BY JOHN COULTER IRISH POLITICAL JOURNALIST
WITH the former Dr No of Unionism ‘Rev Ian Paisley’ now becoming the self-confessed Dr Go, Irish political commentator John Coulter explores if aspirations about unionist unity are myths, or achievable for the first time in 40 years.
Northern Unionism is finally on the road to unity, but more Paisleyite political blood will have to be spilled before the single party emerges.
Former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher is infamous among nationalists for her ‘out, out, out’‚ speech on solutions to the Northern crisis.
The same phrase can now be applied to Paisley senior, out as Christian fundamentalist Free Presbyterian moderatorship; out as Democratic Unionist Party boss and out as First Minister of the Stormont power-sharing Executive.
But a Peter Robinson/Nigel Dodds dream team – the two DUP Assembly Ministers tipped to take over the DUP – won’t satisfy the hardliners in the DUP.
They want the Chuckle Brothers image of Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness replaced with the era of the Ice Maidens.
Even when the Paisley camp was kicking former First Minister Davy Trimble in the political guts for setting up the Stormont Executive with the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party’s Seamus Mallon, you never caught poor auld Davy supping soup and slobbering over the Shinners – a popular Irish slang term for Sinn Fein.
Whatever the spin, the DUP is in crisis over rebel MEP Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice, so nothing short of complete annihilation of the Paisley dynasty will pacify the modernist wing led by Robinson.
And in the coming days, we’ll hear more spin that the coup which toppled Big Ian is really non-existent.
But that’s the same nonsense they fed me last summer, branding rumours of a plot within Paisley’s fundamentalist Free Church a figment of my hyper-active imagination.
Suddenly in September 2007, Big Ian was forced to announce he was quitting his 50-year reign as moderator in January.
Then there was the spin Ian Junior – Paisley’s son and until recently Junior Minister in the Stormont Executive – was not under pressure because of allegations surrounding his expenses and salaries.
Suddenly, too, wee Ian quits to make way for Lagan Valley’s Jeffrey Donaldson – the future leader of a combined, single Unionist Party.
If I had been wee Ian, I’d have kept my head down for several months and made sure I won the North Antrim Westminster nomination if current premier Gordon Brown calls a snap General Election next year.
But no; wee Ian decides to rattle cages by getting himself on the high profile Policing Board.
Within hours of this emerging, daddy Paisley is history – and you tell me this is only coincidence.
The blood letting against the Paisley dynasty will not stop with the Big Man’s present round of resignations. The North’s ‘New Protestant Shinners’ – that’s the nickname for the modernising wing of the DUP, want the Paisley family out of all posts.
Once Robinson and Dodds are firmly established as leaders and wee Jeffrey using his Junior Minister’s post as a ‘go between’‚ among the rival DUP factions and egos, the Paisley dynasty will be finally crushed.
The Big Man will be forced to retire from his own Martyrs Memorial church in Belfast, closely followed by another dramatic announcement he is stepping down as North Antrim MP and Assembly member.
If wee Ian doesn’t follow daddy’s lead, he’ll be chopped as North Antrim MLA with fellow Assembly member and top Independent Orangeman Mervyn Storey pipping Ian Junior for the Commons nomination.
Conveniently, Paisley senior will be dumped along with his missus Eileen into the British House of Lords, with wee Ian as their research assistant.
With unionism firmly diluted of Paisleyism, Robinson and Dodds under wee Jeffrey’s guidance will form a cosy coalition with the Ulster Unionists to run agreed candidates against Allister’s TUV.
Give Robinson five years as First Minister, and then Jeffrey can become DUP supremo, paving the way for a formal DUP/Ulster Unionist Party merger.
And then we’re back to 1969 when there was only a single Unionist Party under Terence O’Neill.
Seems far fetched? But unionism is a beast which likes to air its dirty linen in public, and like the child which has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, as soon as you’re discovered, issued statements denying what will happen.
Remember Big Ian and the Independent Orange Order’s Twelfth demonstration in July 2006 and the infamous ‘over our dead bodies‚ speech’? By October that year, the St Andrews Agreement is signed, and by the following May of 2007, the dirty deed is done with the Shinners.
And of course, there’s all the denials there was no plot in the DUP camp to topple Paisley. Paisley has been in far worse tight spots, and bounced back effectively.
Remember the 1969 Stormont General Election when he failed to win a seat in the safe Unionist stronghold of Bannside? In the April by-election of 1970, he beat the Unionists.
The failed loyalist strike of 1977 did not end his career. He bounced back again two years later to snatch seats from the Unionists in the General Election which saw Thatcher sweep to power.
And then there was the crushing Yes vote compared to his pathetic No campaign in the referendum following the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement. By 2003, his DUP was pipping the rival UUP as the top dog in unionism.
So when I hear vehement denials of election pacts, mergers, coalitions and other working relations from her unionists, I don’t swallow the spin, I follow the old maxim; they protesteth too much!
Unionist unity will not come in the short term; this is a long war strategy, in the same way it took years for the Free State after partition to emerge into a full blown republic.
By this time, too, Fianna Fail will have swallowed up the SDLP, so by 2016 Stormont will be run by Jeffrey as First Minister, leading a Unionist Party/Fianna Fail power-sharing coalition.
As for the Shinners, if they want to attract back the Republic’s voters, they need to create a completely Southern identity – no more Northerners dictating how republicanism should be run.
Forget a Shinner future with Adams and McGuinness – put MEP Mary Lou McDonald in charge of the Southern group, with North Antrim’s MLA Daithi McKay running the Northern operation.
Like it or lump it, the Shinners will have to face the electoral reality – they’ll just have to form two separate wings of the same movement if they want to develop. Then again, given the republican movement’s history, it should be good at this with its clever spin of the IRA being separate from Sinn Fein.
Southern Sinn Fein should become a patriotic socialist party, stealing the economic strategies of Irish Labour, with the nationalism of Fianna Fail.
And in the North, Sinn Fein must become a mirror image of the now defunct Irish Independent Party, formed in the mid 1970s by ex-SDLP Protestant nationalist and Larne councillor John Turnley. Turnley was later shot dead by the loyalist death squad, the Ulster Defence Association.
In the meantime, pass the mops and buckets to wipe up the forthcoming unionist gut spilling.