Friday, 28 September 2007

Crusaders to move home

I must admit to a twinge of regret and nostalgia on learning that Crusaders FC’s membership has voted to sell Seaview and relocate to a stadium elsewhere.

The Shore Road ground was one of the tightest venues in the Irish League, which contributed to a frequently excellent atmosphere.

Although Seaview wasn’t always the easiest place to gain a result, with the Hatchetmen famed for their physical style of play, Ballymena enjoyed some notable moments at the ground. Few fans will forget a thrilling 4-3 win featuring two long range goals from Neil Candlish. Cult hero Tony “Nobby” Hall also thrilled the away supporters in 1994 with a spectacular Brazilian style banana kick which had the home team’s net bulging. And only last season current favourite Kevin Kelbie netted against Linfield in the County Antrim Shield Final in front of a jam packed stadium.

Seaview of course had its problems as well. Last season a wall behind the home terrace fell down in high winds unto the Belfast – Londonderry railway line and the terrace was closed for some time. Crusaders also experienced problems with hooliganism in the late 80s and early 90s and many supporters will recall leaving the ground in buses bombarded with hails of missiles.

Crusaders’ home ground, however, is a traditional and characterful little stadium, which played host to Liverpool during their successful European Cup campaign of 1977. It will be a loss to the club and to the Irish League in general, as it provided a suitable neutral venue for many tournament semi-finals and finals. I can only hope that their new home retains the virtues which made Seaview one of the more enjoyable football grounds in Northern Ireland to visit.

Kosovo's independence is not a cut and dried issue

Direct talks will begin today at the United Nations over the thorny issue of Kosovan independence.

Western preference may be for independence to be granted, but thinking on this issue is predictably skewed. The EU/American consensus is that Milosovic era aggression and heavily ethnic Albanian demographics makes Kosovo effectively an exception to international law (which fully recognises Serb sovereignty over the area).

A number of factors should be taken into consideration should the talks break down and should western governments consider recognising any unilateral declaration of independence.

Firstly the current Serbian regime is completely unrecognisable from that of Milosovic. Huge strides have been made to instigate democracy and build civic society in Belgrade. The government, under Prime Minister Tadic, is offering unprecedented autonomy and competences to Kosovan representatives, as well as significant input in federal government. In effect the Kosovan administration's remit will cover all aspects of government, barring foreign policy. This is a generous offer to a region so central to Serbia's conception of its own identity.

Secondly the existing demographics (only 10% of Kosovo's population is now composed of ethnic Serbs) is a result of many years of ethnic cleansing by Kosovan Albanians. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of post-Yugoslav politics in the region, which paints the Serbs as the sole aggressors. Whilst Serb nationalism was the predominant cause of war and ethnic cleansing in some areas, this was resoundingly not the case in Kosovo. The most serious refugee crises in Kosovo came after NATO intervention. Up to this point more lives in the conflict had been claimed by the KLA's sectarian terrorist campaign against the Orthodox Serbs. Since the 1970s the titular Kosovan Albanian autonomous administration had pursued a campaign to erase the Serb identity in the province. Recognition of a unilaterally declared Kosovo would reward this behaviour and set a dangerous precedent.

Which neatly raises the third point, encouraging a whole series of secessionist campaigns from national minorities throughout the region and beyond. Russia has already raised the spectre of Southern Ossetia in Georgia which it may be tempted to recognise, should western governments choose to recognise Kosovo.

Fourthly, Kosovo is already a haven of organised crime and smuggling. An independent Kosovo would surely be worse.

If Kosovo unilaterally declares indepedence and is recognised by EU states or the US, Serbs will justfiably doubt the path of progress down which they have embarked. At this time Serbia needs support to continue remarkable progress in building a fledgling democracy and in tempering the worst excesses of a nationalism which is never far beneath the surface. For the stability of the region and for the preservation of international law, pressure must be exerted on Kosovan Albanians to accept the just compromise being offered to them.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Ulster Museum epitomises lack of delivery on tourism

I often advance an unpopular hypothesis that the favourable tourist reviews Belfast receives are largely attributable to a mixture of post conflict goodwill and low expectations.

