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October 1996

Why unionist politicians fail

The editor of Ulster Nation received this article anonymously through the post. As its analysis and insight largely coincides with our own viewpoint we ace reproducing it for a wider audience. We trust that we are not breaching anyone's copyright.

THOSE WHO ARE in a position to know are struck by the failure of both the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP to respond to political intelligence warning them of the trend of events. Why is this?

Why is it that both parties are guilty of walking the majority of Ulster's population into a carefully constructed political ambush, a trap which may or may not issue in the emergence of a new Ireland, but a trap from which neither the DUP nor the Ulster Unionist Party will find it easy to extricate themselves?

In exploring the reasons for the failures of unionist politicians it is necessary to make observations which identify an even deeper problem, a general failure of leadership within the Ulster Protestant community which extends far beyond local politicians and includes ministers of religion and the professional classes, but excludes the business sector which has ignored the protracted political crisis and concentrated on wealth creation, even when that meant rebuilding on a bomb site.

Analysing political ineptitude is no mere sociological or academic exercise because the conclusions arrived at may well tell us something important about the society we all live in and point to the ways in which life can be improved for everyone in the future.

The most fundamental problem turns on the deep parochialism of Ulster's Protestant society, where traditional values are highly prized. It was Professor Steve Bruce, an expert on the sociology of religion, who pointed out that fundamentalists made the best neighbours: your car wouldn't be stolen, nor your garden vandalised, nor your children sworn at.

Old time religion has its own virtue but there was and is a down side. Contrast this incisive passage from H R Rookrnaaker's essay The Creative Gift with what we so often observe in Protestant Ulster: "Freedom in the biblical sense is in no way negative -shun this, don't do that, you must leave that alone, keep away from this. Christian freedom has nothing to do with a set of rules by which you must bind yourself, indeed, such rules may easily be pseudo-Christian. Freedom is the necessary basis for creativity, for creativity is impossible where there is timidity, when you allow yourself to be bound by narrow rules."

In the refusal to value and applaud the talent of others, a marked feature of the politics of the DUP, in the studied anti-intellectualism of both parties, and in the sycophantic responses of Ulster Unionists to the ambience of the Palace of Westminster, a pattern of behaviour is to be observed which stifled creativity and imagination and in the case of the Ulster Unionist Party promoted complacent minimalism as the only acceptable unionist response to a series of revolutionary events which totally outflanked democratic opinion and pointed clearly to the fact that if the security forces could not defeat the Provisional IRA militarily it would be necessary to defeat the unionists politically to achieve peace.

For some time now it has been apparent that if the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party really wanted a devolved assembly that badly they would have to crown John Hume king of such an assembly in order to obtain it.

Neither party had succeeded in overturning the pan-Irish nationalist analysis which has dominated all our lives for a generation and that fact carried with it a fixed penalty. Now a new Northern Ireland Assembly is the cornerstone through which the claims for `inevitable' Irish unification are to be pressed. This Assembly will be founded on the principle that the Protestant population's natural majority has to be artificially reduced by constitutional mechanisms. Protestant opinions will not actually be allowed to count.

A triumphant Irish nationalist analysis will dominate in the areas of political, social, cultural and religious life. Irish nationalist analysis is called `reconciliation', or 'good community relations' in the area of religion and it is characterised by an unwillingness to confront the unsayable moral issues of the 'ethnic cleansing' of Protestants or the sustained correlation between Provisional IRA violence and concessions made to the constitutional nationalists in Dublin, over time. Ironically it is the deep-seated parochialism of Ulster's Protestant population which John Major and John Bruton hope will drive Ulster's failed political class to accept a local solution which carries within it the prospect of an end to the Union in the short term and the gradual harmonisation of Ulster's Protestant population within an all-Ireland structure in the longer term.

The reality is that Ireland lacks an internal balance of power between a majority on the island committed to an Irish nationalist ideology and a deeply divided minority united only by their detestation of Irish nationalism. The framework document tilts an already unfavourable imbalance further in the direction of Irish nationalism; this will only further destabilise the situation on this island.

To achieve balanced relationships the unionist population urgently requires a nonviolent political agenda which will insist that their story and legitimate aspirations, their perception of the truth , must be put on the negotiating table and given due weight.

Pan-Irish nationalism must be confronted with a profound and inescapable fact: the great continuum in the history of this island is not unity but division. Irish nationalism has waged war on the invisible nation on this island, a complete microcosm of British society in Ireland, in the articulation of which the term 'unionist' has proved to be both inadequate and inappropriate inappropriate because Ulster under threat still wants the Union, while England under threat does not!

 

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