Hello all, I trust you’re keeping well. I am pleased to announce my first ever guest blogger, Cleenish, a native of the west of Ulster! Both he and I have been in contact in relation to a number of matters of mutual interest on Twitter of all places where he drew my attention to the fact that one of the problems we have been facing as Nationalists is the seeming and real lack of cross border cooperation in trying to make the border in effect melt away, to stop thinking of ourselves as a people apart from the Irish nation if you will and to try and start thinking of solving very real problems we have on this island in an all-Ireland manner. Rather than my blabbering here is the first part, the next part with some details and proposals to chew on will be posted later in the week…
In writing this entry/op (if that is right term?) I very much feel out of my comfort zone, as it’s an entirely new and uncomfortable experience, I am much happier reading other people’s thoughts and either nodding my head in sage agreement or stifling an odd snort or two. Airing your views to a wider audience is very strange and unsettling experience. Although if on reading the piece below is it gives you some pause for thought then great, as that is the main motivation. All in all I welcome FC’s invitation for a slot on his blog, or that he may regret it!
The reason I agreed to write this is due to a growing realisation and conviction that as a Northern Irish nationalists I/we have become conditioned to think in a certain ways and to impose upon ourselves limitations on our expectations and perhaps more disturbingly to see outcomes on services & policy largely within an essentially Unionist prism, where NI the ‘country/nation’ is the predominate concept and perhaps increasingly imbedded in the C/N community?
Before my father died we had time to talk over some of his experiences as a youngster and as a young man growing up in Fermanagh, a nationalist majority county nestled amongst other majority nationalist counties. Yet he (and his friends etc) felt that they were hemmed in on all sides by the Unionist authorities; physically by border customs/checkpoints and within the county by the local Unionist militia/police. It was visibly and physiologically a Unionist construct, a cage for their Irish nationalist neighbours and friends, with their sense of nationhood submerged and ignored, cut off from the wider Irish nation.
Although we have, thankfully, progressed from the cage my father lived in and has now become a matter of history, have we been seduced into creating a unionist/British cage of our own thinking, in essentially thinking in unionist/British terms and unwittingly placing limitations on our expectations as members of the Irish nation? Perhaps I am wrong but I get the sense that we have or are travelling down that road.
Northern Ireland has been in existence for nearly 100 years, all of us has been born and have grown up in a NI and British context. During that time we created a community within with the trinity of church, school and Irish sports/culture (GAA, music, language etc) being our haven for our expression of Irishness and of difference. During that time we have been subjected to a constant stream of expressions of Unionist identify & terminology from politicians, MSM etc, whereby NI is promoted as a country, a province off the mainland and as a place apart from the rest of the Irish nation. The troubles themselves ironically have had an impact in impressing on people’s minds that we are a place apart, admittedly from both Britain/UK and Ireland. How often have you heard that each side is as bad as each other, that we are not wanted by both the British or the South? Has the original Irish Question been replaced by the NI Troubles? We need to be honest about this, if we aim to change this type of thinking, acceptance is the first step on for any change programme.
Does this matter? Does it affect how you think and react? To me at least coming from the west of Ulster to live in Belfast, it seems to my prejudiced eyes and ears that it does matter and more so the further east you are (that will certainly get me trouble with the in-laws!). Although the epicentre of that effect would appear to be Holywood & South Belfast 😉 The centre for the centre ground of ‘letsgetalongerist’ – a great term created by FJH.
We have all heard the term; “a divided society”. What do you think of when you hear that term, is that we are divided in NI or that the Irish nation is divided. The former implicitly recognises NI as a place apart. Think again of the most prevalent and misused term at the moment; “a shared future”, it’s a vague term am I not only one who struggles to comprehend what it really means (emperor has no clothes? or am I just being stupid?), either way this term is essentially based on a NI & British premise. Consequently, it is an easy vehicle for “letsgetalongerists” to use for their own ends. Shared future has to date been equated to integrated education which has become an effective mantra underpinned by supportive ‘polls’. Why are unionists, and so called liberal unionists in particular, so entranced by the promotion of a ‘shared future’? before I get side-tracked too far…. a very common failing of mine unfortunately , just think through how that concept could and is being used.
