Leading article

Two different faces of unionism on display

Two very different unionist approaches to those from different backgrounds were on display in recent days, with one sharply negative but the other offering significant hope for the future.

The attempt by the Traditional Unionist Voice councillor Stephen Cooper to prevent Ards and North Down Borough Council from sending a message in support of an Irish traditional music festival was deeply depressing.

Ards Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and Belfast City Council are making a joint attempt to host the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, a massive international event which should bring hundreds of thousands of visitors and provide a major economic boost to the region.

The Ards and North Down Council was only asked to agree a letter backing the application in general terms, but this was still too much for Mr Cooper.

He made an entirely spurious effort to link the Fleadh, a non political cultural celebration, with unacceptable republican chanting by a small number of inebriated young people during one concert at the otherwise praiseworthy Féile an Phobail in Belfast earlier this month.

Mr Cooper claimed he did not want to give ''any opportunity for a repeat of the glorification of terrorism'', disputed that the Fleadh would bring wider benefits and said as a unionist he objected to what he regarded the all island context of the event.

His stance was followed by a small number of other unionists, including one from the DUP, but a clear majority of councillors, among them other DUP members, voted for a counter proposal in favour of the Fleadh.

A much more thoughtful and constructive stance was offered by the prominent unionist activist and blogger Richard Garland who works in the office of the DUP MLA Emma Little Pengelly.

He accepted an invitation to attending a hurling match involving the recently launched East Belfast GAC, said he enjoyed the occasion and described the club as `truly welcoming'.

Mr Garland still has issues with the GAA, but is plainly keen to engage in dialogue and expressed sympathy for the rapidly growing East Belfast club's attempts to establish a permanent home.

As we attempt to move events forward during a period of massive political uncertainty, a clear contrast can be drawn between the attitudes of Mr Garland and Mr Cooper.

Only one of them represents a way ahead which is based on insight, engagement and constructive debate within all strands of our divided society.