Make nice?

I read a comment on a discussion board yesterday which suggested that the proposed visit of QE2 to these shores would help to pave the way towards British withdrawal from Ireland. Either the ways of international diplomacy are so Byzantine that I can’t begin to grasp them or this commentator is talking through his armpit.  The planned visit would do the opposite: cement British rule in the north of Ireland, by showing that the south of Ireland accepts without demur such an arrangement.
Some say that nationalists are doing their own cause damage by opposing such visits as this. They believe that what nationalists and republicans must do is avoid antagonizing unionism, engage with it, explain to unionists what a united Ireland would look like and actively persuade them as to its advantages.

Nice idea but I don’t see it working. There are, however, a number of ways in which unionists might become convinced that their future lies in a united Ireland.

One is if British withdrawal were to take place, or plans announced that such a thing would happen on a specific date. Dr Johnson believed that the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. Likewise,  were Britain to quit Ireland,  the mind of unionism would be focused  so sharply, it’d almost certainly find ways to live with and within a united Ireland. Opting in becomes easier when there’s nowhere to opt out to.
A second is if the prospect of being part of a united Ireland were to become more attractive – markedly more attractive – than remaining within the UK. At present the British (and particularly the English) attitude to unionists is that of a pretty girl stuck with the attentions of  a suitor who has personal hygiene issues and a hair lip:  she doesn’t want to tell the suitor to clear off but finds his presence inconvenient and irritating.  That kind of response for long enough can tend to dent the enthusiasm of the most ardent swain. Eventually unionism  might discover the emotional and financial cost of remaining in the UK is more than it can bear.
A third is if unionism decided that influencing its own future was more important than traditional ties. As things stand, the impact of MPs from the north in Westminster is miniscule to non-existent. The emptiness of the debating chamber when matters Northern Irish are discussed shows that. Within the UK, unionism is less than 2%; within a united Ireland it would be nearer to 20%.  That, combined with other chafing features of continued union with Britain, might some day strike unionists as a poor bargain.
Until that day, we’re told that a referendum on continued existence within the UK is available to those in the north every seven years.  So when are we going to get one?  If nothing else it’d clarify whether all Protestants are devoted to the UK and whether the sizeable number of Catholic unionists claimed by such as Ian Paisley Sr  actually exist. 
Meanwhile, should nationalists and republicans be nice to unionists? Of course they should, but not because they want to seduce them into a united Ireland. They should treat them with respect and warmth because they’re our fellow-countrymen and women.

3 Responses to Make nice?

  1. Jim Lynch July 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    Unionist identity: “We didn't really know who we were- our identity was formed from what we were not.”
    Their myopic view of life would prohibit them from becoming Irish in any shape or form.
    Neanderthals from birth. Besides the Ancient Order of Frothblowers would never permit it.

  2. hoboroad July 5, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Owen Bowcott
    guardian.co.uk, Sunday 4 July 2010 18.13 BST
    Article history

    The Maze (Long Kesh) prison, undergoing demolition in 2006, held many of the suspects interned in the early 1970s. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
    Republican suspects were interned without trial during Northern Ireland's Troubles for longer than necessary because the authorities skewed the release process, according to newly discovered documents.

    A secret Ministry of Defence record of exchanges between the chief of the general staff (CGS) and the permanent under secretary (PUS) at the Northern Ireland Office in 1973 shows that only cases likely to be rejected were referred for review.

    The minutes ‑ taken by Lt Col David Ramsbotham, who later became HM chief inspector of prisons ‑ were found in the National Archives at Kew in London by researchers from the Pat Finucane Centre, a Derry-based human rights group.

    In the aftermath of Lord Saville's inquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings, the documents intensify concerns about security practices in the early 1970s – a period of upheaval in Northern Ireland that became the template for much of the UK's anti-terror legislation and policy.

    The minutes detail a meeting between the CGS, then Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver, and the PUS, then Sir Frank Cooper, held in London on 14 June 1973. More than 250 people were killed in the province that year. At that stage more than 400 suspects, almost all republicans, were being held at the Maze, which was then known as Long Kesh, and other sites.

    According to the notes, Cooper said: “If violence died down significantly [the Conservative secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw] would inevitably release some, but while it continued he was quite happy for the bad men to be put away and there were certain really hard men whom he could not agree to release.

    “The review procedure now existed and was fair. They had succeeded in only putting to the commission those cases which they felt would be turned down; 180 of the 200 men put before the commissioners had had their detention confirmed.”

    The commission he referred to was set up in 1972 to consider evidence against detainees.

    Another document from the following year shows official anxiety about the one-sided approach to internment. A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) internal discussion shows that a civil servant from the Attorney-General's Office questioned why “only Roman Catholics were interned before 1973”. A Treasury official responded that “in the view of the security forces there was no serious Protestant threat in that period which led to death and serious injuries”. The widely accepted estimates for killings by loyalist paramilitaries were 112 in 1972 and 86 in 1973.

    Internment without trial had been strongly resisted by the army when introduced by the devolved Northern Ireland government at Stormont in August 1971. It was ended by the Labour Northern Ireland secretary, Merlyn Rees, in 1975. Nearly 2,000 people were interned over the period.

    Lord Ramsbotham, who took the notes at the June 1973 meeting about internment, said he did not recall precise details. But he said: “Internment was a politically managed operation which the NIO took control of.

    “I remember that there were lots of discussions about whether all the people who had been detained should really have been interned. I thought the sooner internment was brought to an end the better, because it was hampering our [military] operations on the street.”

    “Internment without trial was bound to put people against us. There was some concern that the people interned on the original lists produced by the RUC were the wrong individuals. When I went back to command Belfast in 1978 the streets were very different. The army were not keen on internment.”