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Home truths April 16, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Excellent point by Susan McKay in the Guardian this week about the riots in the North. She notes that:

The problem right now is that all of unionism has turned dissident. Its three main parties have joined forces to bring the British government to court, citing breaches of the 1800 Act of Union and the Good Friday agreement (which two of those three parties opposed). The DUP pulled out of the north-south arrangements that are a mainstay of the agreement. All of the leaders demanded that the chief constable resign over his handling of a republican funeral. DUP MP Sammy Wilson declared “guerrilla warfare” over the protocol that has created a trade border in the Irish Sea. This mechanism by which the EU and the UK resolved Brexit became inevitable after the DUP rejected every other proposed deal. It held out for a hard border across Ireland, but this was incompatible with the GFA, for which 71% of people in Northern Ireland voted in favour in 1998, while 56% of them voted to remain in the EU in 2016.

And she continues:

The inconsistency extends to the attitude to the government. Unionists insist there must be no regulatory diversion between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, yet the first minister and DUP leader, Arlene Foster, told the secretary of state to “back off” when he insisted British law must be implemented to allow abortions for women in Northern Ireland. Feminists are angry about this. Anti-poverty activists working in neglected communities are angry too. So are Irish language campaigners promised legislation that has not been delivered. None of these people have rioted.

And she notes that all the above occurs in a context where the IRA is no more. Her point being that now it is clear ‘What unionism fears now is democracy’.

The strangest aspect of this is, and again this has been noted here many times before – the only way in which a poll on the constitutional situation of Northern Ireland will occur is if the British Secretary of State determines that the conditions are such that there is a possibility that a United Ireland might win that poll. The following is the text of the GFA/BA:


1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.

2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.

3. The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.

4. (Remaining paragraphs along the lines of paragraphs 2 and 3 of existing Schedule 1 to 1973 Act.)

Note how subjective that phrasing is, but clearly this is only in the gift of the British government. Now I’ve also noted that I find it unlikely, shading to implausible, that a poll will be held in the immediate, or even near, future. I’d put one at about five years out, perhaps longer again. That’s not an absolute, matters might change – for example a successful poll in Scotland ushering in independence might accelerate matters. But be that as it may, this underscores McKay’s point.

There is no armed struggle, no hint that Republicanism or nationalism would resort to same at any point in the future. There’s considerable talk of pressure – pressure from Sinn Féin, from Dublin, from wherever, but in truth this is essentially rhetorical given the situation outlined above with regard to a poll. Unionism may choose to pretend that this is substantive pressure, but it really isn’t, and those pretending are doing their fellow unionists a massive disservice.

There is, of course, the changing nature of the relationship as organised by London, but given the clear distinctive differences sought by unionism – as outlined by McKay above, it is difficult to feel more than sympathy at that situation. If London as the primary legislature in the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain has decided for the good of the UK the relationship must incorporate a rather tenuous system of checks in the Irish Sea it is difficult to feel that that (as noted here this week) – given all that has come before, not least a local legislature from the 1920s to 1972, is an egregious rearrangement.

Which leaves us with a fear of democracy. This seems plausible, that matters have moved on, not to the point that a poll on the border is imminent, but rather that the position of unionism within Northern Ireland has changed radically even in the twenty or more years of the GFA/BA dispensation to the point where its primacy is now contingent, or possibly over. Who will be the next First Minister – the chances of a Sinn Féin First Minister are strong, not inevitably so, but it is possible.

However that works that makes for a very different Northern Ireland to that which has been seen previously – even if it is very possible that that Northern Ireland will continue to exist in this state for quite some time to come. Yet, test the boundaries, consider the realities, and it is almost identical in every everyday sense to that which was there last year, five years ago, and more. The structures of the GFA/BA continue, there’s no path forward without unionist input, as is reasonable.

So, what does all this suggest? Perhaps that political unionism needs to reconsider and to adapt to being no longer dominant, that in order to sustain the status quo ante it must to a real degree engage with others, that it must make Northern Ireland a place that is congenial to all within it to the greatest possible extent. On current evidence this is a task too great for political unionism but that really is the only way to maintain the union.