The city is pitifully short of decent visitor attractions when compared to other city break destinations in Britain and Europe. In terms of galleries and museums the place is a dead loss and given this dearth it seems scarcely believable that for the last year the Ulster Museum has been closed and no work has been taking place on its refurbishment.

It seems that the next time we can direct a visitor to a decent museum will be in summer 2009!

Of course tourists still have the option of wandering about the Cathedral Quarter which despite 10 years in the pipeline as Belfast’s bohemian district remains a largely derelict area of pawn shops and thrift stores, which any cautious traveller would avoid like the plague! Or perhaps they might choose to wander around the eerily deserted City Centre at night trying to find any open bar or restaurant. Then there’s the much vaunted “Titanic Quarter”, still consisting to date of a hinterland of disused warehouses.

Belfast can only claim two legitimate things in its favour. Firstly the vibrancy and character of its pubs – a merit which is lessening daily as wine bars and continental cafes proliferate and genuine pubs close down. Secondly there is the endless fascination tourists find in touring round deprived areas gawking at wall-paintings of paramilitaries.

Setting residual loyalties aside, most residents, if we were being completely subjective, would advise prospective visitors to save their money and go elsewhere. If there is any real will to become a credible tourist destination which does not rely on mawkish tours of trouble spots, there needs to be less talk about development and more action and existing visitor attractions need to be reopened as quickly as possible and not left to lie unused for a full year!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

In stark contrast to the previous post

I used to work beside the City Hall in Belfast. Opening a window around Friday lunchtime made it possible to listen unhindered to Northern Ireland’s current First Minister haranguing his future citizens with threats of eternal damnation.

For those of us who identified in the DUP a fundamentalist arm to rival the Taliban, its is with resignation and a sense of inevitability that we read about efforts from their Free Presbyterian wing to encourage the teaching of creationism in science classes.

William Crawley’s Will and Testament blog yesterday noted the questions raised by one such regressive, David Simpson, and addressed to the awe-inspiringly ineffectual Education Minister, Catriona Ruane. True to form Miss Ruane was extremely vague and evasive. This is understandable given that the entirety of her time and attention must be devoted to the single most crucial issue of our age – Irish Medium education. The details of what children should be taught in whichever medium naturally hasn’t been engaging her to the same extent.

It makes me ashamed to be a unionist to read in today’s Belfast Telegraph, that all 13 unionist councillors in Lisburn have backed a DUP motion to encourage schools to teach so-called “intelligent design” (that’s looper- speak for the universe being created in 7 days for the uninitiated).

Given that more moderate Christians have long since contended that their faith is not incompatible with evolution, this is stark evidence of the pervasive influence of regressively fundamental Christianity in Northern Ireland.

Donaldson highlights the carve-up of inter-communal politics

Kenny Donaldson, a party officer of the UUP, has some interesting points on the possible formation of a new unionist party. Donaldson may be guilty of according the nascent grouping too great an importance, but the precedent he evokes certainly stands up to some scrutiny in terms of mentality.

“Many Unionists of my parent’s generation will feel a deep sense of deja-vu. The reality is that Unionism started internally dividing itself when the present First Minister, Dr Paisley and others decided they neither had the stomach, nor the political or civic responsibility to face up to the challenges of accommodating nationalism within an internal political settlement. 30 years later and the penny still hasn’t dropped for some people. "

The following judgment is indisputable, qualified as it is with the proviso that terrorism played an important part in the hardening of attitudes.

“Let’s be clear; we have the sectarian carve up that we have because people refused to share responsibility for the governing of Northern Ireland decades ago.”

Regular readers of this blog will hardly be surprised that I fully endorse Kenny’s analysis of the current situation which pertains in Northern Ireland, as outlined below.

“In the run up to 1998 and for the 7/8 years thereafter, the DUP and Sinn Fein set about destroying the centre-ground, fuelled by their own selfish agendas they sought to bring about the conditions, which ensured our Country was carved up between the ‘prods’ and the ‘taigs.’ Despite the fact that this reality has come to pass I am confident that in the medium-long term, the public do not want their children to grow up in a society where there is mutual loathing between the principle protagonists charged with delivering Government. Forget about the amicable photographs, the mutual nods of agreement, the stomach-churning camaraderie on show between the ‘chuckle brothers’ and their respective merry men and women. This is but self-serving spin and mutually constructed choreography.”

Donaldson wishes to see the UUP playing a big role in the redressing of this communal carve up, and sees the party's future in the electorate's return to the middle ground.

“My core objective is to see the Ulster Unionist Party rebuild itself so that it can go forth and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. I do not see the introduction of a new Unionist Party as advantageous. Do people really believe that Sinn Fein can be removed from Stormont at this stage? The parameters of our political settlement have been set, principally by the UK Government and supported by the Government of the Irish Republic, people need to get real; they need to deliver positive change for the people of Northern Ireland within the realms of possibility. For too long politicians in Northern Ireland sought power, now they have it but they need to realise that with power, comes responsibility,”

At a time when a blog claiming to represent the Young Unionists seems more inclined to trumpet an extremist like Jim Allister and at a time when influential members of the party wish to reach an accommodation with the DUP or move closer to their policies, it is heartening to hear a constructive vision of the role of Ulster Unionists from a younger member. Equally it is uplifting to hear a fellow member with an optimistic view of the future and faith that the electorate will grow tired of the communal carve-up which is the basis of the current executive.

Conceit and trumpet tooting

Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness has been named as 18th best political blog in Ireland thanks to Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole.

The blog will be included in the book Iain Dale's Guide to Political Blogging 2007-2008.

Atonement: not a glorious depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation

The only Ian McEwan novel I have read in full is Saturday and I found his prose rather tortuous and off putting. I consequently went to see Atonement last night with no more knowledge of the book than that furnished by a brief glance through the opening pages and a read of the synopsis.

Without being able to make a comparative analysis of the film and the text, I cannot comment on whether McEwan’s intentions were being followed, particularly as I understand the author declined to adapt the novel himself. Whether the rather post-apocalyptic rendering of Dunkirk was McEwan’s therefore, somebody may wish to clarify for me.

The anarchic dystopia the film presented, which to my mind was almost reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, hardly rang true as a portrayal of one of the greatest episodes of discipline and national unity in the history of World War 2. I acknowledge that these historical niceties may not have been paramount in the mind of the director. My girlfriend, who has a much more astute critical eye than I do, pointed out that the entire story can only be understood through the prism of the putative author’s imagined narration. I also appreciate McAvoy’s character is in an altered state of consciousness during these scenes and the presentation of what most undoubtedly have been a disorientating and frightening event reflects this.

The film was otherwise engaging, despite the presence of the perpetually smug McAvoy and Kiera Knightley, whose transformation into some manner of exotic, concave alien is almost complete. A changing social landscape, the ravages of war and the relationship between reality and the imaginative process are all themes which are raised and developed successfully. Again, whether these tally with the themes of the book, I am in no position to judge.

Monday, 24 September 2007

One party unionism - a step backwards

I would be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that my concern over an early Westminster poll arises partially due to the complete unpreparedness of the UUP.

Confronting the need for structural change to the party and making real progress in defining the party’s role within the realignment of unionism has been put off, supposedly to this autumn. A snap poll will catch the party napping - rudderless and divided on the direction it should take.

In this context I was interested to read O’Neill’s comments defending the need for more than one unionist party. His observations come in the wake of ludicrous comments made by one of the UUP’s plodding, traditionalist foot-draggers – Billy Armstrong – advocating a merger with the DUP.

O’Neill counters the argument for one unionist party correctly, by raising the electoral flexibility afforded to voters by proportional representation. He also hints at a point which I think needs to be developed. Having more than one unionist party means that more pro-Union votes are recorded. The flip-side of this is that many unionists would not consider voting for a monolithic unionist / Ulster nationalist amalgamation headed by Paisley or similar.

Armstrong and other cultural unionist remnants in the UUP disregard the philosophical subtleties within unionism because they are quite comfortable with the concept of voting in ethno-religious communal blocks. They ignore the substantial number of unionists who are not happy to vote for a party on this basis and who wish to vote for a party genuinely committed to the concept and entirety of the Union.

Those within the UUP considering the party’s future course tend to fall into two categories and both are wrong-headed. There are those who wish to follow the electorate into DUP territory in attempt to claim back the votes lost to that party, and those who see the priority as mopping up votes from the Alliance Party. Both approaches are inclined to let the party be led by the electorate rather than showing real leadership and a will to explain a political position properly. Both labour under a common misapprehension about unionism.

Advocating a more liberal stance than the DUP does not mean equivocation on the issue of the Union. The liberal aspect is simply an acceptance of liberal democratic, inclusive British values and a refusal to enter the murky ground of communal politics. What is regarded as liberal unionism is actually far more securely grounded within the political traditions of the United Kingdom, provides far greater assurance of the continuance of those traditions in this part of the British Isles and is in a literal sense, much more identifiably, steadfastly unionist than anything advanced by the DUP. Constitutionally it shares nothing in common with the ambivalent neutrality of Alliance.

The task of the UUP should be to delineate itself properly from the DUP as proponents of non-communal unionism which genuinely values the benefits of remaining in the United Kingdom and our ties to its institutions and to challenge the DUP as to how genuine their commitment to the union, as opposed to their commitment to one community within it, is. Only in accepting these principles and committing to advance and explain them to the wider community, can the UUP recover lost ground and go forward in representing inclusive unionism in Northern Ireland and beyond.

Unsubstantiated rumour

Are unionists preparing to save the grammar schools by backing Catriona Ruane's plans to open Irish Language schools in every board area, continuing to close down existing schools whilst squandering millions to fund these small, minority interest schools?

Watch this space.

Early election won't be good for Northern Ireland

My thoughts on Gordon Brown are ambivalent as I have blogged on previous occasions. Whether growth has been achieved at the expense of a public borrowing time-bomb is conjecture that will become increasingly pertinent as the economy slows down, the property boom runs out of steam and interest rates are forced upward. Criticism of Brown’s inefficiencies in public spending, an insatiable appetite for tinkering with new forms of taxation and excessive fondness for public / private initiatives have been tempered by very concrete reservations about whether the Tories could do any better.

The long-term outworkings of Brown’s economic policies are in supremely just fashion, going to come to fruition during the years he hopes to remain Prime Minister. With unmistakeable signs of economic turbulence ahead and given a public perception that the premier has begun his term solidly, it is hardly surprising that Brown is tempted to go to the country sooner rather than later.

For a new Prime Minister to seek a mandate from the electorate cannot be a bad thing for democracy, and personally I believe that such a move would be advisable from Brown’s perspective. Where the prospect of a further poll is slightly less propitious however, is in Northern Ireland as our institutions limp towards five months of existence and the Alliance Party’s leader David Ford makes gloomy predictions that the executive is only being held together by maintaining a consensus of stasis.

Ford’s analysis on this occasion is both astute and unsurprising. The image of a successful and hardworking body “getting down to work” is threatening to run aground on the hard rocks of actual issues.

