group and it was through the group that I chaired the debate between the present Secretary of State [Sir Patrick Mayhew] and perhaps the future Secretary of State in Northern Ireland [Mo Mowlam]. [Editor’snote: the debate referred to was held in Craigavon and hosted by the Interaction Group]. It gave me an opportunity to get to know Mo Mowlam very well and it might be interesting in the years to come. … I have always felt … that until we on this island really attempt seriously to reconcile the two traditions we’re really not going to make any progress. … There was some reference made that the next meeting might be disrupted by the general election. I would like to make two remarks to that; I see a gentleman sitting in the audience whose collection of literature I have already received, so he’s already on the campaign trail! I was also pleased that Julitta made reference to the fact that I’m still an active member of Fine Gael. There was a piece in the Sunday Independent which suggested that I was no longer a member and that I had been rejected by the Progressive Democrats. I’d like to set the record straight – I am still a member of Fine Gael and I was asked by both the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Progressive Democrats to stand in this constituency in the forthcoming election. For reasons that I wish to keep to myself I decided against that particular proposition.
We have a collection of very distinguished speakers tonight and forgive me if I scramble around a bit with my notes but our first speaker will be Dr. Feargal Cochrane who is research officer at the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster, author of Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism since the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I was interested – just flicking through the notes – in relation to some of the remarks that Feargal Cochrane has said – that a description of the Unionist state of mind is that they live within a state of secular insecurity and perhaps he’ll make some reference to that. On my right is Dr. Norman Porter and again I was looking at the brief on his book Rethinking Unionism and I was amused and intrigued to see that he had received accolades from characters as diverse as Garret Fitzgerald and Martin Manseragh and indeed I’ll quote Hilda McThomas from An Phoblacht: “Porter’s book must be read by Republicans if only for the insights it provides into Unionism”, now that could be a mixed compliment! Roy Garland will speak last and he is a well known columnist for the Irish News and I’m sure probably well known to all of you. We will start off now and I will call on Dr. Feargal Cochrane to speak first.
1. Dr. Feargal Cochrane: “Unionist Politics”
“There are two main things I would like to do this evening; the first thing I want to do is make a few observations about the ideological complexion of Ulster unionism. What are the main dynamic forces which determine the political behaviour of Ulster Unionism? Secondly, I will make a few comments about the current leadership of unionism under David Trimble.
Ideological complexion of Ulster unionism: “I think the first thing to say is that unionism is by its very nature a reactive rather than a proactive ideology. It is at its strongest and most coherent as a political movement when it reacts against something that all unionists can commonly agree to be objectionable. For example, Home Rule at the beginning of the century, the ending of Stormont, and introduction of direct rule in the 1970s, the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s and the Frameworks Document in the 1990s. What these examples all have in common is that they were perceived by unionists to be a threat to their position within the UK. The trouble starts when unionists have to be more innovative and progressive. When they have to say ‘yes’ instead of saying ‘no’. When they have to decide between various policy options and advocate a united position for moving forward.
“I think there are essentially two reasons why they have difficulty in doing this. The first is because of the social composition of the ideology, and the second is because of the climate of fear and insecurity which inhabits and inhibits the unionist political psyche.
Diverse movement: “With regard to the first of these, unionism is a hugely diverse movement, a catch-all, cross-class, cross-everything political alliance, a single-issue group, if you like, with the one aim of preserving and strengthening the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Unionism has classically been seen as a “monolith”. In reality it is anything but. It has certainly been an electoral monolith, but this cohesion at election times masks a hugely diverse group of people.
“The former unionist leader and NI Prime Minister James Chichester-Clark put it like this. He said that the trouble with the Unionist Party is that all you had to say to be a member was that you supported the union with Great Britain. Beyond that you could be any political complexion you wished. This is a problem for unionism as people are unionists for all sorts of different reasons, and while they may find some commonality over the core question of Northern Ireland’s position within the UK, beyond that they could almost be in different political parties and many would possess different and almost conflicting beliefs.
Insecurity: “The second major problem unionism has in presenting a positive and progressive face to the world emanates from a fear of their political surroundings. This derives from the historical experience of the unionist community and has been described as “settler (secular?) insecurity”. The Protestant community were, after all, the minority in Ireland until partition. The largest group in the North East, the Presbyterians, were regarded as heretics by both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. They had to form a paramilitary army and threaten to rebel against the state they were loyal to, in order to avoid being sold out as they saw it by the British in 1912. They feared the same was happening in 1973 with the Sunningdale agreement and Power-Sharing Executive, in 1985 they felt the same thing was happening with the AIA and almost constantly the same thing has been happening in the 1990s. They felt that the Catholic community in the North and the South, have wanted to destroy the NI state since its inception, and technically speaking the Republic, through Articles 2 and 3, have been trying to do this since 1937. In fact the Republic could be seen as more aggressive now than in 1937 after the Supreme Court ruled in the McGimpsey case in 1990, that the achievement of Articles 2 and 3 were a “constitutional imperative”.
