Years ago I learnt about the importance of small ‘u’ unionists. People I know, admire and consider fully paid up unionists.Their numbers are significant and their contributions over decades have helped hold together the fabric of civic unionism. At the time of my involvement in the discussions mentioned here and since many small ‘u’ unionists have been supportive. The wholesome aspect of their dignity and courage demonstrates, if it was ever in doubt that they are the ‘silent majority ‘.
In 1980 Bill Craig, David Trimble and yours truly co-wrote a discussion paper ‘ Towards the Better Government of Ulster ‘. Here is an extract: ‘We recognise that it will not be possible to secure positive support for the institutions of Northern Ireland as part of the U.K. from those whose objective is to realise some all Ireland State. Their right to pursue that object peacefully is acknowledged. It is not our desire to exclude any person genuinely concerned to advance the interests of the people within the status quo and we would hope all could co-operate within the democratic process and so make responsible government, something desired by the vast majority in Northern Ireland, a success to be proud of .’
In 1986 Harry West, Austin Ardill and myself laid out ‘A Northern Ireland Charter, a set of three proposals, A Northern Ireland Dimension, A Framework for a Devolved Legislature and Dealing with the Anglo Irish Agreement’. In the document we said, ‘There is a pressing need to offer real hope for a new Northern Ireland, that both traditions require guarantees that neither will be pushed into an unacceptable accommodation with the other tradition and both require formal and effective expression of their dignity, legitimacy and rights and there is a need for all who wish to help build a new Northern Ireland by constitutional means to have a meaningful stake in the in the decision making process’.
So junk the notion that there is/was/ has been no progressive thinking inside the unionist box. 40 years ago perceived hardliners were offering a genuine hand of friendship to constitutional nationalists. How was it received? I recall that when a few SDLP members of some note associated themselves in public with the Charter Proposals—they met me to say “Hume cut off our balls”. (copies of both papers are available at the Linenhall Library.)
Fast forward to 2020. Unionists have decisions to make. Something is wrong when unionists see pretend freedom fighters, constitutional dissidents and scholars rolled into one excused duty from helping to make N.I. U.K. a success story. Unionists will protect the Union and be treated properly as British citizens in N.I-U.K. There are no, repeat no true unionists prepared to ditch their British citizenship for Irish nationality. So we wish that nauseating nationalists would disappear across the border and let us Northern Irelanders build a quality and way of life based on togetherness, otherwise the separatists will have their way, because unionists will make the inevitable consequences of separation permanent. What else can happen when nationalism has decided to opt out of the affairs of N.I.U.K!
The Provo war of atrocities was only ever about ‘Brits Out.’ So too is the mantra for any other guise of the I.R.A. Sinn Fein’s political process is also only about ‘Brits Out’.
In contrast unionism is now and I emphasise now reformed and to some tamed, about inclusion. Unionists are for keeping people in and belonging to N.I.U.K. Such a statement could not have been made were it not for unionism having settled on the Belfast Agreement. That it is offered as a unionist consensus statement – believe me is one hell of a journey for unionism to have travelled and which cannot be rejected.