Belfast Telegraph

Why parties must listen and act now against the legacy of division

By Malachi O'Doherty

So just over a quarter of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland wants a united Ireland in the short to medium term.

This has political implications. For a start we have to stop calling the other three-quarters nationalists, for they're not.

That has implications for the unionist parties.

They have to ask themselves why they have failed to recruit these de facto unionists into their political projects. It is surely negligent of them to shore up cultural barriers against people who would otherwise be content to have the country run their way.

A point must come for the DUP when it has maxed out on available votes for an evangelical, socially conservative, monarchist unionist party. Then it can look around and see that there are hundreds of thousands of Catholics who are content with the Union but won't vote for them. And they won't vote for them because they are not evangelical, not monarchist, not socially conservative. They are content to live in Britain, on current terms, but they feel much less patriotic attachment to it.

It would make more political sense to cherish those people, embrace them and involve them, instead of sneering at the issues that concern them, the sports they play, the historic language they retain a few words of, and the church some of them go to.

So, the challenge for the future leaders of the DUP is to lose the chauvinism or stop growing.

The SDLP must be scratching its head now. The bright spark who wants to be the new leader offers himself as one who can reframe the focus on a united Ireland. But if Colm Eastwood reads the poll, he'll work out that his party base and voters are not interested in that.

Sinn Fein can hope that circumstances will change and that actual nationalism will increase.

But that can only happen if people lose faith in devolution and in the material benefits of the Union.

Yet they are in talks still to try and hammer out a deal that keeps devolution in place. One trusts that they are making a genuine effort.

Irish unity is a political goal for our grandchildren, not for ourselves, and sane people don't vote for a system of government they don't yet want.

However, despite the security of the Union and the lack of enthusiasm for Irish unity, we still live in a divided society in which communities obsess about these concerns. Yet it looks increasingly as if the only real division between them is their community identification.

If Catholics can't really be called nationalists any more, neither can they really be called Catholics, for the same survey shows that only a third of so called Catholics go to church every week. Theologically, most of them are closer to Protestantism.

In the past, our two communities were at odds over the border and the Reformation. Now one might wonder what actually divides them at all apart from the legacy of division, the habit of being wary of each other.

We have come close to letting the old quarrels deflate and, at the same time, have structured our politics around that division. It's hard to argue that that was a mistake since devolution, even in its frailty, is popular.

But soon we will have no labels left for the people of separate communities other than the rude ones.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph