Nesbitt mask slips on representing only Protestants

‎”The statistics say it’s actually worse on the Catholic side and yet you’re hearing more complaints from the Protestant side… On the Nationalist Republican side there is hope… On the other side, the side that I am elected to represent, there is little or no hope.”

That is a direct quote, on BBC Radio late last month, from the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Indisputably, he groups together “Catholic, Nationalist, Republican” on one side, and “Protestant” (and interestingly no other definition) on the other side – and then confirms he is elected to represent the latter.

This came just days after he wanted to be the pluralist, progressive party for all Unionists…

In response to a request, the interview was on Nolan on 27 September and may still appear here, with Mr Nesbitt on from around minute 33.


34 thoughts on “Nesbitt mask slips on representing only Protestants

  1. Harry Merrick. says:

    LOL! Typical Parsley smear. Nesbitt and the UUP are decidedly not partisan and certainly not sectarian.. You are being vicious and mischievous Parsley. You really ought to get over yourself.

  2. Seymour Major says:

    I haven’t yet decided whether Nesbitt is just paying lip service to the idea of a pluralist UUP or whether he genuinely wants it. These quotations suggest to me that his thinking is wrong and that even if he wants to represent all unionists, he does not have the first idea about what he needs to do to achieve that.

    • Seymour,

      You’re spot on.

      Unionists do genuinely fantasise about the day the “Unicorns” come home to roost; in the same way Nationalists fantasise about the day modern Unionists turn into the medieval “Old English” (“more Irish than the Irish themselves”) and just give up this inconvenient “British” malarkey.

      Nesbitt’s speech was just that: a fantasy. In reality, however, he equates “Protestant” directly with “Unionist” and thus his Unionism is blatantly exclusive and anything but pluralist right from the outset.

    • Harry Merrick. says:

      It would be good if Parsley gave us the full text of what was said. To make comments from mere snippets will cause some to believe that he is a mischief maker and gossip only! From what I have seen, and I do not belong to the UUP, Nesbitt is very genuine in what he says that he wants. He “does” want a pluralist non-sectarian UUP at the end of the day. He wants a UUP that strongly represents and defends the Union with the rest of the UK. He wants the UUP to be a friendly house for Unionist inclined Catholics. He also has a band of advisors and fellow colleagues behind him to help with policy making.

      • ianjamesparsley says:

        Harry – he simply doesn’t. He specifically used the words I have written, I have been careful to quote him with absolute precision.

  3. NorthernIrishTory says:

    Must be just a co-incidence then Harry that the UUP (and Nesbitt) have no difficulties having meetings in Orange Halls. Being generally associated with an organisation which is ‘sectarian and partisan’ is ok then?
    Think you need to define for us your interpretation of what is or what is not sectarian or partisan and maybe clarify what Nesbitt meant rather than just attack Ian.

    • I’ve no problem with people meeting in Orange Halls, I as a Catholic, Nationalist, Irish Republicanism have met with Orange men and Apprentice Boys in a commemoration to mark both the Siege of Derry and the Flight of the Earls and found their contributions to the historic nature of the Siege and the Flight quite fascinating. I don’t believe you have to sacrifice your identity to be pluralistic, indeed rather than be pluralistic you are simply being hospitable and accommodating, which isn’t enough, there’s no sharing involved.

      A greater sin against the pluralism at least from an aspiration side, is highlighting a clear “Them” side be it ganging up against a Nationalist MP, or squeezing out Alliance Councillors from Mayoral roles. Both Robinson and Empey payed the price for that “national unity” cry between the UUP, DUP and the local Conservatives, with Herman and Long taking seats away from that collective.

      We need to have the attitude that rival parties are just that, rivals … not the enemy but the competition. That’s why MPs in Britain (as opposed to the colorful unparliamentary language used against certain Labour deputies made by certain Green deputies that is seen in certain Youtube videos) are described first and foremost as “The Honourable Member of Parliament for” such and such constituency. No matter what that politician has done, he/she is the person mandated for that constituency.

      If politicians focused more on the voters rather than the representatives we’d have a better system. At least Nesbitt is trying to do that.

    • Harry says:

      Clare, I hadn’t meant that Unionist Unity was linked to sectarianism. There are very many Catholics who want to remain within the Union, but have no properly strong Unionist party that is non-sectarian to vote for. The obvious one is the UUP, reformed to be a welcome house for all religions, and to withstand any attempts to force a UI on us. If that also means talking to the Orange Order in an Orange Lodge, well so be it. I am sure the DUP will do the same. I also suspect that Alliance might also do the same. The main problem that I, and many others have, is that NO party, apart from the UUP can equivocably be relied upon to resist the siren calls to a UI if an offer of power is presented. The DUP behaves in a manner that one suspects as being devious, Alliance is linked to the LibDems so is wishy washy, so, sadly, that does indeed leave the UUP as the best remaining choice. Nesbitt has only been Leader for six months. I simply cannot get over all this negative sniping by persons here. ANYthing to denigrate the UUP at all costs and Nesbitt in particular. Dirty game politics, but it should not be so if we are to achieve anything sustainable. It is so very easy to be criticle, sneer and present all those alternatives with that great assett, hindsight! FWIW, “I” believe that Nesbitt does have the right idea, and should be given every chance to prove himself. So far, it seems to me, that much comment is coming from his political adversaries who do not want to see any other parties spoing their pitch. Well, we now have UKIP! Probably far more dangerous for Alliance.

  4. 1. Better to be honest than in denial, and he is right to an extent in what he is saying, albeit using the usual archaic language we have in this region. Frankly I don’t think any Catholic pays much attention to it. This language doesn’t offend the majority, the labeling of sides is dismissed roundly as pointless.

    The question you have to ask is what are these “Catholic sides”, because they are difficult to define, he’s defined two but really there are three.

    1. Those with Catholic Religious Affiliation (often including the Non-Irish and non-Nationalist)

    He’s elected to represent Strangford, which does have a religiously/culturally Catholic quota, given the Alliance surplus and the inability to elect a nationalist candidate I would say Mike Nesbitt benefited from a fair share of Catholic votes and transfers, if any Unionist did, though it’s not unfeasible that he may have won Protestant voters away from the SDLP and Alliance. So his mandate has broken down some sort of barrier. The point of his statement is that he’s actually admiring and acknowledging the “Catholic side” which isn’t represented religious or by any archaic definition as a microcosm in his constituency. He’s highlighting what he says a better sense of hope among Catholics, be they Irish ones, British ones, Polish ones … which may be referring to a religious resolve, rather than anything Irish, Republican or Nationalist. To put the point more bluntly, I believe the Protestant church groups have been more vocal in the general over the economic matters than their Catholic counterparts.

    2. The Geographical Regions which are Predominantly Catholic and their populations (often regardless of their religious beliefs if any)

    The vast majority of Catholics live in the “West of the Bann” where things are actually worse according to the statistics, this “Catholic side” of Northern Ireland which includes Protestants, Orthodox, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Spiritualists, Pagans etc. and the non-religious living in the counties outside of Antrim, Down and their western peripheries. This has a lot to do with Belfast-centrism of the economy as it has to do with sectarianism. Given that our economy has to move away from retail, it’s important to emphasize decentralization measures to areas in the west regardless of their religious breakdown. It should be utterly frustrating and to some extent stupefying for those living in the West, Sinn Féin is the most popular Party in Queen’s but most Sinn Féin graduates will have to move away from the West of the Bann (at least in a Northern six county sense) to other areas, indeed most Students from Queen’s and Ulster University come from the “Geographical Regions which are Predominantly Catholic” especially those voting from the SDLP and DUP.

    Educational under procurement particularly among Protestants is the big issue for the Eastern representatives a sign of the lack of hope in those regions … but for those in the West it seems to be the extremities of the waste of the talent on the dole, and the NETs in more urbanized regions. Employment issues are also very varied from the retail-centrism of Belfast and those who trade there to those who are more focused towards Derry, Omagh, Coleraine, Enniskillen etc. The Derry centricism in the West is perhaps another problem, in terms of the potentials for tourism and many other industries it doesn’t always share the spoils.

    3. Those on the side with the Irish Nationalist/Republican ethos (often including the non-Catholic and those who are Irish and/but British)

    With the Republic of Ireland going from Celtic Tiger to Celtic kitty due to a massively risky banking guarantee, and the impact hitting the border regions … there is a tendency for the civil Irish to be more focused and perhaps grounded in their ambition here, and a greater need for hope. Very few have any hope that the state will do anything, yet despite the regional economics there is a greater determination to take risks and take chances in this area. The political ethos may have some ideological contribution, perhaps the ethos may have a greater sense of “fight”, … i.e. No Surrender just means to avoid being resigned to others but ‘Our Day will Come’ implies keep on fighting (or rather forcing the issue) for yourself, the first speaks of duty the latter speaks of pride. The political and economic fallout does matter to, Ireland and especially the Republic of Ireland has to fight a lot harder than the United Kingdom, but then again Northern Ireland needs to fight more than Great Britain does.

    In summary:

    Mike clearly doesn’t represent a 2 (though some in party do), doesn’t claim much of a mandate from 1 & 3 (but may have some mandate from them) but seems to be aware of a cultural difference as he does represent a 1,2 and 3 when the “sides” are reversed though. If Mike is calling for greater networks between people of different communities … as he has before I may add … by highlighting the differing attitudes between communities here, he is showing the potential real integration has here, rather than integration being used by those who fear diversity as well as division.

    Regional problems in the west are often not sectarian and quite often do bring people together from across divides … the success of the peace bridge in Derry is just one sign of this hope. While in the East of our region particularly Belfast we see more peace-walls and a greater need to segregate houses. Perhaps it shows that economic divisions are becoming more prominent than social, cultural and religious divisions … which if true is the unwanted face of “normality”.

  5. Clare says:

    Even if Mike Nesbitt were to desectianise the UUP the question has to be asked is it enough to justify it’s existence or differentiate it enough from the DUP.
    He once used the analogy of a business. Surely every business has an objective or a business plan. If his plan is to make the UUP less tribal and more plural comments like this are a strange way of going about it.
    Also, if it is his course of action why are the moderates alienated and he is removing them from positions of influence?
    It all smacks of a lack of direction and has all the appearance of a rudderless ship. For these reasons it’s no surprise Ian believes the party is doomed.

  6. Clare says:

    Surely you would agree Kevin that image is all important.
    Is holding meetings in Orange halls or being photographed with the loyal orders on covenant day is a useful part of changing the image of the UUP into a pluralist party?
    I’m sorry but it’s too tall an order, and like Seymour I’m not even sure he is serious.
    There’s simply too much bad baggage with the UUP in much the same way as there is with Sinn Fein and the IRA. Its quite simply irreformable.

    • ianjamesparsley says:


      Orange Halls are for the Orange Order. A party trying to distance itself from sectarianism simply would not be holding meetings in them.

      The issue is, there is a degree of comfort from doing things as they always did. Of course, doing things as they always did will simply see a steady decline in votes, most markedly in the Belfast area.

    • Harryaswell. says:

      I agree Clare, an Orange Hall is not the best place for a pluralist meeting to be held. However, I have Catholic friends who express no problem with this. Sadly, at this time, many, many Protestant Loyalists/Unionists are members of the Orange Order. I actually suspect that not so many meetings are indeed held in Orange Halls anyway. I cannot imagine Nesbitt, who is NOT an Orange man himself, agreeing to anything like that except on special occasions such as the Covenant celebrations. I believe you are confusing the Unionist “Unity” mythe with sectarianism. Although, having said all that, sectarianism is rife on all sides still today and is likely to remain so for a very long time indeed. Not helped by having to co-operate with un-reconstructed terrorists and murderers in the seats of power today. You mention the UUP having too much baggage?? Well. Take a look at all sides. Tell me which one hasn’t any baggage! And don’t tell me Alliance is pristine. It isn’t. If you do NOT want a United Ireland, then one must co-operate with ALL Unionist parties from time to time ar required. A United Front is necessary, as we have all been taught so well by Republicans.

      • The problem wasn’t where they met, the problem is they had no intention of being pluralist, I’m sure Gildernew said she’ll represent (as far as her party allows her) as some profile figure Protestants and I’m sure Rodney probably said they’ll represent Catholics (as far as three parties more obsessed with political success than representation allow them too). Rodney and Michelle are not anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant but of course neither really offered much in the way of pluralism. Catholics and Protestants left because Parties and Tribes came first and People came second. SDLP and Alliance had to receive protest votes to make their tally look respectable, Poor Vashundra Kanner wasn’t given any sort of profile.

        Ultimately the people were given the choice of a SF person who because they wouldn’t take their seat would reduce the majority the Conservatives would need to get a majority by a half (i.e. one less person meaning half a person less to get a majority), and a DUP-Conservative candidate who would be Conservative half the time, DUP half the rest of the time. Realistically the choice of main runners was between “half a DUP” candidate and a “complete no-show”, no matter how you voted you’d get half a Tory either way. You had two candidates competing for Half of a Seat, and two parties and an independent struggling to fight for one. You had three parties making a pact, and one party trying to make a pact … Pact Politics is not Pluralist, its only intention is to be divisive.

        We should learn from the 70’s that Unionist Unity encourages Nationalist Unity and that neither encourages Pluralism. It puts the Party and the Pact before the People, Unionist, Nationalist and Other. Nations should be made by their people, not people by their nations, either way of the constitutional divide there is a basic human right in a democracy to vote and influence … these Unity pacts take Ireland away from the Nationalists and the United Kingdom away from the Unionist.

      • Harry says:

        Kevin, alas, youre points are only valid within a perfect society where everyone thinks and acts logically. This is not the case today, anywhere. The main problem is that most persons within Ireland, let alone Northern ireland, tend to think through their entrenched biase, whether or not that be religion, unionism or republicanism. We have been at each others throats for far too long for any easy options. How many people really do forgive and forget the past? Not many. What we DO have to do is to soldier on as best we can and make our state of Noerthern Irelan so very much more attractive a place to live that republicans per se have no argument left for a UI. It will take probably hundreds of years for sectarianism to disappear. Until it does, all the logic in the world is not going to change anything.

  7. Clare says:

    Sorry Harry but I am having difficulty with some of the rationale in your arguments.
    Unionist unity is linked to sectarianism? How so?
    I haven’t stated that Alliance is pristine but I can’t see sectarianism/tribalism in its baggage. Can you?
    I support Alliance precisely because (although it isn’t the sole reason) it hasn’t got the baggage that I am speaking of.
    Some other parties have bad baggage too, thats true, but certainly not all.
    Excusing the bad baggage dosn’t help move things on Harry and Mike Nesbitt would be better actually addressing the problem rather than giving the impression he is actually serious about the reform the UUP so desperately needs.
    I fear the cancer is terminal however.

  8. @Harry

    I don’t think religion is what is causing the division to be honest, on the one hand there’s rising secularism among both groups, on the other none of the differences really come down to difference in Christian belief between a Catholic and a Protestant, or even cultural ones associated with them. Ireland’s becoming a less Catholic state and Britain’s becoming a less Protestant one … Protestantism is on the rise again in the Republic of Ireland and Catholicism on the Rise in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    It just is a matter of fear over faith, and neither faith embraces a fear of humanity in my honest opinion. Religion has been part of the constitutional question because across Europe for nearly a thousand years it was the constitutional question. People complain about sectarianism here, don’t realize that for years the Tories were simply the Establish church party and the Liberals and their partners in Labour were the parties of the Dissidents, and Catholics were banned from voting all together.

    If you look at Irish and British history under a microscope you’ll see such strange anomalies such as Republican Orange Protestant and the Loyalist Green Catholic, you’ll see numerous examples of joining against the common enemy and numerous examples of civil wars within both Irish nationalism and Irish/Ulster Unionism. When the Catholic Emancipation was introduced it promised or agreed to a mixed-marriage between Ireland and Britain in a unity that was to the mutual benefit of all in the lands and it was opposed by the Protestant hierarchy in Ireland at the time and it failed with the mutual dissolution of 26 counties of Ireland from the Union to become a Free State.

