Letter : Unionists' fears are justified

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The Independent Online
From Mr Stephen Plowden

Sir: Your report "Unionists stand alone in anger" (17 February) describes how Unionists now feel isolated. Even the moderate Jim Nicholson (chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party) says: "We have no true friends in either government. We expect no quarter, but we will not acquiesce in our own destruction."

This is a distressing and dangerous situation which your leading article "Unionists hold a weak hand" (18 February) can only exacerbate. You portray Unionists, or their political leaders, as being implacably opposed to any kind of change. In fact, they have reacted to a particular set of suggestions which it was obvious from the outset would be unacceptable to them.

In their letter to John Major, which you quote, Unionist leaders say: "Co-operation and even cross-border bodies, properly defined, are one thing. All-Ireland bodies are quite another."

Unionists are bound to feel, when the Irish government presses for such bodies and, also, according to reports, for the island of Ireland to be treated as one for the purpose of EU funding, that these moves are further steps down the slippery slope of a united Ireland.

How else can the Irish government's stance be interpreted, especially while Articles 2 and 3 are still in place? Its suggestions are not directly addressed to the discrimination and disadvantages which, despite great improvements, many Catholics in the north still face. What else can they be but moves towards the achievement of nationalist goals?

Only the Irish government can remove the threat that Unionists now feel. It should be to make it clear that it has only one aim: to find a constitutional settlement that will be acceptable to the majority of both northern Protestants and northern Catholics. It should also state very clearly that it is seeking a permanent settlement - in so far as any constitutional arrangements can ever be permanent - as distinct from and opposed to an interim solution to be overturned in the next generation in favour of a united Ireland.

Such a declaration by the Irish government could create the right atmosphere for constructive talks that Unionists could join. In its absence, it is both unfair and pointless to criticise Unionists for intransigence.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN PLOWDEN

London, NW1

20 February

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