Open Unionism…

28 07 2009

So Robinson blasts the Equality Commission. He says the Equality Commissions does not represent unionists.

Elsewhere, loyalists blast the DUP. They say the DUP does not represent loyalist views.

Elsewhere, traditional unionist blasts mainstream Unionists. He says mainstreamers are indifferent to tradition unionist views.

Elsewhere, mainstream unionists blast one other. They say they other is to blame when things go wrong.

Take the PUP criticism in Londonderry. They complain about:

  • recent attempts to vilify and criminalise loyalism in the local media
  • widespread feeling of anger
  • members are branded as criminals
  • current republican onslaught on loyalism
  • genuine sense of anger within deep grass roots loyalist communities
  • calling on the PSNI to restart the engagement process with loyalist representatives.

I don’ think any of this is necessarily untrue. Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) communities experience difficulties. But surely their most pressing difficulty is lack of voice – poor articulation and low/sporadic input to public debate from their reps.

The message always has the appearance of this:

  • PUL are being left behind.
  • PUL are angry
  • PUL demand government intervention.

How far has this strategy brought PUL? Well, it’s brought these communities as far as another edition of the Londonderry Sentinel. Now what?

Politicians would insist on more politics. But perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps less politics and more social enterprise/social engagement is necessary?

Perhaps PUL cannot be led effectively as an homogenous organisation by the current crop of politicians. Perhaps self-contained, narrowly focused grassroots groups will develop capability faster than the slow moving, rusty tanker of Unionist politics? A series of short-term self-interested acts repeated constantly within the wider PUL community will generate more and culminate in more and  achieve more than any number of ‘searing blasts’ from Unionist politicians. So much energy is expended unprofitably by PUL political leaders.

If PUL communities are shortchanged that is not the fault of government or the PSNI or Sinn Fein. They are shortchanged by a lack of constructive vision. And if that is so, then it must be said that the present structure is wrong. It must be. Who could conceive of ‘withdrawal’ as a forward-thinking initiative?  How can self-imposed isolation (limiting voice and positive platforms) persuade others? How can a refusnik position over the Equality Commission transform unionist engagement with the Equality Commission?

Smaller PUL social enterprise groups should engage more – not less – and venture into areas of the intellectual/political landscape which their politicians urge them to avoid. PUL communities should not listen to Peter Robinson attacking the Equality Commission.  They should engage with the Equality Commission and build the confidence and capability to deal constructively with statutory agencies and structures.

Transformation occurs through engagement. The formula of withdrawing support does not work – it leads nowhere, it must be rethought from within these communities. Telling people to withdraw from the PSNI, or from the Equality Commission, or from Stormont is the wrong advice.

The established political formula is not working. PUL communities should engage directly with all agencies on the basis of social (as opposed to political) enterprise.  PUL must lead from within and produce a different solution. They must do things differently. PUL can start by regaining voice from the political elite and articulate their concerns directly with those whom they would seek to change.

Withdraw support from the PSNI? Withdraw from the Equality Commission? That’s really bad advice. For politics to work for PUL, a non-political (social enterprise-focused) leadership should emerge from within these communities to force what James Purnell called ‘equality of capability’. Politicians as policy makers have either failed or are not succeeding, so PUL must now engage directly with the delivery bodies.

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