by Frank Schnittger
Wed Mar 21st, 2018 at 09:25:53 PM EST
The Irish Times has been running a few opinion pieces by Northern Unionists highlighting their annoyance at recent political developments: The fall of the Northern Ireland Executive, attempts to promote the Irish language in N. Ireland, and the Irish response to Brexit. The latest is by academic John Wilson Foster who has written a book on Irish Novels, 1890-1940, and is entitiled: United Ireland campaign is based on a delusion. He begins as follows:
Open the pages of the Ulster Tatler and there they are. The Northern Irish in their glad rags, grinning for the photographer at birthday bashes, firms' dos, award ceremonies, book launches, restaurant openings.
Theirs are authentic faces of everyday unionism, a promiscuous display of high spirits by those wanting a good time, politically and religiously uncategorised by the camera. In other words, a Sinn Féin nightmare.
After all, Catholics must be constantly reminded that they are an oppressed minority who should be striving for a united Ireland. Unionists must be harried without term and reminded that Sinn Féin's day is coming.
My suspicion is that Sinn Féin cannot abide such normalisation of social relations. And since they exhaust almost all the oxygen on the matter of nationalism (the SDLP is gasping for air), those relations must not find ordinary, much less political, expression.
Notice how the Northern Irish, "religiously uncategorised by the camera" suddenly morph into the "authentic faces of everyday Unionism." the supposed focus of Sinn Fein ire. It is as if having a good time in Northern Ireland implies you must be a unionist. In those few sentences the self acclaimed authority on Irish novels not only manages to do what he claims Sinn Fein supporters do - categorise people by their religious/political identity - and project some remarkable attitudes onto Sinn Fein.
The rest of his long piece can be read as one long Unionist whinge.
Unionists are dismayed that the constitutional parties in the South seem to have fallen in behind Sinn Féin on these (with all due respect) fabricated issues and on Brexit. (Which is certainly not fabricated, but it is a practical problem to be solved, not a constitutional bandwagon to clamber aboard.)
Prophecy is magical thinking that Sinn Féin practise, the idea that a united Ireland is predestined and thus justifiably to be achieved by any means. It suffocates debate, makes every reform a staging post, and obstructs daily reality from flowing in the direction the stream of consciousness takes us, a direction that might well be towards closer unity on the island were Sinn Féin itself magically to disappear.
After all, Sinn Féin is dedicated to the failure of Northern Ireland, a dedication implicit in their refusal to speak the name of the jurisdiction or take their seats in Westminster.
How can the circle of this sleepless strategy be squared with participation in government? Surely any political party in the South that aligns itself with Sinn Féin on Northern Irish issues is complicit in the politics of sabotage?
Perhaps if John Wilson Foster actually spoke to some Sinn Fein supporters he wouldn't need to speculate quite so wildly about their intentions. I am reminded of some white South Africans in Apartheid South Africa who would ask their servants if they wanted to know what "the blacks" wanted...
I have responded to John Wilson Foster's article in the comments as follows:
What a delusional article by someone claiming to debunk nationalist delusions! Northern Ireland peace and prosperity is based on three central pillars:
Together these three pillars have managed to create the "normality" which Foster claims the Ulster Tatler depicts. It is normal for most people to want to get on with their lives provided they have jobs and can make a decent living in a peaceful society. The fact that most do so does not mean everything is OK with Unionism as Foster asserts.
- £10 Billion p.a. subvention by the British Exchequer
- The Good Friday agreement guaranteeing "parity of esteem for all traditions in N. I.
- Membership of the EU with its prime aim of "an over closer Union" bringing both British and Irish people and governmental systems ever closer together
Foster blithely assumes 1. above will continue indefinitely. The UK has just decided to leave the EU because of a lesser net contribution for which it got enormous benefits in return. What does England gain for the 10 Billion it gives Foster & Co.? What happens when Britain's economy crashes post Brexit and it can no longer afford the subvention?
