For as long as the British establishment is ready to hand Northern Ireland to the Republic, unionist insecurity will exist
By Matthew Barrett
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The British establishment is willing to hand Northern Ireland over to the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, many members of the establishment wish those pesky six counties would hurry up and just join the rest of Ireland now. The English, on the whole, either don't know or don't care enough to be particularly bothered about the fate of Northern Ireland. The Scots, from whom many, possibly most, Protestant Ulstermen are descended, may well decide to vote for independence in 2014.
Unionists know that a large number of nationalists who see themselves as Irish do not want a united Ireland at the moment. But Unionists also know that this could well change when the Republic's economy is in a far healthier position than at present. They know that the "Irish-American" lobby is waiting and willing to fund a propaganda campaign to ensure the majority of Northern Ireland votes for unification. Unionists can see, from the 2011 census, that it is only a matter of ten or twenty years before those inclined towards nationalism and unification are in the majority and can replace British Unionists as the dominant political-cultural force in Northern Ireland.
Is it any wonder Unionists feel insecure?
The removal of the flag from Belfast City Hall is merely a visible and symbolic example of the many ways in which (all of) the people of Northern Ireland have been treated differently from their fellow British subjects on the mainland. In recent memory this started with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. That agreement, which was signed by Mrs Thatcher, gave the Republic of Ireland a role, albeit an "advisory" one, in the governance of Northern Ireland for the first time. Unionists had withstood years of the Troubles, constant in their belief that they would be oppressed in a united Irish state, only to see the British state they were loyal to for so long betray them.
And so to today. The first thing one must do when considering the Belfast City Hall incident is condemn gangsterism from the Unionist side. Sending Sinn Fein and Alliance Party politicians bullets is a cowardly and threatening act which should not take place in a democracy like ours.
One must also consider how utterly ill-equipped the current political culture is in Northern Ireland. Neither of the two nationalists parties have any political credibility in the Unionist community, the Alliance Party suggested the unpopular "compromise motion" whereby the Union Flag is flown only on certain days of the year in the first place, the Ulster Unionist Party has been more of a historical curiosity than a political party for some years, and the Democratic Unionist Party is not completely clean either - their complicity in supporting a devolved settlement in which the kneecappers and gangsters of Sinn Fein are given government departments to run undermines their credibility in condemning where we now find ourselves. Even if they could attack the uncomfortable status quo from a Unionist perspective, they cannot claim any serious support amongst Catholics and/or nationalists, and so cannot reach beyond the ever-decreasing percentage of the population they currently represent.
This is a matter of great regret, and stems from the failure, in 1922, when Ireland was sadly divided, of the British state to enforce a properly fair and equal settlement which did not discriminate between Catholic and Protestant subjects of His Majesty, as it would have been. The country should have been fully integrated, and there should have been any religious-sectarian element to Irish nationalism or British Unionism. People in Northern Ireland should be helping to elect governments on the mainland, not voting for minority parties based in Belfast or Dublin.
With changing demographics and the slow transfer of majority rule from unionist parties to nationalist parties, incidents like the flag removal will continue. With a vacuum of unifying political leadership in the province, and continuing lack of interest in keeping Northern Ireland from the mainland, feelings of Unionist helplessness and alienation will increase, and sadly the reaction to these incidents may be more violent and intense than what we've seen over the past few weeks.