Unionists need to remember the Irish Language is cultural, not political…

In light of recent political events, it’s good every once in a while, to pause and take stock, assess where we are; where we’ve come from and the future direction, if any.

This can be said of both Unionism and Nationalism, both sides of the Brexit argument and even those who spend their political lives perennially sitting on the fence.

Colum Eastwood’s ‘cross-community anti-Brexit axis’ was a novel and clever attempt to forge new ground. In doing so, it left Sinn Fein exposed, flat on its feet and scrambling to respond.

Michelle O’Neill continued her anti-Unionist, anti-Brexit crusade over the past few weeks by taking every possible opportunity to go out of her way to find ways to offend the Unionist people across Northern Ireland.

The section of John Finucane in North Belfast is just the latest cynical and desperate ploy on Sinn Fein’s part to find some traction in this General Election campaign and appeal to the hearts of nationalists, rather than their minds.

There are no new policy ideas, there are no policy discussions at all. Sinn Fein is rhetoric heavy, overladen with soundbites yet very policy light at present.

As for Unionism, having split over Brexit, it needs to come together, reinvigorated with a renewed sense of common purpose – Brexit could be that galvanising issue.

We need a new and more urbane strategy, one which appeals to all shades and brands of unionism: that is to some hearts, to some minds, but spoken in a voice that’s capable of being heard by all.

Such an inclusive approach would undoubtedly enhance the footprint of Unionism across Northern Ireland by beginning to entice some shades of Unionism away from the traditional staunch flag waving not an inch approach to a more consociational and confident Unionism at ease with itself.

That requires reaching out, listening, engaging, understanding in order to lead a society begging to become at ease with itself.

Unionism needs to stop thinking that all they are doing is staving off the inevitable. In doing so all they do is give favour to their opponents. To quote from ‘A Long Peace’:

“Today, a reverse dilemma applies to unionists. They suspect they have not lost. But they are not sure what it means to win.”

Unionism needs to rediscover what its ‘endgame’ is. What is the modus operandi? The status quo, the maintenance of the Union? What we have we hold? Is that all? What thought is given to how the Union will look in 2020?

Will we see a more federal-type United Kingdom post-Brexit in order to keep Scotland within the Union? Do we need to create a United Unionist Council in Northern Ireland to bring all shades of Unionism together united in common cause and purpose?

Would that remit include working to ensure that Unionist seats in Councils, Stormont and Westminster and protected if not maximised.

Would there be a Constitutional Convention composed of all those across the UK, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with Unionist aspirations and identity to help promote the benefits of a united Kingdom?

Unionism has begun to consult widely, to broaden its base, to engage with those whom it wouldn’t naturally engage with. For example, Arlene Foster met with Irish Language speakers in Newry last week.

Unionists don’t have a pathological dislike or hatred of the Irish Language itself – we are repelled by the weaponisation of the language by those who don’t have its best interests at heart but only seek to use and abuse it for party political purposes.

In this context, Unionists need to remember the Irish Language is cultural, not political.

No matter who chooses to speak it.

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