Ulster Is Ours
“Ulster is ours! Ulster will remain ours!” was Ian Paisley’s characteristically inclusive, Christian message to the leader of northern nationalists, Gerry Adams, as he accepted the DUP nomination for North Antrim in the 1912, sorry 2005, Westminster general election.
Paisley is cock-a-hoop – and why wouldn’t he be? But is he sensible? Does he have a plan for converting his strength into security, peace, progress and prosperity for his people? Because if he doesn’t – and I don’t believe, don’t see how he has – then his victories over the Ulster Unionists will all have been for nothing.
Paisley overtook the Ulster Unionists in the 2003 Assembly elections, then subsequently recruited two of that party’s leading politicians Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson to his ranks. It was another coup getting former Ulster Unionist party leader James Molyneaux and the outgoing MP Reverend Martin Smyth to pose with and endorse the DUP candidate in South Belfast, Jimmy Spratt.
No wonder the UUP candidate in that constituency, Michael McGimpsey, accused the DUP of having a scorched earth policy towards the Ulster Unionists by refusing an electoral pact across the North. That pact was designed to potentially maximise unionist representation, undercut Sinn Fein’s and help consolidate the SDLP’s flagging fortunes - a party that unionists still fondly believe is their best ticket for a return to optimum unionist dominance, the little dears.
That is a reputation the SDLP is finding it hard to shake off, especially when its deputy leader, Alasdair McDonnell, and Eddie McGrady, recently indicated their preparedness to go into an executive with the DUP to the exclusion of Sinn Fein. Furthermore, yesterday’s revelations – which he has not denied - that Eddie McGrady met with a senior Northern Ireland Office official and was ridiculing John Hume’s talks with Sinn Fein in the 1990s, the talks which preceded the IRA ceasefire, only reinforces the image of the SDLP as being dominated by partitionists or those who favour personal fiefdoms.
Another electoral fillip for the DUP came last Monday from Bobby McCartney of the United Kingdom Unionist Party – I always like to give this colossus whose branches reach from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and from Skegness to Cwm-yr-Eglwys, its grand title. Bobby said that he would not stand in North Down and would give the DUP a clear run to wrest the seat from UUP MP Lady Sylvia Hermon.
Bobby said that he was doing so after the DUP gave him a pledge that it would include in its manifesto the following commitment: “ inclusive mandatory coalition government which includes Sinn Fein under d’Hondt or any other system is out of the question”. He interpreted this provision as meaning that the Belfast Agreement was dead.
Bobby developed this view even further in a BBC Radio Ulster interview on Tuesday morning when asked if he was concerned that the DUP whilst it might not go into a ‘mandatory’ coalition might go into a “voluntary coalition government which includes Sinn Fein.” He said that Peter Robinson had told him it would be a generation – “Twenty five years!” asked the surprised presenter, Seamus McKee – before Sinn Fein would have been sufficiently decontaminated to sit in government. At the time of writing Robinson has not contradicted that account.
That is confirmation that the DUP had no real intention of going into an executive with Sinn Fein last December, despite the IRA’s propitious offer to put all of its weapons beyond use and to basically withdraw from the field. The DUP position on sharing power with the majority of nationalists remains, “Never, Never, Never!”
There had been some suggestions that to Ian Paisley’s Ballymena speech before Christmas his mischievous son, Ian Og, had added the phrases, “the IRA must be humiliated” and “the IRA must wear sackcloth and ashes in public”.
There were suggestions that the pragmatists within the DUP - if that is not an oxymoron - were consternated that this upping of the ante, with its calculated demand that IRA decommissioning be filmed was bound for rejection, would scupper a deal, and return us to direct rule in perpetuity. It was also suggested that underneath Peter Robinson, the iceberg, there was a pragmatist waiting to thaw.
Not so. I was always of the opinion that the DUP, while Paisley was alive, would not, and, for historical reasons, could not share power with Sinn Fein. In relation to Peter optimists often quote and infer a tendency toward pragmatism on his part simply because he decided to set his principles aside, plead guilty and pay the fifteen thousand punts fine instead of going to jail over his criminal conviction for invading Clontibret back in 1986. Critics are forever reminding readers of that cruel jibe – Peter The Punt - when in fact Peter may have understandably been petrified and terrified of going to jail for his cause, however noble.
The Ulster Unionists’ response to the rise of the DUP has been to also declare its opposition to the d’Hondt principle for nominating ministers on the basis of each party’s strength. The DUP and the UUP would obviously accept some SDLP ministers as a concession to cross-community involvement but this would be totally unacceptable to the nationalist community.
So, that leaves us in deadlock, with little prospect of a resurrection of the executive, and it is ironic that it is the unionists and not an IRA armed campaign that remind the world that the six-county state is not a viable political entity and still has to be ruled directly by London after thirty-three years.
Against that background Gerry Adams’ call for the IRA to stand down and for its activists to devote their energies to the political struggle, is all the more remarkable. It is a statement that the armed struggle, the war, is over. It is an indication that despite the deadlock and the ridiculous demands of the DUP Gerry Adams feels that republicans and nationalists are confident about their future and it is a broad-based sentiment that is bound to translate into a solid nationalist turnout in the election.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison