Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

Reflections on the Anglo Irish Agreement

Last month saw the twenty fifth anniversary of the Anglo Irish Agreement. Brain Walker had a far from unionist friendly analysis (unsurprisingly) of it over on Slugger. The same month in 1985 as the agreement was signed, the UUP and DUP mobilised one of the largest mass protests Belfast has ever seen against the Agreement; memorably including Dr. Paisley’s iconic Never, never, never, never” speech. The News Letter has reflections from a number of different people on that day of protest and Jim Allister has his thoughts on his website.

The long term effect on unionists in general is probably difficult to gauge and no doubt differs between different unionists.

by Turgon
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Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

Thoughts on Robinson’s Education speech

By Turgon

Many people have given their views on Peter Robinson’s now infamous speech on Integrated Education a few weeks ago. The reaction to the speech has been interesting if predictable. The speech itself, however, is one of the cleverest pieces of politics in the last number of years in Northern Ireland and marks the first time in a long time that Robinson has managed to be both tactically and strategically cunning; though his ability to implement his strategy is of course significantly limited by the coalition arrangements which he and Dr. Paisley before him have been trapped in since the DUP entered power sharing.

Robinson’s call for integrated education managed to wrong foot nationalism to a very significant degree. The narrative preferred by many within nationalism and republicanism is that they are the progressive force within NI politics. Robinson, however, by this speech managed to claim the mantle of the liberal, progressive forces on this issue. There are valid arguments to be made in favour of allowing faith based education but Robinson reasonably pointed out that in a divided society such as Northern Ireland this is highly problematic.
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Filed under: DUP, Education, , ,

Thoughts on Civic Unionism

By Turgon

Civic unionism has been a concept much discussed recently: one of the major problems has been the definition of civic unionism. It can be seen as everyone who is not defined as a non civic unionist. Non civic unionists are often pejoratively labelled tribal, ethnic or otherwise “bad” unionists.

Let me throw out an exemplar of a civic unionist: lets say late 30s, university educated, married with children, fairly well paid job, has worked outside Northern Ireland, travels widely with work, attends mainstream Protestant church; brought up outside Belfast but has spend most of their adult life there, some relatives originally not from NI and others who have moved away; not a member of any loyal order.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

The Problems for GB Parties standing in NI – Labour and Lib Dems

The problems with the NI Tories standing or indeed with the CU alliance are possibly even greater for the Labour Party. Although Labour provided Northern Ireland with one of unionism’s favourite secretaries of state in Roy Mason, Labour’s official position for many years was a “united Ireland by consent” and under Kevin McNamara in the 1980s and early 1990s the Labour Party was seen as far from neutral but actually hostile to the union and at times it seemed unionists. Blair of course replaced McNamara with Mo Mowlan but although Labour under his tenure may have been less hostile to unionists many of the decisions especially in the early days of the political process were highly unpopular with unionists. This was never more so than in the release of the assorted criminals from gaol without decommissioning and the extreme deceit of Blair’s promises made at Coleraine University immediately before the referendum on the Belfast Agreement. Mandleson was seen as considerably more pro unionist (or at least even handed) than Mowlan but subsequently Peter Hain, initially distrusted due to his previous support for a united Ireland later became distrusted at least as much for his dishonesty; Woodward was seen as utterly oily and disingenuous.
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The Problems for GB Parties standing in NI – The Tories

The major ideal at the heart of the CU project was that the alliance offered a way of offering people within Northern Ireland the opportunity to vote for a party capable of national government; a mainstream, mainland UK political party, in their case the Conservative Party. When some countered that the unionist party contained some members with more left of centre political views the suggestion was made that following the success of the CUs (illusory as that proved) the other GB political parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would also stand. This notion is of course far from new: it inspired much of the UUP intergrationalist movement of the 1980s and for a time seemed to have significant traction within the UUP. The failure of the CUs at the Westminster election has led to considerable soul searching especially within that section of unionism which was highly attracted to the CU project. The recent news that the NI Tories are in some confusion as to the way ahead is unsurprising and although the concept of a new centre right party is interesting it again looks like suspiciously like a politicos dream rather than a viable political alternative.
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Filed under: Conservatives

Thoughts on Purvis’s resignation and the PUP

There has been much analysis of Dawn Purvis’s resignation from the PUP over on slugger. I will probably post this over there later but I thought it might be worth mentioning here.

