We live in a different Northern Ireland today. We don’t waken up to reports of another man or woman shot dead or to reports of another bombing. The guns have been ‘put beyond use’ for the greater part on all sides.
Many minds have not been decommissioned, minds which have not arrived at a point yet where they accept the principle of equality or parity of esteem. This ongoing blindness is not confined to one section of the community. The incapacity of so many to see another person’s point of view is deeply disturbing.
Currently there is a competition in mainstream unionism as to which faction can move further to the right.
Why can unionism not get it when it comes to equality and parity of esteem?
Why does unionism not recognise when justice is visited upon it?
Arising from the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement Unionism can point to the following pluses from a unionist perspective: the IRA have gone away: the IRA have put their guns beyond use: Northern Ireland is secure within the UK as long as a majority desires and Republicans have bought into policing in accepting the PSNI.
Despite all this we have a First Minister who repeatedly speaks as the leader of his party, neglecting to take cognisance of the fact that he is ‘our’ First Minister, entrusted to speak and represent all the community.
The demographics, the make up of the community in Northern Ireland are changing. Mr Robinson and colleagues still speak as if Northern Ireland is a homogeneous society.
Oh that the case was such.
It is not. The census figures speak for themselves. Diversity and parity esteem ought to mean exactly that. No caveats, ifs or buts.
Despite the raft of advantages deriving from both the GFA and St Andrews Agreement from a Unionist perspective no wholesome embracing of the other aspects of those accords has not been forthcoming from mainstream Unionism.
Parity of esteem and equality have not been espoused by mainstream unionism. When the Robinsons, Nesbitts, Campbells etc speak about “our people” not accepting this that and the other, they mean Protestants and Unionists.
Those who show generosity, who reach out the hand of friendship to nationalists find themselves on the sunny side of the latch: the McCreas, McCallisters etc.
There is no tolerance of liberalism in unionism in the 21st Century.
The Mid Ulster by election as addressed by the two mainstream unionist parties was proof positive of a narrow sectarian head count. Should the SDLP have stood down to guarantee a Nationalist result how could any right thinking constitutionalist have tolerated this narrow hubristic and irredentist nonsense?
It was an unpardonable decision to refuse to develop a common sports stadium on the Maze Prison site or on the North Shore. To pump millions of pounds into developing Casement Park, Ravenhill Park and Windsor Park in the name of sport amounts to perpetuating difference and division.
Professor Richard Harrison Head of Queen’s University Management School, who is a stranger to advisors to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness is regularly invited to advise governments around the world on post troubles regeneration where ethnic and cultural differences obtained.
The driver at the heart of his remedial action is the ending of duplication in societies. He contends that it makes no sense to have new libraries, schools, medical centres etc built on the Shankill Road and on the Falls Road. He argues this is contrary to sound economic practice. Secondly he argues this is not dissimilar to building more walls of division.
Professor Harrison is strong on establishing points of natural intercommunity contact, the Healthcentre, library, sports centres etc.
What is the point of Peter Robinson from time to time talking about ending the ”us and them’ mentality when so many other actions and his many statements fly in the face of this?
With the first beat of a Loyalist drum or the waving of a Union flag and Peter Robinson’s atavism surfaces. Leadership is for big people. It is not too late for mainstream Unionism to make amends.
In this frame of mind there is no hope of dealing with the past: Change demands of each individual making a conscious effort to think of his fellow human being regardless of creed, class or religion.
It obliges me to employ a protestant where I can to give witness to my bonafides as a pluralist. Mouthing the words of equality and parity of esteem must be matched by deeds and that goes for Peter Robinson, for me and for you.
The freedom to walk down or drive down unhindered the park and roads I use is one which I treasure borne out of my experience of having spent some time in totalitarian states like Syria and Ethiopia: we can cement our freedom through good practices of forgetting about self aggrandisement and choosing instead to use our talents and resources to ameliorate the life of all.
It is not all about Peter Robinson, the DUP or about me.
We are in this together.