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Commemorating the union January 21, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Good piece I thought by Alex Kane in the IT recently on the anniversary of Northern Ireland. Fair, I think, to say, that he’s not exactly brimming with confidence about the current dispensation. But even were matters more, ahem, normal, the following would likely still be true:

So, all in all, 2021 looks like being the most important year for the North since 1921. Most unionists will be quietly relieved that, despite everything, Northern Ireland is still in the UK. But they also know nothing can be taken for granted. The pro-union celebratory case is going to be a hard one to make, and will depend on events and circumstances over which they have no control. What may worry them most, though, is a lack of evidence that the collective leadership of political and civic unionism is actually prepared to make, or capable of making, the arguments upon which Northern Ireland’s future will depend.


That celebration is difficult for unionism: a difficulty heaped upon it by Boris Johnson, the man cheered at a DUP conference when he pledged to save the North from semi-colonial status, then was later propped up by the DUP when he became prime minister. Yet it is Johnson who has shifted the North from its “place apart” status into the much more precarious position of becoming the constitutional equivalent of a granny flat. The North is now, arguably, in a weaker constitutional position than at any time since 1921, pushed there by the actions of the very man in whom the DUP invested so much trust.

A pro-union celebratory case has become ever increasingly difficult to make. I noted the other day Martin Mansergh’s rather quixotic effort to paint the history of Northern Ireland prior to the proroguement of the NI government in the early 1970s in a better light. The problem was that remarkably little of what he listed – the NHS, for example, was actually home grown from the North. Rather it was improvements that – ironically – the union itself had seen directly or indirectly imported into that polity. An argument for the union, well, perhaps, but a problematic one from the off to make in such a divided society, but hardly an advertisement for ‘Northern Ireland’ as such.

I think Kane’s point about leadership is key, but it’s not just leadership, indeed this goes well beyond that. This is about a fundamental dislocation between a people/community, their political orientation and the actual position they find themselves in. Simply put the socio-political and socio-economic underpinnings of unionism are askew. I’m not for a moment arguing that unionists are not unionists, or that unionism is a sort of false consciousness that given fifteen minutes in a United Ireland would slough off those who are currently unionists. Rather I’m talking about a broader dynamic where unionism has, in a sense, become as time progresses irrelevant to the state which they identity with and through the realities of the demographic and political dynamics within the North placed in a position where unionism cannot be fully expressed, even if the union persists.

By that I mean that the status quo ante of unionism, that of Stormont, which however imperfect could be seen as a logical expression of the unionist project is now almost 50 years gone. Subsequently the divisions within unionism over direct rule, or devolution and later over the institutions of the GFA/BA and powersharing with those who took antithetical views on state and nation have not been ‘unionist’ in that original sense. By the by this holds true for Nationalism and Republicanism – and more obviously so for various reasons, not least that the North is not politically connected with the ROI (bar the limited connections of the GFA/BA).

None of this implies that unionism doesn’t exist or doesn’t have political power, but for unionism – for all the much vaunted protestations as to its robust good health, the union is not what it was, and must make do with what, half a loaf, a quarter of a loaf, in perpetuity – that being a union that is contingent in all manners of ways and particularly post-Brexit. The great irony here is, that while the union persists, conversely nationalists and republicans feel the weight of history is with them. As Kane notes:

… a belief – common across nationalism – [is] that the UK is hurtling towards inevitable dissolution, starting with Scotland, and followed by a successful Border poll in the North. In other words, they don’t think it’s worth talking to unionists about the union because they think the union is doomed. And one of the reasons they believe the Northern Irish wing of the union is doomed is precisely because the Northern Ireland Protocol has placed the North outside the constitutional ambit of Great Britain.

And many would agree. That said there’s the possibility that a strange sort of equilibrium may develop that will continue for decades. After all, the GFA/BA dispensation, continues, now almost two decades old. Why not that plus the newer developments for another two decades? That’s not entirely implausible. But yes, that weight of history does seem to have a certain power all its own, pushing matters, however slowly, towards a certain resolution. And therein is a further irony, that while 2021 is indeed an important year for unionism, and perhaps Kane is correct in seeing it as the most important year for NI since 1921, it may be that the effects of 2021 take years, or many decades, to work through to that resolution.


1. Roger Cole - January 21, 2021

A United Independent Democratic and neutral Irish state was first advocated by Wofe Tone in 1790 in his ‘ Spanish War’ pamphlet. For over 230 years Irish Republicans have sought to establish it, and anti-Republicans have allied themselves with imperialism to prevent it, including a large number of people who seem to think they are progressive. To some extent, since for most of that period the British Empire was the greatest Empire in the world. Not any longer, even if a good deal of the driving force came from Tories that were inspired by the Empire and just could not handle being a small part of the emerging European Empire with its own Imperial Army which has never been an issue for many “left wing” Irish progressives. A United Irish Republic that takes no part in PESCO as does Denmark, and sees the EU and a customs Union between sovereign states rather that putting off the achievement of the Republic for another few decades seems a reasonable objective.

Liked by 3 people

banjoagbeanjoe - January 22, 2021

Why is there a like button but no dislike button? Must get on to WordPress.
Anyway fwiw, I’d recommend waiting another few decades. Seriously. Tóg go bog é. Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.

Liked by 1 person

2. benmadigan - January 21, 2021

What the Tory establishment really thinks of NI Unionists and their desperate clinging on to England

“Northern Irish unionists always feared the mainland was not sufficiently committed to their cause. Now their short-sighted support for Brexit (and unbelievably stupid decision to torpedo Theresa May’s deal that avoided separate Irish arrangements) has made those fears a reality. It pains me to report that most here and abroad will not care”.

George “Austerity Champion” Osborne


Liked by 1 person

sonofstan - January 21, 2021

Says George Gideon, heir to a baronetcy in Tipp and Waterford.

Liked by 1 person

3. Phil - January 21, 2021

The saddest thing is, any fellow-feeling that Unionists feel for Britain isn’t reciprocated and never has been – what people here see when we look at Unionists isn’t so much “a little Britain beyond the Irish Sea” as “some weird non-Irish Irish eccentricity”. (The view of white South Africans was similar.) I don’t know if Red Hand Ulster nationalism has any purchase nowadays, but I think it’s a fallback position that Unionists might end up forced into.


WorldbyStorm - January 21, 2021

Yeah, I think that’s very plausible. Though not all Unionists, and perhaps not the majority of Unionists.


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