Unionists can’t accept their world has changed

editorial image

It could only happen here. There’s a conflict over the Conflict Transformation Centre.

Some of the hardest line DUP politicians hawk themselves around the world as experts on conflict resolution but keep it going at home. The old sectarian imperative must be honoured, at all costs. The ‘state’ was founded on sectarian lines and so it must continue, it seems.

Peter Robinson can talk a good game about there being “no more them and us” but he crumbles at the first sign of pressure. He reverts to type. Northern Ireland has always been all about them and us. It’s the DUP’s whole raison d’etre.

On the peace centre at the Maze, Peter Robinson has played the Orange card. He’s reneging on his earlier agreement with Sinn Féin. His unionist electorate must be protected, at all costs, from coming to terms with reality. They can’t be told that things have changed. It’s too uncomfortable for them, the poor dears.

Their politicians need to pretend that they’re still in charge, that they’re still calling the shots. Despite the reality that Sinn Féin is in the executive, it can’t be admitted that there are two narratives, both of which are respected at least by people on their own side.

This goes to the heart of our current problems. The Orange Order can’t come to terms with the fact that Belfast has changed. Unionists can’t accept that republicans as well as unionists can march in “shared spaces” in town centres. They can’t accept that the balance of power in Belfast City Council has shifted. They can’t accept that the Maze site can be developed in any way that makes them uncomfortable. In short, they can’t accept that they’re no longer in complete charge.

Many unionists seem to think it’s OK for Sinn Féin to be in the executive provided they renounce their past and become more like unionists. These unionists are in denial of reality. It’s all part of the ‘no surrender’ mind set.

Meanwhile, the DUP message to their own electorate is that they’re putting manners on the Shinners and if they keep up their pressure long enough they can ‘civilise’ them even more.

It’s hardly surprising then that their politicians aren’t willing to explain the new realities. Only one senior DUP politician could even bring himself to utter a word of criticism those who roughed-up Belfast’s Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir in the city’s Woodvale Park. It’s disingenuous for DUP’s Edwin Poots to blame Sinn Féin for Peter Robinson’s Maze u-turn. He cites taking the Union Jack down from Belfast City Hall, the naming of an Armagh play-park in honour of an IRA man and that march in Castlederg as the reasons for the First Minister’s volte-face. Mr Poots doesn’t seem to realise that he is, in effect, saying that the First Minister’s move is tit-for-tat retaliation. We could all play that game and it will get us nowhere. The truth is that Peter Robinson’s letter from America had nothing to do with Sinn Féin. It had everything to do with appeasing unionist fears that the peace centre would be seen as “a shrine to terrorists”. Sinn Féin should not allow Robinson to back-track on his agreement without serious consequence. Fifteen years after the Good Friday agreement it’s imperative that even the slowest of slow learners get the message that their ‘world’ has changed.