Confrontation is a necessity in all election campaigns, but when it’s coupled with a hardening of policy and attitudes and the communal posturing intrinsic in Northern Irish politics, it could be all that is needed to bring the nascent institutions to their knees.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Summer in Baden Baden

I am in the process of reading a remarkable an almost indescribable novel, Summer in Baden Baden by Leonid Tsypkin. Written in an unrushing train of prose it follows a narrating intellectual's journey between Moscow and Leningrad during Soviet times and entwines his reading of Anna Dostoevsky's diary. The effect is a startling and beautiful journey, accompanying both the narrator and the Dostoevskys as they travel to Baden Baden and the turbulent author deals with gambling addiction and crippling self-doubt.

This book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Dostoevsky.

Putin's legacy: a strong independent Russia

I had intended to blog an excellent article from Jonathan Steele immediately after I read it in Tuesday's Guardian, but I became rather sidelined somewhere by the shores of the Baltic Sea.

Nevertheless it is well worth reading and tallies almost precisely with my thoughts on Putin's premiership. Steele is ahead of the game in assessing Putin's legacy and in acknowledging the stability, economic growth and rediscovered esteem he has engendered.

Duke Special new video

Thanks to Snoopy for sending me the link to Duke Special's new video "Our Love Goes Deeper Than This".

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Hats off to the insane

In a small political world like that of Northern Irish unionism, there should be a certain frisson about the possible formation of a new party. However, only the most febrile unionist observers have contrived the faintest excitement over negotiations taking place between 100 basket cases in Moygashel last night.

Attending this meeting were such luminaries as Willie Frazer, who attempted to organise the ill-fated Love Ulster rally of flag waving loyalists in Dublin last year, and Robin Stirling, erstwhile primary school headmaster who has spent his retirement contending his freedom to play Orange party songs whilst mowing the lawn, a liberty which he has vocally proclaimed in Ballymena Borough Council. Leslie Cubitt joined the fun proclaiming that Ian Paisley would not be 1st Minister by Christmas.

The nominal “hinge” of this meeting was Jim Allister, a man reminiscent of the priest in Father Ted with the incredibly boring voice. It’s simply impossible to listen to what he’s actually saying.

The desire of the electorate for this coterie to actually establish a party is practically zero. The wrangling (and if they ever become a party how this lot will get on for long enough to actually contest an election is questionable) over whether they should become a political party or a pressure group goes some way to emphasising that at least some of those involved recognise this.

The only merit in this grouping, and particularly those who used to be in the DUP, is their consistency. They may be loopy, but at least they have remained consistently loopy and haven’t displayed the blatant hypocrisy of Paisley and his cronies.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Republicans can't handle the truth!

There can rarely have been as unseemly a row (even in the context of Northern Ireland local government) as that taking place in Omagh Council’s chambers currently, over the wording of a monument to the victims of the 1998 bomb.

Even in the context of a tragedy which encompassed both sides of the community so utterly and which caused almost universal derision, Sinn Fein deems it appropriate to indulge their impulse to re-write history.

If any proof were needed that the search for “truth” that they recently marched to promote is a one way process, surely the attempted excision of the phrase “dissident Republican car bomb” is it.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Latvia: An uneasy democracy

Another matter arising out of the Latvia trip was a prevailing discontent among the supporters about the confrontational and corrupt policing they faced.

Undoubtedly this was justified to an extent, bribes were extracted and some people had very unpleasant experiences. The Latvian police could teach some people here a thing or two about what the word “heavy handed” really means. When you’re told to keep off the grass in Latvia, a baton around the head and being bundled into an unmarked van can be the sanction applied if you choose to persist.

Admittedly as well, there is an increasing element of uncouth louts following the Northern Ireland team abroad. They pay no attention to local custom, show no basic social manners, have no interest in the culture or history of where they visit and flaunt their comparative wealth in the faces of those who host them. When they aren’t welcomed with open arms or find themselves laid open to exploitation, they whine about it or act aggressively. To them I would suggest – stick to Santa Ponsa.