    As for the national question, I’ve always believed it to be much broader than a land border issue, indeed self-determination often is. Take the Jaccobite – Williamite wars, there was two groups of Unionists fighting in Ireland over the British Crown … one group lead by a Catholic convert in debt to France and another group lead by a Calvinist in debt to the Holy Roman Empire apparently, back in the days when a sovereign debt crisis was actually literal. Now we’re in a situation where the freedoms that began with the Glorious Revolution in Britain and what Nigel Farage describes as “Ireland’s hard fought independence” are both under threat from international audit and austerity.

    Globalization is making Ireland and Britain no more than little islands in the greater scheme of things, private companies, bankers and bondholders are holding a lot more power than the governments we aspire to have. In modern times Britain has relied on Irish independence and vice versa, they will still need to to overcome the culture of financial complacency and conformity that has lead them to recession. I see no problem in those in the North questioning, debating, reasoning, discussing, even arguing over the level of freedom and independence they have in the region.

    The Good Friday Agreement respected both forms of freedom and now their in crisis, perhaps there, it encouraged networking, it respected people’s right to dissent against or support any constitutional arrangement they want. It removed the democratic deficit and allowed local people to decide local issues, but now these issues are becoming less localized. It accepted people thought differently, worshiped differently, grew up in different parts and different regions, encountered different problems, faced different challenges, with perhaps the only real unifying thing coming from a mutual understanding of self-determination, people here wanted to have a say here for the better or the worse of it, to form its own networks.

    As I’ve said numerous times before, we don’t get the nations we want, we often get the ones we deserve. Nations are more than land they’re whole groups of people, they could include a displaced group such as the Lakota or the Kurds or the Basques, in the future the British and the Irish may join them as stateless nations and that could happen, if we deserve to let it happen.

    • ianjamesparsley says:

      All of that is still a wee bit to complicated.

      Nesbitt implied in mid-September that he wanted to attract Catholic votes. By the end of September he said, clearly and indisputably, that he was ‘elected to represent the Protestant side’. No one who thinks and feels for all of Northern Irish society could possible have said that.

      It’s not complicated. He instinctively supports a fundamentally segregated society and believes only Protestants can be Unionists.

      He is entitled to hold that view of course, but he should be honest and open about it.

  9. With all due respect, what did people really expect from tetchy Mike? As Eamonn Mallie has asked, are he and the UUP in general just DUP lite? Of course they are. And than includes being a party solely concerned with a very specific section of the community that identifies itself not only as Pro-Union but also as Protestant in the main and that’s fair enough. It’s not ideal in any way, shape or form but with someone like the DUP for instance, at least I know what they stand for and I know that even though I may disagree massively with their opinions I know what I will get from them.

    Mike thinks that he can stand in front of a lectern and tell us all that he wants an inclusive UUP for everyone regardless of creed, that he wants everyone to have the same education as his children have at Campbell (rich and thick?) and that he likes apple pie and is anti infanticide and dislikes rain on a sunny day but when he’s in the heat of the moment he says it as it is.

    And yes, using the word ‘protestant’ may only be a ‘label’ as some have said before, but we all know what he means by that because those unicorns are really just that, fictitious animals in the main who will not vote for a DUP lite party and will never do so in any kind of large numbers.

    On a slight tangent, above was mentioned that the problem with pols here is they are all for the ‘tribe’ and not for the ‘people’, whatever that means. I thought this was incredibly naive and idealistic tbh. EVERY political party is for their own ‘tribe’ and never be fooled as to otherwise. There are tribes in every country imaginable which may not be as easily defined as they are here in the North but they can be easily enough identified if push comes to shove.

    • ianjamesparsley says:

      Oh this is exactly what this “reasonable observer” expected…! 🙂

      • Very good IJP! Just out of interest, is there anywhere in particular where we can getting a simple breakdown of voting for the parties in the Assembly? I would be interested to see how the UUP and DUP have voted on certain matters and see where they may differ.

  10. Clare says:

    There is an alternative to tribalism. It’s why I vote Alliance

    • Harry says:

      There really is no way out from Tribalism in NI or anywhere else. Alliance = LibDems!! Dear me, I would rather UKIP.