Foster never mentions the GFA instead seeing Sinn Fein as the problem and projecting all sorts of attitudes onto it. In Foster's world the problem would be solved if Sinn Fein and all who support it simply went away. How would he feel if Nationalists said the same about the DUP and all who support it?
Typical of most Unionists, Foster never realised how central the EU was to the acceptance of the status quo in the North by nationalists of all hues. The DUP has just casually kicked that pillar from underneath the stability of N. Ireland society and now thinks the resulting mess is just a practical problem to be solved? Delusional indeed.
The interesting thing about this article is that it is written by a self-styled moderate Unionist, decrying the collapse of "moderate" Unionism and nationalism in N. Ireland, not by some fire-breathing fundamentalist protestant DUP supporter: The type who regard support for the status quo as not being political at all - but as is often the case with such "non-political" types - utterly clueless as to what has made the "normality" of the status quo possible. In a subsequent response to another poster, I wrote:
I think this article reveals a much deeper problem - how incredibly tone deaf even well educated moderate Unionists are to the range of feelings amongst nationalists in their midst. What I have detected amongst Nationalists in more recent times is that they have more or less given up on even talking to Unionists about a United Ireland or what safeguards could be built in to assuage Unionist concerns. They now regard Unionists as a lost cause and are content to wait until demographics solves the problem for them.
Then their attitude will be to treat Unionists with about as much respect as they feel Unionists afforded them. Unionists will be welcome to stay in the North and participate at all levels of society and economy as they want, without discrimination, and if they don't want to they will be welcome to leave. But there will be no compromises to assuage hurt Unionists feelings. If some Unionists turn to violence they will be dealt with ruthlessly.
I put this change of attitude down to Brexit, where the DUP ran roughshod over the expressed will of the majority in N. Ireland - and remember, N. Ireland is the only place the DUP has a mandate to represent - and to the absolutely bone headed stupidity of Arlene Foster and the DUP leadership. Feeding crocodiles, indeed.
Unionism had a glorious opportunity to take on the leadership of all the people of Northern Ireland by accepting and fighting for their rejection of Brexit. A compromise could have been worked out - under Unionist leadership - for N. Ireland to remain within the UK but also within the EU (representing all strands of society) - Just as Greenland is simultaneously part of the Kingdom of Denmark and outside the EU.
But the DUP flunked that test - and Unionism's last chance was lost.
Arlene Foster, DUP leader, has said that making concessions to Sinn Fein would be like feeding crocodiles: They would just come back for more. Perhaps my last comment involves a little projection of my own. I don't really know for sure how Northern Ireland politics will evolve if and when a Nationalist majority emerges. But I have more or less lost patience with those who fail to mention the contribution of the Good Friday Agreement in the achievement of normality in N. Ireland, and who regard Brexit as a "practical problem to be solved" - perhaps by some technological wizardry at the border.
No one begrudges the people of Northern Ireland, whether Unionist or not, having a good time "in their glad rags, grinning for the photographer at birthday bashes, firms' dos, award ceremonies, book launches, restaurant openings" and it is insulting to imply otherwise. It is also insulting to regard the efforts of those who achieved the Good Friday agreement as having made no contribution to the normalcy that Foster cherishes. Most insulting of all is the imposition of Brexit on a people who voted against it, by parties feigning to be democratic, and who then claim it is but a minor technical matter to which the people of Ireland should just submit.
Sorry. No can do. It is time for a bonfire of the vanities, and the first of these to go must be the vanity that you can systematically undermine two pillars of what made normalcy possible in Northern Ireland and not have to live with the consequences. I have never been a Sinn Fein supporter, but reading this drivel almost drives me in that direction, and I can understand why many nationalists in the North, even the most moderate, are gradually being forced to move in that direction. John Wilson Foster isn't half as apolitical or moderate as he claims to be. For Unionism to survive, it is essential that the nationalist community be divided.