Take this anonymous offering, posted below a piece which states (on the basis of newspaper sales) that Northern Ireland contains more nationalists and fewer unionists today than it did one year ago.
“Part of the problem for the Protestant community is that they have been told endlessly that they are British - and that in a way that excludes any element of Irishness. I think that this leads to a disengagement from life here in Ireland. No wonder that so many go to University in Britain and stay there. No wonder that so many buy 'national' British newspapers instead of provincial ones. If one is going to be British one might as well go straight to the source.”
What a dispiriting attitude to identity, and yet one that is clearly informed by an identifiably nationalist understanding of the concept. Whilst cleverer nationalists might be more adept at obfuscating this constricting element of their view of identity, which the commenter asserts so baldly, frequently the sentiment is, at its core, the same.
The comment above takes umbrage at ‘the Protestant community’ (by which it presumably means unionists, if unionism is even deemed to exist beyond defining an ethno religious group) describing themselves as British, identifying with British culture and institutions and therefore (as the author proposes) disengaging ‘from life here in Ireland’. Ironically it determines that the source of this ‘false consciousness’ is that unionists have ‘been told endlessly that they are British’ (presumably erroneously in the commenter’s view) and it alleges that it is a particular brand of Britishness which excludes Irishness! So the comment’s author is decrying the exclusive nature (as he sees it) of British identity whilst he simultaneously seeks to deprive Irish people of their right to consider themselves British!
The core accusation that unionists ‘disengage’ from life in Ireland is reflected in the Slugger piece. Given that Northern Ireland remains within the United Kingdom and given that unionists are involved in the government, businesses; indeed all aspects of every day life in Northern Ireland, we can dispense swiftly with that hypothesis. It is refined somewhat on Slugger, framed as disengagement from ‘the state to the south’ and from nationalists. The sentiment is the same.
Although the commenter on ‘Ulster’s Doomed’ rails against unionists who disown their Irishness and the Republican blogger on Slugger is resentful of unionists who claim the term, the implication from both is that engagement with nationalism increases one’s authentic Irishness, whilst engagement with the United Kingdom decreases it. If the Irish identity is seen as being capable of accommodating unionism and the British identity at all, it is something of a sliding scale, whereby nationalism represents the epitome of Irishness and unionism is its antithesis. How Irish you are depends on how much Irish nationalist culture and how many Irish nationalist assumptions you assimilate, rather than how Irish you feel.
The point, of course, is that an inclusive view of identity does not set out to cast doubt on the authenticity of someone’s felt identity, nor does it attempt to interrogate aggressively the reasons which might motivate someone to identify themselves in a particular way. Whether a nationalist is telling me that I am not British, or whether he is implying that I am not Irish, he is, in both cases, attempting to prescribe my identity to fit his own limited conception of what an identity should entail.
Unionism, at its best, is better equipped to accommodate a broader, more generous understanding of identity. That isn't a weapon. It's an inherent strength of the philosophy.