I don’t like being labelled, but after covering Northern Ireland as a journalist for almost 30 years, I can now formally announce I am no longer a political agnostic: I am a unionist.
Being from a Dublin Catholic mostly-soft-nationalist background and living in England, in my decades of covering Northern Ireland my political position has been constitutional neutrality.
I thought physical force nationalism utterly unjustified, and I was repelled by Paisleyism, but if the vast majority of the Northern Irish voted to stay, become independent, merge with the Republic or join Luxembourg, that would have been OK with me.
Gradually, I got to know and become close friends with unionists and even members of the reviled loyal institutions – who were much nicer than they seemed at first – and became increasingly uneasy at what seemed to me the amorality of many in the pan-nationalist front and its New Labour collaborators.
Because I supported David Trimble’s rather than John Hume’s approach to peace-making, I lost many nationalist friends and was seen as a traitor and a turncoat.
Well, now it’s official.
I‘m still primarily the historian who believes in telling the unvarnished truth, but in my political loyalties, the awfulness of Sinn Fein and many of their weaselly fellow-travellers have succeeded in making me embrace unionism.
We’ve seen republicans’ divisiveness, mean-spiritedness, mendacity and brazenness in Stormont.
The thought of them also in charge in the Republic sickens me.
I don’t want to see my native island ruled by a cult that trains its disciples to loathe the people its pin-ups murdered, and mercilessly demonises them, as the Serbs vilified the Croats.
Efficiently and unscrupulously Sinn Fein have been re-writing the history of the last 100 years.
The lies they tell about the police and the UDR in particular are horrendous, but told with such brazen neck that they are widely believed.
They silence critics with lawfare and use their Shinnerbot army to denigrate, sneer at and intimidate anyone they consider their enemy.
If anyone thinks the bots are not controlled by Sinn Fein HQ, do explain why after years when they called me a hideous old hag/witch/harridan/crone (often with an illustration), as soon as Mary Lou McDonald complained of a critical cartoon being misogynistic, the Shinnerbots altered course to routinely calling me instead a vile sectarian racist.
I have become seriously worried at the apparent demoralisation of unionism by Sinn Fein’s war of attrition, so I’m delighted to see a serious fight-back against republican revisionism. All unionists should take note and see how to help.
Don’t get hung up on the policy differences.
I deplore the protocol, but should be allowed to side with the Doug Beattie / John Kyle approach rather than that of Jim Allister / Jeffrey Donaldson without denunciation as a lundy: unionists need to stop finding reasons to quarrel with each other and unite against the enemy wherever they can.
A good start is to open up a lively website called Let’s Talk Loyalism (letstalkloyalism.co.uk/), which describes itself as “an advocacy group which aims to articulate Loyalist perspectives and initiate positive change for the Loyalist community.”
Begin by watching Moore Holmes’s compelling speech “Is Northern Ireland Forgetting Its Past?” in which he systematically fillets Sinn Fein’s “warped interpretation of the past… calculated and concerted in order to deflect from and justify” the IRA’s terrorism, and the hypocrisy of its claims that these violent abusers were fighting for human rights. (shorturl.at/tBNV1).
Then be moved by Stacey Graham’s passionate description of her pride in being a loyalist, and her longing for a confident loyalism that can help the community unlock its full potential.
In his compelling contribution, Sam Mcilwaine begins: “I am a Loyalist, but yet I am not a criminal. I am a Loyalist, yet I don’t deal drugs. I am a Loyalist, but I’m certainly not a Neanderthal. And here is a shock for few, I am a Loyalist, but I am not sectarian.”
And he writes of the common need to challenge “the scourge of illegal drugs in our neighbourhoods”, to fight for better resources to help the young realise that “education is the key to our community’s survival and the best hope of it thriving”, and “instil in them hope and belief”.
“And lastly, we must challenge every single malicious labelling of our community, should that be in the media, or online, and even in person.”
There is plenty more talent contributing to the site. May I suggest to its organisers to post David Trimble’s superb Nobel speech which intelligently and sensitively tried to explain the reasons why the two cultures so misunderstood each other (cain.ulster.ac.uk/events/peace/docs/nobeldt.htm).
He was reviled by the Irish commentariat, who ridiculously took it as an insult.
Next week I’ll write about what historians have been doing to provide the weaponry to fight malicious revisionism and what I believe can help young unionists stand up to those who want to demoralise them.
Northern Ireland could be a great country, but to make that happen, unionists have to get energised to challenge Sinn Fein hate and misrepresentation. It’s the middle ground unionism has to win. Telling the truth is the way to do it.