By Claire Dickson
Surprise is aroused in me at Nationalism having formerly sat on the back burner as Unionism complacently succeeds in repelling electoral trends away from itself year on year. Its apathy can probably be traced back to the ‘Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’ sitting at Stormont prior to direct rule. As the Civil Rights movement came into force to combat its corruption in gerrymandering electoral boundaries it not only led to better equality between communities with regards to jobs and housing but inevitably disassociated Unionism with that prosperity. Thereafter, the more extreme fringes of Unionism only served to sound over the top of O’Neill’s attempt at moderate reform in increasing government funding to Catholic schools and hospitals and reaching out to Catholic faith leaders. Neither did Unionism exactly jump at the chance to back an agreement which enshrined NI’s status within the Union (provided it was the will of the majority) in the form of the GFA. So does contemporary Unionism make a conscious effort to rebrand itself progressive? Phrased alternatively: can we blame Alliance for everything?
Pas vraiment. A certain inflammatory comment to the tune of ‘If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more’ on the 2017 election campaign trail , denoting the uncompromising position of the DUP on an Irish Language Act was statistically unnecessary considering their 38 seats in the Assembly at that time. Then there was the inciting of protests by Irish language activists it led to, never mind this becoming the first election since 1921 in which unionist parties did not win a majority of seats. Furthermore, the usual emphasis placed on the ‘vote for us or get a Sinn Fein First Minister’ narrative strikes me as an admission of defeat in contrast to the more optimistic angle Republicans take, believing in voting Sinn Fein they have the possibility of gaining the most prominent position in government. But sure, all bodes well for Unionism as a United Ireland is clearly some sort of Narnia-like concept able to be reached solely by stepping inside a spellbound wardrobe. This I will assume to have been the thought process behind a Unionist campaign for Brexit, swiftly increasing the percentage of those in favour of reunification from 17% to 22%. It will hardly reaffirm the faith that all Unionist parties united behind the DUP’s petition against the Northern Ireland protocol. Their view that the British Government’s insistence against invoking Article 16 is contrary to the principle of parity of esteem within the Good Friday Agreement is a baseless argument as opposition to that agreement propelled them into power in the first place. We are now made fully aware that NI’s place in the union has been forfeited in favour of an English nationalist ideology intent on sovereignty despite the consequences. But then elements of that sentiment had already been prevalent in several DUP members’ comments such as ‘I wouldn’t care what sort of situation I face as long as I’m out of Europe.’
After reading a recent poll citing UUP support amongst younger voters to be up 12%, I feel the 2022 elections are the apt time for them to put forward progressive policy objectives whilst dispelling the argument they are DUP-lite in that they didn’t promote one side of an argument and then hastily cobble together a petition to quell its less-appealing implications. Separatism within Unionism could be the only way forward.