“The more radical unionists see enemies of Ulster all over the place really, in foreign fields, namely America and Europe. Some people in the DUP for example regard Europe as a Rome-dominated conspiracy designed to overthrow the Protestant position in Northern Ireland. You sometimes get the impression from Ian Paisely that the Pope is devising all sorts of schemes to take over Ulster.
Siege mentality: “In other words, to varying degrees unionists feel under threat. This has often been referred to as the “siege-mentality” of unionism. This varies in intensity from time to time depending upon the prevailing circumstances, it may vary from one person to the next. Michael McGimpsey summed it up when I asked him a few years ago if he had heard any whispers about the Anglo-Irish Agreement before it was signed in 1985. “Obviously we had suspicions before it, we all had suspicions, but then that is part and parcel of unionists’ paranoia and its very hard to know whether your suspicions are just merely in your mind, whether you have some basis for them, or whether you are simply being paranoiac. It’s the unionist nightmare you know, that they are going to be sold out.”
“Obviously, such feelings that their “civil and religious liberties” are being steadily chipped away by Perfidious Albion ie Britain, under the Irish Government, vary from one individual to the next, rising and falling on the barometer of constitutional uncertainty. Fundamentally however, unionism is an ideology which is very aware that it is alone in the world. The knowledge that they cannot unilaterally sustain the Union, has produced an inward-looking political culture, which has steadily lost touch with the patron-state to which it gives allegiance. Many Unionists, they often quote Margaret Thatcher’s comment that NI is “as British as Finchley”, many Unionists now fear that they are as British as Hong Kong.
Negativism: “In practice, this sense that they can trust no-one but themselves, and at times that they cannot even trust each other – witness Ian Paisley calling James Molyneux a Judas Iscariot a few years ago – this sense of nothing there to trust, either their political opponents or their political partners, is very debilitating for the ideology in general. It is often said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, well if that’s true then the price of vigilance is eternal exhaustion as everyone reads their political tea-leaves for signs of treachery! This has produced a sort of endemic negativism within unionism, where anyone who moves forward in a progressive direction is examined for signs of weakness, and undercut if they show any signs of moving away from the status quo. The safest political ground, it seems to me, lies behind the barricades and any unionist who moves out, and I have two exhibits sitting beside me, risks being sniped at by other unionists either motivated by narrow political opportunism, for example saying they can prosper at the expense of another political party, or else a real fear of betrayal.
Lundyism: “One member of the UUP made the astute observation a few years ago that “the spirit of Lundyism haunts all within Unionism who consider compromise, conciliation or negotiation.” The accuracy of that comment can be seen from innumerable examples, one of the more photogenic being the Rev. Willie McCrea’s public heckling of David Trimble last year, following Trimble’s acceptance of George Mitchell as Chair of the inter-party talks at Stormont. On the face of it this seemed a reasonable enough thing to do, George Mitchell for most neutral observers saw him as being a fairly fair-minded guy, a mild-mannered politician willing to help, certainly didn’t seem a republican sympathiser. For some unionists though, Mitchell was American and that was enough. He was Bill Clinton’s representative and consequently deemed to be on a mission to destroy Ulster. When David Trimble accepted Mitchell as Chair of the Talks he was attacked on all sides for showing weakness. UK Unionist Bob McCartney accused him of being gutless, unprincipled and a disgrace to the pro-Union people. The following day when Trimble was being interviewed on television, Willie McCrea shouted from the wings “Ulster’s not for Sale”.
“That is only one example of many which suggests that at timesit is impossible for unionist leaders to lead, or at least to lead in a positive direction, without jeopardising their own political careers.
Why should that be so? Why should unionists have this sense of siege?
After all, they are the largest political bloc in Northern Ireland, they have a built-in written guarantee, what republicans refer to as a constitutional veto, (in Article 1a of the Anglo-Irish Agreement; paragraph 4 of the Downing Street Declaration; and ad nauseam in the Frameworks Documents) that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will not be altered without the consent of the majority within Northern Ireland.
“The explanation as to why unionists have not been reassured by this shower of literature, can be explained in one word. Fear. Unionists don’t believe the assurances which the British give them, that they will remain British until a majority within Northern Ireland desire otherwise. Those who do believe such guarantees, are afraid of what will happen if and when the mathematics change.
In addition, the guarantees they receive from the British appear anaemic in comparison with the position of other outposts of the Union, such as Scotland. They see the paradox in John Major’s opposition to granting internal devolution to Scotland on the grounds that it will “tear the fabric of the Union to shreds”, contrast that with his policy towards Northern Ireland, which is to promote not only power-sharing devolution, but with a substantial input from a “foreign” country. The conclusion which many unionists draw from this apparent anomaly, is that Northern Ireland’s position within the UK is not as strong as that of Scotland, and its leaving would not tear either the constitutional or psychological fabric of the Union apart.
“Consequently, Northern Ireland cannot be “as British as Finchley”, because the government have recognised through the AIA [Anglo-Irish Agreement], Downing Street Declaration and the Frameworks Document that there are two equally legitimate and conflicting sovereignty aspirations exist within the region and must be accommodated through constitutional compromise. It is not simply a case of Ulster being British.
