Under the iron fist of a Protestant Ulster for a Protestant people, Catholics and most certainly Irish Nationalists were treated like second-class humans, at worst animals. The recent census statistics and Catholic reactions to them have been largely misinterpreted by Unionists, and while Protestants aren’t an issue, with Protestants and Catholics by and large living side by side without issue, the actions of Loyalism and Unionism toward Catholics are a different matter.
Unionists, Loyalists, and indeed some of neither denomination mistook the majority of celebration from Catholics at the news that Protestants were no longer the predominant bloc as some kind of nod to a united Ireland being reached within 24 hours. While absolutely wrong on this, what they missed in the jubilation from Catholics and Nationalists was an opportunity to realise the pain and hurt caused by decades of Protestant Unionist rule in this North Eastern statelet. Children being shot dead in their own gardens by so-called professional soldiers, kids shot with plastics bullets by the state police force, Loyalists marching up the Falls Road burning and looting as they went, innocent Civil Rights marchers being shot and killed by Parachute regiment soldiers in Derry, which to this day, even though all those shot dead were found innocent by a British inquest, and the families received an official British apology, Loyalists continue to glorify those soldiers and the killing of innocent people.
Catholics celebrated because, for the first time in 101 years, Catholics no longer lived under a Protestant-dominated ‘Northern Ireland’. Of course, it would be false to suggest that the religion-facing statistics had no leaning on a move toward unity in Ireland, of course, it does but it doesn’t hold the weight that some may think. It did, however, shake Unionism to the core. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was a catastrophic shock for Unionism and Loyalism who were safe in the knowledge, until that point, that a Protestant Ulster was safe and secure. You see, Unionists have this crazy idea that Nationalists want a united Ireland now. But the reality is, Nationalists have realised that a lot of planning needs to take place now and in the near future in a bid to make sure uniting Ireland is not the unmitigated disaster Brexit was and continues to be in the guise of the NI Protocol.
Planning has been going on for years now, with discussions, debates, and polls on what any united Ireland would even look like and the Ireland’s Future event in Dublin was another facet of that planning and discussion. Everyone knows discussions are needed between all sectors on how unity would work and make no mistake, even Unionism (and Alliance) are aware of this, but while it is somewhat understandable on Unionism’s part to refuse an invitation to discuss unity, Alliance’s refusal to attend is another issue altogether and one which is more centred around electoral success, party makeup, and fear more than anything and is really quite hypocritical after months of pointed remarks to other parties on discussion and debate. There also seems to be an element of hypocrisy in Alliance’s failure to respect Nationalists within their ranks who, have seemingly disregarded their party and attended the Ireland’s Future event without their party representative present. At this point, it’s worth pointing out that all the speakers at the event dedicated themselves to taking part in any and all discussions on not only Irish unity but also discussions on the Union and any pros and cons on that front…something Alliance might like to think about in the future.
With the conversations on a united Ireland going ahead unabated and gaining momentum with every day and week that passes, Arlene Foster, late to the party, has decided it is now worth setting up the Together UK Foundation. Essentially the opposite of Ireland’s Future, its role is to promote the North’s place in the UK, something those who were once of a Unionist background who attended the Ireland’s Future conversations in Dublin know a lot about and have deemed a united Ireland a more interesting and sensible idea. That Together UK should have been thought, of never mind actually brought into being, is testament to the concern within Unionism that the Union is no longer safe.
Contrary to what some may think, there are people from Unionist backgrounds changing their stance on a united Ireland every day. Conversations with ‘ex-Unionists’ have shown that the predominant reason for changing their constitutional viewpoint is they see nothing to gain from remaining in the UK and everything to gain from uniting Ireland. One phrase that was repeated again and again by these people was this – ‘The UK and its government do not care about us and WE CAN DO BETTER’.
“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” – Biko.