The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Unionism in the Dáil

Dr John Coulter argues that the time has come for Unionists to take seats in the Seanad as well as contest Dail elections

Dr John Coulter • 18 December 2004

Northern Unionists should take the cross-border structures set up by the Good Friday Agreement a stage further by giving themselves a clear say in the running of the Republic by contesting Dail seats, and demanding representation in the Seanad.

The DUP and Ulster Unionist MPs and MEPs should also grasp the opportunity of speaking rights in the Dail with both hands, as well as establish a Unionist Embassy in the heart of Leinster House.

Such a political tactic would throw Sinn Fein demands for Dail speaking rights and Seanad voting reform into a tizzy by giving the perception that Unionism was a truly all-Ireland organisation.

In 2005, the Ulster Unionist Council, the governing body of former Northern First Minister David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party, celebrates its centenary. Amongst some sections of traditional Unionism, there is still 'bad blood' that the UUC - originally formed to mobilise Protestant and Orange opposition to the Home Rule movement - was overtly controlled by Northern Protestantism.

There is a significant body of opinion which believes the mobilising organisation should have been called the Irish Unionist Movement to reflect the concerns of the Southern Protestant population, estimated to have been about 20 per cent in the geographical 26 counties in 1905.

By giving itself a distinctive Ulster flavour, the feeling exists in some Unionist circles that their forefathers betrayed the Southern Protestant community. It has been a long-held political grudge that after the formal creation of the Free State, Northern Unionism under Sir Edward Carson and James Craig effectively abandoned the Southern Protestant population to its own fate.

Southern Unionist opinion was that Carson and Craig should have used the fledgling Northern state as a haven for political, financial and religious support for the minority Southern Protestants, then facing the physical threat from both the pro-Treaty Free State Army and the anti-Treaty IRA.

Many Southern Protestant families watched in horror as the Ulster Unionist Council openly retreated into the six counties and organisationally turned its back on the all-Ireland organisation of the Irish Unionist Party.

Southern Protestants were then left with two options - they either moved out or got involved largely with Fine Gael. In the border counties of Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim, the Orange Order became the rallying point for Protestant political activity, whilst further south, the Church of Ireland became the voice for liberal Protestant opinion.

This development of a liberal - even ecumenical - Protestant theological ethos in the South should not be misinterpreted as Southern Protestantism turning its back on the evangelical principles of the Reformed Protestant Faith.

Rather, it was a pragmatic move by Southern Protestants who had come to terms with the harsh reality - especially in the west of Ireland - that if they wanted to survive in a Catholic-dominated state, they had to 'keep their heads down politically'.

Tactically, they knew they could not rely on their Northern Protestant counterparts for support. They were on their own as a minority and the only way to gain effective and meaningful political representation was to involve themselves with the Southern political parties - not establish potentially provocative Unionist organisations.

This feeling of betrayal was not only shared by many in the Southern Protestant community, but by a significant section of the ultra-Right Carsonite Unionist lobby in the new Northern Ireland.

Whilst Craig was the guiding political hand in the new state, Carson had been mobilising messiah who had conceived the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1912 and armed it through the Larne gun-running escapades. Hardline Carsonites had wanted a nine-county geographical Ulster as the Northern state whereby the three Southern counties with Catholic majorities would be ethnically cleansed and used as a buffer zone with the new Free State.

The Carsonites held the view the Free State's provisional government - under the direction of republican hero Michael Collins - had, during the early 1920s, supported IRA attacks on the North, hoping to force it into a union with the South. Indeed, many Carsonites held the opinion that Collins - once he had dispensed militarily with the anti-Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War - planned a full-scale invasion of Northern Ireland.

Whilst this plan effectively died with Collins' assassination by anti-Treaty rebels in 1922, these same hardline Carsonites wanted to take advantage of the conflict in the South during the civil war and open up a second front by invading the Free State itself.

It is doubtful whether Carson himself would have approved such a venture, although it became a military Holy Grail amongst many of his more hardline Right-wing supporters. Their plan was to establish a Protestant-controlled state comprising around 18 of Ireland's 32 counties.

However, both invasion plans were effectively mothballed as the two fledging states concentrated on political stability in the late 1920s rather than further bloodshed and territorial expansion.

The hardline Carsonite 'blueprint' of annexing counties from the South took its ethos from the Glorious Revolution of King William III which established the Protestant Ascendancy on the island in the late 17th century. This expansionist ethos did not die with Carson in 1935.

