Mark Cosgrove’s News Letter article was perhaps the most reasoned I read on the subject of the Covenant over the past month or so.
However, even it contained a crucial and uncomfortable omission. For all the fine words about Carson’s “vision”, we have to recognise that the outcome of his actions was the precise opposite of that vision – and that this was entirely foreseeable even to Carson himself.
Carson’s vision – at its most agreeable – was of a united Ireland within a United Kingdom with prosperity based on global trade. However, what was created was a bitterly divided Northern Ireland within a partitioned Ireland with an economy reliant on subvention – the precise opposite. This was entirely foreseeable because, whatever his generosity of spirit, Carson’s centrepiece was a Covenant open only to a particular segment of Irish and Ulster society – hence not a single Catholic, even those who were openly and avowedly Unionist, felt able to sign. For someone whose stated vision was an inclusive Union, it is strange that his actions were so obviously exclusive.
A century on, we again hear much good intention about a Union cherished by all. Yet when it comes to actions – from failing to condemn obviously offensive and provocative behaviour towards Catholic fellow citizens to claiming the legacy of Craig (someone who openly supported the notion that we are a “Protestant State” in direct opposition to Carson’s vision) – most of us continue to fall short.
If we are to achieve something from this decade of centenaries, we must not only mark our heritage but also learn from past mistakes.
Around Ulster Day, Carson’s vision is surely worthy of reflection. However, given the outcome of his actions was obviously and foreseeably at odds with that vision, it is scarcely worthy of celebration.