Dear Arlene: Don’t be offensive – go on the offensive

Posted By: June 30, 2018

Patrick  Murphy.  Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, June 30, 2018

Dear Arlene,

It is probably fair to say that in recent months you have had the worst media profile since Genghis Khan. Indeed, criticizing your politics, attitude, and behavior is almost a nationalist tradition by now.

You will be glad to know (or maybe you do not care) that this column intends to avoid that tradition, not because you should be immune from adverse comment, but because criticism does little to modify behavior.

Instead, it will offer questions and comment in the hope of getting Unionism to reflect on the past 20 years. Another twenty years like that and Unionism will be history.

The first question is how did you get into this mess? When Britain won the long war, the defeated IRA abandoned its every principle, by giving up its weapons, disbanding its organization and saying there would never be an IRA again.

More significantly, it recognized the legitimacy of partition, accepted the unionist veto over Northern Ireland’s continued existence and paid homage to Elizabeth II and her family, just as the defeated Hugh O’Neill had done to Elizabeth I in 1603. (Paying homage to British royalty is in danger of becoming an O’Neill tradition.)

It was probably Britain’s biggest military and political victory in Ireland. So how did Unionism lose the peace?

Unionism’s core problem is intellectual laziness, a condition produced by arrogance and privilege. Unionism has always been Britain’s spoiled child in Ireland. It never had to do anything for itself and now when it has to, it can’t.

It has a poor tradition of questioning what it stands for, apart from a flag. It has rarely defined its principles, analyzed its politics or offered any serious critique of social and economic policy. Its association with Presbyterianism and Orangeism restricts it to a socially conservative agenda, which is at odds with wider British society.

So union with Britain appears to mean being funded from London, to preserve The North as a sort of 1950s historical theme park, molded by the religious right – the Protestant equivalent of the south of Ireland 50 years ago.

You are not personally to blame for Unionism’s failings, but you are a Unionist manager, not a Unionist leader. (Managers do things right in an organization. Leaders do the right thing.)

Now you find yourself in a seriously weakened position, where Mary Lou McDonald can patronizingly assess your political behavior, including your attendance at the Ulster football final.

(Being asked to watch Gaelic football gives you good grounds for claiming inhuman and degrading treatment. You said the match was “interesting.” I hope for your sake you were lying. Next time, embarrass the GAA by asking to attend the Ulster hurling final. There isn’t one anymore, but few in the GAA know or care.)

So although, as a child, you were the victim of an anti-civilian bomb on your school bus, the party which supported that bombing campaign has now ousted you from the high moral ground. (Military action against the British army was war. Bombing a school bus was a war crime.)

While peace-time Unionism remained rooted in a siege mentality, Sinn Féin made a complete political U-turn, so that it now reports the theft of a tricolor in south Armagh to the PSNI. Their change, two-faced though it was in many respects, outflanked your inertia.

While Sinn Féin rightly accuses your party of being in a “toxic” relationship with the English Tories, will their intended relationship with Fine Gael’s Irish Tories be any less toxic? Maybe you could ask.

Your opposition to EU membership is perfectly reasonable, but if you want to head off the case for a united Ireland, you must ensure a UK customs deal with the EU to facilitate a soft border. Learn to play the long game in politics.

You might even comment on how Ireland is being used by the EU in the current negotiations. Last week, Simon Coveney, presented EU Commission President Juncker with a Cork GAA shirt, saying it was “good to have him on our team.”

Leaked papers have revealed that Juncker spent years as Luxembourg’s prime minister secretly blocking EU efforts to tackle tax avoidance by multinational corporations.

Perhaps you could comment on that, by engaging in the wider political arena, beyond what Churchill called the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone.

You see, in Gaelic football terms, you are playing the blanket defense, when you should be taking on Sinn Féin, person to person. If you do not, you will have made Fermanagh’s mistake of going eight points down before attacking. That was too late for them. It will soon be too late for you.