1. Jack Jameson - April 16, 2021

Perhaps that political unionism needs to reconsider and to adapt to being no longer dominant, that in order to sustain the status quo ante it must to a real degree engage with others, that it must make Northern Ireland a place that is congenial to all within it to the greatest possible extent. On current evidence this is a task too great for political unionism but that really is the only way to maintain the Union.

Isn’t it the case that self-proclaimed leaders of unionism are acting more in the interests of ambition and their own personal place in political unionism rather than the North’s place in the Union? 🤷🏻‍♂️

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2021

There’s more than a bit of that about it, yeah.


2. Colm B - April 16, 2021

A new edition of Susan McKay’s excellent book on Northern Protestants “An Unsettled People” is out shortly. I read it years ago, it’s very informative – sympathetic but critical.

Liked by 2 people

alanmyler - April 16, 2021

I have that on the shelf here, the old edition, unread, after picking it up secondhand in a bookshop that has since closed down in Navan unfortunately. I’ll get to it someday. Mental note made of the recommendation.


EWI - April 16, 2021

I’ll get to it someday.

The account of Willie Frazier’s family was an eye-opener, and borne out by subsequent revelations.


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2021

It’s a great book, as Colm says, critical but sympathetic.


3. Fergal - April 16, 2021

McKay has always been a thoughtful and insightful voice on northern matters.
She write a great book on northern Protestants a while back… whose name escapes me…
I’d put her in the same bracket as David McKittrick and Mary Holland.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2021

Me too, agreed.


4. CL - April 16, 2021

Losing politically and diplomatically, and the link with Britain, – essential to its sense of identity – weakened by the protocol, how will unionism react?
Unionists leaders have condemned the recent violence but as McKay points out they need also ” to banish old ghosts full of grievance and rage.” Its doubtful if unionist leaders have this ability, – or inclination.

Liked by 2 people

5. benmadigan - April 16, 2021

“. . . . to bring the British government to court . . . .”,

Doubt if they’ll win, given today’s statements on the NIP from the EU
and the UK Govt

Even if the DUP et al., do win the case, Westminster Parliament will just change the law to suit the Govt’s policy on the NIP

‘What unionism fears now is democracy’.

I don’t think it is afraid of democracy. From its inception Unionism has always set its face against democracy because it was/is incompatible with its Protestant state for a Protestant people . Unionism knows equality before the law spells its end.


6. Bagatelle's Unpegged Tenure - April 16, 2021

How is Unionism any different from the mob storming the US Capitol on January 6th?


7. Colm B - April 17, 2021

Another really good piece by Susan McKay here; really shows how alienated working class youth are being manipulated by the loyalist narco-gangs:


Liked by 1 person

Bagatelle's Uncrated Treadle - April 17, 2021

Her new book next month should prove interesting reading.

In these accounts elected Unionist representatives are absent, no attempt at leadership or encouraging restraint. Yet at the margins are adults managing and mentoring the riots and rioters.

I’d be hoping for a wet summer.

Liked by 1 person

8. CL - April 17, 2021

” To begin with the immediate context: a year into the pandemic, in the working-class unionist areas where the rioting was concentrated, the jobs that young people are most likely to have – if they have jobs at all – have been the worst affected by the economic downturn, and most forms of social infrastructure, from youth centres to sports facilities, have been shut for long periods. Anyone bent on causing trouble wouldn’t have been short of recruits…..
By the end of February, Arlene Foster was meeting with the LCC as the loyalist paramilitaries prepared to withdraw their support for the Good Friday Agreement. She brushed aside criticism, claiming that the LCC’s component groups were committed to ‘peaceful and democratic’ means of political struggle. Within weeks, the rioting was in full swing….
Unionism has unquestionably suffered a real setback over the last two years. This does not mean that a united Ireland is inevitable, or even probable, but the ties binding Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK now seem weaker than at any time since the peace process began.

The variety of British nationalism that Boris Johnson personifies and the political leadership of unionism have together done more to undermine the union since 2016 than the IRA could manage in a quarter-century of conflict.” – Daniel Finn.

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