Roy Garland Irish News 30 August 2010
The McCluskey Civil Rights Summer School addressed serious issues at Carlingford on Saturday.
The most contentious revolved around “armed struggle”. I chaired this session feeling somewhat like a referee between opponents whose antagonism was reminiscent of the enmity between the UUP and DUP.
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie depicted her party as progressive nationalism moving towards Seamus Heaney’s “farther shore”.
The freedom for this became possible when the pursuit of unity was accepted as just as legitimate as the pursuit of maintenance of the union. There was “no longer a justification” for “resentful nationalism”. NI was to be made an economic success but “resentful nationalism” didn’t care but waited “until Northern Ireland is over”.
Resentful nationalism, she claimed, had difficulty with the word “Northern Ireland” and were suspicious of entrepreneurs, investment and profit.
The SDLP had a vision of a shared society in which different religions and races could live together “totally at ease with each other”.
The SDLP was “more confident, more optimistic and more ready to engage wholeheartedly with unionists”.
However, Sinn Fein in practice did engage with unionists since as far back the late 1980s and often on a regular basis and at greater depth.
The SDLP engaged but apparently less so and most unionists remained reluctant to so engage. But some of us felt impelled to do so to help end the conflict.
The SDLP leader said progressive nationalism saw Irish unity being created through a coming together of two traditions not through a hostile takeover. NI institutions would remain but the SDLP had a credible plan for persuasion on unity.
“The battles of the past are over. The only battle now is the battle of ideas”, she said.
Much of this was gratifying. I could not envisage any unionist leader offering similar words.
Too many are still defending the union against real or imaginary enemies.
Austin Current, former SDLP politician famous for squatting in Caledon, sat on my right, while Danny Morrison – Daniel in the lions’ den – sat on my left. Inevitably sparks would fly. The topic boiled down to whether Danny Morrison could justify past violence.
But he insisted that he was never at ease with violence but like other nationalists felt oppressed for many years.
Morrison was involved in civil rights and managed to convey the sense of nationalist alienation on the streets. It was a failure of civil rights that led to violence which was easier to start than finish.
This was true also for loyalists, some of whom shared feelings of alienation while identifying with a state that treated them as “cannon fodder”.
I said I had not been aware of the “oppression” of nationalists. This prompted Austin Current to question me.
I replied that I grew up on the Shankill Road in a strongly religious non-political family. My dad said politics was a “dirty fame”. He voted for independents hoping they were less corrupt.
Dad left school aged 12 years while I was “privileged” to remain until aged 14. I was vulnerable to propaganda suggesting that Nicra was not more than an IRA conspiracy to destroy.
Austin Currie grasped what I meant so I felt gratified. I had never been able to convey this to nationalists before.
Danny Morrison said his united Ireland could take different forms including a unitary state or confederation. The latter is not too far from where we now are. Degrees of autonomy, including independence, now exist across these islands.
The day was enlightening but served to heighten my regret that unionism in all its forms is in a terrible mess.
I deeply regret that the PUP, which espoused progressive thinking on behalf of the working class, now seems in decline. But I also expressed frustration with all shades of unionism at a time when, as Margaret Ritchie said, the battle is over.
In my view, until unionist can acknowledge that we belong together on this island, we will stumble along rather than lead our people to a better future.
Professor Arthur Aughey referred to recent articles on the future of the union in which he detected much confidence.
I agreed but not long ago the UUP/Conservative link was being sold as a means of strengthening the Union.
This suggests that at the highest level siege mentality either dominates or remains a tool with which to manipulate the “cannon fodder”.
The reality is that all our futures must be shared together or damanged by the remnants of siege and victim mentalities.