Stop press, breaking news! Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill says the north isn’t British, but Arlene Foster, DUP leader, insists that Northern Ireland is British and British it will remain.
It’s hardly unheard-of news is it, yet in today’s climate these are the sort of statements that are being reported. It’s a sign of the times that the “constitutional position” is being debated and its short term future is the subject of speculation.
It’s also an indication of generational change. Time and context have moved on, not to mention demographics.
Gerry Adams has announced that he will stand down as president of Sinn Fein, and while no one really believes that he will go away you know, his relinquishing of the reins formally marks the last handover of the old guard.
Trimble, Hume, Paisley, McGuinness, Robinson, Thatcher, Blair, Reynolds, Ahern, Clinton. All have left the stage they dominated and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since a young barman called Adams emerged in the early 70s.
Do we imagine O’Neill, Foster, Eastwood, Swann, Varadkar and May are the calibre of people to take forward a peace so hard won by the former big beasts?
Someone said to me, with some despair, recently that nothing has really changed; but of course it has. It’s just a worry that we seem to be regressing back into our tribal camps after decades of hope. It’s the hope that kills you, some say.
I find the comparisons between the two communities and their respective outlooks make an interesting, and indeed revealing study. 
A new film has been released called “In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America.”
Former United States President, Bill Clinton described Hume as “Northern Ireland’s Martin Luther King” and former Irish president, Mary McAleese says he is “the greatest problem solver of our time.” There may be some disagreement among Nationalists and Republicans but few would disagree with John Hume getting immense credit for bringing his community into a brighter, more confident era.
He’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner and respected by many.
Of course, he was a joint Nobel winner with a certain David Trimble, but can we say the former Ulster Unionist First Minister is quite so revered by his community? I think history will judge him kindly, but for now too many Unionists, who were already reeling from the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement which they saw as a betrayal by allowing the Republic a say in Northern Ireland, never fully took to Trimble’s Unionism embracing the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Recent skirmishes perhaps only reflect the psyche and attitudes of where both communities sit. Maybe that is an over simplification, but Unionism is struggling with what it sees as the advance of Nationalism and Republicanism; a loss of a strong majority.
The mood in recent days from the DUP is regarded by commentators as a subtle softening towards some accommodation, but we still get comments about them representing “the people”. Well, they are the majority Unionist party, but remember that (like everyone else) Unionists are in an overall minority in Northern Ireland now.
There is also the factor that on the Protestant/Unionist side there are many narratives. In the old one Unionist party state, the Orange dominated Big House Unionism brooked little dissension. 
But those days are gone.
On the Slugger O’Toole website, Claire Mitchell writes: “There’s so much anti-establishment Protestant history to digest. The Protestant Irish, the non-sectarian Presbyterians, the weaver poets, Labour Protestants, socialist loyalists, the evangelical reconciliation movement. Histories very far removed from British and unionist elites. We’re talking communists on the Shankill Road – like my husband’s grandad. Manual workers at the big house – like my own forebears.
But we seem to have developed amnesia about all of this. Conflict has polarised our interpretations of the past. It’s painted Protestants into a corner, which many are struggling to step out of.”
Yet dare to suggest that you don’t favour Unionism influenced by Gregory Campbell, Jim Wells et al and you’re open to scoffs of being a “watery Prod.” There is a proud Protestant Irish tradition but we don’t hear of it.
Many think it better to stay quiet, just stop voting and keep the head down.
But according to a new survey, younger pro-union Protestant voters are increasingly turned off by unionist politicians due to their parties’ social conservatism on issues such as gay rights and abortion.
While support among Protestants aged under 40 for staying in the UK remains solid at 82 per cent, a majority of them no longer vote in elections for the Northern Ireland assembly or Westminster.
There was a lot of bravado at the DUP conference, but there are challenges for the general Unionist leadership to address. 
In addition to the above, which reveals a far from harmonious family, it would seem people in positions of power are refusing to grasp the changing numbers. And a denial that events have brought articles suggesting that a united Ireland is now inevitable.
Is the Unionist failure to embrace equality of the two communities all their own fault?
Well, Republicans should also be mindful that there is still much fear and hurt in the Unionist community. They saw what they believed to be a “glorification of terrorism” at the recent Ard Fheis and that will hardly reassure them that their culture is to be respected. 
The hero worship of a statesmanlike Gerry Adams won’t ease the suspicions of a community which regards him as cold, controlling and cynical.
Where is all this taking us? 
Further and further away from any idea of a shared society, one suspects. Back into the silos, where both sides allow the extremes to dictate the agenda.
We’ve moved on a generation, and I fear that those who didn’t live through the bloodshed of dark times are re-writing a romantic version of history.
I remember Bernadette McAliskey saying once in a television programme: 
“I believe this war is over. But I don’t believe that the warring mentality has ceased among the people. That’s the history of Ireland. To have a war, then lie about the war. To have an incorrect understanding of the war and then when there’s difficulty, the war breaks out again.
“We have to break that mentality,” she said. 
I dread that we haven’t broken it yet. 
Remember the words of John Hume some time ago: “Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions. The solution will be found not on the basis of victory for either, but on the basis of agreement and a partnership between both. The real division of Ireland is not a line drawn on the map but in the minds and hearts of its people.”