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Farewell to the UDP!

The news that the Ulster Democratic Party has disbanded is very sad. The UDP did once have great potential. It started off as the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party to give a political voice to the paramilitary UDA. It gained a lot of credibility after the publication of the groundbreaking Commonsense document in 1989, which was well-received across the political spectrum. The party was founded by John McMichael and was at its most effective under the leadership of Ray Smallwoods. Both men died at the hands of Provisional IRA death squads.

Ray Smallwoods identified himself as an Ulster-nationalist and sought to lead the UDP in that direction too. After his assassination, the new leadership under Gary McMichael, changed tack and the UDP became just another unionist party, albeit one with working class 'street cred' because of its perceived and actual paramilitary affiliations. Unlike the rival Progressive Unionist Party, with its UVF affiliations, the UDP failed at the polls. The PUP gained two Assembly members and a gaggle of councillors throughout Ulster. The UDP came nowhere near an Assembly seat and only three councillors were elected in 1997. This dropped to one - Gary McMichael himself - in May, 2001.

The UDP was crippled by its association with the UDA, despite the access which that association gave it to the corridors of power in London, Dublin and Washington DC in the aftermath of the original Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in 1994. If the so-called peace process had really meant anything it ought to have been the UDA that disbanded - not the UDP.

However, it was obvious that the leadership of the UDA had lost interest in politics over the past two or three years and the UDP had been left to twist in the wind. The UDP was embarrassed last May when it had to admit that it had neglected to register as a political party under new laws. Outgoing councillors had to stand as independent candidates as the Ulster Democratic Party had no legal status and its name could not appear on ballot papers. Frank McCoubrey, the only UDP councillor in Belfast, resigned from the party in protest at this neglect and went on to be elected as an independent candidate. The UDP's internet domain name was also allowed to expire and became a gateway for some extremely distasteful hard-core pornography. It was obvious to almost everyone that the UDP was doomed, so its demise comes as no surprise. As we enter 2002, it seems that the pipe bomb has replaced the ballot box as far as many UDA activists are concerned.

To us, the political situation looks like this. The PUP have gained a respectable hard-core working class unionist vote. Whether deserved or not, given their semi-detached part in government, the DUP have assumed the mantle as the main anti-Good Friday Agreement unionist party. The UUP is all at sea in the midst of an internal civil war. Bob McCartney's UK Unionist Party is now a one-man band on its way out and its splinter faction, Cedric Wilsonís Northern Ireland Unionist Party, has made no impact as nobody knows what it stands for. Unionism is in crisis and is in danger of a catastrophic collapse as it seeks to breathe new life into the putrefying corpse of the 200 year-old Union. It's my view that, sad thought the departure of the UDP from the political stage is, we can do with a few less unionist parties. What we do need, though, is a proper Ulster-nationalist party.

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