This one's going to upset a lot of my tribe, but we need to pull our heads out of the sand and face historical and political realities. Siege mentality is still very strong among Ulster Protestants, and it is justified, as we have been under siege. "No Surrender" continues to be the cry of resistance to the inevitable as the Union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain enters a new phase. We are Britain's practically orphaned children, who have been clinging for dear life onto the coat-tail of the mother country, fiercely proud of our British ancestry, culture, and heritage, and reluctant to embrace the fact that we were born on the island of Ireland, and are thus Irish, whether we are not entirely comfortable and accepting of that nationality or not.
As British colonial settlers who came to Ireland from England and Scotland from the 12th century onwards, and most saliently during the Ulster plantation of 1609, when large numbers of both Scots and English came across and settled in the North-Eastern corner, we have been subjected to a long series of Irish uprisings, and have paid for the misdemeanours of our forefathers in human life.
Surprisingly, the Irish Republican movement has had a great many Protestant leaders, none more eminent than Wolfe Tone, who was of the British Protestant ascendancy, and born in Dublin, Ireland. In 1791 he helped found the Society of United Irishmen which campaigned for parliamentary reforms. He was a humanitarian who recognised the oppression and injustices of British rule in Ireland, and organized a convention of elected delegates that forced Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. By 1794 he and the United Irishmen began to unsuccessfully seek armed aid from Revolutionary France to help overthrow English rule in Ireland, uniting Protestant, Catholic, and dissenter as "Irishmen", opposed to the continuation of British rule.
There have been many others like him. Charles Stewart Parnell, Henry Joy McCracken, and Robert Emmet et al. All Protestants and leaders of the Irish Republican movement. With Daniel O' Connell Irish nationalism became something almost exclusively Catholic in nature, and many Protestant Republicans became alienated and distanced themselves from Irish nationalist ideals. Since the latter half of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century Nationalism and Unionism has been dichotomised into Protestant (Unionists) and Catholic (Nationalists), but as has been noted, this hasn't always been the case.
Both Unionists and Nationalists were opposed to the partition of Ireland in 1921, and Northern Ireland was born out of a threat of revolt and war from Unionists, and the foolish compromise of Michael Collins, who accepted 6 county exclusion from the the Fourth Home Rule bill aka Government of Ireland Act (1920), which caused partition and created two countries on the island ie. the independent Republic of Ireland aka Irish Free State, and Northern Ireland, which would and has remained part of the United Kingdom.
This left two minorities in each jurisdiction, and the Catholic minority in the North were mostly viewed as "the enemy within", and thus a threat to the stability of Northern Ireland. Institutionalised discrimination in housing, employment, and the voting system (Gerrymandering) was perpetrated by the Unionist government at Stormont, so as to bolster a precarious political situation, and maintain Unionist control. This, unsurprisingly, caused deep resentment among the Nationalist people, and the civil rights movement came about as a platform to voice Nationalist grievances.
The Irish Republican Army, whose guns had generally remained silent since the end of their border campaign (Operation Harvest) initiated in the fifties, and with the aim of overthrowing British rule and creating a united Ireland, now saw another legitimate opportunity to push for Irish reunification via traditional Republican means ie. armed insurrection, and people of my generation (born in 1968) were forced to live our lives through the next 30 years of Republican violence in (Northern) Ireland.
We've lived through one of the most turbulent and violent periods in Irish history, and yet still we are always teetering on the brink of all out conflict and war with every Orange/Loyalist band parade, and every reaction from Nationalists. I remember the sounds of the seventies in Belfast (bombs going off), the tit-for-tat murders of the 80's, and how when the ceasefires were called in 1994 peace not only felt abnormal, but frightening, as we had been living with violence for so long, that violence had become our normality.
I drove across the Irish border for the first time in my life this year and discovered Ireland, the island I live on; visiting Dundalk, Drogheda, and Dublin. The sight of the Irish tricolour was initially unsettling, and I just kept telling myself that it was "just their national flag". As someone who grew up in Protestant East Belfast, and who was indirectly taught to look upon the Republic of Ireland as a foreign country, not our country, I must confess to having felt a bit apprehensive, but after having seen the people on the streets of Dundalk, Drogheda, and Dublin go about their daily business, I realised that there was really nothing to fear. These were just ordinary people, going to work, living their lives, in peace and harmony.
I came home having had a wonderful time, and felt elated that I'd finally, after 44 years, boldly ventured into the Republic of Ireland, alone, and liked what I found there. I want to be able to go anywhere on this island, and without fear of prejudice, discrimination, or threat of violence, and enjoy this beautiful island we live on. But we have had restrictions imposed upon us since we were no height. The geographic border was also imposed upon us psychologically, and overcoming that psychological barrier has taken me all my life. But I now feel free to venture into the Irish Republic any time I want, and explore more of Ireland, the island I live on. Have you reached that stage yet?
I was opposed to PIRA, and indeed Loyalist violence throughout the conflict, and like most people, tried to lead a normal life in an abnormal situation. The path to (relative) peace has been extremely difficult, and we are still not out of the woods (the dissidents are still active). We are the children of empire, subjected to punishments for the sins of the father who has incessantly attempted to disown us. The British colonisation of Ireland is in its closing stages, with the six counties set to reunite with the other 26 some time in the future. All we can do is delay, ignore, obstruct, and procrastinate like we've been doing. We've paid for our British identity and nationality in sacrifice, and our loyalty to the British crown has not been appreciated. They don't care, the English view us as "Irish", and regardless of whether we regard ourselves as "Unionist" or "Nationalist". They don't want our loyalty, they want nothing more than to wash their hands of us.
Excuse the tortuous and circumlocutory build-up to this question, and there is so much more I could add and been more precise about, but here goes: Shall there ever come a time, when you, the Protestant people of Northern Ireland, shall cease to view consenting to a united Ireland as "Surrender"? I'll lay my cards on the table: I am in favour of a united Ireland, if it was brought about via exclusively peaceful means, and there were steadfast assurances and copper-fastened guarantees built into any future reunification agreement, that in the event of persecution, discrimination, alienation, and marginalisation of the Protestant, (ex) Unionist people, the British government would have the right to intervention.
I have experienced discrimination in an employment setting at the hands of a Nationalist in a position of authority, so I know only too well through first hand experience what it's like to feel like a second class citizen. The "us and them" mentality is not an easy one to overcome, and our fears are well justified. In fact, I had my mind set on returning to England, the land of my ancestors, before opting to stay here in Northern Ireland. As although we are heading for more difficult times, this is my country, I was born here, and have lived here all my life. I want to continue live in this, my country, in peace, and without fear of violence.
Despite the deplorable political violence of the PIRA, and their continued unapologetic stance, do you think there shall ever come a time when you recognise that we are here as a result of British colonialism, and that perhaps it is nearing the time when the British people of Northern Ireland should choose to give the six counties back to the people of Ireland and thus to themselves? In other words, should we choose to walk into a united Ireland, or wait once again to be pushed and shoved?
We need to start discussing this now, and stop running away from it, as Scotland and England may be reluctant or unable to provide adequate living space for more than one million ex-colonial refugees.