Nationalism is woke – ignoring it will only fuel anger

Posted By: November 06, 2018


Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus
“ This article by key journalist John Manley in the Irish News of Belfast will give Members of Congress a good insight into the impact of Brexit on the Nationalist/Republican/Catholic population of Northern Ireland. I highly recommend it. It also reflects, in effect, the position of Irish-Americans who are increasingly worried by attempts by the London government and the DUP to sabotage the Good Friday Agreement, and, if it suits them, the Irish Peace Process.”—Fr. Sean McManus

John Manley. Irish News.Belfast. Monday, November 5, 2018                                                                         

REWIND just a few short years and nationalism was largely a latent force. Relative political stability coupled with the freedom to express Irish identity to a degree unheard of in the modern era led to increased nationalist apathy in the north. The tacit acceptance of the status quo among many in the nationalist community was reflected in the electoral performance of Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Even though demographic trends indicate that support for a united Ireland should be growing, the two main nationalist parties’ share of the vote was steadily sliding. In the Republic, the belief that politics north of the border was settled also signaled increasing degrees of disengagement by Dublin.

But events since the EU referendum have transformed the political landscape. Uncertainty about The Border and the implications of Brexit for so many aspects of everyday life has raised Nationalist consciousness. Running parallel to this, and not entirely unrelated, is the Stormont crisis. The DUP’s imperious unwillingness to respect Irish identity and to respond to rapid social change fractured the executive’s fragile pretense of consensus. The RHI scandal accelerated the demise of power-sharing, but even without it, the sustainability of the institutions was questionable.

Nationalism, to borrow a phrase from African America, is woke, seeing both threats and opportunities in the situation that has evolved since June 2016. Yet its voice is muted at this crucial time. Stormont’s dormancy coupled with Sinn Féin’s abstentionism and the SDLP’s loss of its Westminster representatives means nationalism struggles to make its concerns heard.

These circumstances are all the more pointed because nationalism now unites around more than a single, abstract aspiration. Instead, real anxieties about Brexit are manifested on many levels, while Stormont’s stagnancy and subsequent mothballing have left many social and cultural ambitions unrealized. These circumstances are unlikely to change significantly in the months ahead, which is why the Dublin government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, is being asked to stand firm on behalf of Northern Nationalists.

This is a responsibility that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appears willing to take on, at least in part. The open letter from 1,000 representatives of civic nationalism cites the Taoiseach’s statement almost a year ago when he assured northern nationalists that their interests would be protected during the Brexit negotiations.

“You will never again be left behind by an Irish government,” he said.

Perhaps uncharacteristically for a Fine Gael leadership team, Mr. Varadkar, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have been overt in their support for a united Ireland. Their strategy is based both on a sincere ideological belief and political reality. Clearly, they both believe in Irish unity, but as rivals of Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, they must also ensure that they cannot be exposed to accusations of not being green enough.

The letter published today underlines their duty and identifies the areas where the Dublin government must be most active and vocal in defending and advancing the cause of nationalism. It follows a similar open letter from civic nationalism last year though this time there are many more signatories and they represent a broader political opinion. Reflecting Sinn Féin’s place as the foremost voice of northern nationalists, many of the signatories are republicans, but there are others happy to put their name to the letter who would shun that term. What unites them is a belief that circumstances are conspiring to undo many of the advances made by nationalism in recent decades. They also share a deep concern that an expedient deal between the Tories and the DUP is frustrating social progress and blocking cultural rights.

To ignore this situation or underplay it will only fuel anger and resentment at a time of increased uncertainty and political instability. Dublin can ill afford not to heed this call.