“Clearly then, the present constitutional guarantee that Northern Ireland will remain a part of the Union until the British can get a reasonable excuse to get out, does little to assuage unionist fears.
While outsiders may see the insistence of Orangemen to march their traditional routes; the obsession with ceremonial ephemera such as flags and emblems, or the picket at the Catholic church in Harryville, as simple bigotry, where one community seeks to emphasise its domination over another, the underlying motivation for the importance of these rituals derives from a sense of fear.
“In effect, Drumcree, Lower Ormeau, the controversy over the playing of the British national anthem at Queen’s University etc., or more recently, two weeks ago, the abuse received by the parents of F1 motor racing driver Eddie Irvine, when a tricolour flew over his head at the Argentinian Grand Prix instead of the Union Jack, are all part of an annual virility test between unionism and nationalism. Each year, each side tests out where the boundaries lie within the “state”, in an effort to see if their position has grown stronger or weakened. Consequently for many of those unionists involved, Drumcree was not just about marching down the Garvaghy Road, it was about everything. Paisley gave the most voluble exposition of this particular case. “…There can be no turning back on this issue – we will die if necessary rather than surrender. If we don’t win this battle all is lost, it is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of Ulster or the Irish Republic, it is a matter of freedom or slavery.”
“While these remarks may over-state the case as far as the majority of unionists are concerned, the phrase “enough is enough” was uttered from many liberal unionist lips last summer. They claimed that they had been compromising for 30 years, they had nothing left to give, they were drawing “a line in the sand”.
Besieged minority: “This sense of being a besieged minority is an intrinsic facet of contemporary unionist behaviour and central to its political dynamics. It’s interesting to ask the question “has any Unionist leader in living memory for example, lost power or influence because he has been too hard-line?”. All have perished because they have been, or were perceived as being, too liberal. Terence O’Neill, Sir James Chichester-Clark, Brian Faulkner, Bill Craig and eventually James Molyneaux, were all pushed out of the unionist nest because they were seen to have jeopardised the tenuous position of unionists within the United Kingdom. Even the current Grand Master of the Orange Order, Robert Saulters, who claimed that Tony Blair was a traitor for marrying a Catholic, is now cast as a Lundy by those within the Spirit of Drumcree group, because of his pragmatic position over contentious Orange parades.
Mistrust: “This lack of confidence in their political surroundings has resulted in an innate mistrust, and made it very difficult for unionists to negotiate with their political opponents. The fear that they are losing out on all of the political, cultural and social indices, has produced the desire for retrenchment, for clawing back ground which has been lost or soon will be lost. This knee-jerk response, to hang on in desperation, acts as a barrier to progressive thinking and action within the unionist community, corralling the ideology within an intellectual and political ghetto. It may be a big ghetto, but it is still a ghetto.
David Trimble: “The news is not all bad however. Unionism has several things going for it. They are, after all, the largest political grouping in Northern Ireland. David Trimble is an intelligent, energetic and relatively young leader with the potential to negotiate a settlement with both the British Government, and Irish nationalism. He has been a much more proactive leader than his predecessor, setting up offices in Britain and the USA. He has talked a lot about modernising the UUP, changing the link between his party and the Orange Order, and he has promoted a lot of young blood within the party. Unfortunately he has done little more than talk about modernisation and the young Turks he is promoting seem to be even more hard-line than he is which is particularly worrying. Nevertheless, it is more likely that someone like Trimble from the right of the party with impeccable hard-line credentials in Ulster Vanguard in the 1970s, the Ulster Clubs in the 1980s, and Drumcree’s I and II in the 1990s, could lead his party towards a historic compromise, than someone like Ken Maginnis from the liberal end of the spectrum.
“However I think there are a number of difficulties which will have to be overcome before anything like that can be achieved.
“It would be fair to say that Trimble does himself few favours, often appearing hot-tempered, and arrogant, calling Dick Spring impudent, storming out of television interviews, running up and down the Garvaghy Road with Ian Paisley etc. It’s ironic that he may often confirm British stereotypes. “Those red-haired Irishmen old boy, they’re so temperamental”. Given his negative public image outside unionism, it’s difficult to envisage him being able to break down the barriers of mistrust which obviously exist between unionist and nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland.
“It seems to be that David Trimble needs a public image makeover, but it is unlikely that his actions this summer will provide it. Of course his defenders might counter this by saying that nationalists dislike Trimble simply because he is capable of standing up to them. However it has to be said that to date he has failed to lead his party towards compromise with nationalism and he has failed to halt the inexorable slide in unionist political fortunes. He needs a good election. He is no longer just looking over his shoulder at the DUP, as the knives are already out for him in his own party.
“In conclusion, while the spirit of Lundyism may haunt those unionists who consider compromise, conciliation and negotiation, this is a ghost which will have to be exorcised if unionism is to make any progress towards its objective of preserving and strengthening the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. I would tend to agree with Norman Porter’s view, that if the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is to survive into the 21st century, the unionist ideology must divest itself of its sectarian baggage and facilitate the Irish national identity within the institutions of the state. This requires establishing a new identity for unionism which is not based on Protestant culture, Protestant folk memory or selective historical recollection.
