Posted By: April 16, 2014

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, April 16, 2014.
POLITICS in the southern states of the US used to be all about race and indeed in
some parts today still is. Racial tensions reached a peak in the 1960s when southern
whites were faced with the civil rights movement, federal enforcement of integration
and tellingly, blacks registering to vote and, what's more, voting.

Two of the toughest supporters of segregation were Governor George Wallace of
Alabama and the governor of the neighbouring state Georgia, Lester Maddox. Maddox
closed his restaurant rather than serve black customers. However, the whites in
Georgia knew the game was up. They had to reach an accommodation with a politically
aware, growing, black population of the state, which today stands at 31 per cent.
However, in the capital Atlanta, the black population is 61 per cent. Get the

Faced with the demographic realities the whites switched in 1971 from the rabid
Maddox to the most liberal governor the state had ever had until then, Jimmy Carter.
He was the first southern governor to say that racial discrimination had no place in
Georgia. Giving blacks their place was the right move to make.

There are similarities here. Twenty years ago or so the Northern Ireland Statistics
and Research Agency produced a remarkably accurate paper on the basis of the 1991
census showing that the Catholic population was growing and willy-nilly would become
a voting majority in 2037. All the figures since then have confirmed the trend, most
recently in the 2011 census.

Peter Robinson referred to this inevitable outcome in his remarks at the weekend
during the DUP's so-called spring

conference which was really a rally before the May election campaigns begin.
Robinson told party members that "demographic changes could not be wished away and
ignoring them would be constitutionally dangerous". Then, don't laugh now, he urged
unionist parties to stop "looking for lundies and start looking for converts". This
is the man who said a week before that he had "no desire" to meet the Pope in the
improbable event of him visiting Belfast.

It was unionist parties, particularly his own, which fomented the flag protests in
December 2012 and inaugurated a year of turmoil. In fact every single action of the
DUP and many of Robinson's own actions in recent years have alienated the few
Catholics who might have held unionist sympathies. If they vote, it won't be for
either of the two main unionist parties under what is laughingly described as their
current leadership.

Speaking out of the other side of his mouth at the same conference Robinson then
laid into Sinn Fein, allegedly his partners at Stormont. He accused them of 'soap
opera politics', of creating a 'cliffhanger and a crisis out of every issue'. This
from the guy who absurdly threatened a 'nuclear option' a couple of weeks ago only
to be slapped down by our proconsul.

Not a word about the riots in Carrickfergus and Larne or the drug-dealing UVF
gangsters who control parts of his own constituency or his failure to deal with the
hopeless prospects of Protestant teenagers. On the contrary, Robinson still acts as
if Sinn Fein is the only enemy. Nothing in his speech couldn't have been said 15
years ago. Yet Sinn Fein represents most nationalist voters by a sizable and growing
margin. He admits he has no alternative but to work with them but there is scant
evidence that he does.

He needs to take a leaf out of Jimmy Carter's book and reach an accommodation with
Sinn Fein. Instead it seems that if he were in Carter's shoes he would try to turn
the blacks into whites rather than make a deal with them as they became the majority
in cities like Atlanta. Given the vulgarity of Robinson's attacks on Sinn Fein there
is as much likelihood of converting nationalists to unionists as there would have
been of blacks turning into whites in the 1970s.

Has Robinson ever thought, admittedly an unusual verb in his case, of the other side
of the coin, namely that as Martin McGuinness and others deliberately reach out to
accommodate Unionists and talk of an Ireland with a place for Britishness, that,
'constitutionally dangerous', some unionists might convert to Sinn Fein?