01 October 2005

Equality still the bitterest pill for old Unionism

Daily Ireland


Now what have yis got to complain about? That was my own first reaction to the IRA announcement that full and final decommissioning had taken place – what will the die-hard, unreconstructed, head in the sand, old-style Unionists have to complain about now?
The IRA is gone, their arms, ammunition and explosives have gone, the republican movement has committed itself in front of the world to pursue its aims and objectives in a solely peaceful and democratic way – and to top it all, they are bound by the Good Friday Agreement to accept the legitimacy of the constitutional position of the Northern Ireland state within the United Kingdom until such time as a majority in the Six Counties votes otherwise.
If Brian Faulkner had got the half of that thirty years ago he would have been claiming victory from the roof of Stormont and from every treetop leading up to it.
This week Paisley is complaining that he has no faith in the veracity of the decommissioning process, no trust in either of the governments and no pity for the two saps who were fooled into giving false witness to the shambles. No doubt as time goes on he will discover other grounds for complaint.
But what really bothers Paisley’s brand of Unionism is the plain and simple fact that nationalism, Irish nationalism, the movement towards a united and equitable Ireland has not been eradicated.
Changing conditions have led to the demise of the physical force tradition, but the ultimate aim of that tradition is still there.
In fact, there is a suspicion, indeed a fear, at the back of the mind of every old-style Unionist that with the IRA now off the scene the momentum towards constitutional change might even pick up and become, well… unstoppable.
In any event, they are near damn sure (not that they would use such strong language) that the IRA did not give up the ghost without making some kind of a secret deal with the Brits. Yes, I’m talking sellout, here.
Despite the fact that Paisley has been denouncing the British government for selling Ulster out to the republicans since 1968, I must say that I see little sign of the deal around here – but that is an article for a different day.
The end of armed republicanism has changed the political landscape, utterly. In the North you can nearly reach out and touch the change. It’s partly psychological but also involves a realignment of vision, a different way of looking at things, as if mankind has just learned to walk for the first time.
The immediate target following the completion of decommissioning is the re-establishing of the political institutions with a guarantee that the Unionists will not be allowed to crash them again at a whim.
This week the two governments confirmed publicly that they are allowing a moratorium until after the International Monitoring Commission delivers its January report, but after that – provided it contains no unexpected surprises – they expect to be on the run-in to a re-assembled Assembly.
Paisley can say no, of course, and most likely will say no. But the British government already realises that even DUP nay-sayers can be brought around by largesse, promises of this and that and – perish the thought – even a secret deal.
The biggest stick to beat the Unionists into Stormont, however, is likely to be the realisation that whatever would come about to replace the Good Friday Agreement would be worse for Unionists that what they have now.
One way or another, it is clear that we are on the road to revamping Stormont. My guess is that we will have elections to the Assembly here in March of next year. Just what we need – more elections.
The political institutions represent one strand of the Good Friday Agreement, but the underlying anchorage of the Northern peace process is the inevitable movement towards equality. And equality is the real antithesis of old-style Unionism.
Unemployment in the Six Counties is still twice as high within the Catholic community as within the Protestant community. The much-vaunted peace dividend never really materialised with the result that the poorest and most deprived areas of the North never experienced the regeneration promised in the run-up to the original IRA ceasefire of 1994.
The Irish flag, the Irish national anthem and the Irish language still have no official recognition in this part of Ireland. The ethos of the civil service, of the police service, of the fire service, of all branches of state is still completely British, or more or less completely British.
Even anti-sectarian legislation means little in the Six Counties, where thugs can come up to family cars and attack the occupants just because they are displaying the colours of their own county who had just won the All-Ireland football championship.
Tackling the rampant inequality in Northern society is one of the biggest tasks facing nationalist politicians and the British government – and we shouldn’t have to wait until a united Ireland to achieve it. Equality should be there already.
I have always believed that had the Unionist government provided total equality for the Catholic community in the Six Counties when the Northern Ireland state was set up in 1921 the troubles that followed partition would not have taken place.
Ironically, it is the inevitable surge towards equality now that will probably sound the final death knell for the Northern state.

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