Tuesday, March 13, 2007


What were the last 40 years about?

Insert own expletive... There's a good article in today's edition of The Times where Dean Godson queries what the last few decades of NI's woes were about, considering the DUP's Ian Paisley is about to follow in the very footsteps of other unionist leaders that he helped destroy. Men such as O'Neill, Faulkner and Trimble.

Today 'big Ian' was in talks with the North's Secretary of State Peter Hain and said, somewhat surprisingly, that good progress had been made. He added that the DUP's election results had given him the ability to move forward and he made some candid remarks about the difficulties within his party admitting he had been "severely criticised by various people":

"Some of them are my personal friends but they don't agree with what I've done, (but) the electorate fortunately has agreed."

"It has strengthened my hand - I can afford to go further forward now with things, because I am confident that the people are with me."

A few days ago I speculated that "Maybe the man really does want to move on but he needed to know in his heart that unionists would stick with him if he remained on his current course." I don't know if that's really the case or if Paisley has told himself that's what he's doing, but clearly he has left plenty of people scratching their heads as to what the previous couple of decades were all about.

As Dean Godson in The Times asks...

"Why has Mr Paisley changed? What, indeed, were the past 40 years about if he is about to sit cheek by jowl as co-premier alongside Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein-IRA? What was so terrible about those “sell-out” leaders of moderate Unionism whom Mr Paisley so ruthlessly destroyed — such as Terence O’Neill, the Ulster Unionist Premier of the late 1960s, who merely sought a few cautious reforms of the old Stormont system? Or Brian Faulkner, the first Unionist leader to attempt a power-sharing compromise with nationalism in 1974? Or what about David Trimble — excoriated for signing up to the 1998 Belfast agreement whose key provisions remain in place?"

This is the whole point. The very principles that these unionist leaders pushed for - and which Paisley so vehemently fought against - are now the very principles which Paisley has completely accepted and which he's on the verge of supporting.

Godson argues that the man is fuelled by his ego and cites his history of splitting from various strands of mainstream unionism...

"The truth is that Mr Paisley has always loved being top dog. And after years of marginalisation, he savours such tokens of respectability as a privy councillorship for himself, a peerage for Mrs Paisley and the Doc’s latest pet project — the prospect of a solitary moment in the Oval Office with President Bush this forthcoming St Patrick’s Day (and, who knows, maybe even the chance of a shared prayer together?)."

Godson touches on where Paisley's "new found emollience" has left the Union...

"There is certainly a defeatist strain within the DUP, personified by the former Conservative MP Andrew Hunter, who ran as a DUP candidate in the 2003 assembly election. After that poll, Mr Hunter told me: “Trimble sold the pass and administered the death blow to the Union. All that remains now is for us to go in and negotiate Protestant homeland within a united Ireland on as advantageous a basis as possible.” Mr Hunter confirms that this remains his view today — and he regards republican talk of unity by the time of the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916 as not unrealistic. He claims that Mr Paisley can at times see that this is the logic of events — but that the DUP chieftain still does not fully accept it.

"Certainly, the vast bulk of the Unionist electorate do not think that they have voted for such drift: indeed, the very reverse. What will be the ructions within the DUP and within the Free Presbyterian Church when they discover otherwise? The DUP’s Janus-faced ambiguity served it well when Sinn Fein participation in government was entirely theoretical. But what happens when it becomes a reality? And could such arrangements survive beyond the lifetime of the frail Mr Paisley?

"Whatever now happens, to have got even this far constitutes an achievement for Anglo-Irish statecraft. For years, officials have smirkingly counted upon the defeatism, vanity and venality of much of the Unionist political class to push through a project of creeping condominium with the Republic. But who would have thought that Ian Paisley, the ultimate “honest bigot”, would turn out to be their last card?"

Very interesting thoughts indeed. I agree that there is a drift towards Irish reunification and I wonder if deep down Ian Paisley knows it himself?

After all, the man jeered and taunted O'Neill, Faulkner and Trimble. He helped bring about their political demise. He accused them of putting the Union in danger and helping the chances of a United Ireland. But what has changed? Paisley finds himself on the same course. He might try and fight the current more than his predecessors did but he can't fight the direction in which we are all heading.

I personally regard the idea of Irish unity around the centenary of 1916 as unrealistic but I do believe in the very near future that the partition of this island, the greatest evil ever inflicted upon this nation, will be removed once and for all and that we will move into the future as one united land.

It's unlikely that Dr Paisley will be alive to see this day. He'll probably turn in his grave when the day comes.

But he can't turn away from the current course - the drift towards Irish unity.


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