Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The UDA aren't capable of 'defending Britishness'.

If you were asked to name an organisation less likely to promote a positive vision of what it means to be British than the UDA, it might take a while to come up with an answer. Let us not forget that the political ‘brains’ behind this paramilitary organisation spent the 1970s arguing for Ulster independence. If anyone were actually to attend Gordon Brown’s focus groups which seek to define Britishness, it is unlikely that ‘a loose amalgamation of sectarian murder gangs, criminals and drug dealers’ would feature in members’ ‘quintessentially British’ top 10.

Nevertheless, the UDA has announced that it is to launch a campaign against the ‘unabating Sinn Féin threat to British culture’
. Anyone who detects ominous overtones in such an ambition, given that the organisation has yet to decommission its illegally assembled arsenal, should set their mind at rest. The Association has in mind a non-violent ‘battlefield’. Any right thinking person will not welcome the prospect of republican ‘racism, ignorance and bigotry’ (to use the UDA’s own formulation) being countered by, let’s be frank, loyalist ‘racism, ignorance and bigotry’.

For those unionists who wish to make a serious attempt to check Sinn Féin’s agenda of intolerance, I have a few suggestions. Let’s show some generosity to elements of culture, perceived as Irish, which do not intrinsically negate the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. We can start by taking a constructive approach to the Irish language. In so doing we counter Sinn Féin’s conflations of cultural identity with political identity, of cultural and personal equality with equality of political outcome, and help to sever any perception that Sinn Féin is needed in order to defend Irish or nationalist culture in Northern Ireland.

The best means to promoting Britishness is to demonstrate its inclusiveness, its diversity and its compatibility with various other identities and cultures. To show that whilst Irish nationalism negates Britishness in Ireland, British unionism certainly does not negate Irishness within the United Kingdom. To show that in the United Kingdom we cherish the various cultures and identities which contribute to the whole. A cultural face off between the UDA and the provos will achieve nothing.

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