Traditions, Lives and New Identities in a Dynamic Political Landscape: A response to 'Unionism, Identity and Irish Unity: Paradigms, Problems and Paradoxes' by Jennifer Todd

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Traditions, Lives and New Identities in a Dynamic Political Landscape A RESPONSE TO ‘UNIONISM, IDENTITY AND IRISH UNITY: PARADIGMS, PROBLEMS AND PARADOXES’ BY JENNIFER TODD Máire Braniff School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences, Ulster University The Brexit referendum immediately brought a discernible change to diplomatic and intergovernmental relations between the UK and Ireland and across the EU, and with it came dichotomies: progress and backsliding; problems and opportunities; fear and hope. Jennifer Todd’s fascinating article focuses specifically on a key aspect of any discussion around the constitutional status of the islands: unionism. Todd explores a question: what form of a united Ireland could accommodate unionist identity? Pragmatically and considerately , Todd contemplates the ontological and physical security issues emerging from this question. I preface my response by admitting my background as a political scientist and researcher of conflict and peace, not of constitutional law. My response is also stimulated by the arguments advanced by Todd and undertaken in the spirit of discussion and debate. This response considers the implications for identity politics in a dynamic political landscape. Author’s email: [email protected] doi: Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 32, Issue 2, 78–81, Analysing and Researching Ireland, North and South© 2021 The Author(s). This is an open access article licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial 4.0 International License. Braniff—Traditions, Lives and New Identities in a Dynamic Political Landscape 79 Todd traces the complexities and evolution of unionist political life since 1998 and considers its fate in the post-Brexit landscape. A first point to respond to is the focus on pragmatic and symbolic gestures proffered by Todd which are thought-provoking and practical initiatives. By proposing adaptations to the Irish Constitution, specifically Articles 2 and 3 which have been so significant to unionist psyche and its understanding of the Irish republic. The removal of the 62-year-old territorial claim to Northern Ireland and replacing it with the principle of consent was a key aspect of the Good Friday Agreement for unionism. Todd’s two proposals offer an important gesture towards Northern unionists. Yet, a question emerges: does the Two Traditions— Paradigm then enshrine the status quo? We already have experienced the problems of enshrining ethno-nationalism in a framework agreement. When peace agreements and constitutions are codified, when they are written down, the problem becomes one of evolution: in accommodating unionism through a Two Traditions paradigm, a risk is that a reunited Ireland emerges as an island of binary identities. This has been one of the key existential dilemmas of the Good Friday Agreement, whereby the system of governance is based on difference: ethnonationalism has become essentialist, thereby disguising and often depoliticising diversity and complexity. During devolution in the north, mechanisms exist for plurality and democratic governance, but ethno-sectarianism and segregation have prevailed. A second, and interrelated point: if a reunified Ireland is about an Ireland of equals, what is it to be Irish and to not be Irish on the island of Ireland? A third point, in Todd’s concept for consideration for a new Constitution of Ireland, is the Two Traditions Paradigm within the language of the preamble , specifically on the point of ‘distancing’. A reminder that language is important: for distancing was not only within the agency of unionism, but also perceptions and reality of being alienated on this island. Language and symbolism are important but so too is the pragmatic outworking of such initiatives . Erosion of unionist and loyalist identity is a commonly articulated view, and here, Todd offers some avenues into practical discussion. What can inspire mutual trust and shared recognition of identity? Todd’s vision of the ways forward being both ‘imaginable and negotiable’ is inspiring, but my question is how achievable will this be? In the north, the ‘imaginable and negotiable’ have at best been characterised by ‘fits and starts’. While not an extensive list by any means, lowlights include: republican outreach to unionism has been problematic; the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition has not delivered any tangible proposal for dealing with political 80 Irish Studies in International Affairs cultural issues...
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-81
Number of pages4
JournalIrish Studies in International Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 11 Jan 2021

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