Reflecting on history to plot the future – By David McNarry

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Image courtesy of RTÉ

Ultimately the prospect of a settled future cannot be designed around a manifesto of divergent staging posts. The longer the fear of doing something about what must be done,  the longer we are prisoners of political inertia. So what is going to change the agenda from demand exercises, to conclusive decision making on what we want for our Country? 

Fifty one years ago in his forgotten ‘crossroads’ BBC broadcast Terence O’Neill asked this question – “ What kind of Ulster do you want ? A happy and respected Province, in good standing with the rest of the United Kingdom or a place continually torn apart by riots and demonstrations and regarded by the rest of Britain as a political outcast“. 

The then Northern Ireland Prime Minister was setting out a challenge within a British dimension. Thirty years later with little change but extra urgency the question of what do you want was asked again in the referendum which lead to the Belfast Agreement. Today twenty one years on from the agreement few will disagree we have difficulty in answering the original O’Neill question. 

Where there was only a British dimension now there is an Irish dimension. Somehow a Northern Irish dimension eludes us as part of the solution. Disappointingly , constitutional nationalism which once got around swearing allegiance to the Monarch and took their rightful hard won seats in the House of Commons is not where nationalists want to be. They are more at home when bashing the Brits and bashing Brexit as the nationalist pastime. Yet if nationalism would look closely and engage unionism they will find it approachable and amenable to making constitutional politics work for all. So what kind of country do you want – one where the barriers have created a contagious ‘them and us ‘ virus or a country which demands better? 

Unionists suspect the nationalist agenda includes manipulating rejection of the Belfast Agreement. Despite their claims to the contrary, surely this is a fair question to ask everyone – ‘do you acknowledge, respect and support the constitutional consent principle‘ ? If not then what is the point in talking anymore? There will be no room for compromise and less room for the politically homeless fence sitters .

“What kind of Northern Ireland do you want? Can the solution be woven together when we the Northern Irish choose between reconciling the British and the Irish identities or welching on the Belfast Agreement? Mark my word it will be a choice to be taken through truth not deceit.

Making politics work for the benefit of Northern Ireland in particular and the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic in general by laying down the legacy terms of the Belfast Agreement to enjoy not regret sounds like an outcome with we can all live. It has a ‘count me in‘ ring to it. The type of country we deserve and should not destroy ever. Is that the kind of Northern Ireland ‘we’ want?      

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  1. Gerry Mander on

    God bless Captain O’Neill (R.I.P.)… the best Prime Minister the province ever had; someone who genuinely tried to reform and change the socio-political landscape for the better; and someone who, had he been heeded and not hounded out of government by the headbanger wing of unionism, would have prevented not only the blood-soaked nightmare that followed, but the never-ending political situation we’ve all been living in since 1972… certainly we’d still have had the majoritarian Stormont Parliament for the last 47 years, albeit in a reformed iteration.

    It’s a cruel irony of history that Paisley will be remembered as the great peacemaker whilst O’Neill becomes a largely obscure figure and a mere historical footnote.

    Fate sure has a twisted sense of humour, sometimes, alas…

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