“McGuinness was the protagonist – Robinson was an appendage” – by Brian John Spencer

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At the State Banquet McGuinness was the protagonist. Robinson was an appendage – a spectator at best.

That’s the difference between the two. McGuinness is the true leader, ready and able to take really hard and dangerous decisions. Ready and able to create new realities and bring his people with him. You can feel the pleasure and sense of shared goodwill across the island of Ireland.

Robinson just is – Old, cantankerous, miserable.

Just as you can’t bomb a million unionists into a United Ireland, you can’t Twaddell nationalists into supporting the Union.

Nationalism gets this. Unionism doesn’t. Nationalism has a plan. Unionism doesn’t. Nationalism has reformed and evolved and adapted to the age. Unionism has stayed still.  Nationalism is ready to smack down violent republicans, pursue Irish unity by peaceful, orderly, democratic and positive means.

Unionism has capitulated to the extremists. The lamentably ignorant dictate events. Unionism is happy to entertain, oblige and even flirt with militant loyalists. Unionism is happy to entertain and oblige the most outlandish and errant nonsense.

We hear “culture war!” Yet facts say that loyalist culture is “flourishing”. We see loyalists expatiate endlessly on their many grievances. Facts show these fears are “phantom”.

Unionism has uttered not one word of reproach against the most promiscuous and indiscriminate violence and civil disorder. Unionism has uttered not one word of correction against the incredibly self-defeating campaign of unfounded propaganda. The most hackneyed, hollow and meaningless slogans are allowed to pass and propagate unchecked and unchallenged.

Unionism has uttered not one word of criticism against parades described as “intimidatory” and as a “parody of culture.”

By failing to correct and inform its base, Unionism is betraying its own people and its own cause. Those believing absurdities could commit atrocities.

The DUP in league with street-fighting loyalism have alienated every moderate, pragmatic, liberal and outward looking unionist. Intimidated out of the process and bullied into silence, the moderate unionist either leaves or keeps his/her head down. By this campaign of fear-induced censorship, sense and sanity are kept out, and the delinquency endures.

Unionism is happy to sell out every last sane unionist young person, wave them away in their droves, and get down and dirty with the forces of belligerence leaving the Hannah Nelsons out in the cold.

Externally, Unionism has done nothing but habitually, routinely and serially bring Unionism, Northern Ireland and Britain into disgrace and disrepute and incur the contempt of the world at large, never mind Catholic nationalists.

Here’s the bottom line: Catholics are central to Unionism. The material wellbeing of the Union is entirely dependent on the material support of Catholics. Catholics will outnumber Protestants. It is inexorable and inevitable.

There are two questions therefore. One: will unionism be consumed by the fanatics, remain insular and go down fighting with Ulster nationalism? Or two: will unionism contain the fanatics, adapt to the 21st century and make itself an open house for Catholics?

One is easy. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Unionism’s inability to lead has created Jamie Bryson. Who needs enemies when you have the worst elements of Loyalism and the Orange as friends? As the News Letter said: “Loyalists have allowed Sinn Fein to depict themselves as the reasonable democrats.”

Two is hard. Two requires courage, balls and bold leadership.

Firstly, it requires evidence-based Loyalism, sense, not hysterics, conspiracy and siren voices, a political education programme even. It requires unionism to repudiate, vanquish and face down violent Loyalism and unfounded propaganda, an end to the absurdities before we see an atrocity. It’s time to end the exemption, exceptionalism and the black hole of accountability on loyalist behaviour.

Secondly, it requires making an unremittingly positive case for the Union. Gerry Lynch said:

“How many… Nationalists have been persuaded they’re better off in the Union by political Unionism? I rest my case.”

Unionism must step out and beyond the traditional radar, explain this to the people, and promote a confident, compelling, comfortable agenda – for everyone, Protestant, Catholic and non-believer.

To conclude, a profound ignorance and inwardness have long befallen unionism. In almost every instance of leadership, reform and progress, the hand has been an external one, whether from London, Washington, Brussels, Luxembourg or Stasbourg.

Unionism needs to step back, and take some context and perspective. Politics is a battle of ideas.

As David McKittrick said: “One of the inbuilt flaws of unionist political leaderships is their innovation deficiency. Very little in the way of new ideas or bold moves has originated in that quarter, which helps explain why many unionists lack a sense of ownership in the peace process.”

Externally Unionism needs to understand that history is contentious and that you win arguments by logic and argument, not by horse-throated hectoring and being the thought police. Internally, it needs also to tolerate and facilitate more debate and wide ranging views.

Brian Feeny said, any unionist who errs from the hard-line is routinely slandered, smeared and maligned into irrelevance with the call of LUNDY! That is, of course, if they’re not physically intimidated or actually assaulted.

