Choyaa on Ireland’s future… – Slugger O’Toole

Ireland’s Future held its final conference at the 3Arena on Saturday, with the event heralded by organizers as a significant step forward in promoting Irish unity. As you would expect after the conference, opinions were split, with some seeing the event as a defining moment in Irish history while others felt it was a misfire and one that many were unaware of. even that had happened. After watching the event online, I thought I would give a Unionist perspective on the proceedings.

An initial observation was the sheer volume of attendees, there were 33 billed, and while that number was a statement of intent, the actual work sometimes meant conferences felt bloated, rushed and too long. Speakers were often rushed to make their contributions and rather than detail the details and it sometimes seemed that many contributors were reduced to repeating clichés and buzzwords such as “inclusive, diverse and progressive” while emphasizing always the importance and historic nature of the conference.

The opening panel discussion chaired by Amanda Ferguson highlighted several issues that impacted the conference. The panel itself was too large, which meant big players such as Colum Eastwood had minimal impact on the proceedings and were vastly underutilized. Predictable questions were vaguely answered or often deflected at which the chairman could only laugh and Sinn Féin’s Declan Kearney was omitted from the symbol question due to time constraints, a theme that would continue throughout the day . The panel did not have a strong opinion on the subject of symbols in a future Ireland, which was surprising as Neale Richmond promoted the event using a photo of Michael Collins and an Irish flag as a backdrop. fund or was it for the benefit of Sinn Féin? There was a sense that these politicians outside Sinn Féin were making strenuous efforts to emphasize their United Ireland credentials for fear of being overwhelmed. A notable contribution from Neale Richmond was that he did not believe Fine Gael had anything in common with the Unionist parties to form a partnership with them. As unionism is often said to wield considerable influence after unification as kingmakers, this assumption may not be accurate if the parties are unwilling to form coalitions with them.

There was a lot of discussion before the conference about the involvement of “cultural unionists”, this specifically related to a video segment involving Andrew Clarke and Peter Adair. Neither individual identified as a Unionist, with Andrew Clarke declaring he was an “Irish Republican” while Peter Adair identifies as a “soft nationalist” and member of the SDLP. Presumably, what the organizers meant by “cultural unionists” were either Protestants or former unionists. This signaled an unease the conference had in addressing the issue of trade unionism, most contributors stayed away from the subject, but those who did touch on it seemed uneasy and a bit nervous. The conference was much more relaxed when it came to hearing the views of former Unionists and hearing about this growing demographic. This part seemed overplayed and on several occasions Ben Collins and Jimmy Nesbitt spoke of how the conversation about Irish unity is growing among Protestants and Unionists. Yet there is little real evidence of this. True or false, there has always been a fear factor of a united Ireland that has been openly discussed within unionism and the potential for a united Ireland has always been discussed for decades, but the conversations are not have not drifted into large, detailed discussions of what a new Ireland would look like. For any Unionist watching the conference, it would have been daunting to sit at their kitchen table lest a family member bring up the day-to-day talks of a united Ireland. Addressing how unionism would figure in a united Ireland was something the conference did not expand on, Colm Meaney said unionists would be allowed to “beat their big drum” in a new Ireland which was not particularly insightful and there was perhaps an assumption that post-unification, unionism would assimilate into society and disappear quite quickly.

Not everyone at the conference was willing to address the concerns of unionism and others in an eventual united Ireland. Leo Varadkar addressed this issue and made the most insightful contribution of the conference by pointing out that a Northern Ireland working model might still exist in a united Ireland, but this was met with boos from the audience. Both delighted and pissed off boos from Unionists (watching online) in equal measure. Delight as it justified their non-participation in what they consider to be a hostile environment and annoyed them that such a modest suggestion by their standards had been received so negatively.

The conference had many ideas and with it many inconsistencies. There was much talk of an inclusive Ireland that would reflect everyone, but there were repeated calls for it not to be made up of a right-wing government. Brexit has been continually used to push the unity argument, however, Bríd Smith of People Before Profits (PBP) spoke at a panel and was not challenged by chairwoman, Frances Black ( also the compère general) regarding their parties’ support for Brexit in the North. Ireland. Bríd Smith, however, received one of the loudest cheers of the day by mocking current political parties and wanting to “scrap” the “conservative northern union parities”. All roundtables would have benefited from fewer members and a stronger, more independent chair who could challenge attendees and give answers rather than nod in approval, which usually happened.

The terms ‘the north’ and ‘northern Ireland’ were the preferred terminology for most conference attendees to refer to Northern Ireland. Vincent Martin suggested the name ‘Northern Ireland’ could be kept as part of a post-unification compromise only to be booed by some in the audience, again this showed many that there was little room for opinions that diverged too far from what was deemed acceptable.

The keynote speaker was Mary Lou McDonald, and the delivery was assured and certainly the best and most compelling of the conference, there was nothing new in content, the main tactic that echoed throughout the conference was to refer matters to a citizens’ assembly, this vague ambiguity frees those pushing for unity to make firm commitments. It was interesting to note that the final part of Mary Lou McDonald’s speech, “I think we should choose a united Ireland” was probably the most cautious and least convincing line for the unity of the day.

Jimmy Nesbitt closed the event but added little fresh content and said he wanted to “reinforce” the day’s themes. Jimmy’s content was mostly a rehash of a 2019 interview he did with the Irish Times as far as talking about his aging Protestant friends discussing Unity. The content was specific to the audience and the language was chosen carefully, seeking an Ireland where people of its culture would be proud to say they were from “northern Ireland”, knowing that this line would be a problem for many his culture. A line was included about extending the Unity conversation to Orange Rooms, this line was for the benefit of the public and was not rooted in any reality, either that or Jimmy has been away from Northern Ireland for too long.

Ireland’s future deserves credit for having had the foresight to initiate these discussions and for attracting some interesting guests. The problem with the event is that it lasted nearly four hours, there was a lot of talk, a lot of rehearsals, and very little substance. It’s easy to punch holes in the current bylaws, of which there are many, but promoting viable alternatives is less easy and postponing everything to a citizens’ assembly feels like a loophole. Many contributors diluted the topic with individual angles to promote whether it was a book for sale, an upcoming election where absenteeism at the conference would have been political suicide, or membership in various bodies. There will be some disappointment that the venue was not filled and this was after a major promotion of the event, however, 5k is still a high attendance figure, and perhaps more important to the organizers was to to please the faithful and to keep the subject in the public consciousness. The big issues for a Unity campaign remain things like health care, infrastructure, education, pensions, public sector jobs, etc., etc., and those issues have not been addressed in a big way. significantly and that is before the subject of symbolism and unionism is broached.

Unionism breathed a sigh of relief as the conference ended, the numbers were significantly lower than they expected and even feared, while the boos justified their absence. It will be difficult for Unionism to enter into discussions aimed at facilitating the end of the Union and, indeed, such participation would be counter-intuitive. Trade unionism must focus on its own game, it can learn from the conversations that are taking place and it can participate in real debates about the Union, but it will have to work out its plan on how to promote and sell the Union, the days of inaction are over. Unionism also needs to be careful in its response to unity talks, forming protests and gamifying members present will not win it any support, instead it needs to address how it can engage people around the Union in a positive way.

Unity will not be won in Dublin’s 3Arena and Union will not be saved in Orange halls across Northern Ireland, it will be the side that can appeal to hearts and minds, and the pockets of those who are not of their ideology who ultimately succeed when a border poll takes place. Both sides have a lot to do if they want to win over this key non-aligned demographic.

About Michelle Anderson

Check Also

After beer incident goes viral, comedian uses Jimmy Kimmel’s performance to joke about growing up Jewish in Kentucky

(October 25, 2022 / JNS) Jewish comedian Ariel Elias, the star of a recent viral …