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“I have not had a Roman Catholic about my own place”....  

Unionists set the tone for the ’new’ society

John McAnulty

26 September 2013

Sectarian slurs by Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, aimed at loyalist critic Jim Allister, show both the level of decay and of instability in the Irish peace process.

The slur, an allegation that Allister had been involved in a land deal with Catholics in Fermanagh, is best understood when we consider that the Orange Order was founded in 1796 to prevent Catholics gaining ownership of land. Restrictive covenants in wills to prevent Catholics acquiring were legal up to the 1970s and there are still informal restrictions in many areas. Above all the slur is best understood in terms of the quotation By Lord Brookeborough in 1933, seen as setting the tone for the Stormont regime that he led; 

‘There are a great number of Protestants and Orangemen who employ Roman Catholics. I feel I can speak freely on this subject as I have not had a Roman Catholic about my own place ... I would appeal to Loyalists, therefore, wherever possible, to employ good Protestant lads and lassies ...
This guttersnipe attack by Robinson has provoked a furious row amongst unionism. What of the nationalists? What are they to make of these of these open exchanges showing the raw bigotry of the unionists?

The answer is very little. The nationalist parties have fallen back on the formula that "Robinson has questions to answer." Robinson never answers any questions, nor do they put any, but it convinces their supporters that they have some role other than onlookers. They are much more reliant than the unionists on the survival of the peace process and dare do nothing to rock the boat.

Yet despite their desperation corruption and decay are everywhere. The peace process ate up the arch bigot Paisley. Robinson was to rule via pragmatism - assuring supporters of his hatred of republicanism while maintaining a businesslike approach to the day to day functions of government. Now, as loyalists repudiate anything less than full-blown assertion of sectarian privilege, Peter the pragmatist is pragmatically moving to maintain his leadership.

Nationalist leaders are perfectly willing to ignore demonstrations of supremacy in return for kickbacks and their own share of patronage. What they fear is that the increasingly blatant displays of bigotry, alongside equally blatant displays of capitulation by the state and the British overlords, will wake up the Nationalist workers.

Sinn Fein have kept their distance from the row over Robinson's guttersnipe behaviour. However on a more general level they are showing signs of panic. An orgy of warnings about a crisis in the peace process have been sparked by a growing realisation that the intervention of U.S. envoy Haass, meant to rein in the loyalist offensive, are actually designed to placate the loyalists.

This is indicated by Haass himself, who has narrowed down his remit, accepted the presence of the Orange Order in the DUP delegation, and hinted at a welcome for submissions from the loyalist paramilitaries. It is indicated by Theresa Villiers, British secretary of state, intervening in support of the unionists and then again to limit the Haass remit. It is indicated in an offer by Irish minister Eamon Gilmore to review unionist claims of Irish government collusion with the IRA - one of the more rabid demands by unionism and intended to establish that there was no validity to the nationalist revolt.

The warnings by Sinn Fein are in fact pleas for protection. They claim a leadership crisis in unionism, as if unionists supported reconciliation. They claim personal bias by the secretary of state, as if Britain did not always sponsor unionism. They call for support for principles of equality, as if the Irish government had any interest above ensuring that the embers of revolt have been extinguished North and South.

Peter Robinson's bigotry is establishing the tone of Northern society. His followers on the streets are creating sectarian realities that imperialism is willing to concede. The end of the Haass mission will see a new shift to the right that the Sinn Fein leadership will have to accept to keep the settlement alive.

The issue then will be: Are nationalist workers willing to continue supporting Sinn Fein?


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