By Jamie Bryson
In the census the only true area worth consideration is the identity question. The focus on religion is misplaced, given the fact it does not equate to political identity.
The Belfast Agreement’s core objective is the transitioning of Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, and into a United Ireland. That is the ‘process’. There can be no credible riposte to this statement of a fact.
A process by its definition has a beginning and an end, and if you look to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (giving effect to the Belfast Agreement as a matter of domestic law), the only end envisaged is an affirmative vote for a United Ireland.
Therefore, whilst there is no defined time-frame for the conclusion of the ‘process’, it nevertheless moves in only one direction.
A key component of this process is the necessity to de-legitimise (via demonisation and portrayal as regressive) the British identity. This is obvious given a vibrant pro-British identity would act as a barrier to the progression of the process. It would frustrate the objective of the Belfast Agreement.
How this de-legitmisation of British identity happens is multi-faceted. A key element is the insurgency across the key opinion forming institutions of media, law and academia.
Nationalist activists have engaged in a lengthy campaign of weaponising their professional status to advance their collective political objectives. This, of course, has damaged the independence of many institutions and professions, but that is a matter for a different day.
This has been effective because it has worked to subtly but effectively create a negative view of British identity within the opinion-forming institutions, which have a disproportionate influence on younger generations.
There is also the issue of how policing (supported by Sunday tabloids) has equated crime with loyalism (and thus British identity) to further sully that identity. As was said post 1998 by Tony Blair, the Government will deal with republicans (by politically legitmising them) whilst the Chief Constable will deal with loyalists (by criminalising them).
In tandem with all this, the Irish Government has shamelessly adopted a partisan and increasingly activist agenda in terms of promoting Irish national identity, and demonising British identity. This has been supported by Irish nationalist/republican sycophants in the United States and the EU.
The UK Government has failed to be equally aggressive and partisan in the promotion of Britishness. In truth, it has instead sought to appease and placate nationalism, and consistently works to avoid upsetting the Irish Government at all costs.
All of this leads to those of an Ulster British tradition being increasingly isolated and encircled, and finding it difficult to win new converts due to the apparatus and structure of the state in Northern Ireland being leveraged against those of a British tradition.
It is unsurprising therefore that those from an Ulster British tradition are turning in increasing numbers against the Belfast Agreement, and thus power sharing.
The reason is simple. At last people are waking up and realising that the entire system is rigged against the Union, and in favour of those seeking to dismantle it.
It may be said that the nefarious agenda being waged by nationalist activists across media, law, and academia to assist in the incremental weakening of British identity, and thus the Union, was subtle and hard to detect. I am not sure about that, it always seemed rather obvious, but let us take it at its height.
But what was not hard to detect, and indeed that which no one could fail to recognise, was the effect of the Protocol and how it exposed in graphic terms the imbalance.
Put simply, a NI/RoI was (apparently) a threat to the Belfast Agreement ‘process’, so a GB/NI border in the Irish Sea was necessary for the preservation of the ‘process’. If that doesn’t highlight the inherent imbalance, what will?
But it goes further. The purported big ‘win’ for unionism in the Belfast Agreement was the principle of consent. It is hard to put into words the idiocy of this suggestion even before the Protocol came into being.
Firstly, the principle of consent was already there in the NI Constitution Act 1973, and before that in the 1922 Act. Indeed, in the 1922 Act there was the dual concepts of constitutional status and territorial integrity, thus protecting both the substance and symbolism of the Union.
In 1998 the principle of consent was not invented, because it was already there. It was nothing we didn’t already have. But worse than that, in 1998 the principle of consent we already had was actually weakened because in section 1 (2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 it created essentially a departure lounge mandating (albeit with broad discretion) when a border poll would be required.
Secondly, as exposed by the Protocol cases, the principle of consent supposedly ‘won’ by unionism in 1998 is in fact a deceptive snare (in the words of John Larkin QC for the pan-unionist applicants in the Allister et al cases). It doesn’t protect the substance of the Union, but merely the symbolism.
In short, you can change everything but the last thing about the Union, the last thing being merely the final formal handover of sovereignty. You could hand law making powers to Dublin, and judicial authority to the Irish Supreme Court and have joint-policing and essentially an all-Ireland state, but so long as nominally as a matter of territorial sovereignty NI was technically under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, the principle of consent would not trigger. As any half-sensible person can see, it is not a safeguard but more akin to a chocolate fireguard.
This shouldn’t be surprising. If section 1 of the 1998 Act (the principle of consent as a matter of domestic law) operated to protect the substance of the Union, then it would act as a brake on the incremental dismantling of the Union, and thus frustrate the whole purpose of the Belfast Agreement itself.
This was obvious in 1998, but the cheerleaders for the Agreement wouldn’t listen. Only one man sounded the alarm on this specific issue: Robert McCartney KC.
It is this deceptive structure, which placed the Union in quick-sand that is at the root of the difficulties those of a British identity face.
In equal terms there have been many who have foolishly bought into or legitimised the nationalist/republican ruse of ‘conciliation’, ‘compromise’ and the suggestion they merely seek ‘equality’.
Nationalism do not seek equality: it is but a staging post to supremacy. They want majority rule, so long as it is nationalist majority rule. Power sharing is just a necessary transitional phase they have to play along with.
If anyone was in any doubt, the words of Gerry Adams summarised it best. The ‘equality agenda’ is “Trojan Horse to break the b**tards (unionists)”.
The Protocol is also great evidence of the true agenda. Nationalism’s commitment to cross community consent and power sharing only lasted until such times as they were required to rely upon it for their interests. The very first-time nationalism believed they (along with their nationalist surrogates in Alliance) had a majority to subjugate the Union via the Protocol, all of a sudden, their commitment to cross-community consent vanished.
There will be demands from nationalists, and the ‘elite’, for unionism to compromise further. We will be told it is necessary to yet further dilute Britishness, in order to try and appeal to nationalists or the ‘middle ground’. We must be less British, and perpetually less British, in order to placate our political opponents.
Has no one worked out that if you keep diluting your own identity, to placate those who wish to eradicate your identity, that eventually you will wake up one day and you will find yourself a UINO (Unionist In Name Only).
Is anyone really foolish enough to think that if unionism keeps compromising, that there will be an equilibrium whereby nationalism one day decides that they have subjected the unionist identity to enough humiliation, and permit it (and thus the Union) to exist?
The way forward is not more compromise, not more dilution of British identity but rather a three-pronged approach.
Firstly, there must be significant effort and resource put into identifying, educating and politicising a new generation of unionist activists, and motivate such persons to launch a co-ordinated insurgency to re-establish a foothold across media, the legal profession and academia. We must take back control, or at least create a balance, of those opinion-forming institutions which have a significant impact on society.
Secondly, political unionism must proudly promote British identity and join the cultural war. We must get on the offensive and rather than constantly retreating and compromising, instead give a shot in the arm to our identity and culture.
Thirdly, the UK Government must stand up for the British identity in Northern Ireland shamelessly promote, advocate for and champion Britishness and the Union. As part of this, they must stop the incessant pandering to the Irish Government and nationalism.
That, alongside using the hand-brake in built within the Belfast Agreement to halt any further progression of its objective, is the true way forward for unionism.