If you’re a unionist, you may or may not think that things are on their way to hell in a handcart, with nationalists/republicans gaining on all fronts while unionists’ culture and sensibilities are being dulled into numbness. And if you’re a nationalist/republican? Well, there are two views you can take.
One, that those favouring justice and and national unity are on a slow but steady line of progress. The old Orange state has indeed been dismantled, relations between Ireland north and south, and Britain, are better than they ever were. The Catholic/nationalist population is growing steadily as the unionist population declines, so that by the next census it’s perfectly possible there will be a Catholic majority in the north.
The second view is less sanguine. I had an email from a friend the other day which listed the sense of frustration among those republicans who reject the Sinn Féin analysis of the situation. He argued that as the old Nationalist party was replaced by the SDLP and the SDLP by Sinn Féin, so Sinn Féin will eventually be replaced by those republicans/nationalists disillusioned by a lack of progress over the past 15 years. “Those who go down the road of compromising with British rule inevitably get replaced. The reason: it never delivers Irish unity”. Far from seeing progress in winning unionists to see their place in a reunited Ireland, he believes that republicans/nationalists are faced with “An increasingly ignorant, unforgiving, obdurate, inflexible and hostile unionism”.
It’s a credible commentary as to where we are a decade and a half after the Good Friday Agreement. However, it ignores one thing: that if a true republic is to be created in Ireland it must include and respect that “ignorant, unforgiving, obdurate, inflexible and hostile unionism”. It is true that there are few signs of change in unionist attitude. By and large, the DUP still regards all things republican as loathsome and finds it hard to adopt a civil air when in the presence of republicans. And while there has indeed been a dismantling of the unionist state, there has been little evidence of major change via the cross-border bodies.
Perhaps the answer is in a comment from Gerry Adams about thinking in terms of 40-year blocs. To an individual 40 years is a long, long time. In terms of history, it’s but the blink of an eye. Perhaps republicans/nationalists need to see movement towards unity in those terms.
Alternatively, of course, my frustrated friend might be right.