Isn’t it interesting that big political developments here areusually framed in analysis by how unionism views them. From the peace process to Brexit, how Unionism reacts is by and large the focus of concern.
For as long as I can remember during our peace process issues any big issue was about Unionist reaction.
From the start of the peace process we can point to examples. Extraordinarily, even the IRA ceasefire became concentrated on how unionism reacted. Remember Ulster Unionist leader Jim Molyneaux’s words when asked about the promise of a military cessation? “The IRA ceasefire represents the greatest threat to the Union in 60 years”. Immediately the concentration was on Unionist concerns about the meaning of the IRA ceasefire statement and whether the war was over. When it was clear that the IRA were committed to ceasefire the issue became about IRA decommissioning beingnecessary before peace talks could begin. Then eventually came the Good Friday Agreement and again unionism’s divided reaction was the focus.
While fissures in republicanism were viewed through a security prism, Unionism’s convulsions were viewed as political, despite the continuing loyalist violence that was taking lives.
There was little context as to why the RUC needed to be disbanded instead the media and political focus was on unionism concerns. This led to “confidence measures” for unionism, and a veneration of the RUC in official memory, while those harmed and hurt by the RUC went virtually unmentioned.
When the institutions were established the question was “how can unionism share power with republicans”, that question was never reversed.
In 2017 that narrative was interrupted. When Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister there was a wake-up call. The republican party could no longer be taken for granted and media paid some attention to the fact that the issues at stake went far deeper than the pretty deep issue of RHI. We had a year where we actually heard how nationalism and republicanism felt about citizenship and cultural rights in a way that had not been previously interrogated by much of mainstream media. And then with the necessary assertiveness of Dublin regarding Brexit we were suddenly debating the issues of Irish citizens. Bizarre that it was novel, but the trend had been bucked.
Last week however it was like none of the lessons had been learned. The hysteria surrounding the draft Withdrawal Agreement and its version of the Backstop was only about the DUP and of course whether they would pull the plug on Theresa May.
Despite the unity of the parties representing the majority ofAssembly seats and the majority remain vote on Brexit speaking with one voice last week, there was virtual silence of those voices. There was pitifully little heard on local airwaves from Dublin. The excruciating but breathless focus was on the shenanigans in Westminster.
This meant that the content of the document went without appropriate interrogation. What will these arrangements mean in real terms? While we have business and agriculture leaders saying “yes to this instead of no deal” is it really goodenough? Is it really where people see their economic future? Those questions went without appropriate grown upinterrogation. Because unionism power–brokering became more important. As always.
There is an adult conversation and debate to be had. But it is yet to come.