Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

Quiet confidence…

The GPO in Dublin (image via infomatique's flickrstream)

If you were an Irish Nationalist how would you feeling as of, 1st of January 2011, at the beginning of yet another decade “under British Rule”?

How far away do you think your nirvana of the 32 County Republic is at this point?

Well, if I were a nationalist at this juncture, two things in particular would be disturbing me:

  1. the confidence of not just the Unionist elite, chattering classes and bloggerati
  2. the maturity of the pro-Union electorate (defined as only those who presently or previously voted for Unionist parties).

For the first point, check out the News Letter’s Union 2021 series. Ignore the obvious troll (aka the prospective Right Dishonourable Member for Louth), what was the overall feel, the overall atmosphere of the series?

If I had to sum it up in a phrase, I’d say “Quiet Confidence”.

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Filed under: civic unionism, Union 2021, ,

Peace in our time…

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.

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Filed under: civic unionism, devolution, DUP, Shared future, Union 2021

Union 2021: ‘Electoral pact could improve the fortunes of centre parties’

Director of the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies at King’s College London, Dr Michael Kerr has contributed to The News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. His forthcoming book, ‘The Destructors: The Story of Northern Ireland’s Lost Peace Process’ will be published by Irish Academic Press in 2011. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on October 08

If the UUP, SDLP and Alliance Party joined forces they could form a dominant party of the centre

By Michael Kerr

THE 1998 Belfast Agreement has radically changed both Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain and its relations with the Republic of Ireland.

Today Northern Ireland is more comfortable with its place within the UK and Ireland is more united than it has ever been since partition. But although we are no longer a place apart we remain a people apart.

By 2021, Northern Ireland’s new political order should be consolidated and the union with Great Britain sustained. It will take more than a generation however for some of the Belfast Agreement’s more stringent checks and balances to decay organically, as a culture of power-sharing develops at all levels of society.

There is no way back to the old idiosyncratic unionist and nationalist positions of “no power-sharing” and “uniting Ireland by force of arms”. This is the dividend from the political risks and sacrifices that the UUP and the SDLP made in negotiating the agreement.

There is not going to be a united Ireland in the foreseeable future or ever at all in the terms the Provisional IRA envisaged throughout the Troubles. All the Northern Ireland parties faced up to this fact, albeit at different points, by accepting the Belfast Agreement.

Unionist unity or nationalist unity for that matter is not an essential ingredient for the agreement to work in the best interests of all Northern Irish people.

If the UUP becomes a facsimile of the DUP, as it did in the 1980s following the Anglo-Irish Agreement, then its electoral misfortunes will continue.

Why? Because the DUP have broadly adopted and successfully implemented David Trimble’s policies and Northern Ireland does not need two unionist parties with the same agenda.

For the UUP to survive they will have to change. That change will entail taking further political risks and accepting a degree of short-term pain for securing long-term gain – not something that many politicians are predisposed to do.

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Filed under: Union 2021, , , , ,

Does the Union still require Unionist parties?

Dermot Nesbitt, the former UUP Environment Minister and present commissioner at the Equality Commission, had a wide-ranging interview with the News Letter yesterday, touching on such diverse subjects as Human Rights, the flying of the Union flag over the City Hall and Sammy Wilson’s performance at Finance.

The most thought-provoking section for me though was this:

But he is clear that unionism needs to radically re-think itself for the 21st century.

He says that unionist parties need to “get rid of the word unionist because the Union is secure”.

“They need to make their parties places where others can come and join but not feel they’re joining a unionist party.

“But by joining they’d actually be joining mainstream unionism and at the same time we’d embracing national politics and making ourselves part of the Union.”

One of the lessons of this year’s General Election (and prior to that the DUP’s performance at the last Euro Elections) is that many of those who may have voted for pro-Union parties before out of fear no longer are prepared to do so. The fear was that a United Ireland was forever lurking round the corner, waiting to pounce the second that Unionism dropped its guard- we trusted Unionist politicians to be forever vigilant for signs of betrayal from Westminster and/or skullduggery from Dublin; our job as footsoldiers (or should that be cannon fodder?) was to perform our duty at the polling station. It was all so very simple really.

