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The way I see it, protestant unionists in Ireland as a political group and identity was created in response to the Irish rebellion in 1798. In order to widen rifts on Ireland the various non-Anglican protestant groups were given a bit higher position then the Catholics, so that the Anglican ruling class had a bit wider foundation to stand on. The purpose was of course to keep Ireland ruled from London.
But that project failed in 1921. Despite the failure of the wider project London kept North Ireland. If we assume that it wasn't concern for the ruled or anything like that, I think it is reasonable to note that sabotaging the Irish national project was a rational mean to uphold the Empire. To encourage the others so to speak by showing the Empires willingness to act out of spite on its way out. Similar to the US intentionally trying to cause mass starvation in Afghanisatan by stealing their money on the way out.
In line with the previous policies the protestant areas were also the richest, because some of the wealth on its way to London had stayed in the protestant areas. Of course, they didn't stay that way, because the protestant areas were no longer a means to suck wealth out of Ireland, but instead increasingly a back water.
With almost all of the empire gone, the point of a warning example approaches zero. If North Ireland can be used to abuse the withdrawal treaty from EU, it will be used for that, but other than that...
And that leaves the protestant unionists on Ireland abandoned by their empire, having their primary purpose and their back up purpose failed. But not in a particular hostile environment unless they choose to make it so.
So continue with empty political gestures in the hope of getting back relevance? Make nice with the neighbours? Move to England and grumble about a conflict people there no longer care about?
And that in a nut shell is where it becomes relevant on a larger scale. England wasn't the only empire playing divide and rule, and protestant unionists in North Ireland isn't the only group feeling abandoned by a project the central power has lost interest in.
Think Trump supporters in the USA, South African whites, and far right party supporters in Europe. As Hillary was pilloried for saying, they cling to their guns and religion and embrace wild conspiracy theories. Unionists have always had a close ideological bond with Ex Apartheid and Rhodesian white supporters, Zionists, and the religious far right in the USA. Dr. Ian Paisley's honorary doctorate was from a far right US religious College. Many believe in creationism and a variety of QAnon conspiracy theories. They genuinely supported Brexit as a form of anti liberal capitalist globalist conspiracy.
What they have in common is that they have lost power for geopolitical or technological reasons. Many are not that bright and with low educational achievement who have lost out on the higher paying knowledge economy jobs. They are used to privilege and deference and have lost what they feel are their rightful entitlements and heritage - and somebody else has to be to blame - blacks, Muslims, Chinese, immigrants, Catholics, liberals, gays, faceless eurocrats - take your pick. They want to "take back control" and can only lose if others cheat.
Index of Frank's Diaries
And with the falling relative position and generally stagnating incomes under neoliberalism comes material misery in combination with spiritual misery.
I think you are on the right track with a combination of respecting their identity and focusing on the material issues. You don't have to love the hated Other that your group has been primed against for generations as long as you can get along, and maybe eventually realise that fixing pot holes etc is easier in collaboration.
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