Posted By: July 26, 2023


Distributed  to Congress by Irish National Caucus

“Members of Congress will find Brian Feeney’s analysis insightful and helpful.”—Fr. Sean McManus.

Unionist leaders cannot turn back the clock.

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, July 26, 2023.

What used to be the ‘mad month’ draws to its conclusion, the quietest for decades. Mind you, not for want of the Orange Order and the DUP disgracefully risking resurrecting communal violence at a couple of the most notorious flashpoints.

Reckless though it was, the half-hearted attempt at troublemaking reveals a Unionist mindset that has been prevalent for more than a decade.

Sometime around 2011-12, the hard-liners in the DUP decided to give up on partnership and power-sharing and try to turn the clock back to pre-1998 obstruction and deadlock.

Was it the time the hard men scuppered Peter Robinson’s deal with Martin McGuinness in 2011, or was it the shock in 2012 of the 2011 census result which displayed the writing on the wall of the north’s accelerating demise? Or was it the symbolic end of Unionism’s dominance of its one city in the universe with the removal of the Union flag which they had flown at the city hall since 1906?

Whatever the reason, or maybe a culmination of blows, 2013 was the year of the ‘flag riots’ when unionist mobs took on the police with stones and petrol bombs mainly in Belfast, but elsewhere too, blocking roads and marching around waving a variety of flags.

And here we come to the crux of the problem. The cowardice and ambivalence of Unionist leaders, most notably the DUP, whose leading figures not only offered no leadership, but worse, in some cases joined roadblocks and barricades. Teenagers, misled by the DUP’s collaboration with the UVF and UDA, ended up with criminal convictions, streets in unionist districts in east Belfast had shops looted and businesses damaged. What was the point of it all?

Somewhere at the back of the minds of the rioters and perhaps of some DUP blowhards maybe lay the dream that they could turn the clock back to a shimmering Shangri-La of Unionist dominance and certainty. It seems that sort of notion is what Unionist leaders have been tacitly endorsing for the last decade, essentially a futile attempt to turn the clock back to old certainties that are gone forever.

It can never happen because change is inevitable. Unionist leaders consistently fail to come to terms with this truth. None of them has the guts or political or intellectual ability to present a picture of their future for their voters. Instead, they mislead them with notions that marches, demonstrations, boycotts, and obstruction will be successful in leading them back – note ‘back’ – to the promised land where croppies [Catholics] lie down.

This failure of Unionist leaders to offer any picture of a better future is described perfectly by Maurice Craig: “It’s to hell with the future and long live the past/May the Lord in his mercy look down on Belfast.”

So, the drug-dealing UVF and UDA order out the youths they have corrupted to bedeck the poorest Unionist districts with flags – bigger this year than ever, you might have noticed. Contrary to their purpose, they’re a sign of weakness, and desperation, their shrinking geographical locations correlated with poverty and some of the worst education attainment standards in Europe.

Meanwhile, as declining numbers of aging Orangemen traipse after loyalist bands in the rain, Unionist politicians jet off with the rest of the Unionist middle-class (non-voters who disdain the DUP snake oil) to be roasted in the Balearics, Greece, Turkey, and further afield.

You might also have noted in recent years the striking absence of tricolors in working-class nationalist districts. There are some of course, but what’s at play is the effort, led by Sinn Féin, to show publicly that there is a successful political alternative to riots and protests exemplified by the end of destructive bonfires and the brilliant success of Féile in West Belfast.

All that is a conscious display of community strength and confidence in contrast to the leaderless political impoverishment among declining Unionism. Have they even heard of Maurice Craig?