The Blanket

Nationalist Euphoria - Unionist Despondency

Billy Mitchell

There a feeling within a number of unionist constituencies that the nationalist community is euphoric over the 'gains' being made by Sinn Fein as a result of both the Belfast Agreement and concessions granted outside the Agreement. This perception, together with the undeniable fact that Sinn Fein appears to be riding the crest of a political wave, has led to a great deal of frustration and despondency within large sections of the unionist community.

While perceptions are very often real for those who hold them, they are not always grounded in fact. It must be admitted that the revisionist leadership of Sinn Fein is making claims that, if true, would give nationalists reason to be jubilant The spurious claims being made by Sinn Fein that the Belfast Agreement is an agreed transition from British Rule to Irish Rule is a key source of concern within the unionist community. Nationalists have been assured that the United Ireland for which the IRA waged a twenty-five year armed struggle will be achieved by 2016. They have been told that the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising will be celebrated in a 32-County Irish Republic and, if Gerry Adams is to be believed, the countdown has already begun.

Predictions such as this are sufficient to give nationalists a sense of achievement and unionists a sense of despair. That is precisely what such claims are intended to do. At a recent workshop attended by loyalists and republicans, several of the Sinn Fein supporters talked matter-of-factly about how things would be in the forthcoming United Ireland. The only problem that they saw with implementation of the Belfast Agreement was that the fact the unionists who signed up to it had not prepared their people for the transition to a United Ireland. They couldn’t believe that unionists saw the Agreement as the settled will of the people rather than the start of a process that would lead to a 32-county settlement.

Not all republicans are so easily convinced. Anthony Mc Intyre, whose republican credentials cannot be questioned, sees little substance in the predictions of Sinn Fein. In a recent article, Mc Intyre asserts “If anything is certain it is this - there will be no United Ireland by 2016. There will be plenty of talk about transition and moving into the final phase of the struggle and so on, but just as the 19th century art critic said of Berlin, it is always in the process of becoming but never in the state of being”.

As I see it, the hype about a transition to a United Ireland by 2016 is aimed at diverting attention away from the fact that after twenty-five years of fighting for an end to British rule and a further eight years of political wrangling, Sinn Fein has actually ended up helping to administer British rule in Northern Ireland. And don’t they love it! If being sucked in to the British political establishment gives Sinn Fein supporters cause to celebrate, why not indulge them. They have to live with the contradiction, not us.

Next we have the symbolic battles that Sinn Fein indulges in as a means of gaining hollow symbolic victories. The hype over North-South bodies is much ado about nothing. It simply hides the fact that after twenty-five years of bloody conflict to get rid of the border, Sinn Fein are locked in to cross-border bodies. Am I naive or something? Does the very term cross-border not suggest that there still is a border? Why should those who endorsed a violent campaign to end partition rejoice in institutions that reinforce partition? More importantly from a unionist perspective, why should those who resisted such a campaign feel despondent that the border not only remains intact but has been ratified as a concrete political and constitutional reality?

Perhaps the one issue that really rankles the unionist community is Sinn Fein’s preoccupation with flags and emblems. Nationalists have succeeded to some extent in having British symbols removed from a number of public places and this may give them some sense of achievement. But what does it really mean in terms of substantial change? Is the Crown Court any less the Crown Court because it lacks a symbol? Is the law that is administered within that Court any less British than it was before? Flag or no flag, a Government building remains a Government building and departments within that building continue to implement British legislation and are still accountable to the British Crown.

One of Sinn Fein's many demands is the right to fly the Irish Tricolour alongside the Union Flag on Government buildings. They haven’t achieved this, and are not likely to. But it gives nationalists an issue to campaign on and unionists an issue to get agitated over. Has any nationalist ever asked why Sinn Fein would want to fly the Irish Flag from a British Government building on any of the official days designated by the British Government? Given the fact that Sinn Fein politicians boycott functions attended by members of the Royal Family it seems strange to me that they are serious about wanting to honour the British Monarch on her birthday by flying the Irish Flag alongside the Union Flag?

Personally speaking, I believe that Sinn Fein's preoccupation with flags and emblems has more to do with wanting to remove any visible sign of their failure to break the link with Britain than it has to do with republican ideals. Having lost the constitutional battle they have resorted to agitating for the removal of the symbols that remind them of their failure. British symbols are a stark reminder that after a sustained campaign to break the Union, Northern Ireland remains British and that is hard for nationalists to stomach. The removal of those symbols from certain public buildings may help alleviate the pain of failure but it is nothing for nationalists to be jubilant about or for unionists to be despondent about.

I fully appreciate that for many unionists the issue of symbols is very important and I believe that every effort should be made to resist Sinn Fein’s programme of disculturation. But at the end of the day the substance of my British citizenship is more valuable than the symbols. My British identity is rooted and grounded in something more substantial and enduring than symbols. It is not something that can be plucked from the heart as a plaque is torn from a wall or a flag from a flagpole. In spite of Sinn Fein’s outward show of euphoria, and the despondency that this is generating within certain unionist circles, I remain a confident Unionist.







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A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.
- Adlai Stevenson

Index: Current Articles

11 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Class War
Newton Emerson


Nationalist Euphoria - Unionist Despondency
Billy Mitchell


Silent But Lethal

Anthony McIntyre


Democratise Democracy
Davy Carlin


The Pentagon's Secret Weapon
John Chuckman


8 August 2002


Billy Mitchell


Frances McAuley - Resisting the Loyal Sons of Hate

Anthony McIntyre


Intense Winters
Miguel Castells Artetxe


Modernising Republicanism
Davy Carlin


Another Death in Turkish Prison Hunger Strike




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