Purvis has been being lauded as a woman of integrity in multiple sections of the media with only Mark Devenport and a few others willing to make anything other than wholly supportive comments. This eulogisation of Purvis and Ervine before her has been a feature of most outside of mainstream unionism for many years. This seems to have reached its zenith now that Purvis has left the PUP. She joined in 1994 when although the UVF had declared a ceasefire thy had shown absolutely no sign of decommissioning, let alone going away. She stuck with the party through a total of 28 murders by the UVF until leaving after this one. In addition of course she remained with the PUP despite the UVF’s overwhelming involvement in drug dealing, prostitution, racketeering and assorted other organised crime including the loyalist feud which as well as involving multiple murders also resulted in about 600 people being forced to leave their own homes.
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It’s not the economy: stupid

Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville famously coined the phrase “It’s the economy – stupid” for the 1992 US Presidential election. In the UK the issue of the economy has been seen as central to a party’s election chances for many years: making Labour trusted on the economy was one of Tony Blair’s greatest electoral achievements. In the recent Westminster election the centrality of the economy was there for all to see. There may no longer be major left / right economic issues over say nationalisation but the variations over economic policy are highly important. Other social issues are of course also relevant and sometimes on those the left right position is less obvious. However, It is pretty clear that these social issues and especially the economy decide how most people vote.

Northern Ireland is of course different: not really a place apart as there are many places in the world where politics functions along less strict socio-economic lines; Belgium is an example of a modern western democracy which does not function in a simple left right fashion.
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Fermanagh and South Tyrone: why we lost

I have mentioned my thoughts on the TUV and CUs over on slugger and will come to the DUP (and hopefully the others) in time. However, although I quoted Harold McCusker regarding the TUV (“I felt desolate because as I stood in the cold …..everything that I held dear turned to ashes in my mouth.”); yesterday afternoon when Fermanagh South Tyrone was announced I was even more heartbroken. It may be difficult for outsiders to understand at times but it is an issue of huge importance down here who wins this seat. As ever this being Fermanagh everyone at work was utterly polite to one another: however, as soon as there were members of one side everyone wondered how the recount was going. I may be a South Londonderry blow in but the way the local unionist population demanded a unity candidate and forced the DUP and then UUP to agree to one was fascinating and also personally energising (I openly acknowledge I am extremely tribal in my political analysis: I much prefer fighting unionism’s enemies than other unionists). The fact is that this unionist community suffered more than almost any other at the hands of the IRA. It is also a fact that almost never was there any loyalist retaliation in Fermanagh and loyalist terrorists are held by all local unionists in the same quiet, calm but icy contempt as republican ones. Call these people bigots all you want from the safety of the greater Belfast Pale: these people know what republican violence is, that informs their views and they wanted the cheerleader that is Gildernew out.

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Filed under: general election

Fermanagh South Tyrone: a time for unionists to unite

Elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone can be pretty grim affairs with the spectre of the sectarian head count never far away. There is a certain inevitability in this due to the relatively closely balanced sizes of the two communities and the fact that during the Troubles and indeed the Border Campaign, right back to the 1920s; Fermanagh and the neighbouring parts of Tyrone were stalked by terrorism. Michelle Gildernew has held the seat now for two terms and until the agreed unionist candidate was finally settled, it seemed inevitable that she would win for a third time. With Rodney Connor emerging as the united unionist candidate this certainty has evaporated and there is a real chance that the seat could revert to unionists.

Connor is a genuinely good candidate: originally from Castlederg (hopefully Fermanagh people will not hold that against him) and the former chief executive of Fermanagh council, in which post he had a track record of serving the whole community to a very high standard. It is difficult to characterise him as a bigot or a narrow sectional candidate. He has made a major issue of the need FST has for full time representation at Westminster and has been at pains to pledge to be a champion for the whole community.
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An answer of sorts to Alex Kane

Alex Kane has delivered a fairly damning critique of unionist vision and strategy in the News Letter. Some of his sharpest comments are not on line but are worth repeating:

I fear that all the unionist parties – and I include the TUV in this criticism – still believe that this process is the only show in town. They have allowed themselves to be spooked by ‘Plan Bs’ and the repercussions of walking away. Worse still I hear no clear thinking from unionism either inside or outside the Assembly. Oh yes they will talk tough about this, that and the other – but that toughness will never extend just to upping sticks and walking away.

As a TUV supporter I would take issue with a great deal of that. However, these comments should make all unionists think. He continued:

Unionism has compromised. For almost forty years we have budged positions to try and accommodate nationalism. We have accepted electoral, political and governmental practices which would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world. We have watched as the IRA bombed and negotiated its way into government because successive British Governments decided that it would be easier to accommodate rather than defeat terrorism.

The nationalist definition of unionist compromise is that we we weaken ourselves as we roll out of the UK and into a united Ireland. Well I am not prepared to accept it any more. There has to be something better. There has to be some way of ensuring that unionism is allowed to flourish and prosper.

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