Unionist Blindness

Posted By: August 01, 2013

Unionist Blindness

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, July 31, 2013
IT TOOK a generation to dismantle the unionist state which Craig and his cronies
hastily constructed in the 1920s, a regime where unionists owned the legislative
assembly, the civil service, local councils, the police, the judiciary and public
broadcasting. Now they own none of the above. We’re now entering another phase of
progress and let’s hope it doesn’t take so long. This phase is the dismantling of
the unionist society which the unionist state created. The unionist society meant
that the default position of every civic and social element was unionist. It was
developed by making that default position ‘official’. No alternative view of the
world was permitted so that any manifestation of Irishness was regarded as
unofficial, unauthorised, second class, having no place in the unionist society and
at worst, potentially subversive.

So, the Flags and Emblems Act 1954 gave the RUC power to remove any flag or emblem,
except the Union flag, that any bone-headed bigot in uniform thought likely to cause
a breach of the peace. The British repealed it in 1987 as part of the outworking of
the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement thereby removing the special position of the Union
flag in the unionist state. The flip side of that repeal meant the recognition of
Irish flags and emblems but it was a tacit recognition only. They still don’t have
the same legitimacy as unionist symbols. That gives you some idea of the immensity
of the task confronting Richard Haass when he starts work in September. The repeal
of the Flags and Emblems Act on foot of the Anglo-Irish Agreement opened a chink in

unionist society. The Good Friday Agreement requires equality of status and parity
of esteem which ultimately will dismantle the unionist society. Contrary to the
nonsense spouted about ‘chipping away Britishness’, equality of status and parity of
esteem actually guarantee Britishness but unionist leaders are too stupid or bigoted
to see that. As demography changes and nationalist majorities emerge everywhere
except in Antrim, north Down and north Armagh it is

in the interest of unionists to insist on equality in a rights-based society because
soon they are the people who will need these guarantees most. Can Richard Haass
convince them of this truth? So far the evidence is that he can’t. Unionist leaders
know the way the wind is blowing and the scales are tilting but most haven’t the
guts to tell their ground troops while others hold the same antediluvian beliefs as
the ground troops and are determined to lead them over a cliff. Which unionist
faction will win? So far it’s

always been the most hardline, the one offering the simplest slogans to address the
most complex problems. ‘No sarrandaar. We are the peepoll.’ This species is a free
exhibit now every Saturday on Woodvale Road. That’s because at present the emphasis
is on parades and their regulation. Despite their rhetoric Orangemen have now agreed
to talk to (some) residents and to respond to Haass’s committee, thereby implying an
acceptance of regulation. In other words there’s no matter of principle involved;
it’s simply a matter of agreeing procedures. It’s the other matters – flags, emblems
and the past – that are likely to cause unionist politicians cold feet.

Jeffrey Donaldson, one of the DUP on Haass’s committee last week rejected any
regulation of flag flying claiming the present protocols are working. They aren’t,
as anyone can see. A fortnight ago he introduced a private member’s bill in
Westminster trying to alter the definition of a victim. It has no chance of passing
but it’s a good illustration of unionist thinking. Make no mistake, Haass will
produce something by Christmas but ominously he said everyone would have to ‘buy in’
for it to work. It may seem unlikely but parades will be the easiest to deal with
having already been subject to a regulatory regime for 15 years. So far no-one has
told unionists that society in the north has changed and that a shared future means
a shared ownership of society. Just as the end of the unionist state meant sharing
its administration with Fenians so a shared society means accepting Irish
iconography beside British. No unionist is buying into that.