Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Rethinking Unionism: An Alternative vision for Northern Ireland
Norman Porter

Belfast: The Blackstaff Press
252pp. Index. Bibl. Pb.: ISBN 0-85640-643-0. 11.99

Rethinking Unionism simultaneously attempts to explain Unionist politics, its philosophies, and its meanings for existence, and to replace the present day form with an upgraded version. The title of Mr. Porter's book is enough to give a reader pause to think. For some readers, understanding Unionism may not be an easy task, but Mr. Porter's explication of both Cultural Unionism and Liberal Unionism will assist readers in deconstructing the arguments both branches put forward to justify their past and present actions. The author is not shy in criticizing Unionism's policies and actions, and he is very candid about his bias, for his heritage is strongly tied to Unionist politics. Indeed, the author's near confessional declaration is instrumental in lending legitimacy to his scathing rebuke of Unionism's failure to serve all the people of Northern Ireland during its tenure at Stormont. Mr. Porter's chapters walk the reader through an overview of Unionism as a whole, and then divide Unionism into two, a process that eventually leads to the dissection of these divisions. The author brings to light the premises for each form of Unionism, and then neatly dispatches both, arguing that neither Cultural Unionism nor Liberal Unionism are relevant to the new Northern Ireland that is being born as we speak. Instead, Mr. Porter offers Civic Unionism, a near-hybrid version, which is grounded more in the political needs of all Northern Ireland citizens. He frequently argues that cultural needs of the province should be given "due recognition," but be put "in a different place." This division of the political and cultural needs of the people of Northern Ireland is a theme that permeates Mr. Porter's book. He sees these forms of identity as being quite separate and distinct, that the political needs of Northern Ireland's citizens should not be mixing with something as quite as messy as culture. In that regard, he would disagree with many scholars and practitioners in the conflict resolution field who believe that the cultural is political and the political is cultural. Mr. Porter presents a concrete and convincing, and at times amusing, argument as to why Unionism needs to be redefined, reframed, and if relevant, repositioned. Whether Civic Unionism is the answer remains to be seen, and to be fair Mr. Porter acknowledges that Civic Unionism does not hold all the answers. Yet, by examining the foundations of Unionism, both Cultural and Liberal, and questioning their present-day relevance, Mr. Porter invites the people of Northern Ireland to think outside the box of traditional Unionism, to brainstorm the options, and to imagine the possible outcomes.

Linda McLean Harned, ICAR; George Mason University

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page