Monday, September 12, 2005

Nowhere to go

Terrible riots in Belfast at the weekend. And understandable anger on the blogs today. Is it Orangeism in disarray, drug-dealers in turf-wars, Loyalists in meltdown? It's all of those, but far more frightening - and not just for Catholics.

Sure there's organised crime, sure there's poverty, but those things don't bring an evil mob of 700 "Loyalists" out on the street shooting live rounds at the police force appointed by their beloved Queen.

Working-class Protestant ghettoes in Belfast are breaking down because political unionism and die-hard Loyalism have no future, and the people know it. They are 18th and 19th century ideologies, and they belong to the past. A 300-year past which - with the armed republicanism it spawned - got us where we are today.

Even moderate Unionists - the peaceable country folk I grew up with - see the writing on the wall. The British government, so long a benign uncle of an inequitable Stormont, now wants a united Ireland. Not in those words, but Unionists aren't stupid. They know their British days are numbered as the Catholic population grows. On top of this come years of terrorist killings and unchristian rabble-rousing from many Protestant pulpits which have joined to make Belfast's working-class Protestants bitter and besieged. Orangemen are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

There's nothing more dangerous than people without an achievable goal.

But there's an answer. There is a future. We may be Protestant and Catholic, but at the heart of both traditions is belief in Jesus Christ, a great unifier and promoter of peace. We have to start allowing that to unite us - if not a personal faith, then at least the cultural heritage which doesn't actually differ as much as some people would like us to think.

In practical terms, Unionism must change from unionism with the English to unionism with northern Irish Catholics. Because we both belong here.


At 2:26 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post John, as usual.

Speaking as someone who grew up in a working class Catholic family, I actually veer toward the UK for the future of NI.

So much of our established social structures are from the UK. Can you imagine the upheaval of being reintegrated into the Republic of Ireland? Medical systems, legal systems, currency, policing (dare I say it) will all have to be assimilated.

I'm not a Unionist by any stretch, but I can find no compelling reason to want to join the Republic at any time.

At 9:50 p.m., Blogger Paul said...

"They know their British days are numbered as the Catholic population grows"

Only because mainstream Unionism is too steeped in the past to consider that some RCs may also want to stay British. If UUP and the DUP continue on only looking out for the Prod vote, then you're right, it's only a question of time before the Union disintegrates.

A pluralist,modern, secular Unionism is needed to promote the benefits of British citizenship for all, I won't be holding my breath waiting for it to emerge.

At 10:33 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Paul.

John I'm a bit taken aback by "They know their British days are numbered" and "political unionism ... [has] no future" statements, I don't believe either to be true. Having said that, another few nights of rioting and who knows?

At 2:14 p.m., Blogger United Irelander said...


Surely even unionists acknowledge that the Brits don't want anything to do with the North?

Attacking the police won't endear the place to British hearts either.

The simple fact is, and recent polls have shown this, that the British public doesn't give a damn about Ireland, north or south.

I listened to some commentary on the North's game with England recently and the North's team was referred to frequently as the 'Irish team'. They look on the North as Irish, in stark contrast to what many unionists would look on it as.

The Ulster identity is a foreign and baffling concept to British people. The same cannot be said for the people of the Irish Republic.

We are well aware of Ulster and its significance.

As John said quite succinctly, unionism should 'change from unionism with the English to unionism with northern Irish Catholics'.


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