September 13, 2016

The 'Despised Tribe' and 'Despised hangers-on'

In a previous post I wrote that Catholic-Nationalists in Ireland can regard Protestant and Unionists as associated with "Saxon and Guilt".

I also wrote about Northern Ireland's image problem and the Reginald Maudlin moment here. I wrote about Unionism's anglophobia here. I also wrote about Ireland's "big, mad children".

In this post I look at how the British press and mainland opinion often looks with low regard upon the pro-Union community of Northern Ireland. Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote in his autobiography, 'Memoir: My Life and Themes', published in 1998:
"Within the United Kingdom, the Ulster Protestants, about a million people in a society of more than 50 million, are currently without political clout. In a united Ireland, with a total population of less than six million, the ex-unionists would be a formidable voting bloc, for whose support the other political parties would compete. 
These ex-unionists would therefore be in a much stronger position, in defending their vital interests, than they are now as despised hangers-on of a population which no longer wants them, and whose government may progressively coerce them."
Newton Emerson wrote in June 2012 ‘The unionists have to learn a new language’:
"Why do unionists provoke this reaction, even when they do not deserve it? Robin Aitken, a former BBC journalist, has described Ulster’s unionists as one of the “despised tribes”, alongside eurosceptics, Christian fundamentalists and others lazily deemed “right wing”. These groups are demonised by metropolitan opinion, Aitken argued, because they are felt to be outside the “progressive consensus”. Demonising them helps to define that consensus."
Emerson continued:
"This theory rings a few bells but it is over-wrought. It is simpler to see unionism’s problem in terms of supply and demand. Consider how many organisations now claim the mantle of “anti- discrimination”. It amounts to an industry, yet its raw material is increasingly difficult to find. Unfashionable pronouncements by people in any kind of authority are rarer than platinum. Unionism is one of the few half-credible sources of this valuable commodity. 
You can sense the desperate shortage of good old-fashioned prejudice in the way Poots’s remarks were self-righteously seized upon and used. For example, the Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy said: “This is about equality. By banning gay men from donating blood, Edwin Poots is denying them their human rights.” Equality and human rights are separate legal concepts. There is no human right to give blood, and if there was, it would be secondary to the recipient’s right to life. You might expect an MLA to know this. Does McCarthy never have any lawyers at his dinner parties?"
He then wrote:
"Unionism’s weakness in the age of identity politics is to expect no consensus, other than national aspiration. Irish nationalism affects every left-liberal cliché but both main unionist parties still aspire to be a “broad church”. This allows any unfortunate remark, whether deliberate or accidental, to be associated with the entire congregation. 
Sackings and spin will not be enough to take this gift away from their opponents. If unionists want to stop being presented as bigots, they must actively present themselves as something else."
Robin Aitken wrote that Orangemen and Unionists are regarded by progressive circles as a "Despised Tribe", they are the "politicallly damned". Aitken wrote in his book ‘Can We Still Trust The BBC?’ a chapter entitled 'The Despised Tribes’, and in that he wrote:
"Orangemen have few media allies. The BBC in particular has demonised them; they are irredeemably unfashionable. They find themselves in the company of a select group of political and social movements whose portrayal by the BBC is consistently negative. These Despised Tribes are condemned forever to wander the world without approval from Today or Newsnight - definitely no soft interviews for them. Fellow convicts in this legion of the politically damned are the whites in Africa; the Likud party in Israel, the Serb nationalists under Milosevic; the Northern League in Italy; Mr. Le Pen’s supporters in France; Vlaams Blok in Belgium; American ‘Christian fundamentalists’; conservatives Roman Catholics; UKIP And many other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathy of media progressives… 
The Orangemen of Northern Ireland, and indeed unionists in general, came to feel unloved by the BBC. 
Very few BBC journalists would condone the terrible things the IRA has done, but the underlying politics of Republicanism are generally approved of. There is a great reservoir of sympathy within progressive circles for Irish nationalism, and Sinn Fein and the IRA have cleverly used that predilection to advance their cause. 
Within the political context of the Northern Ireland conflict it has often been the case that the BBC has presented the republicans as the good guys whose aims are largely justified; by contrast, Unionists are the 'blockers’ standing in the way to progress towards a just settlement. This despite the fact that it was murderous republican violence which in latter years constituted the graver obstacle to achieving peace… 
The BBC is neither loved nor trusted. And unionist exception is well founded. 
Unionists have a good case founded on history and the application of democratic norms - but it is a case somewhat disfigured by past injustices. And often Unionist spokesmen have acted as if their arguments are self-evidently correct. For journalists it was much easier to get nationalists for interview rather than unionists, who often acted as if interviews were superfluous."
Newton Emerson wrote in another article:
"So why leave out parties unique to Northern Ireland? The glaringly obvious answer is that Britain does not consider the province to be part of its political system. Even Welsh and Scottish nationalists, whose raison d'êtré is to leave the UK, are felt to be more a part of it than Ulster unionists whose raison d'êtré is the Union."
"From the hapless reaction of the broadcasters when challenged, there is a suspicion that some had genuinely forgotten about Northern Ireland’s existence. They had certainly not thought to consider it. Among their excuses was that the SNP might be a coalition player after the election. Yet so might the DUP — a prospect that has mesmerised unionists for the past 12 months while plainly not registering in London at all. 
At this point, all the other parties in Northern Ireland with MPs added their voices of complaint, with the DUP and Sinn Fein threatening legal action. There was no danger in this for the republicans of Sinn Fein, the nationalists of the SDLP, and the non-unionists of Alliance. They accept or welcome Northern Ireland’s semi-detached status within the UK. But for the unionist DUP to press the point further risked having that status thrown back in its face."

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