  11. Clare says:

    Harry would you ever get real and listen to yourself?
    Where is the tribalism in towns like Portsmouth, Brighton, Bournemouth, Aberdeen ,Cardiff
    or Cork that compare with the scenes we witnessed in Belfast city centre in July this year ?
    It’s the kind of defeatism in saying that there is no escape from this that makes people continue to vote for the extremes here. Voting for Nelson McCausland who won’t condemn the scenes in Donegall St is a perfect example of what I mean. Just keep voting for them cause there really is no way out eh Harry?
    Voting and supporting moderate partes here IS the way out.

    • ianjamesparsley says:

      I’ll tell you something, I prefer Harry just telling it straight re his view of things than Mike Nesbitt claiming he wants Catholic votes and then refusing to represent them!

      But the point is this: if the UUP just offers the same as the DUP, what’s the point.

      The UUP is losing more votes to Alliance than to the DUP, and has been for some time. That it hasn’t worked that out yet is yet another reason it’s going down the tubes.

      • When did Nesbitt categorically say he’d refuse to represent Catholics? More importantly what has Nesbitt actually DONE to back that up? He and other members of his party may have had more votes

        They certainly have more votes in “Catholic Areas” than David “Pointless” Ford and his party, who seems to care about his departmental budget more than Catholics.

      • ianjamesparsley says:

        He categorically said he didn’t represent Catholics. He has done much to demonstrate this (most obviously claiming the legacy of James “We are a Protestant State” Craig).

        The rest of your point is straightforward claptrap – there’s no way of putting that more politely!

  12. Clare says:

    Yes I an I know what you mean but this kind of complacency in regard to sectarianism isn’t acceptable. It’s all to evident at Stormont too. Not enough is being done to tackle sectarianism, bigotry and homophobia for that matter too.
    One can’t help wondering is it because it feeds the system and the people who get elected there.
    Huge advances have been made in places like Liverpool and Glasgow against this, and these cities aren’t the places they were 50 years ago.
    The kind of actions the police took over the past few days in regard to the Conway band are examples of what is required to show that zero tolerance is what is required but our leaders at Stormont need to be leading the way more in showing that there can be a brighter future here.

    • You’re 100% correct of course, Claire.

      I do think it’s easier to debate with people who suggest it’s not possible than with people who claim they want it to happen but then act all innocent when they do and endorse things to the contrary.

      For example, DUP Minister Jonathan Bell tweeted he wanted a Union in which Catholics are comfortable. Meanwhile, his colleagues collect 15,000 signatures to keep the Union Flag flying 365 days a year, in contravention to the norm in the rest of the UK. Then they will act all innocent…

  13. Clare says:

    Very good post Ian

  14. One hundred years on, and the other 26 Counties’ definition of “independence” is that a newspaper can face the serious threat of closure on the instructions, not of the British Government, not of the British Parliament, not of a British court, not even of the British monarch, but of one or more other members of the British Royal Family.

    That is not even colonial status. For example, it could not happen in Saint Helena, where I was born and where my mother’s family comes from. And it certainly could not have happened if there had been no partition of the United Kingdom and of the Irish Catholic ethnic group within the United Kingdom, as the greater part of it remained then and remains now.

    Rather, the whole of Ireland would have received the National Health Service (still not in place in the Republic, nor ever likely to be), and a generation later would have saved the whole of these Islands from the abortion and divorce free-for-alls.

    No wonder that support for the Union among Northern Irish Catholics is now proportionately higher than among the English.

  15. What David Ford said about Bloody Sunday was claptrap, claptrap no unionist representative of modern time would dare to say, for fears of the kind of misrepresentation amongst the other side, even in an email. There was outcry across the political spectrum with complaints from within the Alliance party and some Unionist parties.

    You still haven’t given a real indication that Mike was saying anything real by this comment, he said an 80% Protestant constituency, which had yet to elect a Nationalist MLA was not on the Nationalist, Republican, Catholic side. I’m amazed how he got any feedback from any Catholics.

    Compare outcries between a highly controversial and insensitive one from David Ford and Mike using the usual labelling and over generalisations that 99% of people here do when they speak of Catholics and Protestants here. At least Mike shows he’s trying to empathise with people outside his own political sphere. Would Craig stay at a Catholic’s house?

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