No-one expects football supporters to be abstentionist, opera watching angels – but an open mind and a little consideration for locals sensibilities means standing a much greater chance of having a successful and enjoyable trip (the result not withstanding).

I detected that perhaps the aggressive policing in Latvia was a symptom of a state not yet at ease with itself. Certainly the traditional GAWA parade passed a demonstration of ethnic Russians which was particularly heavily policed. Despite the fact that Riga is a predominately Russian city the symbols of Latvian statehood were asserted with a great deal of aggression and the national story is told with unrepentantly partial spin.

The Museum of Occupation provides an interesting insight into the Latvian psyche. Understandably the Latvians are aggrieved at German and Russian oppressions suffered and the exhibition is interesting in outlining the extent of these. The presence of Russian speakers in Latvian society though is presented as an affront to Latvian statehood with no allowance made for these people as individuals. There was no sense that I could discern that Latvia had any plans to tolerate or accommodate the Russian minority.

Wailing police sirens, a substantial minority who are being made to feel unwelcome, the subjugation of the individual to the ideal of an ethnically pure nation, a failure to acknowledge anything but the most partial reading of their own history. All of these traits are redolent of a country where nationalistic values prevail and whose civic society is as yet immature. Given a turbulent and war torn history this is more than understandable, but becoming reconciled to accommodating and including the large minority within her borders should be the first stage toward Latvia addressing this immaturity. Perhaps a realistic assessment of some Latvians culpability in supporting and participating in the Nazi regime might be a second.

Worthless continues his demolition of GAWA

Two defeats and a disciplinary incident later, it appears my view that Nigel Worthington is taking the Northern Ireland football team back to the bad old days is to be vindicated.

Worthington was appointed on the basis of a 6 month contract, because he has big ideas about returning to club management in England. On that basis it is quite proper to judge him over a short time period, because quite simply he has failed to do the job he undertook to do.

Bearing in mind the brevity of the contract and the situation he inherited, Worthington’s task was straight forward – to maintain a steady ship and provide continuity from the Sanchez regime. He has chosen instead to plough his own questionable furrow, with obstinacy and conceit.

All that was special about Sanchez’s squad has been undermined by the attitude Worthington has displayed from the very beginning – questioning his own players ability, pandering to those who lack commitment, tinkering with personnel and tactics, losing control of discipline.

Two tawdry performances have been dismissed as unlucky by Worthington, so he is clearly not realistic enough to address the problems he has created. It will be no surprise to me if Steven Craigan does not regain his place against Sweden for example.

Worthington will see out his contract, but it is clearer and clearer that the IFA have erred badly in giving the job to a man whose chief contribution to Northern Ireland football since his playing days were over, was the constant enforced withdrawals of two of his club players from the squad. I agree entirely with the latterly held view of Norwich City fans that the man’s sobriquet should be Worthless.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Break from blogging

There will be no more blogs before Friday 14th September as I’m on Green and White Army duty in Riga via Berlin.

Here’s to a victory in Riga and a further 3 points in Reykjavik next Wednesday.

For anyone who may harbour concerns, fear not, I will put a lid on the pro-Russian, anti Baltic-nationalism sentiment during my trip. ;-)

Apology sought for IRA man's death!!

Republican hypocrisy is a rising ocean in constant flux, forever swamping fresh swathes of the antediluvian pastures of Northern Irish life, but even so this takes some beating.

Danny Bradley, brother of IRA scum who the British army killed in a no go area, wants an apology as little Seamus was “off-duty” that day! Bless!

SF / IRA will be snowed under by the workload of apologising for a campaign which was predominately based on murdering the security forces when they were off duty.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Unionism and Irishness

On a couple of occasions people have mentioned that I might have certain common ground with the Union Group. This has surprised me, as other than a desire to see unionism presenting itself in a more articulate and thoughtful manner, there is little in the Group’s documents which I could subscribe to.