The “bad news”, in terms of increasing or even maintaining the total pro-Union vote next year is that the Union is safe at this moment in time and for as far ahead into the future as it is possible to see. Which isn’t really that bad a piece of news for a Unionist,  is it? Being aware of this, a substantial part of the electorate are confident enough in the fact to start moving beyond the communal comfort-zone and either vote outside the Unionist bloc or not to vote at all.

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Filed under: Union 2021,

This makes me despair…

This is the problem with Unionist parties.

Mike Nesbitt said this in his Union 2021 article:

As a broadcast journalist, interviewing Ian Paisley and the other unionist leaders of the 1980s, I felt they were missing a trick. Had I been Paisley or Jim Molyneaux, I would have driven down to the Office of An Taoiseach, and offered Charlie Haughey a United Ireland there and then, on the simple condition the Republic match NI’s budgets for Health, Schools, Roads, and the rest. Would Haughey not have insisted on offering an armed Garda escort back to the border with a lifetime ban on a return visit? The Republican could not afford us then, any more than they can today.

It’s a simple, straightforward point – republicans can’t put their money where their mouths are. A united Ireland, whilst a legitimate political aspiration, is not a real world objective. It cannot happen. A perfectly reasonable thing for a unionist to say you’d think.

Well, no. The DUP issued the following statement in the name of Sydney Anderson:

Upper Bann DUP MLA Sydney Anderson has described as ‘truly shocking’ comments from potential UUP Deputy Leader Mike Nesbitt that he would have offered a united Ireland subject to the proper financial arrangements being made for it.  In his Union 2021 article of 24th September, Mike Nesbitt, who is being touted as a potential UUP Deputy Leader, stated:

“I would have driven down to the Office of An Taoiseach and offered Charlie Haughey a united Ireland there and then, on the simple condition the Republic match Northern Ireland’s budgets for health, schools, roads and the rest.”

Sydney Anderson said:

“This is a truly shocking statement coming from such a prominent UUP strategist. Mike Nesbitt has said he would have offered our Province over to Charlie Haughey. Mike Nesbitt would have been making his offer to a man who was removed from government in the Irish Republic after being implicated in the arming of the Provisional IRA.

For such a prominent UUP member to claim in explicit terms that he would have offered Northern Ireland up to the Republic of Ireland if the finances had been right is a truly shocking disclosure.

Mr. Nesbitt’s disgraceful remarks belie a commitment to the Union that seems to extend nowhere beyond money.

We need to hear just where Tom Elliott stands on this. Will he be appointing a deputy who whilst flashy on TV admits he would have signed our country over to the Irish state? It is becoming painfully apparent that Mr. Nesbitt’s newly-discovered commitment to Unionism is tenuous.”

Despite some stiff competition, this is one of the dumbest, most irrelevant, unnecessary and pathetic press statement I’ve ever seen from any unionist party. Why aren’t press officers being asked to do something better than peddle this garbage? Why are the most senior people in unionism (MLAs) happy to put their names to this tosh?

The blame culture has to stop. Anyone who reads statements like Sydney Anderson’s (ie. the media) will conclude that unionism’s political elite has a) nothing better to do and b) nothing relevant to say. Who benefits from a statement like that?

In his blog Mike calls for a meeting with Sydney. The clever thing for Sydney to do is accept the invitation and find something constructive to do.

The options are clear – do a smart thing or do a stupid thing? What will he do?

Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, UUP, ,

Union 2021: ‘Unity could help deliver a positive vision for unionism’

DUP MLA Arlene Foster has contributed to The News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 11

A positive unionism open to all would demonstrate the narrowness and restrictiveness of Irish nationalism…

WHEN I began my political involvement in unionism there was a debate raging within it.

The debate was characterised by the term ‘New Unionism’. What we have seen since then has been the outworking of that debate.

For someone who was deeply involved in the discussions around ‘New Unionism’ it became apparent to me there was a division within those who used the term.

Some simply wished to find a term to hide their intellectual poverty and desire to cut a deal at any costs with nationalism. Others wanted it to mean a Unionism better at all that it did including negotiations.

