a feeling within a number of unionist constituencies
that the nationalist community is euphoric over the
'gains' being made by Sinn Fein as a result of both
the Belfast Agreement and concessions granted outside
the Agreement. This perception, together with the
undeniable fact that Sinn Fein appears to be riding
the crest of a political wave, has led to a great
deal of frustration and despondency within large sections
of the unionist community.
perceptions are very often real for those who hold
them, they are not always grounded in fact. It must
be admitted that the revisionist leadership of Sinn
Fein is making claims that, if true, would give nationalists
reason to be jubilant The spurious claims being made
by Sinn Fein that the Belfast Agreement is an agreed
transition from British Rule to Irish Rule is a key
source of concern within the unionist community. Nationalists
have been assured that the United Ireland for which
the IRA waged a twenty-five year armed struggle will
be achieved by 2016. They have been told that the
hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising will be celebrated
in a 32-County Irish Republic and, if Gerry Adams
is to be believed, the countdown has already begun.
such as this are sufficient to give nationalists a
sense of achievement and unionists a sense of despair.
That is precisely what such claims are intended to
do. At a recent workshop attended by loyalists and
republicans, several of the Sinn Fein supporters talked
matter-of-factly about how things would be in the
forthcoming United Ireland. The only problem that
they saw with implementation of the Belfast Agreement
was that the fact the unionists who signed up to it
had not prepared their people for the transition to
a United Ireland. They couldnt believe that
unionists saw the Agreement as the settled will of
the people rather than the start of a process that
would lead to a 32-county settlement.
all republicans are so easily convinced. Anthony Mc
Intyre, whose republican credentials cannot be questioned,
sees little substance in the predictions of Sinn Fein.
In a recent article, Mc Intyre asserts If anything
is certain it is this - there will be no United Ireland
by 2016. There will be plenty of talk about transition
and moving into the final phase of the struggle and
so on, but just as the 19th century art critic said
of Berlin, it is always in the process of becoming
but never in the state of being.
I see it, the hype about a transition to a United
Ireland by 2016 is aimed at diverting attention away
from the fact that after twenty-five years of fighting
for an end to British rule and a further eight years
of political wrangling, Sinn Fein has actually ended
up helping to administer British rule in Northern
Ireland. And dont they love it! If being sucked
in to the British political establishment gives Sinn
Fein supporters cause to celebrate, why not indulge
them. They have to live with the contradiction, not
we have the symbolic battles that Sinn Fein indulges
in as a means of gaining hollow symbolic victories.
The hype over North-South bodies is much ado about
nothing. It simply hides the fact that after twenty-five
years of bloody conflict to get rid of the border,
Sinn Fein are locked in to cross-border bodies. Am
I naive or something? Does the very term cross-border
not suggest that there still is a border? Why should
those who endorsed a violent campaign to end partition
rejoice in institutions that reinforce partition?
More importantly from a unionist perspective, why
should those who resisted such a campaign feel despondent
that the border not only remains intact but has been
ratified as a concrete political and constitutional
the one issue that really rankles the unionist community
is Sinn Feins preoccupation with flags and emblems.
Nationalists have succeeded to some extent in having
British symbols removed from a number of public places
and this may give them some sense of achievement.
But what does it really mean in terms of substantial
change? Is the Crown Court any less the Crown Court
because it lacks a symbol? Is the law that is administered
within that Court any less British than it was before?
Flag or no flag, a Government building remains a Government
building and departments within that building continue
to implement British legislation and are still accountable
to the British Crown.
of Sinn Fein's many demands is the right to fly the
Irish Tricolour alongside the Union Flag on Government
buildings. They havent achieved this, and are
not likely to. But it gives nationalists an issue
to campaign on and unionists an issue to get agitated
over. Has any nationalist ever asked why Sinn Fein
would want to fly the Irish Flag from a British Government
building on any of the official days designated by
the British Government? Given the fact that Sinn Fein
politicians boycott functions attended by members
of the Royal Family it seems strange to me that they
are serious about wanting to honour the British Monarch
on her birthday by flying the Irish Flag alongside
the Union Flag?
speaking, I believe that Sinn Fein's preoccupation
with flags and emblems has more to do with wanting
to remove any visible sign of their failure to break
the link with Britain than it has to do with republican
ideals. Having lost the constitutional battle they
have resorted to agitating for the removal of the
symbols that remind them of their failure. British
symbols are a stark reminder that after a sustained
campaign to break the Union, Northern Ireland remains
British and that is hard for nationalists to stomach.
The removal of those symbols from certain public buildings
may help alleviate the pain of failure but it is nothing
for nationalists to be jubilant about or for unionists
to be despondent about.
fully appreciate that for many unionists the issue
of symbols is very important and I believe that every
effort should be made to resist Sinn Feins programme
of disculturation. But at the end of the day the substance
of my British citizenship is more valuable than the
symbols. My British identity is rooted and grounded
in something more substantial and enduring than symbols.
It is not something that can be plucked from the heart
as a plaque is torn from a wall or a flag from a flagpole.
In spite of Sinn Feins outward show of euphoria,
and the despondency that this is generating within
certain unionist circles, I remain a confident Unionist.
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