“It may be ironic, but the only way unionists can secure and strengthen the Union in the long term, is by loosening and weakening the political bonds which currently tie it together. They only way they will be able to make the Union more acceptable to the nationalist community is by recognising not simply their “aspirations” but by reflecting their cultural and political identity within the structures of the state. By recognising them not just as nationalist people, but as Irish people.
“Finally, Ulster may well stay British, but it will only do so in the long term if it becomes less British.” Thank you very much.
2. Dr. Norman Porter: “Rethinking Unionism – Towards a Northern Ireland Worth Having”
“I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to say why I believe unionism should be rethought, and to gesture at what a rethought unionism might look like. I can’t, of course, hope to do so in any comprehensive way. At best, I can merely provide a snapshot of a few of the central arguments developed more thoroughly in my book, Rethinking Unionism. In particular, I want to pick up those arguments which bear directly on the question I’m taking as the theme of tonight’s talk: how might we, in Northern Ireland, move towards creating a society worth having for all citizens?
“In a nutshell, my answer is that we can’t move towards the creation of such a society without a good deal of give and rethinking all round. But I’m not concerned here to speculate on what sort of give and rethinking is required of nationalists and republicans. I’m solely interested in what unionism needs to do to put its own house in order, so to speak.
“It has to be said from the outset and this comes as no surprise to anyone, that there’s huge resistance within mainstream unionism to the idea that its house needs very much putting in order. On a good day, perhaps, we might get the concession that the chairs around the kitchen table could be rearranged, or perhaps that the odd flower-pot could be repositioned. But there’s no recognition that the essential furniture has become a bit musty and threadbare and could do with replacing. On the contrary, unionist attention is devoted to spotting the dreadful flaws in the furniture of nationalism and republicanism. The operating assumption continues to be that unionism runs a very fine house which nationalism would do well to emulate, especially given the propensity of nationalists to tackiness and disorder. To cast doubt on such conventional unionist wisdom, particularly as a member of the unionist household, is to risk ridicule and ostracism.
“As an example of what I’m driving at, albeit one expressed in different language, take the remarks David Trimble made about my book, we might as well make it personal, during his speech to the annual UUP conference. If I understood him correctly, Mr Trimble was saying two things: that my views were either old hat or they’re off the wall.
“They’re old hat, apparently, in the sense that my vision of a non-sectarian, inclusive Northern Ireland in which all citizens have some sense of belonging (which by the way is integral to what I mean by a Northern Ireland worth having) is the vision that has inspired the policies of the UUP for as long as anyone can remember (and he said this with a straight face).
Compromise with nationalism: “But my views are also off the wall, apparently, inasmuch as I suggest that such a vision of Northern Ireland should be one that finds space for Irishness as well as for Britishness. And this is unthinkable – at least in the terms I propose – because it would require the seemingly impossible: which is that unionism compromises with nationalism, or, as the unionist-inclined academics of the Cadogan Group put it in their most recent pamphlet, it’d be equivalent to imagining that circles can be squared.
“This, I suggest, is tantamount to saying that unionism’s furniture is fine as it is. But the serious point to be underscored here is that unionism, as defined by Trimble, Paisley, McCartney or even by fellow travelling academics, can brook no compromise with nationalism. And to understand its seriousness we don’t have to hang around until that stage in substantive political talks where constitutional details are up for discussion; rather, we’ve seen it already in divisions among Northern Ireland’s politicians over the issue of decommissioning. Here the striking, and to my mind startling, feature of the unionist position is that compromise on decommissioning is equivalent to a compromise with nationalism, and therefore isn’t to be entertained.
Disagreement with mainstream unionism: “Anyway, what is revealed here, through these my examples, is one of the sources of my disagreement with mainstream unionism. What it wants to keep forever separate – the achievement of a non-sectarian, inclusive Northern Ireland on the one hand and the accommodation of Britishness and Irishness or, if you like, a reconciliation between unionism and nationalism on the other – seems to me utterly wrongheaded: you can’t possibly have the first without the second. To imagine or pretend that you can, seems to me to be barking up the wrong tree. Because I believe that, I also believe that unionism needs new furniture; that’s why unionism needs rethinking. In the absence of rethinking, unionists cannot do other than come up with an inadequate vision for Northern Ireland – a vision that completely fails to offer a way of life worth having for all citizens.
“And yet this is what we’re mostly stuck with. And to understand why we’re stuck with it, we have to understand that it’s in large measure a product of the priorities, commitments and conceptualisations commonly associated with unionism. To hope for a better vision from unionism seems to me impossible without first of all challenging its basic priorities, commitments and conceptualisations. This is what I very quickly want to do now in order to clear a space for a vision that draws on a different set of priorities, commitments and conceptualisations.
Challenging mainstream unionism: “I am claiming, then, that Unionism’s habitual attachment to old furniture, its reluctance to engage in any serious rethinking, reflects the priorities and commitments of most unionists, as well as the conceptual frameworks within which unionist thinking operates. And it’s precisely these priorities, commitments and conceptual frameworks that I think have to be challenged.