Unionist culture and identity, like everything, should be fluid, changing and adaptive. It is not monolithic, static and stuffed into a bottle of formaldehyde. This requires leadership. Liam Clarke has repeatedly called for leadership. In summer 2013 he called for a statesman. When the Haass talks started he said ‘The time for leadership has arrived.’ Nothing changes. As he himself knows unionism is limp and paralysed by the mad-men. It’s McGuinness who’s cutting the statesman.

Jim Allister is right; the Good Friday Agreement is looking like a rail-road to a United Ireland. Keep doing what unionism is doing and it will be. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s that way because he and other unionists have promoted the most unwelcoming, out-dated and flat-out parody of what it is to be British. On almost every last policy issue, he and others are glaringly out of step with London. Jim Gibney was on the money when he wrote, ‘Queen Elizabeth filling unionist leadership void.’

Project fear hasn’t worked. It’s going to kick-off this summer and I’m scared. Something has to change. The Union is not a coercive Union. It is an open, free, liberal and tolerant one. The Act of Union created exactly that, a Union, not incorporation. Nothing is inevitable. It can go either way. But let’s have the argument on fact and reason, not horse-throated hectoring, violence, bullying and fear. Peter Robinson needs a signature achievement – a McGuinness headline and a bolt of boldness. As Newton Emerson said, he needs to follow his deputy’s lead. The opportunity is there. Make the unremittingly positive case for the Union.


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About Author

Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.


  1. Brian – the past couple of years have been about playing to a small crowd and a small mood. Trimble did some heavy lifting in the Good Friday Agreement period – and that is often forgotten. You can’t build peace trying to pretend you’re not in government with republicans. If there’s no ringmaster the clowns will run the circus.

  2. Brian, that piece of work should be required reading for every pupil in Northern Ireland, with no upper age restriction on the pupil.

  3. A very honest and sensible piece.

    But as for the case for the union, Brian; look over to Scotland and see how flimsy it is when all is said and done.

    It’s about money, and little else. Scaremongering is all unionism has to offer Scotland, and the north of Ireland.

  4. SpencerWatch on

    What an utter idiotically smug useful idiot this Spencer guy is! I think he needs to get out more and stop reading clueless Republican blogs or going to “conflict resolution” seminars. Has he no clue to understand what is really happening behind the scenes? The reality is that the entire morally repugnant charade of the appeasement process has been driven by the only party in the whole thing with any power to do anything – the British government. The whole “process” has been about stroking the egos of IRA terrorists to unnecessarily smooth along their surrender after military and intelligence annihilation after losing the latest campaign in their dirty little war. Don’t blame local Unionists for not being involved in the whole farce and for not playing along with a vocal low-IQ libtards who seem to dominate in our media talking up nothing other than useless shallow platitudes and seeing nothing other than the face value of this nonsense.

  5. JBS – I think in your indignation at Unionism you are rather too soft on the Nationalist side of the equation. I don’t think that SF are necessarialy doing anything well, or indeed anything much at all, beyond their own narrow agenda. It is more that the DUP have lost any sense of direction both as a party and in their politics that they make the Republican/Nationalist position seem the lesser of two evils.

    As our self appointed moral guardians the DUP have been shown as greedy, ‘keep it in the family’ politicians both in those they choose to stand at elections and in the employment of family members, and where on occasion they have been shown to be the moral hypocrites they are. The DUP has nowhere to go. The mass support for flags issue and parades which they claim from the Unionist family is simply not there and they are happy to have the support of militant loyalism and paramilitary muscle and intimidation to ensure their writ still runs. But even that militant grouping has turned on them.

    However we need to be clear that Republican/Nationalist politics has little to offer ordinary people as well. In terms of a United Ireland that day will I believe eventually come, but not because of anything SF or the IRA believe they achieved. If anything they have set it back generations. The desperation by SF and Republicans to re-write the context of the past is to make some sense of the serial human rights abuses meted out by the IRA and other paramilitaries over 40 years and for what? To sit impotent in a UK devolved power sharing government, paid for by British money. Furthermore the SF socialist policies of everything in public ownership with a big public sector overseen by politicians, who also decide the governance mechanisms and where everyone is equal is la la land politics. Both the DUP and SF are at heart ultra conservatives.

    Sadly there is very little distinction between the big parties and the UUP and SDLP. When the chips are down on some constitutional parading or justice matter they just become a ‘mini me’ of the bigger parties.

    So for those commentators who deride the liberal non voter tell us please where we should turn? There is no way to replace the parties in power and they know that. All the voters can do is to vote for more of the same. Until the numbers of non-voters rises substantially above the voting class, then nothing is going to change. There is no room for new politics in the GFA model. A unionist bigots charter or the starry plough will trump it every time.

    And yes…the British and Irish governments have a major part to play, but perhaps stability at any price is better than a devil you don’t know. A competent Secretary of State would be a start.

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