Can peace prevail on island of Ireland despite Unionist politics?

Can peace prevail on island of Ireland despite Unionist politics?

IT has, surely, been a good thing that in post Good Friday Ireland we stepped away from the easy demonising of the other side.

So, coming from a family with a romantic grá for the old IRA and a bar room fondness for the old ballads, it has been interesting to see northern Unionists considered as having a fully legitimate political stance.

It has been an education for this whole Republic to acknowledge that the Irishness of most on this island has to cohabit with the Britishness of the substantial rest.

It has been a maturity for us all to recognise the dual historic identities of this small place.

That is why it somehow feels wrong to take potshots at the other side. It feels lazy. It feels like a clinging to the old prejudices.

But this is politics and in the spirit of equality we must all debate with each other.

We must all debate and analyse the beliefs of those opposing our own beliefs.

Superficially, at least, northern Unionist politicians do not project an appealing image.

It is no longer helpful to characterise them as the kind of people who tie up playground swings on a Sunday, but it remains difficult to portray them as representatives of joy and happiness.

If only the wider Unionist community could be viewed differently through the lens of their most popular political party.

No one, though, would go to the DUP to find the future.

Just recently the DUP MP Gregory Campbell hit the headlines when he complained that an edition of Songs of Praise was the ‘BBC at its Black Lives Matter worst’ because of the number of black people that featured in the episode.

The mind boggles at the kind of thinking that sees Songs of Praise as the forefront of some imaginary culture war.

The mind reels at the casual racism of his comments.

Of course, if this was simply an aberration we could pass quietly by, but, as we all know, it isn’t.

In September 2020 an MP was photographed on the Tube without a mask.

Again we might dismiss this as an aberration if the MP was none other than the DUP’s Sammy Wilson.

Wilson, who in 2009, following a spate of racist attacks in Belfast said ‘charges of racism were always coincided with the holding out of the hand for more money’.

Now some of Mr Wilson’s many controversial statements made over the years could possibly be covered by the passage of time, by having been said during very dark times.

Yet as late as 2016 Arlene Foster, the leader of northern Unionism, described the Easter Rising of 1916 as ‘an attack on democracy’.

So, is it fair to ask a question?

Is the problem for a peaceful future on this island our understanding and treatment of Unionist thinking, or is the problem the very character of Unionist thinking?

There is only one future on this island. In that future we live together.

Because of our painful history there is a lot to be said for the necessity of treading carefully in our treatment of each other.

There is an awful lot to be said for Green treating Orange with kid gloves and Orange doing the same with Green.

And God only knows we do not live in an age with an excess of civility.

No one will complain that there’s too much of it. So, we have to be extremely aware of our murderous past.

We have to simply respect each other and each other’s traditions. That way lies a better society. That way lies a future without bloodshed.

But, and it is a substantial but, what if one of the traditions is represented by a politics to which mutual respect appears an anathema.

It is not, after all, a justification of the Provisional IRA to point out that the seed bed of the Troubles was festering social injustice based upon Unionist bigotry against the Catholic population.

And how long do we now have to ignore the reactionary, prejudicial thinking of the main body of Unionist political thought?

Must we, for instance, accept racist ideation from Unionism because we are engaged in ‘mutual respect’?

Because, isn’t opposing someone else’s politics not sectarianism, but politics itself?