“First, I think the priority of unionism – “the Union, the whole Union and nothing but the Union” – that is the priority. I think that priority is no longer sufficient, if it ever was. It screens out or closes its eyes to the entitlements of non-unionists to Northern Ireland: Unionist politicians consistently have been oblivious of the effects of partition on the non-unionist minority which found itself living on the wrong side of the border against its wishes. This priority of unionism – the union, the whole union and nothing but the union – in practice has demonstrated little other than grudging acknowledgment (if any at all) of the wrongs of the old Stormont. We also find that unionists who expouse this priority tend to harbour lingering suspicion of Catholic/nationalist motives which makes relationships based on trust very hard to establish between political opponents; Unionists working on this priority tend to assume that the entitlements due to the “minority” are entirely non-political in kind and involve no tinkering whatsoever with the Union. Therefore nationalist aspirations are reduced essentially to a wish list politically speaking. That can be their only status. If your priority is the union, the whole union and nothing but the union – that can’t be tinkered with-then the heart of the nationalist claim in NI cannot be given any political expression, so it’s reduced to a wish list.
“Second, I’m critical of typical unionist commitments to ways of life that are presumed to be exclusively British. These commitments define a British way of life in Northern Ireland in two principal ways, either (i) exclusively Protestant terms (cultural unionism), or (ii) they assume a way of life in Northern Ireland that’s the same as or aspires to be the same as it is in Kent/Surrey (liberal unionists). That is the view which I associate with Liberal Unionists and by Liberal Unionists in this context I mean those Unionists whose heart’s desire really is to have full integration with the rest of Britain.
“Both of those commitments seem to be misplaced. Both seem to fly in the face of certain realities about NI and how its constituted and both are offensive in various ways, because both are incapable of taking seriously the fact that there are a substantial number of people in NI who do not think of themselves as British in either a Protestant sense or in a Liberal UK sense. With those commitments you can’t take properly seriously the commitments of those who don’t fit either the Protestant or the Liberal camp.
“Third, I think that unionism’s major conceptual frameworks require ditching. Either they entail, what I would regard as, unsustainable concepts of loyalty and liberty which inflate the virtues of Protestantism (by wrongly assuming, for example, that civil and religious liberties somehow depend upon Protestant allegiances); or they peddle unsustainable and one-dimensional notions of equal citizenship and freedom which ignore non-unionist positions, imply unbelievable caricatures of the British and Irish states, which then assume we are individuals and nothing more, and reveal a narrow, procedural approach to politics.
“The upshot of these various priorities, commitments and conceptual frameworks is that unionists, in my view, create straitjackets for themselves which make flexible, creative and generous politics very hard to imagine. Rather these priorities, commitments and conceptualisations underwrite a form of politics which is obsessed with rules (e.g. the multi-party Talks) and which seems to require the drawing of fresh lines in the sand (e.g. decommissioning and Drumcree).
Alternative: civic unionism: “Therefore I am suggesting that as an alternative I propose a view which I call “civic unionism”. It’s this view which I think is capable of defining a Northern Ireland worth having in a way that other unionist views can’t, that’s what I want to claim. It entails a different set of priorities, commitments and conceptualisations which, very crudely, it may be characterised as follows.
“First, its priority – the overwhelming priority is making Northern Ireland work. It’s the quality of social and political life in Northern Ireland that matters most and not the Union or a united Ireland. What matters most is the quality of social and political life in a society which we from NI have to live. What I regret is that the quality of that life has been systematically been sacrificed in the name of the union or in the name of a United Ireland. For the sake of the union we have been willing to ruin our own social and political life so that we now have the most segregated housing that we’ve ever had, certainly in Belfast. We have a sort of ongoing sectarian violence that’s just almost accepted as part of daily life in certain areas. We don’t even bat an eyelid any more. The sort of things that are thought to be outrageous or considered utterly intolerable in any civilised society are shrugged at in NI, why?, because we put up with it for the sake of the union or for the sake of an all-Ireland. It seems to me that our priorities are obscured, that we’ve got it wrong, there’s something drastically wrong. It’s bonkers. In that sense what I am saying the priorities of making a united Ireland on the one-hand or maintaining the union on the other are secondary to that priority.
“This should be plain enough, but at least one reviewer of my book missed it altogether. According to him, I’m saying that the UUP “must be dynamic and proactive in putting forward a more socially progressive vision of Northern Ireland, after the Union is secure. This civic unionism would create a new consensus more thoroughly copperfastening the Union”. Now this makes it seem that securing/copperfastening the Union is my priority and that I think this can best be done by privileging the quality of social and political life in Northern Ireland. (Thus he identifies me with the Cadogan Group). But my point is precisely the opposite: the quality of social and political life comes first, and the Union (or a united Ireland) second.