Central to the documents they have produced are assumptions which I regard as wrong. Firstly they assume that the issue of the Union can only be understood in terms of identity politics, ceding the argument that unionism is a better or more inclusive political philosophy than Irish nationalism. The Union Group’s thesis is that to be inclusive, both political traditions on the island must be accorded equal status. That rather undermines the entire concept of being a unionist and is reflected in the all-Ireland vision the group outlines.

While national identity is an important aspect of Irish politics, it is not the only consideration in ordering a state or political arrangements, nor in my view is it the best one. A civic political identity can be established which need not threaten religious, cultural or national identities which can be subscribed to in parallel. I see the United Kingdom as a multinational, multicultural state which nevertheless has a strong civic identity fostered by a shared history, shared values and shared institutions.

It is a unionist’s job to advance this argument, not to concede that the contrary view is equally legitimate or to stop persuading people in any community, whether they consider themselves British, Irish, neither or both, that their interests are best represented within the United Kingdom.

I think what offends me most about the Union Group’s papers, is that although their rhetoric is grounded in liberal intentions, their thinking is not so very far from Sinn Fein and the DUP. They view the Northern Ireland political divide in purely ethno-nationalist terms. They make allusions to a more complex picture by quoting John Hewitt, but there is no sense in which they attempt to divorce political identity from a sense of cultural or ethnic nationality. People can identify themselves as they wish, seems to be the message, but generally unionists aren’t Irish and Irish Catholics aren’t British. That to me, is to throw the liberal unionist baby out with the bathwater. The task for liberal unionists should be articulating unionism a way that includes the Irish national identity.

The John Hewitt quote I have mentioned is as follows:

I am a Belfast man,I am an Ulster man,I am British and I am Irish,And those last two are interchangeable,And I am European and anyone who demeans,Any one part of me demeans me as a person.

It concludes the 21st Century Unionism document and frankly it is the most interesting part of it (the document’s equality-speak is impeccable – but there’s little which really addresses unionism’s future within the document). The quote is as good a jumping off point as any for the debate about the Irish identity within unionism, and for discussing this issue, at least, the Union Group must be congratulated. Interestingly as I’ve been writing this post, a debate about the relationship between Irishness and unionism has also sprung up on Slugger O’Toole.

A commenter makes the correct observation that those unionists who reject any notion of Irishness strengthen the case of those who would define the identity in purely Gaelic, Catholic terms and weaken their own position in the eyes of the world. Thus the twin strains of ethnic, identity based politics perpetuate each other’s exclusivist outlook.

The narrow idea of Irishness articulated by Irish ethno-nationalists and supported by their Ulster opponents is vocal on Irish language issues, . The Gaelic / ethno-nationalist strand views Gaelige as an intrinsic and defining part of Irishness. The ethno-religious strand of unionism detests the language because its assumption is that this must be correct. Balanced, inclusive unionism acknowledges the language’s history and cultural significance within Ireland and the United Kingdom, but rejects linguistic or religious criteria as necessary for political identification. This pattern is repeated for many aspects of culture and tradition which are considered Irish.

Unionism must reject identity as the prime determinant of political allegiance and as such it is wrong to be prescriptive about the identities which unionists should feel. It is certainly a trend however, that unionists who are comfortable with being referred to as Irish and see Irishness as a vital part of the makeup of their cultural identity, are by far the more self-confident, articulate and consistent proponents of the Union.

Where I feel that the Union Group are mistaken, is in assuming that embracing the Irish part of our identity means diluting our unionism or being apologetic for our allegiance to the United Kingdom. Their documents are useful in that they allude to the complexity of identity which many of us feel but they have few ideas which would actively strengthen the Union and they place little emphasis on Irishness being as vital and intrinsic to the UK as it is to the Republic of Ireland.

I return once again to David Trimble paraphrasing Emerson Tennant “we add to the glory of being British, the distinction of being Irish”.