Unionism's terminal decline
Previous letters from me have referred to Protestants here now being a minority – the census has confirmed this. Unionism, however, has minimised its significance, suggesting political affiliations are no longer predicated on religious grounds and that we are now a multi-cultural, diverse, inclusive and pluralist society. They suggest the union is safe, pointing to the fact that there is a marginal majority that considers themselves to have a British identity. This view, however, does not reflect political reality here, where unionism continues to be hegemonic in approach and expects Britain to underwrite its wishes over those of the majority population here, where it refuses to accept parity of esteem to those of a different culture. Take, for example, Jamie Bryson suggesting that parity of esteem referred to in the Good Friday agreement (GFA) is simply aspirational. Consider, how nationalists are constantly warned how they shouldn’t do anything to upset unionism and loyalism when the marching season is approaching and how the mainstream media covers those events in comparison to republican events. Consider the influence provided to a minority organisation like the Orange Order whose ethos is to promote the Protestant faith and to campaign for it to be given preference within the union. Consider the failure of the PSNI to take action against illegal loyalist parades, bonfires etc on grounds that it could lead to community strife and compare the PSNI allowing loyalist paramilitaries to wear paramilitary uniforms at loyalist funerals. Consider now how the PSNI, prison service etc are not reflective of the community and how that maintains unionist hegemony.
There are multi-factoral reasons why people here marginally identify as British more that Irish but one of the main ones is the political stance taken by those claiming to represent republican and nationalist interests over the last quarter of a century which must be said to be focused mainly on reformism rather than constitutional change. Sinn Féin has quite clearly stated that it has sought to normalise the polity here so that while the unionist community here remains largely polarised, as can be seen by the vote share for DUP and TUV, the project of making the six counties work through the GFA by Sinn Féin has largely failed yet has aided the growth of a middle ground by parties like Alliance whose sole focus is making the six counties work.
In order to bring a united Ireland closer, republicanism and nationalism must become more assertive. Twenty five years of the Good Friday Agreement has not brought equality for nationalism and republicanism even though the community from where it emanated is now in the majority. This is a scandalous indictment of the tactics of those who claim to be republican, whereby after so long the people they claim to represent continue to be treated as second-class citizens including culturally and representatively in society.
DUP knows the ‘emperor has no clothes’
A UNESCO-backed report from the University of Ulster produced, by Dr Matt Milliken and Professor Stephen Roulston, ‘How education needs to change. A vision for a single system’, calls for ‘radical change’ and a singular, more secular education system with an end to academic selection. The report proposes ‘a single system’ consisting of ‘all ability post-primary schools’ and concludes: ‘One of the greatest catalysts for underachievement in Northern Ireland appears to be academic selection’.
The response of the Transferor Representative Council, which represents the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations has been very measured and open, while the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools said it is taking time to review the report.
Contrast these responses with the response of the DUP’S Diane Dodds who dismisses the report with, “Northern Ireland students achieve some of the best results in the UK” and “we have a world-class education system”. Northern Ireland students do achieve some of the best results in the UK but these results are achieved at the cost of a huge tail end of underachievement. In 2015 more than a third of the young people in Northern Ireland were educated only to lower secondary level or below, by far the worst of any UK region. This figure was three to four times higher than the incidence found in the Republic. No-one believes this rubbish about ‘a world-class education system’, not even the DUP. The emperor has no clothes and the DUP know it. What they do know, is that they have a system which primarily benefits an elitist group of which they are part, to the almost total exclusion of the working classes – but then the working class was never much of a concern for the elitist DUP.
Finally, she goes on to claim that the Expert Panel on Educational Underachievement which made 47 recommendations in its final ‘Fair Start’ report would be more than enough to improve our “world-class education system”.
She fails to mention that academic selection was excluded from the terms of reference under which the panel was set up. It’s the DUP’s go-to response when problem solving – just ignore the problem.
Downpatrick, Co Down
Christian faith should be respected
Of the many warm tributes rightly paid to Her Majesty the Queen, those which drew attention to her Christian faith were well made. The late Queen made no secret of her personal faith in Jesus Christ.
It came as a matter of deep concern to us therefore when, so soon after her death, proposals surface to reduce and even remove the Christian faith from schools. We believe this would be to damage children’s education and their appreciation of the world’s greatest book, the Bible, and the world’s greatest person, Jesus Christ.
Having young people confronted only with a secular agenda at school will deprive them of a knowledge of the Christian faith, which has been so pivotal in our history. It is also worth noting that many of our schools were founded by Christian people, whose values motivated them for the good of the next generation.
We therefore call on the Education Authority to resist these pressures and ensure that the Christian faith be properly respected and appropriately taught in our schools.
Rev PHILIP CAMPBELL
Caleb Foundation, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim
PM’s course of action highly likely to trash UK economy
Prime Minister Liz Truss has just embarked upon a neoliberal economic course for the UK, with the objective of producing a low-tax state with minimal public services and minimal regulation – a course which, owing to unsustainable debt, is highly likely to trash the UK economy. The decision to implement this policy was effectively made by just 0.17 per cent of the UK electorate – the 81,326 Tory Party members who voted for Truss in the leadership election. This is apparently how democracy works.
In Northern Ireland, it is perhaps time for unionists – particularly those who rely upon public services – to ask themselves whether they wish to continue to be part of such a state.