“A civic unionist alternative involves, secondly, commitment to the creation of a way of life in which we can all share as citizens. This means, at a minimum, one:
guaranteeing the protection of individual/group rights;
devoted to the achievement of a decent social life, i.e. one not simply held hostage to the whims of market forces, but based on acceptable principles/practices of social justice;
characterised by acceptable legal/security institutions, i.e. institutions which aren’t perceived merely to reflect the interests and ethos of the dominant tradition;
defined by its pursuit of a common political life, i.e. where the possibility of a common political identity is entertained through citizens’ involvement in practices of self-rule,healthy democratice practice seem to me to be only remotely possible if we have devolved institutions based on principles of power sharing;
seeing Northern Ireland not just as site of the Union, but also as site of co-mingling and clash of British/Irish factors all of which need to be accommodated and reconciled – North/South, Irish/British institutions.
“My argument is for Unionists to recognise that they are shaped by Irish factors which they often find hard to acknowledge and for nationalists to acknowledge that they are being shaped by British factors, that it runs against the grain for them to acknowledge. It’s only sense that we could properly define ourselves as decent mongrels and I think that that would be a much better way of going about things.
“All of that I say you can hold together if you have a more adequate conceptual framework which is based on three things at the very least.
(i) Due recognition – “it simply says this that who you are, who I am as a person is dependant upon my recognition by other people. In other words if none of us are recognised by other people, it’s very difficult to have a sense of who we are and put a value on ourselves, because the value we put on ourselves very much depends on our being affirmed by others. But we’re not just individuals, we are that but I would also claim that who we are is defined very often by our cultural identities as well so that not to give proper recognition to our cultural identities is really to cast a slight on groups of people, is not to take those people seriously as they define themselves. So what we need is an idea of giving people whether as individuals or as members of a tradition to give the recognition they are due, without which we can’t every hope to function properly as human beings.
(ii)Civic Republicanism: politics of state and politics of civil society. [Editor’s note – tape ends here]
(iii)Dialogue central – “Thirdly and integral to that notion of citizen participation in the institutions of society is the idea that Dialogue is at the heart of politics, so that any notion of politics which sideline dialogues which thinks of it as some optional extra should be stopped because what it means is that politics has been distorted. Put it like this in the absence of dialogue politics becomes really the exercise in power which relies on coercion and manipulation, of certain people trying to get their way. It’s only when dialogue is seen to be at the heart of the political enterprise that there can be half decent notions of citizen freedom and equality which I argue all decent politics relys.
“So that’s my alternative vision, so that’s why I think Unionism needs to revise its priorites, rethink its commitments and operate within a broader and more expansive conceptual framework.
3. Roy Garland: “Unionism and Unionist Politics”
“I don’t intend to keep to you too long. I agree with most of what has been said, however I am slightly hesitant about the impression we are creating, that the Unionist community in NI, there’s little hope for them, they’re so intent on this madness associated with the conflict and the siege mentality that there’s very little hope for change there. It reminds me of a film I saw at Christmas time, I can’t remember the name. There was a married couple and they were fighting over small things, things gradually get worse and they end up in a very complex set of circumstances, actually bringing the house down around them, destroying everything and they both ended up dead. I think NI is a bit like that. I see it as a very sad situation, people are caught in the midst of forces that they have no control over.
“I believe and I would wish for the sort of reforms Norman was talking about, but I know where they’re coming from and it’s very difficult. If you’ve any idea what it’s like to be in a rival situation, we do resort to madness, we do resort to very silly things which when we reflect on we realise how very stupid they are and we do that in NI all the time. The difficulty is we’re talking about two communities, not two people and how are you going to get the two communities to move forward-it seems very difficult.
Hope: “I nevertheless believe that there is hope, there is hope amidst in the situation. I feel we’re walking along the edge of a cliff and at one side there is the abyss and if we descend into that and we may, we’re really in a Bosnia-type situation, but if you keep your eyes on that and the fact that we’re so near to that, it certainly has kept people’s eyes on the road and we try to make sure that we don’t go over and we haven’t gone over. I believe that because of that there is hope. Little bits of light here and there. So many cross-community contacts have been established including contacts north and south. People who would have never talked with each other are now talking, even in the midst of all the sectarian bitterness and the burnings of Churches and Orange Order halls, they’re still is in the centre of that chinks of light and it reminds me of the old saying “You’re better to light a candle than curse the darkness” and there are candles being lit and the hope is that those will be found into a flame.
“My hope for coming down here is that everybody can play some part and the more they understand what we’re involved in, the better the chances for getting through this because the alternative is pretty catastrophic. I remember people used to say “we’re Unionists, we never resort to violence”, that was some years ago. I think it is now conceived that violence is endemic in the NI situation, it’s built in violence and the potential for further violence is still there…..
