If the DUP … were not so bigoted they could influence [ change] before they become a minority.”

Posted By: January 01, 2014


BRIAN FEENEY. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, January 1, 2014
The failure of the Haass talks exposes a problem in the body politic here deeper and more serious than merely the customary failure of the parties to agree on anything. Annoyingly the news media, led by BBC NI, have been reporting the failure with the nonsensical gloss that while Sinn Fein and the SDLP accept Haass’s proposals ‘other parties have difficulty’ with them.

Let’s face it, once again unionists have demonstrated their resistance to any change whatsoever.

You’ll hear lots of talk about poor unionist leadership but the fact is the DUP authentically reflects those unionists who vote for them and there’s the rub.

Fewer than 50 per cent of unionists vote for anyone. That’s why this latest political failure exposes a serious problem.

There was reference to it in the state papers recently released under the 30-year rule.

In April 1982 Sir Peter Froggat, vice-chancellor of Queens, told Sir Ewart Bell, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, that there was “a considerable exodus to British universities especially on the part of the Protestant community”.

Bell reported this to the then proconsul Jim Prior and said he regarded it as “another step towards the extent to which the Protestant community is ‘opting out’ of Northern Ireland”.

At that time the Protestant exodus had meant that there was a near balance between numbers of Catholic and Protestant students.

Since then the exodus has accelerated so that the vast majority of students in both Queen’s and UU are nationalist.

More fundamentally there has also been an internal migration among Protestants and/ or unionists away from politics.

From the 1980s business and professional people of a unionist bent walked away from politics.

The result has been the collapse of the UUP which is left with a rump of arthritic ancients led by a political jester at the court of Robinson.

Liberal unionists, of whom there are many, see no prospect of joining the 21st century with the DUP in the ascendant.

They regard the DUP with its bible-thumpers, holy-rollers, creationists and temperance fanatics as an indefensible embarrassment yet see no point in voting UUP which is now DUP-lite.

None of these internal emigres participates in or endorses the antics of the yahoos waving flags or hammering big drums outside Catholic churches.

Instead they watch the performance on satellite TV news from their apartments in Spain or, in one well-known case, from a luxury villa in Florida.

Yesterday’s failure will simply reinforce the majority of unionists in their opinion that, in the words of Alex Kane, they prefer to go to a garden centre than bother voting. There’s no percentage in it. The DUP is not good for business, not good for the north’s international reputation, not good for unionist self-esteem. Rejecting Haass’s proposals, and have no doubt not a single syllable of his report will be implemented, is yet another embarrassment for these disillusioned people and a vindication for them that any unionist with a brain is wise to shun the DUP.

Despite making massive concessions including accepting a proposal to create a substitute for the Parades Commission, failing to get an international commission into the Troubles and failing to make any progress on flags symbols and emblems, Sinn Fein is going to recommend haass’s report to its ard chomhairle. Sure, this is a smart move to wrong-foot the DUP because SF knows none of it will ever see the light of day and knows once the party formally accept it the DUP cannot.

With four elections coming up between now and 2016 – Europe, councils, Westminster, assembly – there’s no prospect of any advance on the present stalemate.

The so-called commission on culture, identity and traditions will go nowhere. We’re left in the extraordinary position that it appears Sinn Fein is taking the lead in trying to make the North work for all its people.

It seems the outworking of Ewart Bell’s 1982 warning about students will be extrapolated to society in general so that as the nationalist vote increases Sinn Fein will take ownership of the north.

The DUP can stall change,  but they can’t stop it. If they weren’t so pig-headed and bigoted they could influence it before they become a minority.