‘Pan-nationalism’ and unionism


A chara, – In his article “United Ireland campaign is based on a delusion” (Opinion, March 19th), John Wilson Foster refers to “those smiling faces in the [Ulster] Tatler” who want “only the good time they deserve”. He sees this happy situation as threatened by “the recent emergence of a new phase of pan-nationalism predicated on a weakening of the union in ‘the North’ because of Brexit”. He suggests that “any political party in the South that aligns itself with Sinn Féin on Northern Irish issues” is surely “complicit in the politics of sabotage”.

Given the palpable antipathy between them and Sinn Féin, I think it will come as news to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that they are now part of a pan-nationalist front led by that party. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are in broad agreement with Sinn Féin on the issues of Brexit and an Irish language Act, it doesn’t follow that they are players in a pan-nationalist alliance to undermine unionism or Northern Ireland. The avoidance of a hard border is the imperative in the case of Brexit and the pursuance of fair play is the motivation in the case of an Irish language Act.

Rather than criticising the nationalist parties for the emergence of what appears to be pan-nationalist agreement on important issues, John Wilson Foster might do better to question the role played by unionist parties in bringing this about. The Irish language may be spoken by very few people in the North, but it has clearly become an important symbol of cultural identity for the broad nationalist community. Most commentators agree that Sinn Féin had to play catch-up with its electorate on this issue and, if it has assumed a potent “firepower”, this was surely aided and abetted by unionists themselves. References to “curry my yogurt” and “crocodiles” come to mind.

Perhaps the best way of defusing the “firepower” of the Irish language would be for unionists to agree to an Irish language Act along the same lines as similar UK acts supporting Scots Gaelic in Scotland and the Welsh language in Wales. Likewise, unionists shouldn’t dismiss out of the hand the proposals of the main nationalist parties (North and South) to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland – a hard border which would be in nobody’s interest, including “those smiling faces in the [Ulster] Tatler” who want “only the good time they deserve”. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I am somewhat at a loss to understand what point John Wilson Foster intended to make but let me assure him that I, for one, have no wish for a united Ireland. We have enough difficult, awkward people of our own. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.