Principle of consent: “One of the more positive aspects of the present situation in Northern Ireland from a unionist perspective, is that nationalist parties have faced up to, and accepted, the principle of unionist consent to constitutional change. This has the potential to release unionists from the age-old siege mentality and allow them to move into a more constructive mode of thought. However there is a number of factors that make that difficult, the fact the Sinn Fein have refused to accept that principle. Now there’s a sense in which it appears that that refusal is only being used as a bargaining tool. There’s also a feeling among unionists, that ok the principle of consent for a United Ireland has been accepted but in the sense there’s a pressure on unionists to move toward a united Ireland. I don’t see it this way, I feel that as Norman said we need to change the union in order to preserve the union. If things are to stay the same they have to change. But unionists feel that the change must always be in the direction of Irishness rather than Britishness and of course the background to that is the whole siege mentality and the hesitancy about trusting. It’s a very very human problem. I do believe that given a credible cease-fire on behalf on Sinn Fein and on SF’s inclusion in the talks, a settlement might be a possibility. Violence has been tried in NI for 27-30 years and it hasn’t worked. Both communities have had enough I think. Both communities don’t want it back, that’s not to say we won’t go back to it but it’s a very conscious desire that we won’t go back to it.
“However, unionist politicians remain reluctant to accept it at face value. Their right to reject a united Ireland appears to them to be qualified by the need to make progress in that very direction.
Violence: “There is also the problem of Sinn Fein’s rejection of consent and the IRA’s use of violence and the threat of violence as a political weapon, with which to coerce unionists. Unionists fear that the IRA will seek to de-stabilise any potential agreement short of their stated objective, a 32-county socialist republic. Sinn Fein leaders have stated they are prepared to support a negotiated settlement. My understanding by what they say is providing all-inclusive negotiations take place there is a point beyond which the IRA won’t go back to violence- but tell that to the Unionists. The unionists frankly don’t believe this, the unionists feel that whatever settlement is arrived at that the IRA will de-stabilise it until they get what they want and Sinn Fein have not done an awful lot to convince them otherwise. Of course they have their own problems, this is the difficulty in NI – two communities with their own problems, their own hard-liners, their own violent men, trying to move into a situation in which they can accommodate each other.
Loyalism: “Violence, perhaps at an unprecedented level, remains a real possibility. As long as the IRA plays around with violence and disruption greater and more serious Loyalist retaliation becomes a likely outcome. If the loyalists begin to retaliate in a serious way then we’re into the nightmare. Loyalist leaders have played a central role in fostering the prospects for peace over many years, under very very difficult circumstances. I have a little booklet here, I only have half a dozen, which is part of a dissertation that I did on the UVF and their attempts to change the political complexion to some extent of NI. Sums of people ended up in prison and those outside began to think the unthinkable and think about the possibilities for another way forward. They also had the dubious benefit of being in prison where they could talk to certainly official IRA and even some members of the provisional IRA in prison and talk with each other in a situation where they were withdrawn from it. In my mind that’s one of the hopes, one of the lights in the situation. They find expression now in the PUP and to some extent the UDP. My understanding of their unionism is that it is a unionism that is devoid of sectarian rhetoric and links with religious bodies and that sort of thing. They’re looking for progressive Unionism. They have had great difficulty getting it off the ground. They have been going for 20 odd years. Relatively small group, within the paramilitaries. When they first tried to go in to the political realm they were hammered fairly seriously, mostly by other unionists, but they have learned a bit from that and they’re plying away at the moment trying to make an impact not with terribly great hopes of success but they’re looking towards the local government elections that are coming.
“IRA violence has made it extremely difficult for those people to take the stand as I believe they are capable of. They also make it very difficult for anybody else in the Unionist party to move forward. They have been frustrated in their efforts by those unionists whose concerns with conspiracies have served to paralyse all forward movement. IRA violence also makes it extremely difficult to restrain elements in the Loyalist paramilitaries.
“Some Loyalists have engaged in redefining and reconstructing unionism as a potentially inclusive philosophy, devoid of sectarian rhetoric, since the early 1970s. While there have been significant changes among republicans they have hardly yet begun to seriously redefine and reconstruct a new republicanism devoid of nationalist rhetoric and violence. Nor have they expressed remorse for victims of violence in the way that Loyalists have done.
“David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party, I believe, may be prepared to do a deal with nationalists, despite outward appearances. However he faces determined opposition from Ian Paisley who waits ready to pounce should Trimble make on “mistake”. This would enable him to initiate a “Trimble must go” campaign and take the lead in unionist politics. I believe that’s a serious danger, I was at a unionist meeting two weeks ago in which a fairly seniour member of the Unionist party launched a vicious attack on his own leader. He’s extremely vulnerable not only to Paiseley on the outside but Paisleyites on the inside and some elements in the Orange institution who would be more sympathetic to the spirit of Drumcree so David Trimble is in a very dubious situation. Having said that he comes from that background himself but I believe there’s some progressive or let’s say sensible elements in David Trimble and the people around him who could move forward and I am hopeful that there may be if he has the strength, and I believe he is very weak in terms of his own party and the opposition party and I think you have to take that into account with any change.
“Significant elements, in the Orange Order and in the Unionist Party itself, are prey to the same deep-seated fears of betrayal and insecurity, upon which Paisley has built his empire. He could easily galvanise support for himself from within the Unionist Party should Trimble put a foot “wrong”. That was the case in the 60s. I was a member of the Unionist party from roughly 64-72 and at that stage there was a very significant element in the Unionist party whose loyalties were actually to Paiseley and there’s still that element in there which makes it very difficult for Unionists to move forward. So Trimble must proceed very cautiously remembering the fate of some of his predecessors.
