Oliphant’s confused comparisons


Having graduated from Boston University and living in Northern Ireland for nearly four years now, I have a particular perspective on the politics of Northern Ireland.

The more I live here, the more I learn how many different opinions there are. And no one person’s opinion is more valid than another’s.

I mention this because I’ve come to expect Irish nationalist sympathies from Americans, especially from the Boston/NYC area. It’s not as though I am going to defend unionism or nationalism (I’m over here to study, not judge). But I will speak up when I see a bending of the truth, whereby the reader isn’t getting a fair perspective of the situation (in my opinion). Reading Thomas Oliphant’s recent column (“Trimble’s ballgame”, Boston Globe, 22 March 1998), there are a few of his statements and comparisons that appear confused:

Paisley may be a Protestant fundamental evangelist (and a strong anti-Papist to boot), but he’s as much as Saddam Hussein as Pat Robertson! And “Trimble’s ballgame” can just as easily by “Adams’ ballgame” too. Oliphant holds out the promise of Trimble “being the Protestant pol who transcended sectarianism”. Well, I don’t see Adams, or for that matter, even John Hume, making appeals to Protestants. Nor would I really expect them to: it’s not the nature of politics in Northern Ireland. There’s only one significant political party which can command the cross-communal support of Catholics and Protestants, and that’s the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. It’s consistent support of 8-10% is some indication of the exception proving the rule.

Why condemn Trimble for representing the present majority of people in Northern Ireland who wish to maintain the Union with Great Britain? I don’t see Republicans convincing Protestants that their culture and heritage are/could be represented in a united Ireland.

Don’t you believe that Trimble, Alderdice, Hume, Adams, et. al. don’t want an agreement. (By the way, any new assembly in Northern Ireland will not have proportional representation for Catholic and Protestant communities, but for the entire community as one: there is no Belgian-style consociationalism plan envisioned.)

The issue is how an overall political settlement is going to work for ALL the people in Northern Ireland (including those who would rather just call themselves “Northern Irish” and not “Unionist” or “Nationalist”, for example).

And I’m hanging around to see it unfold, firsthand. With any luck, I may be able to do my part in building a new future here.

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