Yesterday the UUP's Christopher McGimpsey tried, in an article in the Guardian newspaper, to refute Gerry Adams earlier article in the same newspaper.
McGimpsey's article is worth dissecting in detail, as it presents the thinking of a man who is seen by some as a moderniser within the UUP, and as an intelligent unionist. The result is not encouraging for unionism.
"Disastrous results in the Republic of Ireland's past two elections have forced Sinn Féin to kickstart yet another crusade for Irish unity, the terms of which were set out by Gerry Adams on Comment is free yesterday. In Dáil elections they did not make the breakthrough they hoped and indeed have lost ground. But it was in the recent European elections in the Republic that the Sinn Féin experiment really showed its vulnerability."
But the Sinn Féin result in the 2007 Dáil election was hardly 'disastrous' – their vote, and their share of the vote actually increased, from 121,000 (6.5%) in 2002 to 143,410 (6.94%) in 2007. Yes, they lost one of their five seats, but in a Proportional Representation electoral system these things happen. McGimpsey's own party has, of course, suffered far worse results in Northern Ireland than the one he calls 'disastrous' when it is Sinn Féin's (in McGimpsey's personal case, the UUP vote in Belfast Court from 23.1% in 2001 to 7.7% in 2007, and McGimpsey lost his seat!).
"The loss of the Sinn Féin vice-president Mary Lou McDonald's European seat was probably a death blow. It indicated that Sinn Féin cannot break out of its northern ghetto. While it is still possible in Northern Ireland to simply avoid real answers to questions by hiding behind the rhetoric of the peace process, this is not an option in the republic or further afield."
There are lies, damned lies, and deliberate deceptions – and this statement falls into the latter category. McDonald's seat was already lost well before the election, when the number of southern MEPs was reduced from 13 to 12, and the number in Dublin from 4 to 3. Since McDonald had barely scraped in in 2004 below quota, it was her seat that was clearly the most vulnerable. As for this being a 'death blow', only time will tell.
"Adams sets himself three goals.
First, he wants the UK government to actively encourage a united Ireland. He makes no suggestions as to how he would achieve this or what the government would do to further a united Ireland agenda."
Indeed. But as this blog explained yesterday, there may be very good financial reasons why a future British government might want to ease the ungrateful colony in the direction of a united Ireland.
"Second, he wants the Irish government "to begin preparations for Irish unity". Once again there is no specificity to his call – and no costings. Someone should tell him that the Celtic Tiger has limped back into the undergrowth in such poor health that it will probably never be seen again. The republic cannot afford a united Ireland and its population by and large does not want it. The average citizen in the republic wants to go to bed at night and feel that Catholics in Northern ireland are receiving a fair shake. In other words they feel that the current political dispensation is the basis for Ireland's future."
McGimpsey is here starting to show his nasty streak, with his gloating about the economic difficulties in the south. He neglects to mention, of course, two important facts: the UK is suffering almost as badly at present, and most economists agree that the fundamental of the (southern) Irish economy are actually quite good, and that once the world economy picks up Ireland will be well placed to grow again.
He also cannot help himself – the immature unionist argument is here again used: "The republic cannot afford a united Ireland". Pathetic.
"Lastly he wants "to engage with Ulster unionism on the type of Ireland we want to create".
This last goal is undoubtedly the most ridiculous."
This goal is, of course, far from ridiculous. Irish nationalists intend to reunite our country, and unionists will be part of that country. It is essential that their voice is heard and heeded, and no true republican would have it any other way. Would McGimpsey prefer republicans to refuse to listen to unionism? I suppose he would, in order that he could whinge about being ignored!
"An Ulster unionist is someone who, by definition, believes in the efficacy of the Union. As a unionist I like being a member of a multinational, multiethnic, multicultural, multilinguistic, liberal, pluralist democracy. What Adams seems to believe is that we would voluntarily give all of this up and join another state. He gives no rationale for this suggestion. He seems to think that it will simply happen."
McGimpsey may "like being a member" of a pluralist society, but he and his political friends do their utmost to stop Northern Ireland from being 'multinational, multiethnic, multicultural, multilinguistic, liberal, or pluralist'. Where is his support for overt, official recognition for the Irish dimension, for the Irish flag, culture, sports and languages? What has his party done to promote 'multilingualism' concerning the Irish language? Does his party participate in the 'multicultural' St Patrick's Day festivities? Do members of his party actively support their local GAA clubs? His claims about what he 'likes being a member of' are proved to be lies on a daily basis by himself, his party, and its political alles.
"The problem that Adams has with his quest for a united Ireland is that he has no conception as to why over 1,000,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen would wish to remain within the United Kingdom. He seems to view us simply as errant brothers and sisters who can be easily persuaded to see the errors of our ways. Apart from being insulting, this is also dangerous."
The old canard about the 'million unionists'. There are, at the latest count (the 2007 Assembly election – the turnout in this year's European election was too low to count) 310,866 Unionist votes. There were independents and others who could validly be called unionists, but the total including these people would barely reach a third of a million – a third of McGimpsey's exaggerated claim!
Now, he would claim that even some non-voters "would wish to remain within the United Kingdom", but since they continually fail to prove this by voting for a unionist candidate, why should we believe him?
Perhaps he is conflating the concepts of 'Protestant' and 'unionist'? It is a common fallacy, but even then he is wrong – the 2001 census (Table s308) recorded precisely 759,193 Protestants in Northern Ireland (and 678,462 Catholics). McGimpsey is playing fast and loose with statistics to try to big up his argument – a sure sign that he knows himself to be on thin ice.
"If 30 years of violence, the murder of 2,000 people by the IRA and similar action by their loyalist counterparts, could not bring about a united Ireland then how does he believe that a series of conferences in the US and Great Britain can somehow persuade a significant section of the Irish race to completely change a political position they have held for many generations."
The IRA's war ended quite a few years ago, and for precisely the reason that McGimpsey mentions – it was not helping to achieve a united Ireland. But the failure of a military campaign is hardly proof that persuasion is pointless – they are two completely different things. And as time passes, and new generations grow up, the bitterness of the "30 years" will die down.
"The difficulty that Adams faces is that under the Good Friday Agreement the Irish government gave up its territorial claim over the people and territory of Northern Ireland and accepted that a united Ireland is not a right, but can only come about once the majority of the population of Northern Ireland demands it. Northern Ireland remains within the United Kingdom and Martin McGuinness, a former member of the Army Council of the Provisional IRA, is our deputy first minister. He and his Sinn Féin colleagues are helping the rest of us (DUP, UUP and SDLP) to administer British rule in Northern Ireland."
From factually correct to childishly taunting in one paragraph. Pathetic.
"There has been a final result to the IRA's armed struggle and they lost. Democracy won. The Irish and British governments won. More importantly, the people of Northern Ireland won. Comments likes those made by Gerry Adams this week in the "Mother of Parliaments" are simply a crude attempt to persuade Sinn Féin supporters in Northern Ireland that quest for a United Ireland goes on and is achievable. Everyone else in Ireland knows this to be nonsense."
Democracy, as McGimpsey should know, includes the right to campaign for a united Ireland. That is a right that McGimsey's own party agreed to in the GFA. And the quest for a United Ireland does go on, but unlike McGimpsey, many people in Ireland believe it to be very achievable. Time again will tell.
"Adams finishes his piece by stating that if 20 years ago he had, "... been in London asking for support to build a peace process I would have been thought of as at best naive or just daft. Had I predicted cessations, peace talks, an international agreement ... I would have been dismissed by the Guardian and others as crazy."
No Gerry you would not. But your comments this week are such that the Guardian and others might be forgiven for thinking that you are slightly bonkers."
McGimpsey attempts to end his piece on a patronising 'pat the little boy on the head' note, but ends up, frankly, sounding silly. If this is the best defence that unionism can come up with to a concerted campaign for reunification, then they may well be in trouble. There is no attempt by McGimpsey to actually argue any merits of the UK – he resorts instead to insults, taunts and dodgy statistics. Much the same as unionism has used for a long time, in fact. So it seems that while nationalism, and especially republicanism, is trying to find new paths for itself, unionism is still stuck in its old ways. As the demography changes, the old unionist ways will not be enough to save it, but it seems that they have still not started to face up to his. All the better for the nationalist cause!