[Sinn Fein]

5th December 2002

Has Unionism really changed?

Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA speaking at a public meeting in Balbriggan, County Dublin this evening challenged unionist attitudes to the Agreement, particularly those who have failed in their responsibility to bring about change. Mr. McLaughlin said:

Just over a year ago former British Secretary of State, John Reid devoted a keynote address to the theme of OEa cold house for unionism . He directed his comments towards growing nationalist and republican confidence and the need to be conscious of unionist sensitivities. But unionist attitudes are being allowed to pass virtually without scrutiny. I would be interested in listening to the analysis of political commentators as to just how far unionist thinking has changed if at all - over the past thirty years. Yes, I could name a number of individual unionists that have very progressive attitudes to the need for change but what about those with the responsibility to implement that change?

David Trimble s insulting remarks about the 26 counties on at least two occasions in the last twelve months certainly does not portray any degree of political maturity or informed progressive thinking. The best example of resistance to change in unionist thinking is its attitude to power sharing at Local Government level. In the 26 district councils in the North, those with an outright unionist majority have no structured system of power sharing. 

While it is undeniable that major change has taken place since the Agreement and the perception is that the UUP under David Trimble has come a long way - closer examination would seem to suggest that the movement was mostly involuntary. Within hours of the announcement that agreement had been reached on Good Friday 1998, David Trimble began trying to unravel it. At every important juncture in the process since its inception it has been the Ulster Unionists, not as you might have expected the DUP, that has led the charge to prevent the implementation of key aspects of the Agreement such as Policing, demilitarisation, Equality legislation, Criminal Justice Review etc. 

At the same time the daily violent onslaught by unionist paramilitaries on the nationalist community barely elicits a comment unless these same Unionist leaders are pressed on the matter.

If the unionist attitude to change were to be brought under close scrutiny I believe it would clearly identify the main threat of violence in opposition to change as emanating from within unionism. The time has come for unionist leaders to tell nationalists and republicans if they will honour the OEPrinciple of Consent when, not if, a majority in the North favours Irish unity. Will they encourage peaceful acceptance of the democratic wishes of the majority of the people of Ireland or will they continue to be ambivalent about Unionist paramilitaries or obstructionist about peaceful and democratic constitutional change? It is not acceptable that these Unionist leaders, who are so loud in their denunciations of Republicanism or so dismissive about Irish society, be allowed to avoid answering these questions. Given the history of unionism, nationalists are entitled to seek and receive proof of unionist bona fides. When can we expect a confidence building initiative from within unionism?

Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA will address a public meeting in The Milestone, Balbriggan, County Dublin tonight, Thursday 5th December at 8pm.

The theme of the meeting is Nationalists under Siege and  residents from North Belfast and the Short Strand will also be in attendance.

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