WHEN partition was forced upon this island 100 years ago, the opinions of Catholics, Irish republicans and nationalists living in the northern six counties were rendered invisible. The new Free State establishment turned away. And that remained the convenient fixed position for the next 75 years.
When Gerry Adams and John Hume engaged in peace talks many in the southern establishment turned away – in fact much of the SDLP did too. But some found courage, including Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and hope was given a chance. And a peace agreement based on human rights became possible. The naysayers on both sides of the border were faced down and the people won.
This political reality has left unionism hankering after some post-partition, pre-conflict Protestant Utopia. Sharing power in post-Good Friday Agreement Stormont has been a rearguard action for Unionism. The routine and deliberate denial of Irish identity and equal rights for local citizens is their attempt to deny current reality and perpetuate the myth of the past. It is a post-partition mentality that refuses to shift to the 21st century. And that entrenchment is indulged in Dublin.
Southern Irish establishment figures and huge sections of mainstream media fete unionism as though it is a beleaguered and oppressed people, while diminishing the aspiration for constitutional change.
Unionism, largely due to its own actions, is now facing that constitutional change. The focus of southern policy makers and media is disproportionately focused on unionism’s “fears” as though they are more real and more reasonable than those advocating change.
Never mind that inbuilt anti-Irish discrimination is part of the post-GFA infrastructure so that Irishness is either an act of compromise or an act of protest. Never mind that the six-county population was dragged out of the EU against its will. Unionist “fears” hold a supremacy where once unionist political power resided.
The harsh truth, though, is that for the largest parties in Leinster House unionism is a convenient vehicle to hide their own pro-partition interests. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have both benefited from partition. The prospect that a new dispensation will create a new bill of rights for all citizens, will expect fair and equal health care, will have higher expectations for public housing, will create a coalition of the progressives is plenty motivation for any FG/FFer to seek out an angry Orangeman to hide behind.
Recent concern about loyalist militancy, having spent the past 20 years ignoring the murderous and criminal activities of dissident loyalism, is pretty convenient. Being outraged at any republican saying anything “because the IRA”, while families across this land live with the ignominy of British state impunity and the denial of truth, without it ever mentioned by their Taoiseach, gives hypocrisy a new definition. Simultaneously calling pro-constitutional change advocacy divisive as though partition, discrimination and hatred is okay tells you all you need to know.
‘According to a recent Sunday Times-commissioned opinion poll just over half of people in Northern Ireland want a referendum on unity within five years.’ https://t.co/5I2OQtEVQY— Colin Harvey (@cjhumanrights) March 10, 2021
But that is the intention – pro-constitutional change advocates have to fight for the right to be heard while those happy with the status quo don’t even have to turn up to have a platform set up for them.
Change is coming. The conditions for a border poll have been met. Those advocating change want a lasting, peaceful, inclusive settlement. And that will be heard. Because the days of pro-partition vested interest as well as partition itself are coming to an end – and quickly.