Opinion - Denzil McDaniel - In the internet era, does the Unionist computer still say no?

Published: 20 Mar 2014 16:150 comments

I must admit a couple of stories last week gave me more than a little scare.

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Firstly, we were reminded that it was the 25th anniversary of the internet. 25 years?

I know in some circumstances that may seem a long time, but when you consider how much the internet permeates into all aspects of our daily lives you tend to think that it has been around for ever. Like many things, the world wide web can be positive and negative. It depends how we use it; as a tool of knowledge and keeping in touch it’s superb, but evil people can use it for some of the sickest and depraved behaviour imaginable.

The scary bit is when one considers how quickly technology is advancing. Already, we have given up a lot of privacy (willingly) and yet complain that there is a feeling of someone out there watching us, and if the internet is dominating our lives now, imagine what it’s going to be like in another 25 years.

Scare number two was the statement from the United States diplomat Richard Haas of the potential for Northern Ireland to slip back into daily violence. God forbid, I thought. But is this just a scare, or a real possibility?

Local politicians didn’t seem to think so. First Minister Peter Robinson felt the comments were unhelpful, and that instead we should be “talking up” the prospect of stability and peace. Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said he didn’t get any real sense that the situation would slip back.

I tend to agree that a return to our darkest days isn’t at all imminent. It’s not likely that the extremes are able to indulge in the full scale violence that marred our society for so long.

But.

And it’s a big but. There is no room for complacency. Couldn’t you just sense the frustration of President Bill Clinton in Derry the other week when he urged us to finish the job. We are not building on the achievements of the past; in fact, political groups appear more divided than ever. And the real danger is that as more and more people opt out of the political process, we slip further and further into division. And eventually……

Can anybody argue that the focus is firmly on what divides us, rather than what we have in common.

Perhaps at the heart of it is something I heard said some months ago. After years of conflict, Republicans are too clever to admit they lost; Unionists are too stupid to accept they won.

Cynical? Maybe. Too simple? Perhaps.

But you’ve got to admit that there is something very different in the approach to the present, and something fundamentally different in the confidence of the two power blocs.

Look at the roles being played by two leading Republicans. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness sits in Stormont, unthinkable years ago. He travels the world promoting Northern Ireland, he works as positively as he can with the other community at home at grass roots level. Unionists don’t like to hear that, and when under pressure they revert to calling him the IRA Commander, which of course he was. But he is the Martin McGuinness of 2014, not 1974.

And when it came to standing up to dissidents, McGuinness called them “traitors.” Unionists, on the other hand, pander to the loyalist trouble makers.

Mairtin O’Muilleoir has been probably the best Lord Mayor that Belfast has ever had in terms of putting his heart and soul into working for all the people of the city. (Gavin Robinson of the DUP was excellent too). But O’Muilleoir was physically buffeted and treated disgracefully by loyalists when he visited their area.

Yes, these Republicans are their opponents who have their own agenda. But it would seem their very party label stops many Unionists from working with them.

I admit it’s a difficult situation for Unionists, because the hurt of many victims from their own community is still very raw, and many of the changes in society are seen by grass roots Unionism as ebbing away at their identity.

The Unionist leadership, however, isn’t promoting the idea that the Union is stronger than ever. Why, for example, does the TUV’s Jim Allister manage to rattle leading figures in the DUP so often, considering the respective party strengths.

And last week, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt put forward a number of proposals, and some of them were truly depressing. He revives the Drumcree argument, and suggests that the parade down the Garvaghey Road should be completed. And the UUP wants to introduce a motion calling for the Union flag to be flown 365 days a year in Belfast, knowing such a proposal has about as much chance of success as Gerry Kelly becoming the next Grand Master.

I’m not suggesting that Republicans and Nationalists have got everything right, far from it because they too have questions to answer in terms of building a better future.

But Unionists seem to pay too much attention to their own community’s critics, while ignoring thousands upon thousands of people who have become so disillusioned that they are turned off by the political process.

A survey recently showed that people are much more interested in bread and butter issues; jobs, the economy, education, the crisis in the health service. However, we haven’t quite got to the point where such matters will decide elections. Politicians would be foolish, though, to ignore the movement towards such issues in voters’ minds.

Both communities need to accept each other’s legitimacy and respect each other’s traditions. We seem to engage in crisis management, but building a genuine peace goes far deeper and the real necessity is that we must start creating a shared future.

In 1989, when the world wide web was created, we were still in the throes of bloody violence in this part of the planet. In 25 years time, dear knows where the internet and technology will have taken us. Where will our two communities be?

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