In his speech to the party faithful on Saturday last, First Minister Peter Robinson talked about Unionism living in ‘peace time’. This phrase got me thinking for I felt that it was very relevant but needs explained further.
Unionism has the habit of continually placing itself in a war-torn society; which is fair comment after thirty-years of violence during which police men were killed, soldiers murdered and civilians butchered at the hands of the enemies of the state. However this is thankfully no longer the case. We have moved on and live in relative peace. Psychologically and politically this environment created a safe haven for Unionism to hide whilst the bullets flew and bombs went off, which not only created destruction to buildings and infrastructure but to society itself.
At present this attitude is changing and has changed. Unionism has overwhelmingly backed Stormont and devolution as the way forward. Things may not be perfect, but we do not live in a perfect world. During the years of direct rule Unionism had easy choices to make politically, mirroring a protest movement to the naked eye. This offered Unionism a safe foundation to base itself. It did of course come naturally as this was the territory in which it was born in the late 1880s.
In Government now, Unionism, as overwhelmingly represented by the DUP, has tough and real choices to make with regards to domestic policy as seen in education, health, and the economy to name but a few. The generation born during the troubles are emerging looking houses, jobs and a safe and secure environment in which to raise a family. This is the cycle of life; the basis upon which man and woman operate.
Northern Ireland really does have a chance to move forward. There is a mood out there for delivering positive change and for making Northern Ireland work moving away from the thirty-years of bloodshed.
People are concerned about their jobs, the economy, how much their paying when they go to the counter in a supermarket or at the petrol pump. This change has come about by itself in many ways as the guns have generally gone silent.
The mood for violence is no more. September 11th has changed that mood significantly. The ‘Irish’ problem is sorted as far as the bank rolling, closet Irish-American Republicans’ see it as demonstrated by their dampened interest in politics here. Their shift is now moved towards the Middle-East and the fight between Christianity and Islam.
Unionism can prosper and survive by making the state of Northern Ireland work. This can be Unionisms’ legacy as we approach the centenary of the birth of our Province.
Unionism, the way I look at it, is picking up where it left off in 1969; before violence, fear, anxiety and mayhem took charge. The state of Northern Ireland in the 1960s was in bad shape as the post-war economy changed. The lucrative ship building contracts had all but dried up. Protestants, many of whom were working people, no longer had a guaranteed place in the job market. The service sector prospered as the world got smaller with the advancement of communication technology and the commercial aircraft. At the centre of this was a rise in the Catholic professional classes who made good use of the 1948 Education Act. Their rise and the decline of the prospects of Protestants created a vacuum where the fears of a Catholic/Nationalist take over took root amongst grassroots Unionists. Government and the authorities had little or no chance of steadying the ship and instead we ran blazing into a war-torn society which lasted for thirty odd years for which cost us dearly in lives never mind investment.
The future is bright and the future is positive. The choice is there and it would be stupid if Unionism didn’t take it. Unionism has no reason to stay under ground, locked in the bomb shelters waiting for doomsday. We are in peace time and we have the chance to now prosper. This is Unionisms’ opportunity. The future is what we make it.