I was never among the former group, the defeatists but I always wanted a better, more strategic, confident and professional unionism.
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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, ,

Union 2021: ‘Slash government to improve people’s lives’

Marketing and communications consultant David Hoey has contributed to The News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. David is a blogger who has contributed guest posts here in the past – his blog can be found The Dissenter. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 10

Northern Ireland is massively over-governed and needs radical changes to make it economically competitive in coming years

IT is not about whether or not a Sinn Fein first minster is acceptable. The current political structures, into which both the DUP and UUP have bought, mean that this is a possibility though far from a certainty.

In his recent News Letter article Alex Kane rightly outlines the challenge for unionists should Sinn Fein be the largest party at the next election. While electoral pacts have been discussed widely, alternative strategies have been absent in public discussion.

There is a widespread acceptance that we have a great deal less than good government at Stormont. Following on from Hillsborough, we are still waiting for Ritchie and Empey to get back to the executive on improving process to make government work.

It is most likely that the failure is fundamentally within the structures. In which case, likely solutions are only possible with a complete rethink.

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Filed under: Union 2021, ,

Union 2021: Unionism needs Carson’s ‘broad church’ approach

Former Belfast City Councillor Chris McGimpsey has contributed to the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 09

An examination of how today’s unionists measure up against the political legacy of Edward Carson

LATER on this month, there will be two important events; one will be the election of a new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, the other will be a seminar on Edward Carson and his legacy. It will be addressed by three distinguished academics and should prove an interesting evening for those of us who have long admired Carson’s historical legacy.

The reason for the event is to mark the 75th anniversary of Carson’s demise and interment in St Anne’s Cathedral.

Carson was a formidable politician in his day. He was appointed Solicitor General for Ireland in 1890, forged a successful career at the bar and was made a Queen’s Council in 1899.

His political career blossomed and he eventually served in the War Cabinet of David Lloyd George.

The seminar will be an opportunity to assess the great man and also to pass judgment, albeit briefly, on the manner in which his political descendants have looked after Northern Ireland and political unionism.

In short, there will be a chance to speculate whether or not his party, the Ulster Unionist Party, will be around to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death.

Filed under: Union 2021, ,

Union 2021: We need unionist civility, not unity

David Morgan has contributed to the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 01

Republicans are attempting to strip Northern Ireland of its Britishness. But unionists should make clever compromises, says David Morgan

INITIALLY the border posts were made of wood and many thought it would not last.

But 2021 will be the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland. By 2021 we will not be in a united Ireland. However, with our governmental system of semi-detached fiefdoms, republicans will continue to try to dilute the Britishness of everything they can.

Examples are the sectarian allocation of farm grants or the promotion of the A5 dual carriageway on a fairly lightly used road to create cross-border transport. Far better would be improving roads such as Ballymena to Coleraine, London-derry to Belfast; let alone extending our rail network. That of course leaves aside the debacle of education.

Devolution can work for Northern Ireland: integration is unlikely to be an option in the near future considering Scottish and Welsh devolution. Unionists must strive to make the Union in 2021 an inclusive place welcoming all: unionists, nationalists and the new Northern Irish.

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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?,

Union 2021: ‘Unionist leaders must pick right fights’

Candidate for the UUP leadership election, Basil McCrea, has written a piece for the News Letter as part of the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This article appeared in the News Letter on August 24

‘Unionist leaders must pick right fights’

Unionist unity would be a strategic mistake, argues BASIL McCREA

GIVEN the determination of the majority of our people to protect the inherent and accruing benefits of maintaining the Union, I am absolutely confident that the relationship will be intact in 2021.

I am equally certain that there will be changes in the structure of that relationship.

It will see the province playing a much more assertive and self confident role in the dynamic of the wider United Kingdom.

The last 40 years of political paralysis has removed the necessity to adapt or to think for ourselves. A culture of dependency and insecurity has developed which is hugely damaging.

As Northern Ireland comes back from the despair of the past we have the opportunity to set in place a more positive approach to tackling our own problems.

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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, UUP, UUP leadership election, ,

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