Half a century later following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Unionist political backlash saw a series of fringe and mainstream organisations founded to combat Dublin's role in Northern affairs.

In 1986, one such Right-wing loyalist group, the Ulster Movement for Self-Determination (MSD), advocated an independent Ulster. MSD's emblem was a nine-county Ulster and part of its philosophy was that an independent Northern Ireland would annex the three remaining Ulster counties from the Republic.

Whilst MSD was a political movement with no paramilitary connections, it is difficult to imagine how its aims could become a reality without sparking another civil war. Not surprisingly, by the loyalist ceasefires of 1994, MSD was largely defunct.

The 'Northern say in Southern affairs' debate was reopened in 2003 by Sinn Fein when it launched a strategy document, The Ireland of the Future - National Representation.

A key plank was Northern representation in the Oireachtas, which if it became reality, would further strengthen Sinn Fein's claim to be a truly all-Ireland party and would increasingly isolate Mark Durkan's SDLP a relevant voice of nationalism on the island.

At first reading, the Sinn Fein proposals would also appear to be 'a red flag to a bull' to Northern Unionists. Republicans would be hoping that Unionists would misread their demands as another political paving stone on the path to joint authority in the North and ultimately a united Ireland.

However, Unionists should avoid making the same mistake as they did in 1985 following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That accord gave the South an effective voice in the running of the North with the establishment of the successful Maryfield Secretariat, located near the present suspended Stormont Parliament.

Unionists reacted in typical historical fashion by resorting to the traditional Marching Season tactic and hosted a series of rallies across the North, leading to the formation of hardline loyalist groups such as the Ulster Clubs Movement and the paramilitary Ulster Resistance Movement.

But Unionists completely missed the point that the 1985 Agreement gave them a say in the running of Southern affairs, too. Suspended Northern First Minister and UUP boss David Trimble has been at times highly critical of the Republic, drawing considerable political flak for referring to the South as a monolithic state.

It is somewhat ironic that Trimble, who cut his political teeth on Right-wing movements such as Ulster Vanguard and the Ulster Clubs, should make such comments during his time as UUP leader.

In the late 1980s, during his Ulster Clubs era, he could have had a platform in Dublin to criticise the South from within its own state borders.

There is now, in the aftermath of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, an increasing mood within Unionism that Northern Protestants should 'return the serve' on the cross-border debate and start interfering, commenting on and even trying to influence the internal affairs of the Republic.

Numerous Unionists already travel south to speak at various functions - a strategy, which in the 1980s could have led to people being disciplined by the Unionist parties. However, the new 'look South' tactic should not be misinterpreted as Northern Unionism warmly embracing the Republic, but rather a desire by Protestants to copy Sinn Fein and open a 'second front' politically in the limping peace process.

Although the UUP has openly said it would not contest Dail seats, already there are moves to relaunch the former pre-partition Irish Unionist Party in a bid to give the rapidly dwindling Southern Protestant population an effective voice. The IUP would eventually directly contest Dail and Seanad elections.

Running on a strong Euro-sceptic and anti-abortionist ticket, the IUP could also attract considerable Southern Catholic votes.

The real danger is that if the peace process stalled or even collapsed, and if constitutional unionism does not seize the initiative and organise in the South, loyalist extremism may steal that mantle from unionism and start exploding bombs in the Republic. 2004 witnessed the 30th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bomb massacres.

The price for total failure in the peace process will be the return of the mainstream paramilitaries to the fore. The practical danger is that there may still be those within modern loyalism who could be preparing an Omagh or an Enniskillen for a Southern location.


 

 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



21 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

3rd Intl. Conference Against Isolation: Speech by IRSP Delegates
Liam O Ruairc and Gerard McGarrigle, IRSP

Spot the Light
Anthony McIntyre

Unionism in the Dáil
Dr John Coulter

Let's Get Penitent!
Brian Mór

Street Seen Sleeping Bag Appeal
Jon Glackin

Life Among the Ruins: The Peru Reader
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Listen to Sharon's Little Helpers
Paul de Rooij


16 December 2004

Failed Entity
Michael Benson

Out of the Ashes
Brian Mór

Identity Crisis
Mick Hall

Lights, Camera, Inaction
Jimmy Sands

St Joseph, Patron Saint of the Peace Process
Anthony McIntyre

Breeding Ground for Racism
Dr John Coulter

Torture in Chile
Tito Tricot

The Broom Flower: Robin Kirk's The Monkey's Paw: New Chronicles from Perú
Seaghán Ó Murchú

 

 

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