The influence of the Irish Scots (i.e. Ulster Protestants) in the United States has been immense for most of its history.
Part of the modern failure is due to the fact that Irish Scots have blended into the mainstream culture so easily that they have often become Americans, without a prefix, and their impact has diminished, as Irish Catholics and Italians , much later, felt a bit on the outside for most of a century (mid-1800s to mid-1900s) and retained their European identity.
Lately that has changed dramatically and now people of Irish Catholic descent are present everywhere from the Supreme Court of the United States to the Biden and Trump presidencies.
In living memory, there was rarely more than one Catholic at a time in America’s most powerful court of nine judges. Now they form the majority of judges.
The Irish Scottish phrase has long been used in part as a code for Irish non-Catholic.
While Ulster’s influence was large in the early United States and massively proportional to Ulster’s small population itself, it was still less than 20% of the population. The influence of German and English Protestants was much greater.
You see this in the early Belfast News Letters of the mid-1700s, with advertisements for some ships sailing from Ulster to America, but reports of a much larger number of departures from England and from Northern Europe. (see the link below on the first newsletters).
But the millions of Englishmen and Germans were so dominant that they lost most of their European identity and became traditional Americans. To a large extent, the Scots Irish have done it too.
Even so, the Unionist influence in shaping Washington’s vision of Northern Ireland should easily be as great as that of Irish America (pro nationalist).
In 2004, I was on a trip to America with a number of journalists from both sides of the Irish border, only two of us of Protestant origin from the north. We traveled to Kentucky and met Senator Mitch McConnell, already then one of the most powerful Republican Party politicians in the country (and even more so now, the party leader in the United States Senate, at the approaching its 80th birthday). He asked us all where we were from, before he said, “I’m from Banbridge.
Not only do many of these politicians have Scottish Irish roots, American conservatives have generally viewed Britain as a trusted ally of the United States for over a century.
On the other hand, Eire (as it was then) was neutral in the war against Hitler, something remembered in the halls of American power after 1945.
Few of these American leaders think that way about Ireland today, but they are aware that the UK has fought on the same side as America in recent conflicts such as the 1991 Gulf War.
Even Joe Biden, whom trade unionists fear to be anti-British, strongly supported the UK during the Falklands War of 1982 (when an Anglophobic strain in Washington was unfriendly to our war against Argentina).
The UK and US often partner with the UN Security Council.
This week, former Ulster Unionist leader and submarine commander Steve Aiken wrote about the Aukus Defense Agreement between Britain, America and Australia, and how it reflected an understanding United Kingdom as a key security partner.
Yet for all this shared history, Unionist influence is negligible compared to Irish America.
Not only have politicians in the US Congress scolded and threatened London about Brexit and any possible UK deviations from the Northern Ireland protocol, but they also – incredibly – scolded it about the legacy of NI troubles.
A nation that has been phobic about terrorism after September 11, 2001 is lecturing the UK for allegedly covering up its particularly mild response to decades of IRA terrorism.
Part of the failure to combat a Sinn Fein version of our past is rooted in a mindset of the British Foreign Office, which has little sympathy for Ulster unionism and reluctant to defend it in the foreigner.
Part of the UK’s reluctance to defend itself from US criticism of the impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland is rooted in its own paradoxical approach to the Irish Sea border (both withdrawing from it and defend it in court).
But much of the problem with union invisibility is due to the fact that there is a large, well-connected and highly motivated Irish American caucus, while unionism lacks the bandwidth to lobby Washington.
Recently, we published a letter from the Ireland-Israel Alliance on how the Republic is now one of the most anti-Israel Western nations.
Why don’t we have British diplomats and Unionist politicians hammering this house on pro-Israel America at every opportunity?
If a wealthy benefactor even sponsored two permanent and knowledgeable union lobbyists, they could make great strides in Washington.
One of the first things these lobbyists might do is link up with the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) lobby group and highlight Irish hostility towards Israel.
There are so many other things that union lobbyists could work on, especially building bridges with influential American conservatives.
This is a lobbying that the Northern Ireland Office in Washington has never been able to do, being neutral between nationalists and trade unionists.
Even this natural diplomat, Trevor Ringland, is limited in his role as NI’s part-time envoy to the United States.
Unionist lobbyists could and should go much further.
• Ben Lowry is Acting Editor-in-Chief of News Letter
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