Forward-looking Unionists must speak up

Posted By: January 13, 2022

Baroness Hoey claimed that “many professional vocations have become dominated by those of a nationalist persuasion

Tom Collins. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, January 13, 2022.

Last Friday’s edition of The Irish News should have come with a health warning. I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader choking on my cornflakes reading Kate Hoey’s ill-disguised rant about uppity Catholics getting above their station.

Cancel culture is all the rage, but I was brought up believing the maxim that although I might disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it. And although Hoey’s words stuck in the craw, I did my duty and gave her a hearing.

Rightly this paper believes in challenging its readers rather than just pandering to their prejudices. If only it were a principle more widely followed in other outlets.

One of the problems about perceived sectarianism – and I use the word here in its strictest sense – is that its malign influence is spread most often below the radar: a nod and a wink here; a door quietly closed there; a whisper in the ear. ‘Not one of us.’

As the case of Diane Dodds and the appalling social media attacks on her over Christmas demonstrates, nobody here is exempt from blind hatred and bigotry.

But it is the case that this part of Ireland was engineered to secure a political dispensation that gave one community ownership at the expense of the other. The abuses which followed – discrimination, gerrymandering, and denial of basic human rights – were not inevitable, but they were predictable and predicted.

For much of the region’s existence, sectarianism was naked and above board, – Sir Basil Brooke put it eloquently when he said: “I recommended people not to employ Roman Catholics, who were 99 percent disloyal.”

Over the past three decades or so, Brooke’s brand of candor has gone underground. But even those proverbial dogs in the street know that the prejudice he expressed has not gone away.

So, in giving Hoey space, the editor did us a favor. By giving her enough rope to hang herself, the platform piece revealed the pernicious group-think of a very elite Unionist network that is determined to secure for itself a vice-like grip on the levers of power here for another hundred years.

Compare for a moment these two quotes:

Exhibit A: “…The Roman Catholics were endeavoring to get in everywhere and were out with all their force and might to destroy the power and constitution of Ulster.”

Exhibit B: “…There is plainly an (albeit informal) elite nationalist network whereby a significant number of persons use the credentials afforded by their (entirely legitimately obtained and hard-earned) status within those professional vocations to advance nationalist political objectives.”

People are entitled to ask if there has been enough progress between Brooke in 1933 and Hoey in 2022?

Ennobled by Boris Johnson for her fevered support of Brexit, Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin – what have the good people of Rathlin done to deserve her? – has for some time been regarded as a political outlier. A Labor MP for some 30 years, she campaigned for Brexit with Nigel Farage and endorsed the DUP and the Conservatives at the last general election.

In that context, what she said is what you would expect a contrarian Unionist to say.

But – and this is a big but – there is no question that what she has done in her misguided foreword to the so-called Unionist Voice Policy Studies report, is to put in danger women and men peacefully advocating for a new political dispensation in Ireland.

Her attempt in her platform piece to caveat her despicable words with brackets – see Exhibit B – doesn’t wash.

Just as worrying is the endorsement she received from DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and the deafening silence from so-called liberal Unionism.

There is an old principle in law, deployed by Sir. Thomas More at his treason trial, “silence betokens consent”.

The sentiments Hoey and others have expressed in recent weeks will continue to do damage to the fabric of this society until they are called out explicitly and repeatedly by leaders of Unionism in politics and civil society.

Many of those targeted by Hoey’s words have spoken eloquently about how they transcended bigotry and discrimination through the sacrifice of their parents and their own hard work and determination.

They deserve to hear directly from those who claim their vision is ‘to secure a better NI for all’, and who claim to be “taking on the status quo with a positive, forward-looking and constructive Unionism”.

And yes, for the avoidance of doubt, Doug Beattie I’m thinking of you.