Britain's professed neutrality fuels climate of mistrust

ULSTER Protestants have always had a siege mentality, springing partly from the sense that they were in an unfriendly land and partly from an ingrained lack of confidence in British politicians.

The suspicion of Britain increased in the late Sixties and early Seventies as Westminster and Whitehall moved from a pro-Unionist stance to lay emphasis on the rights of the Catholic minority.

It reached new heights in 1985 when Britain and the Republic of Ireland signed the Anglo-Irish agreement, forging a new London-Dublin relationship but excluding, and appalling, the Unionists. The accord strengthened Unionist fears that Britain saw no long-term future for itself in Ireland.

Seven years after the signing of the agreement, that uncertainty is still there. One political leader said bluntly: 'All of politics in Northern Ireland is centred around British intentions.' The gap between Britain and the Unionists is still evident, and many of the latter feel it is growing wider.

A senior Protestant clergyman summarised the views of many when he said: 'I detect a growing feeling that the British government would like out. We feel that probably we are an embarrassment to them. If they could get out decently, with pride and world respect, they would do it.' A prominent banker put it this way: 'The IRA, the SDLP, the Irish government, Kevin McNamara and the British Labour Party - they're all working for Irish unity. Where's the balance? Who's on our side? Nobody. People get annoyed when the British keep saying they're neutral, even-handed.'

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, may be instinctively pro-union, but he has failed to soothe Unionist fears. The atmosphere of mistrust is such that when Sir Patrick made an unexceptionable speech clearly aimed at detaching any waverers from the fringes of Sinn Fein, he attracted a torrent of Unionist criticism for allegedly wooing the IRA.

Last year's political talks had the unforeseen by-product of increasing the mistrust. Many Protestants had hoped that the British team would somehow align itself with the Unionists, and were disappointed when this did not happen. Britain's professed neutrality was viewed by Unionists as worrying.

According to a Presbyterian minister: 'There's a general air of frustration and disappointment with the British government and this business of it acting as an honest broker and taking nobody's part.'

Another source of frustration was the nationalist approach to the talks. Some Unionists had the unrealistic expectation that by making decidedly modest offers on Catholic participation in a new administration, they could have Articles 2 and 3 removed from the Irish constitution and dismantle the Anglo-Irish agreement.

As one of the nationalist negotiators put it: 'They wanted to get rid of Dublin influence and put nationalists back into their old box. The contest in the talks was essentially about whether the nationalists would occupy the place that Unionists want to give them: the answer was no. The realisation of that bleak reality has certainly been unsettling for Unionists.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk