So, this weekend, suitably be-anoraked Irish Nationalists gathered in the Three Arena, Dublin, to begin what they hope will be open dialogue in preparation for an inevitable action towards the political unification of Ireland as a state. It apparently didn’t appear to them that the conversation they were having – about how to make Unionists accept that a future annexation of their country by the nation which until recently had an unlawful territorial claim on it would be in their best interests – was happening at literally the same moment Vladimir Putin was drawing up the legislation to annex regions of Ukraine.
The factions represented, occasionally heckling one another but broadly trying to stay on the one road together, seem confident that the offer they eventually seek to make to the Unionist population is both generous and reasonable. They are also confident that, should they succeed in establishing what they like to call in the South a ‘Citizen’s Convention’, they will have the diplomatic and governmental authority of the Irish State backing the plan.
Make no mistake – the people who gathered in the hall on Saturday are blood and soil nationalists, whose fundamental aspiration is to condemn Northern Ireland not just to the history books but to the memory hole – no aspiration to the contrary of a United Ireland is tolerable to them, and they believe the job of unionists is to get out of the way and accept the hand of history and their manifest destiny.
They didn’t get quite what they wanted. Unionists told them they were washing their hair and would not be attending and the Alliance Party, uncharacteristically, declined to attend. Good. Long may that entirely rational assessment of the opinion of their constituents continue.
The good news is that the rally attendees’ misconceived idea of what Unionism can and should be makes it easy to come to our own conclusion about the job of Unionists. The job of Unionists is now to utterly reject the ‘offer’ and the ‘conversation’ out of hand and paint a vivid picture for the political parties of the UK just how messy it would be to offload the people of Northern Ireland on Ireland, just how much trouble and dissent unionism could foment to oppose the loss the thing represents. The job of Unionism is to state with clarity that the people of Northern Ireland will not be treated as the people of Hong Kong were.
The job of Unionism is to reject the premise that there’s anything essentially sensible about creating a political union on an island just because it’s an island. There’s nothing self-evident about this, no matter how doggedly the lumpen activist might try to convince one of it over a pint. Why is it inherently sensible that a landmass should unite under one political system? Should the USA and Canada just accept they’re one country? Whose National Anthem should they sing? Should France, Germany, Spain and Portugal just accept that they are one people, abandon their cultures and accept the unutterably dull argument nationalists are trying to forward on this island? So little time, so much Lebensraum.
Jim O’Callaghan, an ostensibly avuncular and effective Fianna Fáil politician who is deeply scared to be seen near Micheál Martin recently because Martin is doing a fairly good job as Taoiseach and Jim O’Callaghan would like to be Taoiseach himself, told the audience that he would like to be the Taoiseach of a new United Ireland. There’s a surprise.
Unionists would less likely vote Fianna Fáil than they would defecate in their own hands and clap, and with O’Callaghan as leader they’d be right.
The job of Unionism is to wake up fellow unionists to the coming onslaught of faux reasonableness and the affectation of concern for the cultural wellbeing of what people attending these rallies hope are Irishmen-and-Irishwomen-To-Be.
The job of unionism is to explain carefully, calmly and clearly to our fellow citizens that that Nice Mr O’Callaghan and Mr Varadkar and, astonishingly, third rate actor Jimmy Nesbitt are conniving to sever the United Kingdom and have us accept our fate as candidate Irish Citizens. There’s nothing nice about the campaign they are beginning, to wipe out our identity, annex our country and force us into the inevitable re-education. The message and lesson of the weekend was that they would get us in the long grass come what may, and that it would be terribly useful if, until they get the 50%+1, committed political activists prepared to give up their Saturday for a political rally could just be nice with the prods in the North.
I am not a prod, and I’m not in the North. I’ve lived in the Republic of Ireland for some 15 years now, and I have witnessed this insidious shift towards a stalking horse nationalism which pretends it means us no harm. It means us every harm.
Unionists must make it clear to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the treaty the UK signed in good faith in 1998 provides clear structure for any decision they may wish to consider making on any future constitutional change. We must embolden the UK government to recognise that as the sovereign state they cannot be hectored or diverted by the Irish state or cagoul-sporting Anglophobes gathered in an auditorium.
And we must demonstrate through certainty of purpose that our practical, valuable union means more to us than some half-baked notion of geographical unity which can never be achieved and that risks civil strife and a return to lethal conflict.
We must show that the projected risks to stability from any prospective constitutional shift are guarantees. We must reject the premise that we’ll just do what we’re told. And we must be absolutely clear with the UK government and the Irish state that we see what’s happening and we’re prepared to make it very uncomfortable indeed.