With the question of Irish unity coming barrelling down the proverbial tracks like a runaway train, gaining unstoppable speed, one would think political Unionism would be preparing its base for that inevitable question on that ballot paper. Many more think they should be offering up arguments to everyone in the North on why we would be better-off if we stayed within the United Kingdom. Even Nationalists have been urging political Unionists and community leaders to start the conversation on what Unionists would want from a united Ireland so that when the time comes to put that little tick or X on the ballot paper, they’ll be doing it with a more informed view of what they are voting for and why they are voting in the way they are. I’m not the only one who thinks this is the responsible thing for Unionist leaders to do.
I’ve witnessed a change in mainstream nationalism within the past year. Something that was hidden from view for most of the past decade but was always there in the background. We witnessed glimpses of it here and there in the most unexpected places, but it was there nonetheless. The fact that, believe it or not, we actually care about our Unionist neighbours now more than we have ever done, and that’s nothing to be shy or ashamed about, it just shows we’re maturing toward a united Ireland, slowly but surely. They may be of a different political disposition and viewpoint but they’re still human, and still have a very real right, and it is their right, to be in this country that they were born and raised in.
The sad thing is that Irish nationalists now care more about Unionist rights in a united Ireland than Unionists do and that’s down to denial and a lack of leadership on the part of the DUP and TUV. There was however, the tiniest chink of light from Doug Beattie who recently on Twitter, when challenged on a united Ireland and what that would look like said “Supporters of a united Ireland should draw up a new constitution, and answer questions around the flag, anthem, justice system etc”. He went on to say “Create it and let people see it”. That right there folks, believe it or not is leadership. That right there, is giving Unionists the tools to make their own informed decisions rather than listening to the rhetoric and downright ignorance of the DUP and TUV. Two parties who would rather ignore the fact that Unionists are now in the minority in the North of Ireland and also the fact that Protestants are joining other parties in ever larger numbers with many ‘small u’ Unionists joining the Alliance party.
The danger for Unionism is if the more ‘hard-line’ Unionist parties like the DUP and TUV continue to be voted in as the predominant Unionist parties. If this is the case Unionists will continue to be fed the old tried and tested line…”If we just ignore it, it will go away” accompanied by much flag waving and anti-Irish rhetoric. If this is the case and Unionists don’t get the information necessary to make an informed decision on any border poll in the future, it may end up a very messy and possibly bloody transition if a majority votes for a united Ireland. One only has to look at Brexit and the mess it has created, to see what can occur when rhetoric and ignorance overtake facts and planning. I have no doubt if the Unionist base is not prepared for the very real possibility of a majority vote for a united Ireland that they will turn to violence, especially rogue Loyalist paramilitary forces and I’d hazard a guess that certain Unionist politicians will stand by and allow it to happen blaming, ironically, pro-unity players for not engaging with anti-unity players.
With that being said, do Unionist politicians want that threat of violence in place? Do they want it there as a bargaining chip, to get what they want? After-all, that’s what Sinn Fein and the IRA did to bring about a situation where they could get round the negotiating table…but they were labelled “terrorists” and “violent Republicans” by Loyalists and Unionists. Would Loyalists threatening violence also be labelled ‘terrorists’? Would the Irish Ranger Wing be used against them in the same way the SAS was used against the IRA simply because they wanted their own country back? We all know they wouldn’t! What this does highlight however, is the fact all these groups on both sides must be removed from the scene and the equation. To coin a much-worn phrase in this country – “Calm heads must prevail” when it comes to a united Ireland and discussions around it. Grassroots Unionism must have their say, it is imperative, but also, grassroots nationalism and ‘other’ must have their say and should not be afraid of having their piece heard, even if either Nationalists or Unionists or indeed ‘other’ may not like what they have to say.
Unionism, both political and grassroots ignoring a unity poll is irresponsible in the extreme. Not to get involved in talks on what will be the defining event in Ireland’s history is dangerous and is once again showing that some within political Unionism are not up to the task of leading Unionism through what may actually be the best thing to ever happen to them if they were made aware of the facts.