Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So, why exactly is a Unionist running for the Irish Senate?

This is Jeff Dudgeon's platform piece, explaining why a N.Irish Unionist is running for a seat in the Republic's Senate:


The Trinity College constituency which I am contesting has amongst its 55,000 graduate electors, some three thousand from all the Ulster counties and many Church of Ireland and Presbyterian clergymen. TCD’s three senators have traditionally included Protestants and progressives like Conor Cruise O’Brien, David Norris, and Mary Robinson.

If I get a high proportion of those votes, as I hope, that makes me a leading contender for Shane Ross’s vacant seat.

Some people, but not that many unionists I have discovered, wonder why I am seeking a seat in Seanad Eireann. That is not to say there weren’t southern Unionists like Lord Glenavy there in the early 1920s. They were appointed as a confidence-building measure for Protestants who were fleeing the country in enormous numbers.

The Cork City proportion dropped an unprecedented 50% between the 1911 and 1926 census while the Protestant decline in the Free State overall was 33%, which tells of a minority in grave danger of extinction.

However when I appeared on RTE radio last week, the question from a bemused Pat Kenny was, “If elected would you move to Dublin?” This reveals the present, benign, view of most southerners - that Northern Ireland is effectively a foreign, and indeed, a distant place. I replied that Dublin was now only a ninety-minute drive from Belfast, so I would not be moving.

Since the 1998 referendum, when the claim to Northern Ireland was dropped, we can interact with the south as friendly neighbours and fellow EU members. Do we not have southern Ministers at Stormont like Brid Rogers and Caitriona Ruane - for good or ill?

It seems the closer we get, the further apart, in a non-hostile way, our peoples become, which calls into question the need for Republicans, then and now, to wage war on the people and institutions of Northern Ireland.

This would be a major theme for me, especially with the looming decade of centenaries, not least that of the Easter Rising. Having written a book on Roger Casement, I am well versed in 20th century Irish history and the origins of Republicanism.

Saturday’s murder of a police officer in Omagh by the RIRA, means it is all the more important, as its campaign escalates, to calm Unionist fears and keep dialogue going between the two main traditions on the island.

I would be a unique, non-abrasive voice in Dublin for Nationalists and Unionists. That sort of voice is seldom heard, leaving the interests of Northern Ireland, not least in our increasingly intertwined economies, unstated.

I can understand Jeff's bemusement at the lack of Unionist interest but I think, along with the lack of Republican opposition to his bid, it is actually an encouraging sign of a growing political maturity in Northern Ireland.

It's not that long ago that he would have been labelled a "Lundy" by the culturalist wing of his own party, never mind the DUP, for daring to step outside the traditional Unionist comfort-zone, especially in the run-up to an Assembly Election. Similarly, it's not that long ago when Republicans brought havoc to the streets of Dublin when faced by a Unionist Victims march; on that day the UUP MLA Danny Kennedy came out with a memorable quote:
"It's ironic that republicans are telling unionists that speaking rights are available to us in the Dail (Irish Parliament) and yet here we were denied speaking rights because of republicans."
It appears that Republicans are now happy enough to permit Northern Irish Unionists those speaking rights both in and out of the Republic's parliament and that's progress surely?


The Aberdonian said...

I was checking the Irish constitution, would he not have to become a citizen of the Republic to even stand? I know the Republic gives Irish passports to anyone born in any part of Ireland/of Irish heritage but a Unionist taking an oath to the Republic seems a bit strange?

O'Neill said...

The ROI, as far as I can make out, guarantees the people of Northern Ireland the right to be a "part of the Irish Nation" and to Irish citizenship. It is an opt-in without any formal process- ie they can't force anyone born in NI to be an Irish citizen! In contrast to British citizenship which is an opt-out- ie anyone born in NI is automatically a British citizen until they write a letter to the Home Secretary saying they no longer want it.

Regarding taking an oath to the Republic in order to sit in the Dail or Senate, I think that was abolished post de Valera but I stand to be corrected...

Blissett said...

Thats precisely it O'Neill, anyone on the island can be a citizen, and its pretty vague thereafter, but if he decides to be a citizen, then thats pretty much it.

I wonder would it peturb him that pretty much every shinner I have asked in the last few weeks is willing him in (as am I) . Probably not, but interesting nonetheless

O'Neill said...

" wonder would it peturb him that pretty much every shinner I have asked in the last few weeks is willing him in (as am I) . Probably not, but interesting nonetheless"

Yes, it is interesting... although I'm guessing you're from the ROI and on the optimistic side of 30?!

On more than a few social issues (eg women's reproductive rights) Jeff would be closer to attitudes held by many of the younger SF than to those held by both the Unionist hierarchy and the SF elders.

Blissett said...

correct on both counts!

Yes I think you are right on social issues, but all the same, I think that some of it is down to the desire for the development of an All Ireland polity. naturally thats not why he is running, nor does it necessarily constitute anything resembling that (one swallow etc etc) but nonetheless, the optics are good.