Belfast Telegraph

Why southern nationalists sneering at Northern Irish unionists is beyond the pale

Abuse of DUP in the Dublin media over its pact with the Tories wouldn't look out of place in An Phoblacht, says Eilis O'Hanlon

How Irish nationalists used to mock when Ulster Protestants warned that "Home Rule means Rome Rule". Now it's the critics of unionism who are reacting hysterically to the prospect of the Democratic Unionist Party backing the Tory government in a "confidence and supply agreement" in return for a package of measures that looks set to benefit everyone in Northern Ireland, regardless of religious - or political - affiliations.

To listen to some of the shrieking prophets of doom, the DUP holds such dangerous and extreme views on divisive social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, that it would forever taint anyone foolish enough to get too close to the party. "Prod Rule means God Rule", we're all suddenly expected to believe.

This overblown rhetoric about the big, bad DUP might have been expected from more politically correct elements of the media in London, whose ignorance of Northern Irish affairs is so profound that they still haven't noticed that no political party here is campaigning for the extension of full UK abortion law, so why single out the DUP for criticism?

As for same-sex marriage, that's only been on the statute book in England and Wales for three years, so don't start getting high and mighty about how progressive you all are over the water. It took you long enough to get there, too. Not everywhere moves at the same pace. Differences of opinions are not illegal.

It was in the south that these attacks on unionists came as the greatest surprise, though. They've gone to such lengths in recent years to be friendly, only to undo all that good work with an outbreak of anti-unionist abuse that wouldn't be out of place in An Phoblacht.

One popular radio presenter even suggested on air last week that the delay in signing a deal between the DUP and the Conservatives might be because "they have to go and burn a sacrifice to the Old Testament god they all worship up there".

It's hard to believe that any other group of people could be subjected to such churlish scorn without provoking an avalanche of complaints.

Fintan O'Toole may be unknown to most readers in Northern Ireland - trust me, you're not missing much - but he's often hailed as one of Ireland 's foremost "intellectuals". Even he got momentarily carried away as he laid into the DUP with merry abandon in his column in the Irish Times at the weekend, arrogantly declaring at one point that the DUP is "not really British".

This is the level of argument you'd expect from internet trolls, who delight in tracking down Ulster Protestants online and hounding them into admitting that they're "not really British" either; but this line of attack has become increasingly common among more mainstream voices south of the border in the last week as the DUP and Tories hammered out a deal.

The backlash against the DUP has exposed how thin the veneer of acceptance of unionism is in the Republic of Ireland. For years, they've tried to pretend they were over the sectarian hostility of the past. Now, it's all come bubbling back to the surface in a contemptuous lava flow of smug superiority.

This tantrum is self-defeating for Irish nationalists. Unionists don't want to be part of a united Ireland, they're perfectly comfortable as part of a United Kingdom, so if nationalists don't like them, well, it's no skin off their nose. It's nationalists who claim to want these supposedly bigoted, badly house-trained monsters as fellow countrymen and women.

That's what the polls on Irish unity say, anyway. They're the ones begging unionists to join them in a united Ireland, where, it's said, their identity and culture would be respected and protected.

They've painted a picture where Irish and British, native and Planter, would exist in a sort of green, white and orange Disneyland of mutual tolerance.

Suddenly, the mask slips and their distaste for Ulster Protestants oozes out. It was as if the election result gave them an excuse to admit what they really felt.

How do they plan to turn it around and promote again the idea that everything will be hunky-dory for Prods in a united Ireland when they've just unleashed a self-indulgent orgy of revulsion on their heads?

It merely reminds Protestants of why so many of them left the south after independence. Life is perfectly pleasant these days for the descendants of those who stayed, but it was achieved by previous generations of Protestants learning to keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

What Irish nationalists unwittingly revealed in recent days is that they expect today's crop of Ulster Protestants to do the same. They'll be tolerated, but that's not the same as tolerance. Genuine tolerance means accepting difference, without using it to insult one group of people as being beyond the Pale.

What's shameful is not simply that this mentality has reasserted itself, but that it's being expressed in an absolute conviction that they're so much better than their northern neighbours. This sentiment does surface periodically.

When republican terrorists who'd murdered hundreds of police officers during the Troubles were released from prison as part of the peace process, it was hailed in Dublin as an historic healing of wounds.

What about the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe, the policeman gunned down while responding to a post office raid by the IRA?

Well, no, of course they wouldn't be allowed out from behind bars. They'd killed one of the Republic's own, so had to stay in prison.

Politicians were outraged at the idea that these men should benefit from the terms of the peace agreement.

There's the same attitude towards doing deals with Sinn Fein. The new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has called the party a "threat to Irish democracy" and has ruled out going into coalition with republicans, arguing that their views are "not compatible".

Yet anyone who expresses doubts about Sinn Fein's credentials in Northern Ireland is vilified as undemocratic and endangering peace.

Dublin's position seems to be that you lot should put up with Sinn Fein, but they're not good enough for us.

These are the same people who are outraged at any return to a hard border after Brexit.

The real hard border is in the minds of nationalists in the south, who think Down Here is so much better than Up There and that Irish unity must be about Up Here becoming more like Down There.

Be assured: the message has been received loud and clear.

Belfast Telegraph


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