Dealing With Unavoidable Reality – by Colm Dore

Social share:


The confluence of Brexit with politics in the north has been a process of clarifying reality.

Specifically, those who were oblivious to the Good Friday Agreement, and those who tried to carry on in denial of it, are in a process of encountering it.

Elements of the British establishment are finding that the GFA is a key constitutional text which is shaping Brexit. Fantasies arising from the imperial past are encountering responsibilities arising from it.

Historical exceptionalism and domination have similarly determined how Unionist parties are reacting to change. They responded to the recent open letter from Irish citizens in the north to the Taoiseach by retreading an old approach.

Engagement with the content of the letter was typically eschewed by those who sought to contain and delegitimise the signatories on the basis of their being, in some way, beyond the Pale.

That containment exercise is defeated by its own logic. Characterising the range of signatories as some derivative of woodkerne – “Sinn Féin supporters” – merely aligns the letter with, perhaps, the largest party in Ireland.

Even in the northern state (which was designed specifically to prevent anything like this ever happening), that party’s vote is almost at parity with that of the leading Unionist party.

Dismissing the letter on this basis thus dismisses reality.

That may explain the felt need of some to escape from the present into near-feudal boasts about being “strong” and having “done over” old enemies.

At this stage, that is perhaps closer to pathology than politics.

The intervention of Trevor Ringland, a frequently cited exemplar of “moderate unionism”, may fuel discussion of the meaning of that term.

It has been said that Unionist politics has long exhibited a sense of entitlement to police the Other. Arguably, this strays into McCarthyism with Ringland’s call for each signatory of the letter to publicly repudiate historical non-state violence.

He describes the content of the letter as “narrow” and “exclusive” but, tellingly, cites no examples.

The content of the letter is both progressive and wholly mainstream. It does not evoke any standards or rights which are not well established in the rest of Ireland and in Britain.

As with civil rights in the 1960s, the north of Ireland is in a bizarre scenario whereby non-unionists are advocating for people governed from Britain to have rights which are taken for granted in Britain.

That points to the question of whether Unionism is about union with Britain or about domination.

This is traceable to Orange Order opposition to the Act of Union to oppose a form of regulatory alignment – Catholic Emancipation.

In colonial Ireland, rights were subsumed by the currents of domination and subordination, rendering them as sectional interests.

That political culture has not gone away. In the last twenty years it was expressed when the loss of “our police” was cited as a concession which Unionists made for peace.

Rights and the implementation of agreements continue to be reduced to the status of sectional demands, not least in the framing of media coverage and “middle-ground” politics.

Is it accurate to say that a party has outmanoeuvred another on GFA delivery? The GFA is essentially the constitution of the place. Is it not more accurate to characterise its delivery as a matter for society?

Those who engaged in fake power-sharing did so at the expense of society, not that of their opponents. They “ran rings around” society. When they held their noses to partake of institutions, they disdained the owners of agreements and resultant institutions – the people.

That means all the people, not the untenable, sectional, view expressed in the old boast “We Are The People” which still echoes in imperious Brexiteering claims to speak for a society which voted to remain in the EU.

2017 closes with the unavoidable reality that a Brexit deal is only possible with commitments on the border in Ireland.

Perhaps 2018 will see acceptance of the unavoidable reality that sustainable GFA institutions are only possible with demonstrable commitments to GFA principles.

Social share:

About Author

Avatar photo

I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Jake Mac Siacais (@MacSiacais) on

    Beyond the Pale is a very apt phrase to use in this piece. It is a phrase that goes to the heart of the matter. in Gaelic culture those ‘Lasmuigh den Pháil’ Beyond the Pale were an honoured class while for the colonisers/’civilisers’ they were savages and outlaws. So in a perverse sort of way unioinsts ‘denigrating’ the letter’s signatories are in fact endorsing and legitimising their position. Ba chóir go raibh muid uilig lasmuigh den pháil, we should all be beyond the pale as the GFA has consigned the Pale and the pale’s writ to the dustbin of history.

  2. The GFA is dead, de facto. Unionists had no option but to sign up to it. Ever since, they have sought to undermine it, both the spirit of it, and through their participation in the institutions set up under it.

    Unionist objectives remain unchanged, and will continue do so even in the event of a border poll which supported the nationalist cause. Does anyone really believe that Unionists are going to roll over and accept rule from Dublin? You must be joking!

    Unionists have made sure that the institutions – the Assembly and the East-West and North-South governmental structures never functioned as intended.

    NI is ungovernable.The best that can be hoped in lieu of government, is an efficient independent administration. We have the bones of this already and it should be built up. Its workings would be overseen by a small Board (max seven) of MPs and border county TDs. Not perfect, but better than nothing.

  3. The perceptive advice of Eddie “The Gun Runner ” Carson to Unionists of the day – that in order to secure the future of the North as a viable entity then it was imperative to make Nationalists at home in the North – is even more valid today. That advice was given when Unionists had an
    in-built, gerrymandered, engineered electoral majority of approximately 65/35 – today electorally it is very, very close to 50/50 and Nationalists are destined to become the electoral majority by the

    The strategy of ignoring Nationalists whilst screaming “No Surrender” has not served Unionists well in the past – the new strategy of abusing Nationalists will not work either and will only serve to further energize Nationalists.

    A fully inclusive society in the North with equal respect to Nationalist and Unionist identities as explicitly laid out agreed at the GFA is the only way forward.

    As an Irishman it saddens me to see my fellow-Irishmen being knifed in the back and constantly humiliated by a British Conservative overnment that has so clearly demonstrated that it’s only interest is in using them to keep in power.

    “I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.”

    Eddie “The Gun Runner” Carson had that right too.

  4. Once more Unionism overreacts to mild statement from Nationalism. Their behaviour, their intransigent opposition to an ILA, is alienating Catholic Unionists and the non-designating “center”. As evidenced by this year’s elections and recent LT poll.

    Unionism is a minority, reliant on center and Catholic Unionists. Their opposition to everything the center and Nationalism wants will continue to alienate them. Any friction in the border from Brexit will be even more alienating.

    It is only a matter of 5 to 15 years before NI is done and dusted.

Leave A Reply