We grudgingly accept the current arrangements and by extension the plans for services, development and infrastructure essentially organised on a NI basis Any services of an ‘Irish’ nature are exclusively expressed in cross-border speak & terminology (and are constantly minimised at every opportunity by Unionists and largely ignored by the MSM). Does any of this matter? Why worry about it? Surely any cross-border initiative is a means of softening the border? Once the C/N are in the majority a UI is inevitable and the orange state is already gone?
It matters because nothing is guaranteed, it matters because our nationhood is still submerged, it matters because there is a campaign / opposing strategy to subvert enough of the C/N community to think & feel not as fully part of the Irish nation. To accept we are a people and place apart. Such a future will result in NI residing comfortably within the British framework.
In this I think language is all important, it can either create an expression of an Irish nation working together for the good of all, or of two separate countries working together whenever there is mutual benefit for both countries to do so.
Have you noticed that there is a tendency to not ‘fully’ think or express ourselves in Irish national terms?
In the political world the language used by politicians is very important in getting your message across. The language and phrases employed is a subtle tool in helping to shape debate & arguments and in shaping social & tribal attitudes and expectations. Language and the repeating of terms is a well known marketing tool.
The terminology of unionists and the loose rainbow alliance of “letsgetalongerists” have a common purpose in retaining the status quo, their motivations may vary from ensuring stability for NI to ensuring that we forever remain British, the outcome however is the same. The constant use of Northern Ireland/Northern Irish by the BBC (NIO’s PR arm?), in referring to NI as a country, a shared future, great events – Titanic, G8 and even the centenaries are all couched in NI and British terms. North-South, cross border are all based on the assumption of difference and of division in Ireland, of two separate entities. They create and deepen a sense of separateness, of a place apart.
Have you ever wondered where North-South ministerial council and the myriad of meetings etc have gone? do they even exist anymore? They receive no or at best scant MSM attention, are they too ’Irish’. Strand two of the GFA has had little or no impact or recognition with the public? Can we be led to believe that this is an accident, or is the message being manipulated?
We have become used to that in even framing the nature of the ‘problem’ the common currency as one of the two warring communities in NI rather than the original and more accurate ‘Irish Question’. This paints us as a separate tribe from the rest of the Irish people.
The administration of government in Ireland north of the border is of course predicated on services being organised on a NI basis, with issues and problems expressed in a NI or UK framework. We have all been lulled into using the terminology and then in thinking within the confines of NI. How many of us think initially of public services or societal issues on a national Irish basis.
For me at least it takes a conscious effort to pause and then to think along the lines of what a national approach and solution would like and should be. In this part of Ireland the default position of public bodies; from MSM, NICS departments, agencies and arms length bodies will be on a NI and UK context, with the Irish context being reduced to cross-border initiatives. It will always be a struggle to counteract this de-facto unionist outlook. The first step is our own thinking and to prepare for tactical planning and strategies to achieve national outcomes on an Irish, national basis.
I believe it is time that we realise that we have been conditioned and that we need to consciously change the terminology we use, change our own thinking and our own expectations of what to expect from our politicians and services that we use.
The language used in framing debate and discussions is the key tool in shifting a wider public perception as to how any issue is regarded. This requires all of us, but particularly our politicians, to think through the language they use. All issues, where ever possible, should initially be represented in national Irish terms, if relation to NI we shouldn’t be frightened to use but should be used sparingly. We need to avoid using strangled terms such as; ‘this place’, ‘in this jurisdiction’, ‘on this island’. Alternatively if we mean Ireland say Ireland, use every opportunity to set things in an Irish context, some would tend to use ‘in this part of Ireland’ but should be qualified first within an Irish context.
Does this mean anything in practice; firstly we cannot and should not take for granted the attitude and votes of the C/N community. The concept (and vote for) of a UI will be encouraged and underpinned by a communal sense of Irish nationhood. The language we use helps frame an emotional response, repeated enough I would hope it will have an impact. The British(NIO/BBC) and rainbow letsgetalongerist know this only too well and credit is due to FJH for highlighting that have been in a midst of a NI/status quo marketing campaign (albeit derailed somewhat by the excesses of Unionism & by overreaching themselves), the 12th is a day for everyone – any takers there 😉