Unionist Bertrayed Their Own

Posted By: August 21, 2013

The Irish News columnist argues that  Unionist leaders have duped their own extreme  followers — but that those followers must still be brought in from the cold.


Allison Morris. Irish News( Belfast). Wednesday, August 21, 2013.

INSANITY can be defined as repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome each time. The North’s hamster- wheel politics fall into that bracket. Hapless politicians afraid of losing votes from radicals repeat a historically familiar mantra over and over and over again, expecting a different result but predictably not achieving one. For a while now Sinn Fein and the DUP have been very public ‘frenemies’ with the odd show of solidarity when a common foe makes an appearance and the rest of the time bitching behind their backs like reality show contestants. Peter Robinson gave up and caved in last week to the extremists when he did a rather embarrassing u-turn on redevelopment at the Maze Long Kesh site, sending a directive dictated from a sun lounger in Florida. The ‘nutters’ rejoiced as they took over the asylum in a bloodless coup. The DUP leader cares little for the fallout created as he’s currently working his notice[to resign] and in fairness most people would have packed it in after the whole Iris-gate situation. Peter Robinson hung on in there after his wife’s very public indiscretion, which would have been too much for most politicians. If he steps down then the political mess created by bad policy, bowing down to hardliners and obsessing over matters of little consequence, will no longer be his problem. He’s thrown in a hand grenade and clearing up the mess would fall to his successor – Foster, Wilson or Dodds. American envoy Richard Haass is also left with the unenviable task of getting an agreement, not, dear voters, on matters of social and economic importance but on where a flag flies and feet march and now if a former prison can be used to teach peace. In the world of special envoys there are probably more difficult jobs than the task facing Haass but they don’t exist this side of the Suez Canal. In north Belfast loyalist protesters have set up a camp, euphemistically called a ‘civil rights camp’. In fact it is very much an anti-civil rights camp as it is protesting against democracy and democratic decisions.


Anyone with any sense knows that pitching tents on a spot of waste ground isn’t going to achieve their aims which in the short term appear to be a parade past Ardoyne and raising the Union flag over city hall more often than it flies at Buckingham Palace. In the long term what they want is a return to Brookeborough’s Ulster of old. I’ve always found camping great craic in the summer but can imagine it less so in the dead of winter and just like the sit out that failed at Drumcree, so camp Twaddell’s fate is sealed before the sausages have burnt on the disposable barbecue. Everyone knows this. However, those in unionist leadership are too afraid to point out the futility of it all and nationalist politicians are secretly sniggering at the hole the DUP find themselves falling deeper and deeper into.


Hope lies not in Haass but in who succeeds Robinson. Electing a female leader would be a big step for the DUP but the formidable Arlene Foster may be the best chance of taking the party out from under the boot of the Orange Order in Belfast. Worst case scenario is the promotion of North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, who suffered a head wound in the Twelfth riots and is unlikely to face down or bring reason to the issue of contentious parades – a growing number of which take place in his constituency.


Ardoyne is not the only area of contention with St Patrick’s also a flashpoint as well as the republican Henry Joy McCracken parade that previously passed unnoticed before loyalists realised two years ago that it was happening. While we all know that the DUP has some serious work to do, nationalist politicians cannot walk away from their responsibilities. Sinn Fein as the biggest nationalist party really need to get a greater understanding of what irks their Protestant neighbours, and empathy shouldn’t be that difficult to achieve. Many of the issues are similar to that of nationalists 20, 30 or 40 years ago – disenfranchisement, discrimination, culture under attack. Many of the grievances aired by loyalists are based on perception rather than reality. Figures show deprivation is worse in nationalist areas, the HET do not target loyalists exclusively and in fact a recent inspection report showed they failed to properly investigate state killings. But while unionism needs to get this message across to their voters rather than pander to extremists and conspiracy theorists, Sinn Fein also need to do more than just talk about unionist engagement. The robotic manner of Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney may appeal to academics but do nothing to reassure the Protestant working class who find such speeches patronising. Engaging in outreach is very different from just talking about it. Dealing with a marginalised, disenfranchised working class requires some straight talking and down to earth actions. Unionism needs new leadership and we’ll know soon enough who is stepping into that role and how they plan to calm the fears of a panicked electorate. But for Haass to have any impact nationalists need to also realise that while issues around a flag and a parade may seem trivial in the wider scheme they have hit a raw nerve. For the good of all in Northern Ireland, the loyalists camped out in north Belfast need brought in from the cold. Both literally and politically.