The Blanket

A Case For Change

Ciarán Irvine

In his recent response to my pieces setting out a new framework for a future all-island Republic, Mr Paul Fitzsimmons seems to regard the entire exercise as a monumental waste of my time. He rightly states that at present there is no driving force, either military or socio-political, towards unity at present - and from there asserts that any discussion of what form that Unity may take is so much hot air, notwithstanding any “interesting theoretical points” such a discussion may raise.

I think Paul is missing the point. The fact that there is no current real dynamic towards Unity (despite all Sinn Féin’s rhetoric) is a matter of concern - and not just to me. And in the absence of anyone else “stepping up to the plate” as our American cousins say, someone has to kick-start debate. Hopefully between the two of us we have already started that process.

Of necessity, from a Republican or Nationalist point of view, this will involve re-examining what we mean by “Unification”. What sort of all-island State do we want? As a fundamental part of this we must consider the Unionist population - how can we not just accommodate them, but entice them into joining with the rest of the island on this project? Consideration of the Unionists cannot be, as so often in the past, an optional add-on, but something built into the very fabric of any new State.

Contrary to Paul’s statement that

“That Unionists in Ireland closely associate their heritage and traditions
with the isle of Great Britain, that they broadly view themselves as
"British," that they often have a real and strong (albeit, to Republicans,
an obsequious if not serf-like) loyalty to the English monarchy, that they
have considerable trepidations about going from a majority position in the
North to a small minority position in a 32-county state, these facts are
just not worth Mr. Irvine's public consideration”

I was of the opinion that, in contrast to most traditional Republican and Nationalist rhetoric on the subject, I was consciously building all of these Unionist concerns into my model.

What, otherwise, would be the point of bringing the Foreign Treaty powers of the German Lander and Swiss Cantons into the mix? I explicitly mentioned an instance whereby a Unionist-majority tuath could have its own formal relationships with the British Government and the Crown within the Irish Federation. I can imagine instances where Unionist-controlled local areas may have special citizenship arrangements with Britain; where a member of the Royal Family may hold, for example, the honorary position of head of the local council - and many other possibilities whereby Unionist areas can give real and tangible expression to their British sense of identity. Furthermore, developing these relationships, expressions and treaties is a matter for those Unionists themselves. Such links will not be a begrudging grant from the table of those who would be our betters, but something they have arranged by themselves and for themselves, on their own terms.

Surely, also, devolving real governmental power to local areas and allowing treaties with other Governments at a stroke negates Unionist fears of being vastly outnumbered with no power in their own land? Under my model, we are all of us masters of our own destinies in our own parts of Ireland. Surely this is preferable to finding yourself permanently dependent on the whims of London Governments you cannot fully trust?

The current situation is as damaging to Unionists as it is to Nationalists or Republicans. The stresses caused within the Unionist community by being forced to live in as much a state of “Ever Becoming” as Republicans are clear, and both socially and politically destabilising. Old Stormont is dead and gone and is never coming back, though many seem to believe in its incipient resurrection. And as things stand, the only choices they seem to have are to play the GFA institutions and hope they can keep clinging by their ever-shrinking fingertips onto some sort of control over events in “Ulster”; or to accept abject defeat and march sullenly into Dublin’s dead embrace. The current consensus on “The North” within the London and Dublin Establishments traps all of us into permanent instability and, for Unionists, the appalling prospect of a “death by a thousand cuts” while for Republicans the equally-appalling prospect of an entire community deluding itself into thinking the lá will indeed tiocfaidh, and being eternally disappointed.

This must stop.

Fresh thinking is required, and while my own musings may never receive broad acceptance - someday, somewhere, somebody else’s will. Paul’s stated preference for a six-county independent state has been mooted, on and off, and mainly by Loyalist paramilitaries, for decades. No one seems to be buying, and for good reason.

One of the North’s primary problems is the extreme insularity of the place. Wrapped up in the integrity of its own eternal struggle, the outside world has never really meant much to any of the inhabitants. And an independent six-county state will remain trapped in its own little bubble. Speaking as someone who “escaped” from the claustrophobia of Derry to the Republic 11 years ago, and as someone who has spoken to many other similar “refugees” - in the Republic, in Britain, in the US - the one thing that always crops up in conversation and memory is the day all we exiles realised just how dysfunctional the place of our birth really was. Though we love it all the same, and it will always be home, the whole place needs the breath of fresh air that reconnecting with the outside world will bring.

I cannot see that ever happening while those Six Counties remain either attached by their poisonous umbilical cord to Britain; or free to float in their own space. In fact any UDI would merely exacerbate the existing situation, no matter what idealistic views of a happy-clappy democratic egalitarian Ulster some people may hold. If we Northerners are not sufficiently mature and outward-looking to operate the GFA properly, how does Paul imagine we will be magically transformed into a people that could successfully operate an independent State?

Unionists are obviously confused and frightened by the future. And little wonder, for the current political consensus and traditional Unionist policy conspire to trap them into a nightmare twilight world. Confused and frightened people, with no obvious possible future that looks remotely pleasant, are dangerous to themselves and to others. And that is precisely what we are witnessing within Unionism at present.

The truth is that the only people that can rescue Unionism from this predicament are the Unionists themselves. Only by seizing the initiative, transforming the rhetoric, and striking out for a new goal - one which offers them a secure future in their own place but in partnership with the rest of the peoples of this island, not the sterile divisions and hatreds and isolationism of the past - and brushing aside the stifling consensus and its no-hope no-future paradigm, can Unionism rescue itself and its people from this endless trek of misery.

Time for change. Time for hope.



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In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Index: Current Articles

16 June 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Zionism, Palestine & The Spirit of the Warsaw Ghetto

Brian Kelly

Avoiding Park Benches
Anthony McIntyre


A Case For Change
Ciarán Irvine


The Terrifying Power of Life and Death
Brendan Hughes


13 June 2002


Interface Violence

Billy Mitchell

What Chance Socialism?
Anthony McIntyre


Was Monday 29th April the day democracy died in the ATGWU?
Sean Smyth




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