Unionist reaction to Haas: strategic or second nature?


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It doesn’t sound as though the Haas talks are going to reveal anything new about the parties here. By and large  the SDLP and Sinn Féin have been positive about possibilities, open to them if a bit cautious. The same could be said of the Alliance Party. The DUP and the UUP were a bit more sceptical but still prepared to engage.

Now as we approach the end, the noises coming out are different. The SDLP is taking a positive line. Alasdair McDonnell says “We’re hopeful, we want to see progress and there’s room here for progress”.  In contrast,  Peter Robinson has said there would be “steam coming out of my ears” if he thought the draft document produced by Haas would be the final paper.  Mike Nesbitt, modelling his response on that deeply-reasonable woman, Margaret Thatcher, said there was “more out, out, out and we’re a long way from in, in, in”.  Martin McGuinness on Twitter said: “Let’s prevent the paint lifting off the wall, the more excitable amongst us should cool their jets!”

There are two views you could take of the unionist response. One is that they have their eye on the alienated loyalist community and are keen to give an impression of being tough-knuckled negotiators who will force changes between draft and final document.  The other is that the unionist response fits into a reflex mind-set: any change is bad change. Change the flying of the flag, change the routes that the Orange Order can march, change the system of government: all of that is (again to paraphrase Thatcher) bad, bad, bad.

In ways it’s not surprising.  When you’ve been led by a man who thundered warnings of betrayal and sell-out for decades, it’s hardly surprising that you’ve learnt to be nervous of anything new. And when we consider the way in which unionism entered power-sharing – holding their political noses at who they had to work with – it’s again unsurprising that they view Haas change as bad-for-unionism change.

But let’s be optimistic and put it down to a very public negotiating tactic that aims to show the flag-protestors and the Orange Order that they, the unionist politicians, are no patsies, to be pushed into something that might diminish unionist culture or hold on things. Because the other interpretation – that if not bred in the bone, negativity and not-an-inchery have become second nature through force of habit – if that’s the case, then unionism is preparing to push itself back even further into a past that’s not coming back.

6 Responses to Unionist reaction to Haas: strategic or second nature?

  1. Am Ghobsmacht December 17, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    Excellent piece Dr C

    I wonder the exact same myself.

    I have some (misplaced?) optimism that they might move forward on fleggy matters as Foster made some encouraging remarks regarding a new NI fleg. i.e. it wasn’t “NO NO NO NEVER! FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS” which in DUP terms is grounds for optimism.

    Watch this space.

  2. neill December 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    The curse of Jude Collins…


  3. Colman December 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Unionism’s refusal to countenance any recognition of an Irish identity will likely mean these talks will fail. There is no Plan B nor veiled threats of something being imposed by the British government behind their backs, so there is no motivation to negotiate a deal. As long as Sinn Féin don’t roll over and concede to Unionism’s insatiable desire to lord it over nationalists and republicans for all eternity, my prediction is that Hass will soon be flying back to USA hoping he never sees the north again.

  4. cautious December 17, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    You mean difficultly cautious regarding Sinn Fein Jude. Best attack unionism.. those hard to deal with troublesome people.

  5. neill December 17, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    Ah the typical Nationalist fall back position demand Unionist concessions and blame them for the breakdown of talks if Unionists dont cough them up!

  6. Taxi Driver December 17, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    We need to talk about something different such as, how does Northern society differ from Southern society and how can we come together in the north in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable. The overarching relationship between the two Islands, which will be the focus of attention when President Higgins visits Britain next year, should provide a wider context for such conversations. If we continue to approach things through traditional nationalist/unionist routes we will get nowhere. Do we want to continue with the Nolan/Hector bullshit we saw on TV recently. That’s were the SDLP idea of bringing back a civic forum might inject a new focus. That might be clutching at straws but has anybody got a better idea?