“The Orange marching tradition has provided both extremes with an opportunity to pursue their respective sectarian agendas. There’s actually suggestions that some of the violence; the burning down of churches etc. were actually done by one community in the name of the other, by people who actually want to stimulate strife because they feel that until there’s a more aggressive approach then the situation won’t change. The problems of Northern Ireland are such that a high degree of wisdom, restraint and responsible behaviour is required of both communities, if further violence is to be averted. Many obstacles lie on the road to a peaceful settlement and the eventual outcome is unlikely to meet the aspirations of either community so the potential for de-stabilisation will remain strong.
Fears of peace: “There are those in both communities who fear peace, and would not know how to respond to such an eventuality. Peace would bring into question the years of violence by the IRA as well as the intransigence of certain types of Unionism. What was it all about if we can find peace in some sort of context where people are sort of half satisfied where nobody’s fully satisfied, why all the bands, why all the killing, why all the instransigence? It begs the question about all the past behaviour. The path ahead is narrow and difficult but there are some grounds for hope that in the end, we will find a way forward. How much more suffering and sorrow we must go through in the meantime, only time will tell. Thank you.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (incomplete)
Q1. “I’ve been coming over here to talks for the last two to three years and every unionist that was here, with the possible exception of Martin Smyth, all said that we needed to move the furniture and something else in the party. Very little seems to be happening, they all seem to have the same idea that there’s change needed in the Unionist party … but nothing is happening.”
Roy Garland: “You’re back to problems of people in the Unionist party. There was a decision to examine the Orange link, there was serious discussion about that and there was documents sent out to the local branches and when some of the branches got the documents they were very annoyed that they should tamper with the orange link. At a Unionist council meeting, a fairly leading orange man and unionists stood up and asked was this what they were planning to do and I think the leadership was immediately on the retreat. You’re moving from a situation where there is a significant Orange element in unionism, I know that the Orange Order seriously contemplated going to Dublin to make a submission to the Dublin Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which would have been a very very positive development but southern Orangemen blocked that because they felt they would not get any credence from the Gerry Adams outfit- the peace commission. Some Orangemen are progressive. There is a strong element in there that are very fearful which would be associated with people like ..Patten of the Spirit of Drumcree and are hesitant to move forward at all. I should say that at the moment that I have hope for change in the unionist party but as Norman and Feargal know my membership of the Unionist party is under doubt at the moment because I was pictured with Gerry Adams. It would be interesting to see how that pans out. Things were beginning to open up during the peace process. I was able to share a platform with Martin McGuinness and stay in the Unionist party as part of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. There was some question about but in the end they said it was ok. Ken Maginnis was prepared to speak with the leader of Sinn Fein, things were opening up and people were calling for change in the Unionist party. The Republicans had their problems and they decided that they had to go back to violence and that detroyed the whole process. I think they expected too much – 18 months and it seems something should have been done, I thought so and I did what I could and everyone did what they could but 18 months is not long enough – this is a centuries old problem. It will probably take many many years before we’ve got to where we’ve got to go. My understanding is that there is attempts to ensure that the next time there is a peace process it will be more solidly grounded and there will be more of a realisation on behalf of the people that this will take some time and it won’t happen overnight.
Feargal: agrees with questioner and with a lot of what Roy said. Difficulties were outlined earlier. Trimble said he wanted to change – but the foot soldiers sent a stern message. Current Grand Master of the Orange Order – started off badly but he’s now being called a Lundy.
Q. 2: unionists portray the British as tricky.
Feargal: I am not actually a unionist. Huge complexities in unionism – Ulster loyalist “more British than the British”. Regionalism
Q: Where does allegiance lie?
Feargal: Paisley – fundamental – Sammy Wilson doesn’t care about monarchy. David Ervine couldn’t care about monarchy. Hutchinson is a socialist. “Ulster” first. Some people in DUP are “yuppies”
Norman: complex – depends on how unionists define themselves. Protestantism – peculiar sense of Protestant Britishness now located in NI. Prophetic role – “chosen people”. Integrationists – allegiance due to Britain – more galling for them when they see perfidious Albion.
Q. 3: He refers to NI as “Northern Ireland” – Wishes NI people would refer to our state as “Ireland”. If intended to be offensive, then they are offensive.
Unionist position is something we are not constantly aware of. He would defend unionist right to be unionist, but he is aware of areas where people believe they are governed without the consent of the governed. border not just the cause of the problem – but problems about its location. If people in NI would concede these areas – it might contribute to peace.
Should Ireland be re-partitioned?
Norman: “Belfast would be a problem”
Feargal: “It would cause huge tensions”
Roy: There may be more opposition from republicans. He believes it would be pretty awful. Nationalists in NI are more nationalist than southerners. we almost thrive on confrontation – republican negative thinking – “Brits out” terminology – “we’re Ireland as well”.
ENDS [Editor’s note: audiotape incomplete but video tape to be examined further ]
Meath Peace Group talk 25 (1997) (c) Meath Peace Group
Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy